Living a Contradiction
Although atheists assert their denial of God, and imagine they don’t need God in their lives, in practice, they live their lives as if they believe in a Creator. For example,
- They would never accept an argument of “it just happened” from someone who bumps their car, yet they deny a cause for the universe and creation.
- They claim that metaphysical things don’t exist. Yet, they express meanings and feelings; they adopt values and demand human rights (non-material concepts); they say “I love you” and feel disappointed if the answer is: “Neurons fired in my brain as well!.”
- They cling to the freedom to make their own choices and criticize religion for indoctrination, while claiming materialistic determinism and no free choice.
- They adopt the high moral ground and attack the morality of religion while denying an objective divine moral code.
- They label religion as falsehood while claiming that their minds evolved for survival, not for truth.
- They live in total reliance on laws, order and reproducibility, while denying design and a designer.
Striping Away All Meaning
In discussing why some scientists are atheists, Osman Bulut, Turkish host of the YouTube channel “Kafil,” gives the example of reading the sentence: “Mom, I love you.” If we limit ourselves to only one method of understanding, with dogmatic rules such as: “It is unscientific to mention any non-observable and/or unmeasurable thing,” then we would look at the sentence and say: “I see M twice and O three times; the letters are written in black Baskerville font.” If someone points out: “But, this is written by someone to his mother, expressing love,” then we are quick to point out that this approach is unscientific, as a writer has not been observed and meanings are not measurable. (https://youtu.be/c92bmeAHYjo?t=126)
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Similarly when we hear the following:
- “All creatures came in succession, one from another,” it is like saying each letter in the sentence was written by the previous one.
- “The laws of the universe created the universe,” it is like saying the rules of grammar wrote the sentence.
- “The human body was formed by DNA,” it is like saying the English language wrote the sentence.
In each case above, the cause for something is attributed purely to the thing that existed before it. Reading a sentence by counting its letters and spaces ignores its purpose and meaning. Explaining the universe by assessing its physical components provides partial information. On the other hand, studying the universe to know its Creator and the meaning behind its creation is true knowledge.
Why we need to acknowledge our Creator
Our happiness in this life and the next can only come from submission to the Creator and by following His revelation. When I visit a new location and ask a trusted resident for directions to a nearby attraction, I have two choices: I can either follow the directions given or strike out on my own and try to find my way by trial and error. If I choose the former, I will not get lost. If I choose the latter, I’m opening myself to hardship and the possible failure to reach the destination. The most logical and efficient way to get to an unknown destination is to take directions from a trustworthy source.
In the example above, if I decide to take the local resident’s directions, he might help me further by walking with me part of the way or even taking me there. But if I say no, I’ll find my own way, he’ll probably leave me to face the results of my obstinacy, and I might get lost.
Similarly, if we accept God’s guidance, he will provide us with further help and direction along the way. But if we turn our back on His help, He might leave us to flounder in our ignorance.
Say: “Shall We tell you who the greatest losers are? They are those whose effort is lost in this worldly life while they think that they are doing well!” (Quran 18:103-104)
But God is most Merciful. Even when we try to forget Him, He puts us in situations where we are forced to remember Him. Wherever we go we cannot escape God.
Look at the amount of time and energy atheists spend in discussing God—Whom they deny!
Our Creator —because He knows how much we are dependent on Him and because He knows that an optimal life for us in this world and the next requires that we know Him— keeps Himself in our thoughts and words, surrounds us with His signs, and keeps questions about Him continuously in our minds.
C.S. Lewis, an ex-atheist, and arguably one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century, expressed this eloquently: “…night after night, feeling whenever my mind lifted even for a second from my work, the steady, unrelenting approach of Him whom I so earnestly desired not to meet. I gave in, and admitted that God was God.” (https://www.goodreads.com/quotes/681434-you-must-picture-me-alone-in-that-room-in-magdalen)
Atheists and agnostics have taken the first step of denying false gods and man-made distorted religion. God wants them to take the next step of knowing Him truly in His Absolute Power, Glory, and Mercy.
To guide people along this path, He appeals to our logic, our heart and instincts. He reminds us of His blessings and offers incentives. He invites us to discover the signs of His design and the fine-tuning in His universe. He also gives us plenty of guidance; He has sent prophets and revelation and preserved His last revelation, the Quran, as a lasting reference for all Mankind.
If you think about it, He even put this series in your path.
What’s ultimately at risk?
There are two possibilities after death:
- The first possibility is that there is no Afterlife; therefore no reward or punishment. In this case, it’s no loss – no gain, both for the believer and for the non-believer. However, the believer would have lived a more hopeful and purposeful life in anticipation of something much greater. Decades of research show that religious people live longer lives, enjoy better psychological health and have higher emotional intelligence.
