We cannot let Dennis Prager’s column at Townhall today go unanswered.
Last week the New York Times published an opinion piece that offered atheism’s response to the evil/tragedy in which 20 children and six adults were murdered at the Sandy Hook elementary school in Connecticut.
What prompted Susan Jacoby to write her piece was a colleague telling her that atheism “has nothing to offer when people are suffering.”
She wrote the piece, “The Blessings of Atheism” (“It is Here and It is Now!” screams the subhead) to prove her colleague wrong by offering a consoling atheist alternative to religion’s consoling belief in an afterlife. Atheists cannot believe that there is any existence other than this life. But, Jacoby insists, atheists can still offer consolation to people who lose loved ones, such as the parents whose children were murdered at Sandy Hook.
It is meant as no disrespect to this well regarded writer that her piece provides one of the finest illustrations of the intellectual and emotional emptiness at the heart of atheism. Jacoby’s piece actually confirms her colleague’s assessment.
Jacoby offers a quote from Robert Green Ingersoll, who died in 1899. He “was one of the most famous orators of his generation, [and] personified this combination of passion and rationality. Called ‘The Great Agnostic ‘… he also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend’s child, he declared: “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”
I read this quote at least a half dozen times, convinced that I had somehow missed its consoling message. But, alas, there was no consoling message.
“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on?
At this point we start our exegesis.
Yes, those children were suffering. Not greatly perhaps, not constantly, but yes they were suffering. Every living person from the start of life to its end, suffers – and inflicts suffering. To live is to suffer. The longer we live the more we suffer, and the more we inflict suffering. Robert Ingersoll’s declaration is the consolation, the only consolation of our mortality – that suffering ceases when we die. Everything ceases when we die. As Ayn Rand said, “when I die the world ends”. True, happiness ends too. That is why we need consolation. Most of us would say we would rather have a long life, with all the suffering it contains, than a short one. And certainly for our children we wish long life, for their sakes and for our own. There can be consolation for ourselves in the painlessness of oblivion, but that thought will not console us for the loss of those we love, especially children. For the parents of the murdered children there is no consolation.
Dennis Prager goes on:
Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared to the religious message that we humans are not just matter but possess eternal souls.
Though I am intellectually convinced that only an Intelligence (i.e., God) could have created intelligence, I understand atheism. Anyone observing the terrible amount of unjust human suffering understands the atheist. But even atheists — indeed, especially atheists, since they claim that, unlike believers, they are guided solely by reason and intellect — have to be intellectually honest. They would have to acknowledge that, in terms of consolation, there is no comparison between “The dead do not suffer” and “Your child lives on, and you will be reunited with her.”
No comparison between the truth and a lie? The parents of dead children will never be “reunited” with their children. To say that the murdered child is “in heaven’ and “looking down at you” and “you will be together again ” in “an afterlife” is a tale you can tell a child, but what sane adult can really believe such utter nonsense?
What we have here is an intellectual unwillingness or a psychological inability on the part of Susan Jacoby and just about all atheist activists (including the New York Times, which featured, not just published, her column) to confront the consequences of their atheism.
If they did, they would have to say something like this to the parents of the murdered children of Sandy Hook:
“As atheists, we truly feel awful for you. And we promise to work for more gun control. …
We atheists promise no such thing. Government control of gun-ownership will do nothing to stop evil people killing other people.
… But the truth is we don’t have a single consoling thing to say to you because we atheists recognize that the human being is nothing more than matter, no different from all other matter in the universe except for having self-consciousness.
Having self-consciousness is the huge difference. We are matter plus intelligence. And intelligence evolved, occurring at this end of evolution, not before it all started.
Therefore, when we die, that’s it. Moreover, within a tiny speck of time in terms of the universe’s history, nearly every one of us, including your child, will be completely forgotten, as if we never even existed. Life is a random crapshoot. Our birth and existence are flukes. And you will never see your child again.”
That is what must be accepted by grieving parents – not said to them.
An atheist with the courage of her convictions would have written that. But the New York Times would not have published it.
We are seldom on the same side as the New York Times, but we approve its publication of Susan Jacoby’s piece.
All this column did for me was reconfirm this insight of the Bible: “Wisdom begins with reverence for God.”
No God, no wisdom … And certainly no consolation.
Wisdom begins with believing the unbelievable?
It is manifestly absurd to believe in a “life after death”. A thing is alive if it can die. Life and death define each other. Only the non-living cannot die. Which is why we call ourselves mortals.
It is strengthening to face the truth. How can mystic fantasies and vague notions of souls finding each other in some unknown and indescribable life-after-life console any sane, rational adult? If some find consolation in bluffing themselves that something of them will survive death, it can only be by abandonment of reason and sanity.
There is no consolation for the loss of those we love. There is no consolation for our mortality but the knowledge, as Ingersoll said, that death ends suffering. For each one of us it ends everything.