Can you imagine a world without God?
The premise of a self-sufficient world with no need for God’s love has consequences. In excluding God from the world, we exclude the possibility that the world has any meaning other than what we choose to give it. It is no coincidence that a time in which humanity is losing a sense of God is also a time which “man often seems to see no other meaning in his natural environment than what serves for immediate use and consumption.”
A meaningless world that is simply there to be used also changes our place in it: Human beings can also merely use, and be used, without regard for any given meaning. In other words, the reduction of the world to stuff devoid of any meaning cannot help but reduce man himself. Man becomes a meaningless, mechanical thing part of a larger meaningless, mechanical universe. As we see so vividly in the Nazism that claimed Edith Stein’s life, in Communism, and in Western consumerism, such an atheistic, materialist view of the world makes men slaves. As John Paul II, who experienced all three modern totalitarianisms, wrote:
“Man cannot relinquish himself or the place in the visible world that belongs to him; he cannot become the slave of things, the slave of economic systems, the slave of production, the slave of his own products. A civilization purely materialistic in outline condemns man to such slavery.”
In our contemporary civilization, we see the consequences of just such slavery. Whether in the random violence that is no longer confined to our inner cities, in the glorification of drugs, sex, or power, or in more hidden and personal betrayals of trust, we repeatedly see people seeking only their own gain. They take advantage of others on a massive scale, often without any clear consensus that this is wrong. We even find ourselves participating in this pursuit of self-interest through harm to others, perhaps not on such a large scale but nevertheless in smaller denials of meaning and human dignity. No matter who triumphs in these struggles for self-interest, humanity remains the victim.
This context leads us increasingly to doubt the intrinsic meaning and worth of the human person. It is not merely that the meaning of humanity changes in the absence of God. Rather, without a foundation beyond ourselves, there is nothing upon which we can affirm any real meaning or worth at all. It is no longer merely that at a particular moment we cannot see hope on the horizon. Rather, it sometimes seems as if there now is no horizon, no measure by which to affirm anything as good, and no sense of direction for humanity.
We are busy with many things, in all the myriad activities offered to us by a highly developed technological civilization. We can do whatever we wish with a universe of superficial stuff, but we find ourselves increasingly left with no reason to do or not do anything. Nothing seems trustworthy. No matter what we do and how much control we seem to attain, we find ourselves still only wandering over the surface of life, without entering into its depths. Indeed, there is a terrifying void at the heart of existence that becomes darker the longer we live with it, because it seems that there are no depths to human life.
In such experiences we found that “the ideology of the ‘death of God’ easily demonstrates in its effects that it is the ideology of the ‘death of man.” If God is dead, why should a human being live? A glance at the history of the 20th century, with its concentration camps, gulags, and dehumanizing relativism, makes this abundantly clear: If we believe that God does not affect the world, that very belief dramatically affects the world and ourselves.
Even a forgetfulness of God does not avoid the question but only responds to it silently. Thus, while we may often think of questions about God as something that we may think about at some times and not others, or not at all, there is a fundamental question about God at the heart of who we are. We cannot help but answer this question in some way not only in our thinking, but in our very lives. We constantly experience that this world, and especially when it is understood as self-sufficient, does not make us happy. We seek meaning and purpose in the midst of our dissatisfaction. We want to be more than we are and to participate in something greater than the individual self. Above all, there remains in each of us a deep, unsatisfied longing for love.
What are your thoughts about a world without God? Please comment below.