I tend to be swayed, not by the arguments of atheists, but by their habits of mind. Just going on autopilot I end up living out my “Christian routine” with a heart set on this world, as though this were all there is.
Materialism in the existential sense gets hold of me by way of materialism in the pragmatic sense.
I slip into a callousness to spiritual things quite easily when distracted by my own work, relationships, etc–and by the many voices to which I daily choose to expose myself.
But they aren’t voices making logical arguments. They’re voices saying, “You want this” or “You need that” or “This is urgent” or “important” or “valuable”.
These voices slip in by emotional or physical appeal and sheer force of influence. And I let them in without thinking because they come at me so fast and so many that my defenses are worn down. Viewing and deleting an email advertising more make-up from the brand I prefer seems harmless, but when I deal with ten such emails a day, plus ads and other people’s posts on Facebook and Instagram, every image and urging builds in me more and more of a materialistic worldview. Circumventing my reason in a sheer battle of attrition, they go straight for the heart.
It’s hard not to be a default materialist in a world of constant consumerism.
But when I examine my hands–real, tangible, sensory things–and consider that these real, non-digital hands can bend and move and twist and point and snap and anything else I might think of the moment I think of it, I can’t help but marvel at the ingenuity.
Not mine, of course, but God’s.
Ah, but it takes a very intentional pause from my daily routine and my daily news and email feeds to be able to remind myself that I am not a materialist.
Every time I stop long enough to examine that perspective, to try it on, if you will, I find it utterly untenable. I don’t believe that what I see is all there is. I don’t believe my hand, with all its precision and dexterity, could have come about by mere chance. It’s too beautifully and brilliantly crafted. Like a machine, only so much more than a machine. Like a work of art, only so much more than a work of art.
So why this disconnect between what I know to be true (not just in my heart of hearts, as the expression goes, but in my most clear-headed moments of the mind) and the flying on agnostic-at-best autopilot? Why this practical atheism?
While I could again mention the nature of our modern world, it seems this is a human problem afflicting the ancient world as well. Why else would the Apostle Paul find it necessary to exhort his readers to “keep seeking the things above” if not for the fact that it is so darn easy to fall for lesser things?
Worldliness, idolatry, and the patterns of thinking and behaving characteristic of each are not a new enemy of faith and reason.
It’s hard to set your mind on these things when you’ve sated your senses on the world, leaving no room–and no taste–left for the things above. Even this time of meditation and writing has not been entered into without a struggle.
But it started with prayer. Or rather with fighting for it. And praise–though I have to admit I’ve been out of that practice as well, outside of the usual routine.
Trying to pray and praise when your heart is cold–and because you know that your heart is cold–is an uncomfortable and difficult place to be. But, praise God, He met me in that place and is answering my cries for help to pray and to praise Him.
I started off praying, “God is good,” etc, while wondering inside whether I actually cared.
If He is real and He is good, then I ought to care. The dullness I felt on the matter led me to examine my hands and question my base assumptions, and finally come out aright again.
He is real. He is there. He is good. He is personal. He is a magnificent, intelligent Creator.
Yes, I care about those things. Yes, I want to know Him. Yes, He is worthy of praise.
That may not amount to a deep theology, but it is the foundation for everything else, at least in my experience. All the details of salvation are moot points if I’m not sure about spiritual reality to begin with.
But once I am, all the rest of it matters.