Is It Possible to Build Faith in a Creator?
“WHEN I thought about the possibility of a Creator, it made me angry to think that someone might have the power to prevent human suffering but was not prepared to use it!” Thus said one former atheist who lost family members in the Holocaust. He was hardly alone in feeling as he did.
When faced with atrocities, many find it difficult to believe in God, or they seek solace in the idea that God does not exist. What are the major factors that cause some not to believe? Would humankind be better off, as some think, without God or religion? Is it possible for an atheist to build faith in a loving Creator?
Ironically, a leading cause of atheism is religion. Historian Alister McGrath explains: “What propels people toward atheism is above all a sense of revulsion against the excesses and failures of organized religion.” Religion is often seen as a factor behind wars and violence. An atheist and philosopher named Michel Onfray muses on how it is possible that the same religious book could inspire two types of men, one “aspiring to saintliness,” the other “carrying out an act of inhuman cruelty”—terrorism.
Many people have bitter memories of their involvement with religion. During his military service, Bertil, a young Swedish man, heard the army chaplain justifying violence by referring to Jesus’ warning that those who took the sword would perish by the sword. The chaplain reasoned that there must be somebody to wield that sword, so the soldier must be a servant of God!—Matthew 26:52.*
Bernadette, whose father was killed in France during the second world war, remembers feeling outraged by the words of the priest at the funeral of her three-year-old cousin: “God has called this child to be an angel.” Bernadette later gave birth to a disabled child, and she received no comfort from the church on that score either.
Ciarán, who grew up against the backdrop of the violence in Northern Ireland, was repulsed by the doctrine of hellfire. He used to declare that he hated any God responsible for such wickedness and challenged God, if He existed, to strike him down. Ciarán is not alone in his revulsion for such harsh church teachings. In fact, church dogma may have helped prepare the way for the theory of evolution. According to Alister McGrath, it was Darwin’s “visceral distaste” for the doctrine of hellfire—not his belief in evolution—that raised doubts in his mind about the existence of God. McGrath also notes Darwin’s “deep grief over the death of his daughter.”
For some, the practice of religion is synonymous with mindlessness and fanaticism. Irina, who was disgusted with empty religious sermons and repetitive litanies, relates: “It seemed to me that religious people did not think.” Louis, repelled by the acts of barbarity perpetrated by religious fanatics, took a more radical position: “After showing me its boring face for years, religion now revealed to me its hideous face. I became aggressively opposed to all religion.”
Better Off Without God?
Not surprisingly, then, many people view religion as an obstacle to human progress and peace. Some have even asked themselves if humankind would be better off without God and religion. However, would such a wholesale rejection of religious thinking bring its own problems?
The 18th-century philosopher Voltaire bitterly protested the abuses of the corrupt church of his time. Yet, he considered the existence of a Supreme Being to be fundamental to our moral sense. Later, the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche famously proclaimed that God is dead, but he was afraid of the moral vacuum and the possible harm that might result from atheistic thinking. Were such fears justified?
Author Keith Ward notes that as mankind entered the modern era, barbarism did not decrease but instead “reached heights never previously imaginable.” Nor have experiments with atheism freed mankind from the failings of human nature, such as corruption and intolerance. These facts have led many thinking people, even atheists, to recognize the moral value of belief in God.
Keith Ward highlights the beneficial influence of belief in God: “Faith adds an insistent moral demand, a responsibility to care for the world that God has created.” Numerous recent studies have indicated that there is an increased level of altruism among the religious. Altruism, in turn, tends to bring on a measure of satisfaction. Such findings reinforce the value of the principle set out by Jesus: “There is more happiness in giving than there is in receiving.”—Acts 20:35.
One former atheist, a social worker, came to be impressed by the Bible’s ability to influence lives. He said: “Having spent many years, with very limited success, trying to help people change behavior that was damaging to them and others, I found it remarkable to see how dramatically people could change for the better. I also learned that the changes were sustained.”
Nevertheless, as far as some atheists are concerned, belief in God has produced far more massacres and conflicts than goodness and altruism. They may recognize that faith has a good effect on some, but they themselves remain profoundly skeptical. Why?
Further Causes of Disbelief
Many are taught that evolution is an established fact. Anila, for example, was educated in atheistic Albania. “In school, we were taught that to believe in God was naive and backward,” she relates. “I regularly learned wonderful things about plants and organic life, but I attributed everything to evolution, since this made us look as if we were in harmony with scientific thinking.” She admits today that the “proofs that were given had to be accepted blindly.”
A sense of bitterness may pose an obstacle to some. Jehovah’s Witnesses often encounter this attitude when they go from door to door, offering hope from the Bible. Bertil, mentioned earlier, received such a visit from a young Witness. Bertil remembers saying to himself: ‘Poor fanatic. You have come to the wrong place!’ He says: “I let him in and began to vent my indignation concerning God, the Bible, and religion.”
