This pastoral passage was written for LRBC for April 22 2018.
I did some reading on ‘materialism’ last week, and the difference it makes in how we think about life. Materialism is a way of viewing the world that assumes that only physical things exist, and that everything can be explained by physical processes alone. You could say it is atheism without the anti-religious element. Anyway, while I was thinking of this I remembered the song from the 70’s called “Imagine“. The song asks us to imagine there’s no heaven, and no hell. It then goes on to express a desire for peace among mankind, seeing religion, nationality and greed as the chief causes of conflict and suffering.
Reflecting on it, I can agree with the desire for peace. But I think the worldview lacks the resources to combat the greed that can cause conflict and suffering. An outlook on life that has only the here and now to enjoy isn’t enough. Some people certainly can and do leave the world a better place for other people. But for plenty of others, a life with a dead end is a signal to make the most of what they can right now for themselves and for their tribe, and at the expense of others if that’s what it takes. It lacks power to motivate.
A materialist, physical-only worldview is a bleak one when compared with the gospel. It expects and receives no miracles; no outside help. It accepts no revelation, no explanation and interpretation of ourselves from outside ourselves. We are told we have no soul, that we are just biological machines, ultimately unaccountable and ultimately degradable. It allows us no future, no life beyond this one.
It must be admitted that some people do face the abyss of life’s end without fear (madly!). But the realisation that life has nothing left to offer would make that abyss of an atheistic death a despairing experience. In light of this, why wouldn’t most people make the most of life at the expense of others if they can get away with it?
This worldview asks too much of people for what it takes away. It isn’t a good deal.