Universe Column for Easter 2002
By David Alton
G.K. Chesterton once wrote that “if there were no God, there would be no atheists.” Nor, I suppose, would there be much point in celebrating Easter.Like a tap without water, or a body without a brain, Easter without God would be a meaningless affair. On Easter day the atheist has nothing to celebrate – and I pity him. In God’s place will be myriad substitutes: a belief in body building, beautiful clothes, weight watching, pop idols and the rest. The mantra is choice and the god is self.
It’s not that being Catholic means that we have all the answers but it does mean that we ask some of the right questions. We are accused of hiding behind dogma but dogma and belief are entirely different things. In coming to belief we have to ask the deepest questions about who is God and what does he expect of us.
Paradoxically, it is the unbelieving atheist who is the true dogmatist. In an often bigoted way they insist on a universal negative. The whiplash of their inner anger is often revealed as they embark on tirades against religion and all its works.
On the face of it the arguments of atheism often seem alluring enough. In Parliament they are currently trying to erode and ultimately destroy church schools. Their argument runs that if religious schools didn’t exist then religion would quietly die and, abracadabra, there would be no more religious bigotry, no more strife, no more Northern Irelands, no more September the 11ths.
The argument of the atheist is based on man’s self sufficiency; on accident; on coincidence. Atheism requires a far greater faith than a belief in God. For the atheist the number of accidents required for us to be here at all make even the most remarkable of the Gospel miracles – and especially the miracle of the Resurrection – easy to believe by comparison.
This self belief really is to be pitied. How would you feel if you thought that the only point in being here was to end under a clod of earth or in the oven of a cemetery?
It isn’t that Christians have a superiority over atheists. Self evidently we haven’t. As we stagger over the Lenten touch line, with the scars of examined conscience and plenty of soiled kit, there aren’t many of us who feel overly righteous or smug. Believing can be a tough way of living and the gift of faith can feel more like a hospital pass than an easy option for living.
But in this clash of titans what does atheism offer in the place of belief?
Atheists tell us that the purpose of living is simply progress; but progress for what? To kill the infirm, to abort the unborn, to experiment on the human embryo, to ignore the poor, to eliminate the weak?
At Easter our community of believers celebrates God’s triumph over evil, the triumph of life over death, and the certain knowledge that because each of us is made in his image that we are valued and loved by God. What greater hope could there be for the world? What progress matters alongside this?
That is why I feel nothing but sorrow for those who exclude themselves from the joys of belief and why, despite our inadequacies and our individual and collective failings, the Church must go on preaching the Easter message at every opportunity.