Wednesday, March 24, 2010

The ungrateful atheist

We have been told (and keep being told) that belief in God is old fashioned, outmoded, on the wane etc, but even a brief look at the figures disputes this. In the middle of the eleventh century it has been estimated that there were around eighty million Christians in the world. Today the number of Christian believers in the world is thought to be more than two billion and is on the increase (to say nothing of Muslims, Hindus, Jews and Buddhists). Novak suggests that this may be one of the reasons why atheists hate religion, why they are so angry with believers: there are just so many of them.

It appears that the default position of humanity is belief in God. Indeed it seems one has to work quite hard at non-belief. As Sartre noted on observing a sunset, one's natural inclination is to thank someone (God) for it. But who can the atheist be grateful to? He can hardly give thanks to God. Maybe this points to another deeper reason for the atheists fury, beyond a mere frustration at being outnumbered, an inability (or unwillingness) to express gratitude or give thanks for what has been received. Perhaps it is true that as Scruton suggests, 'gratitude is the precondition of joy. Only those who give thanks are able to rejoice, for only they are conscious that life, freedom and well-being are not rights but gifts'.

Michael Novak, No one sees God: The dark night of Atheists and Believers, New York 2008, p.177.
Roger Scruton, Gentle Regrets: Thoughts from a Life, London 2005, p.238.

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