Gus, from Scotland, was troubled by injustice. Initially, he was very argumentative and challenging during discussions with Jehovah’s Witnesses. He asked questions that were reminiscent of those of the Hebrew prophet Habakkuk, who said to God: “Why is it that you make me see what is hurtful, and you keep looking upon mere trouble?”—Habakkuk 1:3.
God’s seeming indifference to wickedness has also long troubled humans. (Psalm 73:2, 3) Simone de Beauvoir, a French writer, once said: “It was easier for me to think of a world without a creator than of a creator loaded with all the contradictions of the world.”
However, does the inability of many religions to explain such contradictions mean that there is no explanation? Gus said that he did at last find “a satisfactory explanation for why the all-powerful Creator has to allow human suffering for a while.” That, he said, “was an important step for me.”*
Some individuals claiming to be atheists may actually have doubts about evolution, may sense their own spiritual need, and may even pray. Let us see what caused some atheists and agnostics to think more deeply about the subject and eventually build a close relationship with their Creator.
What Helped Them Build Faith in a Creator?
Appealing to common sense, the young man who called on Bertil showed him that there is an enormous distinction between true Christianity and the religion practiced by those who are Christians in name only. Bertil explains what impressed him, beyond arguments in favor of the existence of a Creator: “I admired his patience with my stubbornness. . . . He remained very calm, and he always had some literature for me and was well prepared.”*
Svetlana, who was influenced by evolution and Communism, was convinced that only the fittest survive. She was nonetheless troubled by this harsh concept of life. What she was taught in medical school added to her confusion: “During lessons on atheism, we learned about the survival of the fittest. But in medical courses, we were taught that we should help the weak.” She also wondered why humans, who were supposed to be an evolutionary improvement over monkeys, suffered from emotional problems that did not afflict monkeys. The explanation for these contradictions came from an unexpected source: “My grandmother explained to me from the Bible that it is our imperfection that causes negative emotions.” Svetlana was also thrilled to learn the Bible’s answer to such questions as why honest people suffer.
Leif, of Scandinavian origin, was a firm believer in evolution and considered the Bible to be a book of fairy tales. One day, however, a friend challenged his convictions: “Are you aware that you are only repeating what others have said, without knowing a thing about the Bible?” Explaining the effect of those words on him, Leif says: “I realized that I had never called evolution into question, but I had swallowed it whole. . . . I think that among other things a knowledge of Bible prophecies and their fulfillment can help an atheist to start thinking.”—Isaiah 42:5, 9.
Ciarán, mentioned earlier, was disillusioned by years of involvement in politics. When contemplating life, this idea crossed his mind: Only a powerful and loving God could resolve the problems facing the earth and show him the way out of his personal misery. ‘Oh, how I wish I could find such a God,’ he groaned within himself. In extreme distress, he prayed: “If you are there to hear me, show me somehow, and show me a way out of my own misery and the pain suffered by the human family.” A few days later, one of Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on his door. The Witness explained what the Bible teaches about the wicked influence behind human governments. (Ephesians 6:12) This explanation confirmed Ciarán’s own observations and stimulated his curiosity. After further Bible study, his faith in a loving Creator began to grow strong.
Mankind’s Creator and You
Religious hypocrisy, such atheistic teachings as evolution, and the prevalence of wickedness have caused many to doubt or even deny the existence of a Creator. However, if you allow it to, the Bible can provide satisfying answers to your questions. It also reveals God’s thoughts, “thoughts of peace, and not of calamity, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11) For Bernadette, whose child was born disabled and who doubted the existence of a Creator, that hope became like a comforting dressing on the wounds of her personal suffering.
The Bible’s explanation of God’s permission of suffering has touched the mind and heart of many former atheists. By taking the time to find the Bible’s answer to such vital questions, you too may come to be convinced that there is a God who is, in fact, “not far off from each one of us.”—Acts 17:27.
As to whether genuine Christians should be involved in war, see the article “Is War Compatible With Christianity?” on pages 29-31.
For a detailed explanation of God’s permission of wickedness, see the book What Does the Bible Really Teach? published by Jehovah’s Witnesses, pages 106 to 114.
For arguments in support of creation, see Awake! of September 2006, “Is There a Creator?,” published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
[Box on page 13]
Questions Left Unanswered by Evolution
• How could life come from something without life?—PSALM 36:9.
• If humans descend from inferior monkeys, why did not a single superior ape-man survive?—PSALM 8:5, 6.
• How can altruism be explained by the theory of the survival of the fittest?—ROMANS 2:14, 15.
• Does mankind have any real hope for the future?—PSALM 37:29.
[Pictures on page 12, 13]
How could a loving God create a world in which children suffer?
Religious hypocrisy has turned many away from God