The Necessity of Narrative…

-Chapter Seventeen

-As the Industrial and Technological Revolutions moved modern humanity away from the narratives provided by religion, the 20th century saw a steep rise in a vast array of psychosomatic disorders, depression, and loneliness. We know that narratives help to bind communities together; narratives create community and a lack of a comprehensive historical narrative lead to lonely individualistic cultures. Nowhere was this concept more apparent than in communist Russia during the 20th century; with belief in God practically outlawed by the communists, the people were left without a historical narrative to give them a constructive identity. Their sacred beliefs in science, technological competition with the USA, and global dominance was simply not enough to hold the country together. It was in the face of the great social disaster called Soviet Communism that Alexander Solzhenitsyn was able to make his final pronouncement, “men have forgotten God”. In his acceptance speech of the Templeton Prize Solzhenitsyn said,  

“More than half a century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of older people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened. 

Since then I have spent well-nigh fifty years working on the history of our Revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous Revolution that swallowed up some sixty million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” 

Marx and Engels erred in their understanding that government systems were the most critical issues of their day, and politicians of every era make the same mistake. This is not to suggest that government systems and economics don’t matter at all, because they do, but rather, without a unifying spiritual historical narrative that binds the people together any and every country eventually dissolves into decline. Neil Postman writing in a chapter titled “The Necessity of Gods” put it this way,  

“Nietzsche’s famous aphorism is relevant here: “He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.” This applies as much to learning as to living. To put it simply, there is no surer way to bring an end to schooling than for it to have no end. By a god to serve, I do not necessarily mean the God, who is supposed to have created the world and whose moral injunctions as presented in sacred texts have given countless people a reason for living and, more to the point, a reason for learning. In the Western world, beginning in the thirteenth century and for five hundred years afterward, that God was sufficient justification for the founding of institutions of learning, from grammar schools, where children were taught to read the Bible, to great universities, where men were trained to be ministers of God. Even today, there are some schools in the West, and most in the Islamic world, whose central purpose is to serve and celebrate the glory of God. Wherever this is the case, there is no school problem, and certainly no school crisis. There may be some disputes over what subjects best promote piety, obedience, and faith; there may be students who are skeptical, even teachers who are nonbelievers. But at the core of such schools, there is a transcendent, spiritual idea that gives purpose and clarity to learning. Even the skeptics and nonbelievers know why they are there, what they are supposed to be learning, and why they are resistant to it. Some also know why they should leave” 

Belief in a spiritual narrative gives the student, the citizen, the individual and the community the lifeblood needed for a successful communal experience. As other non-spiritual historical narratives evolved over the last couple hundreds years, such as Darwin’s theory of the origin of species, conservative Christianity sought to preserve their own historical narrative by adhering to a strict literalist interpretation of the creation account in Genesis. Nevermind that Christian theologians throughout history were never in consensus regarding the various stories in Genesis. For instance, Saint Augustine in his treatise “The Literal Meaning of Genesis” argued that the literal meaning behind the stories throughout Genesis were first and foremost theological, and not scientific. In other words, Genesis was written not to show “how” God created the universe, but only “that” God created the universe. Genesis is not a recording of the scientific processes God used in fashioning together the various galaxies and celestial orbs, but rather it is a testament to the creative power of God in that he created all things and that there is a reason humans exist; there is a purpose to our lives. Any student, theologian, or minister who attempts to fashion together a scientific treatise from the opening chapters of Genesis entirely fails at comprehending the true meaning behind the book.  

However, knowing that historical narratives are a vital element of human experience and a way of teaching future generations, the New Atheists of the 21st century have attempted to weave together their own narrative which they believe is able to replace the historic religious ones. Men like Christopher Hitchens, Charles Dawkins, Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and others, have contributed to what they refer to as a scientific “factual” narrative that tells the historical story about the universe of matter and energy, bound together by space, time, and eternity which evolved randomly, without order, without design, and without any intelligence whatsoever. In their godless narrative, they find beauty in the purposelessness and random mutations, none of which have ever actually been observed by the human eye (similar to the God of religion) and the complexity of this eternal random universe. The fact that life exists and that our lives are of no more meaning or purpose than a droplet of water is a story that these New Atheists are convinced is filled with enough meaning to bind together the masses in communal harmony, Charles Dawkins writes, “We are machines built by DNA whose purpose is to make more copies of the same DNA. … This is exactly what we are for. We are machines for propagating DNA, and the propagation of DNA is a self-sustaining process. It is every living object’s sole reason for living.” For Dawkin’s, in the face of the meaninglessness of the eternal universe, this narrative provides him all he needs to continue on his quest to convert the masses to his belief in atheism. However, for many philosophers, Dawkin’s narrative leaves a lot to be desired.  

Try as they may, the New Atheists have not contributed to a more harmonious world, but rather a much more hopeless one. New atheism, with all of its scientific grandeur, weaves together a story lacking in truth; Hawking, Hitchens, Dawkins, and others at best offer up nothing more than their own misguided meanderings at truth, there is very little actual scientific truth and fact behind any of their conjectures. New atheism brings to the world a message of meaningless in the face of complexity, and this message is entirely hopeless in the face of what the masses suffer through each and every day around the world.   

Spend a moment at a homeless at shelter, work in the jail system as a social worker, hang out with people who have AIDS in Africa, or sit next to a woman who was just raped and tortured in Syria; their lives are awful and in most cases are never going to get better. They are doomed to a substandard existence. If there is no god, no afterlife, and nothing in this life for these suffering masses; then most assuredly the atheist worldview offers no hope for these people.  

 It is more than an interesting little quirk of statistics that the more affluence and money people have; the more likely they are to be atheist. A recent study by Gallup found that as a nation rises economically, religiosity decreases, while on the other hand, the poorer a country is, the more likely they are to have higher rates of religiosity. Just as Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of the needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven”, we see the truth of his statement in the (mostly) white rich New Atheists who are far removed from the masses of people suffering, and believe their message of meaninglessness in a godless universe is a narrative of hope. However, what hope does an atheist offer the child born with AIDS in Africa thanks to an infected mother? What hope does an atheist offer to the women and children raped and slaughtered by Boku Haram as they lay there dying on stretchers with human aid workers. What hope does an atheist offer to the hundreds of thousands born in North Korean concentration camps, children who will live and die awful lives of desperation and torture? The simple answer is that the New Atheists offer no hope. Their message is only one for the (mostly white) individuals who buy their books and come to their lecture halls. Even worse is that just as the religious cult isolates their members from reading and hearing anything that contradicts their dogma, the New Atheists prefer that their nebbishes do not actually read the scientific textbooks published by evolutionists such as Stephen J. Gould, Darwin and others or else the glaring debates, contradictions and generally speculative nature of all the current New Atheist positions come flying out at the face of the reader. The New Atheists prefer that their nebbishes only read their apologetic books, because they claim, “the scientific textbooks are simply too complex for the average person; leave the data and numbers for the specialist and trust that we tell you the truth” they say. It is eery the way New Atheism looks and acts more like a religious cult with each new year that passes. It is eery how they have crafted their own narrative in the attempt that it will provide the historical purpose and meaning that all societies of humans have always needed.  



 *Stock Image Rob Potter

Dawkins quote reference:  Royal Institution Christmas Lecture, ‘The Ultraviolet Garden’, (No. 4, 1991) 

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