The Fake God
One of my best friends just posted a link to something I can’t read. I just can’t. It’s a short piece written by one of his friends– a man whose seven-year-old son came home from school this week complaining of stomach pain, and died a short time later.
Twelve hours after his son’s death, this man wrote about it for his friends, family, and anyone else who might be affected, either by this tragedy or something similar.
I can’t read it. I have a six-year-old and a nine-year-old. My number one greatest fear ever is that something might happen to them. Being a parent means forever living with your heart outside of your body. Tragedies happen all the time. When Jael was in Haiti, she saw a grief-overwhelmed mother putting her dead son in their car for burial. Death and tragedy are a constant and no one is immune. I know this too well to be able to read about the tragic death of another’s son without the gut-punch of knowing it could have been my son or daughter.
I did read a few of the comments, though, and was able to glean this much: the father is a Christian. According to his beliefs, his son is not gone forever, but has just crossed a boundary that he himself will one day cross over. There, they will be joined again, along with everyone else they’ve ever loved. There, according to his Christian beliefs, they will live together forever, with no more disease, sickness, tragedy, or death. From that wonderful dream, they will never waken. By comparison, this whole life here on earth will be the dream– a rather insipid, empty dream that will eventually be completely forgotten.
I know a lot of people these days find the Christian faith silly. The people I work with jokingly give thanks to the Great Spaghetti Monster, which (as you may know) is a mockery of any belief in God. Many of my friends– many of the people who will be reading this, in fact– consider it unenlightened to believe in the afterlife, in the concept of heaven, in an eternity of happiness with lost loved ones. They think it’s simple-minded and Pollyanna.
A lot of very high profile thinkers agree with them. Some of the smartest minds of our time have written very vocal books on the topic. Richard Dawkins wrote “The God Delusion”. Christopher Hitchens proclaimed “God is Not Great”. Douglas Adams, one of my favorite authors, felt that religious belief was so beneath him that he didn’t deign to know anyone who had any. Modern atheism is, in short, extremely vocal, almost preachy, if you’ll pardon the pun.
I am not going to say that any of them are wrong. In this context, I think that completely misses the point. In fact, just for the sake of argument, let’s assume they are spot on. Let’s assume that the disbelievers are perfectly correct– that there is no God, no heaven, and that the belief in them is simply a quaint illusion of hope in the minds of those who prefer not to face the pointless bleakness of existence.
How is it a good thing to take that illusion away from them?
For those like Dawkins and Hitchens, who openly scoff at the faith of believers, who delight in the idea of smashing that faith to bits, how is that not simply an abominable thing to do? If it is true that this life is a one-way ride to oblivion, wouldn’t it be nice to treasure a happy lie that the final destination is actually an amusement park? How much of a totally heinous ass do you need to be to run around smashing that happy lie to pieces, delighting in people’s resulting despair?
Douglas Adams had a better idea. He thought that there was value in a “fake God”. After all, he reasoned, belief in God, under the best conditions, inspires mankind to rise above their base natures. It fosters hope. If, in the end, that hope turns out to be false, who cares? Everyone will be too dead to notice. Adams may have been rather arrogantly atheist, but at least he didn’t want to go around figuratively smashing the toys of people who embrace faith.
But my question here really isn’t about who would be beastly enough to tell this father, the one who twelve hours ago saw his young son die, that his belief that they will one day be reunited is stupid. I suspect none of us would do that (Dawkins might.) And even more important, I suspect his faith is of such caliber that it wouldn’t matter.
My real question– the one that I thought of almost immediately when I saw that post– is this: for the people who don’t believe in God and heaven, who think it’s all just a quaintly ridiculous superstition… what do you do in the face of such a tragedy?
Really. If any of you are reading this (and I know some of you are), when you think of the inevitable death of someone you love more than your own life… how do you deal with it?
None of you will be surprised to know that I do believe in God and the afterlife. My faith is a very difficult thing sometimes– as I suppose it should be. It’s factored into several of my best stories– the hope that this world is not all there is; that death truly doesn’t have the final say, and what amazing, beguiling hope that offers us! I am still terrified by the idea of something awful happening to the people that I love, but that greatest-of-all-fears is tempered by the belief that the worst this world can do is separate us for a time. And that, while bad, is… manageable.
As a disbeliever, how do you do it? What does it feel like to live without that hope? How do you face the uncertain fortune’s wheel of daily life? How, in short, do you stay sane? How do you dare to truly love?
How, more than anything, would you face a world where one of your children was suddenly, senselessly, no more?
This father has a way to face it. He has a hope. Maybe you think that hope is stupid and baseless. Maybe you are even right.
Does being right really matter?
Isn’t hope better than despair?
As a character in one of my own stories said: trust may be hard, but it is always better than the alternative.
I really am curious. All answers welcome. No arguments or debates allowed.