- According to a 2018 study from Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, participation in spiritual practices during childhood and adolescence may be a protective factor for a range of health and wellbeing outcomes in early adulthood. The researchers found that people who attended weekly religious services or practiced daily prayer or meditation in their youth reported greater life satisfaction and positivity in their twenties. They were less likely to have depressive symptoms subsequently, to smoke, use illicit drugs or have a sexually transmitted disease than people raised with less regular spiritual habits. (https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/religious-upbringing-adult-health/, 1)
- At the John Hopkins School of Public Health, Ying Chen and Tyler VanderWeele studied the associations of religious upbringing with health and wellbeing from adolescence to young adulthood. The results showed that weekly attendance of religious services was associated with greater life satisfaction and other positive effects, several character strengths, lower probabilities of marijuana use and early sexual initiation and fewer lifetime sexual partners. (https://academic.oup.com/aje/article/187/11/2355/5094534, Abstract)
- In a 2019 study, published in the Journal of Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, Laura Edinger-Schons studied the impact of “oneness” beliefs on life satisfaction. (https://www.apa.org/pubs/journals/releases/rel-rel0000259.pdf, Abstract)
She found that those who believed in oneness were more satisfied with life.
Muslims, on average, had the highest mean value of oneness beliefs, because the central ideology of Islam is “Tawheed,” which means the Oneness of God and his Attributes (Part 1).
Muslims were followed in ranking by Christians [not self-identified as Protestant or Catholic], then came Buddhists, Hindus, Catholics, Protestant Christians, Jews, other non-Christians, and finally atheists.
- Another 2019 study by the Pew Research Center, a non-partisan “fact tank,” compared the lives of religious and non-religious people from more than two dozen countries. The study found that religiously active people are typically happier, make healthier life choices and are more “civically engaged.” (https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/31/are-religious-people-happier-healthier-our-new-global-study-explores-this-question/)
There are many other similar studies:
- Religious involvement and mortality: a meta-analytic review (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10868765)
- Blessed assurance: Religion, anxiety, and tranquillity among US adults (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/38036096_Blessed_assurance_Religion_anxiety_and_tranquility_among_US_adults)
- Religion, Spirituality, and Health: The Research and Clinical Implications (https://www.hindawi.com/journals/isrn/2012/278730/)
- Does Religion Stave Off the Grave? Religious Affiliation in One’s Obituary and Longevity (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1948550618779820?journalCode=spp)
- Religious Service Attendance and Major Depression: A Case of Reverse Causality? (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3299417/)
- Religion, a social determinant of mortality? A 10-year follow-up of the Health and Retirement Study (https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0189134)
The results of the above studies and other research on this topic are hardly surprising. Atheists might believe this worldly life is all there is, and that they should make the most of it. However, it is very difficult to enjoy life once you’ve removed all meaning and purpose from it.
- The second possibility is that there is an Afterlife (this is the only possibility for a believer) and therefore there are rewards for some and punishment for others. In this case, the believer is the winner, attaining unlimited rewards in eternal life, while the non-believer is a big loser, subjected to a miserable eternal life, without parole or second chances.
So enter the gates of Hell to abide eternally therein, and how wretched is the residence of the arrogant. (Quran 16:29)
Many non-believers, when asked about the second outcome, say that God will be forgiving. It is a paradox how they expect forgiveness from a God Who they claim does not exist!
Yes, it is possible that some will be forgiven—God is the Most Merciful— and it is good that they think so well of God.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “God the Highest said, I am as My servant thinks (expects) I am.” (40 Hadith Qudsi, Hadith 15; related by Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Al-Tirmidhi and Ibn-Majah, narrated by Abu Hurayrah).
Nonetheless, it is a considerable risk to count on forgiveness while turning your back on the Forgiver, sometimes even fighting Him and turning people away from His path. In this world, we see examples of God’s punishment, so we know He is capable of severe retribution.
Furthermore, God is Just and Fair. How is it fair for someone who ignored God all their life to get the same reward as someone who devoted his/her life to God, and lived in accordance with His rules?
Shall We then treat the people of Faith like the people of Sin? What is wrong with your judgment? (Quran 68:35-36)
Blaise Pascal, the French philosopher, mathematician and physicist, argues that a rational person should live as though God exists and seek to believe in God. If it turns out that God does not actually exist, such a person will have only a finite loss (some pleasures, luxury, etc.) whereas if God exists, he stands to receive infinite gains (eternity in Paradise) and avoid infinite losses (eternity in Hell).
For a believer, there are three types of lives.
- Life 1: endless happiness
- Life 2: endless misery
- Life 3: a mix of both
The first two can only be found in the afterlife. Life 3 is this worldly life we are living now —a short test to determine whether you end up with After Life 1 or After Life 2. We can spend Life 3 complaining that we never wanted to be tested in the first place, objecting to the test questions and grading system, and criticizing and attacking the examiner; but we’ll just be running out the clock and wasting the time and effort we could have used to get Life 1.
Sir Thomas Scott, the former Chancellor of England, said these famous words on his deathbed:
“Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a Hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.” (http://www.google.cat/books?id=fy20dDbgu-MC&pg=PA468&focus=viewport&vq=piety&dq=editions:UOM39015023545141&lr=&as_brr=0&hl=ca&output=html_text, para. 5)
We ask God for a merciful ending.
…To be continued in Part 26