Alister McGrath, in his book, Doubting, gives Christians a way to understand, come to grips with, and fight doubt. There are many excellent aspects of this book, but one that I want to mention here is how McGrath turns the famous “opiate” explanation on its head. (I’m sure you’ve heard Marx’s statement before, that Christianity is an opiate for the masses to help them cope with the hardships of life). Before I give the quote, let me address the atheists who might read this blog post based on its title. I want to ask you to kindly refrain from nasty comments and encourage you to think through the actual quotation and the ramifications of it rather than throw it out without a second thought. Here’s the quote.
“The atheist’s argument goes like this: you want there to be a God. So you invent him. Your religious views are invented to correspond to what you want. But this line of argument works just as well against atheism. Imagine an extermination camp commandant during the Second World War. Would there not be excellent reasons for supposing that he might hope that God does not exist, given what might await him on the day of judgment? And might not his atheism itself be a wish-fulfillment? This is a devastating point. As cultural historians have pointed out for many years…people often reject the idea of God because they long for autonomy – the right to do what they please, without any interference from God. They don’t need to worry about divine judgment; they reject belief in God because it suits them. That’s what they want, but that doesn’t mean that this is the way things really are.”
“This point was made superbly by the Polish philosopher and writer Czeslaw Milosz, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1980. Parodying the old Marxist idea that religion was the ‘opium of the people,’ he remarks in “The Discreet Charm of Nihilism” that a new opium has taken its place: rejection of belief in God on account of its implications for our ultimate accountability. ‘A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death – the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, [and] murders we are not going to be judged.”
“Atheism thus depends on a core belief that it cannot verify [namely, that there is no God]. Do you see the importance of this point? Atheists live out their lives on the basis of the belief that there is no God, believing that this is right but not being able to prove it conclusively” (p. 37-38).
There is more to the argument, and McGrath goes on from there to explain the limits of science. But the main point above is valid and cannot be ignored.
Here’s the info of the book: Alister McGrath, Doubting: Growing Through the Uncertainties of Faith (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2006).