Why Christianity is not a religion, happiness is not the meaning of life and the Dalai Llama is wrong

Over the last little while, I have collected three quotes from local newspapers, and one from ‘Facebook’ which touch on Christian faith that I would like to share with you, and to reflect upon.All of them are dangerous because all of them have a certain appeal. All of them are dangerous because they mis-represent the truth. Christians I think need to be able to hear these arguments and be able to resist them. So here goes.

The first quote comes from the ‘Migro’ magazine of 30th January. It is contained in an interview with a philosopher, André Compte-Sponville. The interviewer starts off by quoting him and asking for a response.“I would prefer that God exists, which is one of the reasons not to believe it”  André replies. ‘I would be happy if there were a life after death, I would like to recover lost relationships and to find justice and peace. But it appears to me however that a belief which is effective exactly at the point of our strongest desires sounds like something that has been made up, just for that purpose. In other words, it is an illusion in the sense that Freud meant it: it is not an error, but a belief derived from human desires…and because nothing is more desirable than a good God, it is suspect.”This is the argument of the heroic Atheist. It goes “I would love to believe in a good God, but because I am committed to truth, I would rather discount my deepest desires than to trust them. “

About this a number of things need to be said. First of all, I need to ask “What is the meaning of our deepest desires?” Augustine tells us ‘You (God) have made us for your self and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.’ So although it is true that our deepest desires may be attached to things that are not capable of meeting them (like drugs, gambling, power, relationships) at the basis of all our desire is a desire for the true God. What André Compte-Sponville is saying is that he does not believe, a priori, that there is a real God to be encountered who is the driving force behind our desires. It is true that there are second order desires and second order satisfactions. But it is also true that these second order desires and satisfactions point beyond themselves to the ultimate: to God. To be in contact with the true God is to transcend these second order satisfactions and to recognize that it is God who is calling us through all of them. Remember the collect?

 

Almighty God, you alone can bring order to our unruly wills and affections;
give us grace to love what you command and desire what you promise,
that in all the changes and chances
of this uncertain world,our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys are to be found:

The second thing to be said to André Compte-Sponville is that Christian faith represents the death of all attempts to create a god out of our own desires. Think about the Golden Calf episode. The people miss Moses, they want something that will comfort them in the desert, so they make an idol to comfort them in the face of the absence of God and God’s prophet, Moses. That is the kind of religion André rejects, as do I. But think of Christ crucified. Here is ‘God’,  yet not the kind of god whom we have made up to pander to our desires, but the one true God who says ‘I am beyond all your striving and longing. I am ‘for you’ even when you, like a crucified man, have nothing going for you. As Karl Barth says “Religion is clearly seen to be a human attempt to anticipate what God in His revelation wills to do and does do. It is the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture.” “Religion is clearly seen to be a human attempt to anticipate what God in His revelation wills to do and does do. It is the attempted replacement of the divine work by a human manufacture.”

So again, I would say to André, ‘You have looked in the wrong place for God. The shape of God is not a product of your desire, but comes to you in the person of Jesus, who asks you, like him to die to everything, to take up your cross and follow Him. Then you will meet the one true God.’ André Compte-Sponville’s views are only tenable if a-priori one has decided that there is no God, and that everything is a product of human longing. Then he is right.

The second quote comes from a German protestant newspaper and reports the views of one Seligman, who is reporting on the sources of happiness. It says ‘People who often feel happy are those who are absorbed in their work and relationships and are part of a bigger community live a happier life than those who don’t have this ‘pillar’ (on which to base their lives).’

This idea again, points us in a direction which is just off the mark. What is important in life is not happiness as such. Happiness is as by product of a life lived meaningfully. Seligman suggests that some of the ‘wider purposes’ that can give happiness are family, or football teams or political parties. This is true, but again, all of these are second order purposes. The first order of meaning is again with Augustine: ‘You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you. ‘ Or  What is the point of devoting the ultimate (ones own life (soul/self)) to something that is not ultimate? There are lots of good purposes, but they need to take their place in relation to the ‘first purpose’: to love the Lord our God with all our heart mind soul and strength.

The last quote from my ‘Facebook’ comes from the Dalai Llama. He says ‘This is my simple religion. There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophy. Our brain, our heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” The Dalai Llama spent the greater part of his life, from when he was about nine years old in a temple, learning Buddhism. Does he tell us now that there is no need of temples? While we are busy saying ‘Yes, yes, I don’t need a Church or Temple, just my own brain’ the people who know the need for organization and collective action are bust attending their own temples (like Davos) where they can organize and plan how to run the world. This form of individualism is the most dangerous because it prevents anyone from even thinking in an alternative way about our economic systems and how they produce poverty and injustice. And then one has to ask ‘What does it mean to be kind?’ Do you remember the Aid Organisation that dug lots of wells in Africa? They lowered the water table and cause much more famine! Kindness is not simple.

So there are some reasons why everyone ought to be in Church each Sunday. You get to worship the one true God, beyond you desires, beyond your religion, and beyond individualism which is another form of slavery.

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About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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