I attend a parish in the northwest suburbs of Chicago and our Pastor told us that he was recently in the city of Chicago and saw a billboard that said “There is no God…enjoy life!” Then he asked the congregation, “Are you happy?” A joyful “yes” followed!
Later, I did a quick internet search and found this slightly different billboard:
As is often the case, whenever I come across a world-view like the above I’m more taken aback by the lack or reason than the lack of faith. I suppose one could research surveys of the general happiness of believers vs. nonbelievers, or more specifically the happiness of Christians vs. atheist/agnostics, but terms like “happiness” and “believing” can get subjective and the nonbeliever might dismiss results that favor the believer with comments like “ignorance is bliss” or “brainwashing is powerful stuff”. So instead, let’s breakdown the message in the photo above the in the same way one might breakdown down any sweeping statement.
Use of Overgeneralizations
Regrettably, the term “God” is often used as an overgeneralization that can mean almost anything, which makes it mean almost nothing. If you told a mechanic “My car is not working” he would have absolutely no idea what the problem is without more information. He could not even know how many problems; it could be just one simple thing or many complex things. Similarly, if you were to say “I believe in God” we would really have no idea what you believe; it could mean just one simple thing or many complex things.
If we understand God to be the ultimate source of “The Good”, “The Beautiful” and “The True”, or more precisely, Goodness itself, Beauty itself and Truth itself, then the sign above becomes nonsensical and perhaps sarcastic. It would read: “There’s probably no Goodness or Beauty or Truth…enjoy your life.” Really? How would we do that?
Use of Hidden Premises
We often use perceptions, assumptions and base premises in our thinking without even realizing it. When my youngest daughter was around the age of four, she kept asking me to “measure her feet”. I could not figure out exactly what she really meant. In frustration, she would point to our digital bathroom scale. Think about it; you stand on the scale, look down, and a number pops-up over your feet…measure my feet. The hidden and false premise is that the number on the scale must relate directly to the feet.
The billboard statement contains a hidden premise that this “God” must be an obstacle to human fulfillment. Some sort of competitor at best; an enemy at worst. The desire for truth, beauty and goodness are implanted in us by God to draw us to Him and to each other in the quest for peace, justice and a joyful life. If we now understand God in terms of The Good, The Beautiful and The True, the only way God can be your competitor or enemy is if you are pitted against the aforementioned.
The Principle of Complete Explanation
The Greek Stoics taught that one of the basic principles of reason was that the best opinion or theory is the one that explains the most data.1
To say there is probably no God is to say the most reasonable explanation for the amazing complexity and order of our bodies, our minds, the Earth and the entire universe is probably…nothing. In other words, we ultimately come from nothing for the purpose of nothing. Is that where the data leads?
In terms of science, Christian scientists of the past like Newton, Galileo and Pascal took reason seriously with a premise which may have went like this…“We know the creator is intelligent, so we must go forward assuming the universe is intelligible.” Today, many hold the backwards, upside down and non-negotiable premise of, “We know the universe is intelligible, so we must go forward assuming there is no intelligence behind it.”
In the final analysis, how can the most reasonable conclusion be to deny reason???
- Fr. Robert J. Spitzer, Ten Universal Principles (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2011), p. 11.