The jump to materialism
Here’s a curious phenomenon. Many Americans today come from a Christian background but become disaffected by it, for one reason or another, and then find “permission” in the culture to reject it altogether, saying they’re now atheists.
Didn’t they skip a step? If we’re to come off the claims of Christianity – that God became one of us; that He atoned for our sin on our behalf; that He was bodily resurrected — then wouldn’t the rolled-back position be some tentative form of theism, rather than absolute materialism? If a person acquainted with Christianity rejected its claims, couldn’t he reject the One who claimed to be Christ, and not reject God?
After all, giving up “religion” means adopting materialism. That would be obvious, but for the fact that we can fool ourselves into thinking we believe nothing, or even that we believe in nothing.
A mysterious belief system has arisen in recent years: beliefs centered on nothing-as-such. This is more than the idea of nothing as being the absence of something. This is the notion of nothing as if it were a vacuum in the mental space of somethingness. It is the idea of “nothing” as an entity of sorts unto itself. It is really a subtle shift in the concept of nothing. “Nothing” means “something.” That of course has the effect of eradicating entirely the very concept of nothing. If we call “nothing” that which is something, then we have no word left for the concept-formerly-known-as-nothing.
This plays out in the understanding of physics. It is how, for example, physicist Victor Stenger can make the absurd statement that the universe could have sprung forth spontaneously from nothing. It can do so only if he’s first fooled himself into thinking that the nothing from which it supposedly arose is really a species of somethingness.
This plays out in the culture, as well. As always in the history of man, we want freedom. Many philosophers (Friedrich Hegel, among many others) considered the history of philosophy to be primarily a searching of mankind for freedom. Freedom has come to be understood, rather artlessly, as freedom from constraint of any kind. Aiding and abetting that misunderstanding is the notion that the moral constraints of yesteryear should be replaced by: nothing. So what we misperceive as the absence of any moral construct for our lives is really just the replacement of it with another, which we don’t recognize because we’re pleased to call it, wrongly: nothing.
If there can be a nothing-as-such, then there can be a blank space left, when religion is removed. When people say now that they’re atheists, they tend to think it means only that they haven’t adopted any of the religions known to them. They believe in the absence of something, they would say. They believe in “nothing.”
That’s obviously false. If someone believes that material reality is all there is, that is just as fundamental a belief about reality as the belief that something like God exists behind and through the material reality we perceive.
An atheist doesn’t really believe “nothing” about reality. He’s not agnostic about all of existence. He thinks all of existence is comprised of that which we can perceive in the three dimensions of space, and that of time. He should therefore now turn his attention to the systematic “theology” of the belief system he has adopted. It’s not “nothing.” What is it? How exactly does materialism explain the awesome mystery of existence? Of consciousness? Of individual conscience? Of the reality of transcendent values?
If a person is agnostic because he has turned away from Christianity, he should think critically about, and come to an understanding of, the beliefs he has adopted in its place. It’s not nothing.