Vested Interests

“If God did not exist, I would be necessary to invent him,” quipped Voltaire.[1] Indeed, no matter how passionate debates on God’s existence become, Voltaire’s observation is something skeptics and believers surely agree on: there are immense benefits in believing in God. A sense of protection, benevolence, purpose, and hope awaits those who throw themselves at God’s arms, and equal levels of certainty and stability arrive to those who do so in an uncritical manner. Any fresh convert would say how they feel their life improved after they embraced God, how they sense peace and love, and how they want to share this discovery with others. There is a wealth of intellectual serenity and emotional relief for those who cross the threshold of belief in God.

To examine the issue of God’s existence objectively, then, it is not enough to limit oneself to philosophical debates, scientific discoveries, theological discussions and historical developments. The greatest field of inquiry is actually the arena our own soul, and its vast fears, hopes, and desires. “The question of the existence and nature of God is a question attended by a host of vested interests,” noted R. C. Sproul. “If we are to examine the question with integrity, we must both recognize and face the implications of our vested interests. If we refuse to do that, then truth will perish, and so will we.”[2]

On the other hand, one cannot avoid the fact that there are also immense benefits in not believing in God. One gets a sense of liberty, of freedom from moral constraints which are not one’s own, a sense of control over our life, an easy dissociation from believers who are credulous, sticky or cheesy (or the three at once!). “[I suppose the reason] we all jumped at the Origin [Origin of Species] was because the idea of God interfered with our sexual mores,” disclosed Julian Huxley. “The sense of spiritual relief which comes from rejecting the idea of God as a supernatural being is enormous.” [3] In a similar way, C. S. Lewis describes how he preferred atheism for years because he did not want to relinquish control over his life and his destiny. “The materialist’s universe had the enormous attraction that … death ended all … And if ever finite disasters proved greater than one wished to bear, suicide would always be possible. The horror of the Christian universe was that it had no door marked Exit.”[4]

I have a feeling most people drift to or away from God. We believe ourselves to be self-made people, who consciously and independently make up our minds. Yet our spiritual choices may be more a product of our relationships, upbringing, and lifestyle preferences than we may want to acknowledge. A friend’s approval may be more determining to our belief than Aquinas’ arguments, for instance. Or our emotional preferences may already predispose us in one direction or another, say, if we long for God’s stability or fear his authority, or if we fancy the prestige of morality or the pleasures of boundless exploration.

The question of God is not a theoretical exercise; it spurts from our guts as well as from our minds. To know God or to reject God includes knowing oneself. We will not be more intellectual if we run from our hearts, but less.

René Breuel

[1] Voltaire, Épître à l’Auteur du Livre des Trois Imposteurs (OEuvres complètes de Voltaire), ed. Louis Moland [Paris: Garnier, 1877-1885], tome 10, pp. 402-405.

[2] R. C. Sproul, The Psychology of Atheism (Bloomington: Bethany Fellowship, 1974), 156.

[3] Julian Huxley, Religion Without Revelation (New York: Mentor Books, 1987), 32.

[4] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy: The Shape of my Early Life (London: Houghton, 1995), 170-173.


One response to “Vested Interests

  1. Pingback: Religion, Atheism, and Guts « Rumblings·

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