by Kel Willis
Can you fathom it: more Aussies believe in aliens than in God! Apparently, 80% of us believe in the existence of aliens somewhere in space whilst 74% believe in God.1 It makes me wonder about the basis for people’s beliefs. I guess with today’s emphasis on the supernatural, visitors from outer space in movies and the many sightings reported on the TV, people want to believe in the supernatural. It’s sensational and it feeds the spiritual dimension in us. Furthermore, it doesn’t make demands on us like believing in God does, for belief in God is quite different: if he is there, surely we cannot easily ignore him.
When it comes down to it, the bottom line is our response to this question: Is there a personal, transcendent and knowable being who designed and created our world? And, a not so frequently asked question, what difference does it make? Most people at some point in their lives question the existence of God and that fact in itself indicates that it is a legitimate question for us to investigate. The reality is that if God exists, what are the ramifications if we reject him? Does life make sense without God? And does he care about us or are we just part of the furniture as it were?
I often engage with people who declare themselves to be atheists or non-believers, but when I ask them why they hold this position, I find they can rarely explain their reasons in a thought through way. Instead, I hear throwaway lines about disenchantment with the church for its belief in a God who leaves the world in such a mess, or anger about people who call themselves ‘Christians’. The very idea of being accountable to God is enough to make others refuse to accept even the possibility of his existence.
I grew up with a father who spent most of his life denouncing God because of the hypocrisy of the church and its people. When I began to question his beliefs I discovered that there was very little substance to it, and I realised that his ‘atheism’ was really just a convenient hideaway from God, giving him an excuse for his lifestyle and attitudes. The reality was that my father could not bear the idea of a personal god. He was rather like Thomas Nagel, Professor of Philosophy at New York University, who perhaps in an unguarded moment said, ‘I want Atheism to be true, and I am made uneasy by the fact that some of the most intelligent and well-informed people I know are religious believers. It isn’t just that I don’t believe that there is a God. I naturally hope there is no God, I just don’t want there to be a God, I don’t want the universe to be like that.’ In the same way, my father’s rejection of God was more a desire for him not to exist, rather than being based on any plausible arguments against his existence. This mindset is common and when one hears the antagonism in the writings and speeches of some of the so-called ‘new Atheists’, one wonders if they too don’t harbour a secret fear that God may exist after all.