Monday, 8 May 2017

What is a Man?

GrantchesterIn a recent episode of the 'charming turning to seedy' British TV drama Grantchester the lead character, a vicar, ended the episode in his now familiar Jerry Springer way, with a little homily to his dwindling congregation. 'Live for today, in the now,' is the sum of his message, before he rushes off to have sex with a now married, but once his secret sweetheart, friend. This is a live-for-now hang the consequences sort of world in which our desires, hopes and dreams are frustrated by a nebulous entity called 'society.'

A eulogy in an earlier episode reminded us we cannot be what we want to be because 'society' wouldn't allow it, as though we were meant to fulfill our immediate desires without judgement or hindrance. If you were looking for something encouraging and uplifting, Grantchester is eminently avoidable. But this seems the spirit of the age, if it feels good, do it; what else is there?

The neo-atheists, channelling Thomas Hobbes, would have us believe nothing makes sense at all and life is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short". Richard Dawkins, when espousing his particularly spiteful form of atheism insists life has no purpose, there is no objective right and wrong, and certainly nothing as asinine and vulgar as good and evil. Yet he dedicates his life to teaching us dullards the correct way to think about things. Lucky us!

The Psalmist wrote that if, 'the lines have fallen for me in pleasant places,' it is because, 'Lord you have assigned me my portion and my cup. You have made my lot secure.' (Ps.16:5/6) Not so, Dawkins would insist, if your portion and cup prove pleasant and secure it is the luck of the draw. Of course, whenever he seeks to demolish any arguments against his bleak world view, he is prepared to label religion as evil, to cry 'not right!' and more than a few have had fun with that.

I don't know what sort of world you live in but I find that even the most militant God-denier instinctively seeks purpose in an apparently purposeless universe, justice in a life that has no seeming obligation to be just, reason in an existence that is evidently blind and aimless. Indeed, so important are purpose and justice that the typical atheist cannot actually do without God for, without God, who would they blame?

It is popular to jibe that Christians pray to an 'invisible friend,' but don't atheists aim their ire at an invisible enemy? It is rightly observed, the first two principles of atheism are, 'there is no God, and I hate him!'

Deny purpose in creation as we might, who doesn't identify with the words of Hamlet; 'What is a man if his chief good and market of his time be but to sleep and feed?'

In his Confessions, Augustine famously wrote, 'You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.' Surely something in us has us recoil from the bleak prognostications of Thomas Hobbes? Some part of us agrees with Hamlet, what is the point if we simply live, eat, breed, and die? What are we - cattle?

And even if we are not yet drawn to Augustine's defining conclusion yet, even as people deny God, I find they seek him in one form or another. Either to blame him or to find, finally, rest for themselves. Either way, it seems, only God can satisfy.

If God is there, what difference does it make? If, unlike Thomas Hobbes, we instinctively seek community, richness, kindness, civility, and purpose in life then surely it matters how we live? Not for the moment, like a character in a play, but for the more we find ourselves reaching out for. If God is there, and if purpose is instinctive but frustratingly elusive, we must surely seek God, discover his purpose for us, and like Augustine, find our heart's rest in finally being the more we were made to be.

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