The question, has God become Irrelevant? is like Sherlock asking Watson if Arthur Conan Doyle has become irrelevant. Of course, if Doyle has become irrelevant then Sherlock too will inevitably become irrelevant. In that case, if God becomes irrelevant humans will also become irrelevant. But, when God becomes irrelevant, then meaninglessness, lovelessness and loneliness begin to take precedence. Even if for the time being we are able to create a semblance of meaning, the possibility of loneliness looms large.
The atheist Richard Dawkins doesn’t deny this possibility. After persuading his followers to abandon God he leaves them with this, “Nature is not cruel, only pitilessly indifferent. This is one of the hardest lessons for humans to learn. We cannot admit that things might be neither good nor evil, neither cruel nor kind, but simply callous – indifferent to all suffering, lacking all purpose.” Without God, even the famed atheist honestly offers us a world lacking all purpose.
Our attempts to take departure from God is often a reaction to heteronomy ( the condition of being under the domination of an outside authority, either human or divine). We feel that we are overburdened by rules, structure, and ideas of freedom that are often at odds with God’s plans and purposes. This form of heteronomy is a loveless action purely focused on behaviour. Under heteronomy people feel that they are forced to behave even when they are not fully convinced. This can indeed be a difficult place to be in. People have on occasion felt Christianity is a variant of Heteronomy. When people come to this conclusion, we hear them say, “I have given up on Christianity and I feel relieved.” If Christianity is heteronomy then exiting it should be a relief. But is it a Heteronomy? And what are the alternatives?
The alternative is to swing to the other extreme, autonomy. In a world that seeks autonomy, God comes in the way of that independence. “I want to do it my way,” is the tag line that defines our generation. The idea to do, “whatever makes you happy” has been drilled into us from all quarters. The movement in this direction might be aided by people, wealth, power and ideology. While this option brings relief, it is short-lived. Funnily, freedom can be binding. Anyone who has been young and free, can testify to this fact. Our pursuit of freedom has often led us along a path where freedom itself becomes a heteronomy.
In any case, we can all agree that happiness is important. The pursuit of happiness eventually can give us a sense of purpose. Even the ancients, like Aristotle for instance, believed that happiness is worth pursuing. But the happiness that Aristotle suggests comes from walking a very thin line; a balancing act that results in a meaningful life.
To avoid extremes is the clue. The denial of God if fully understood is an extreme step. I wonder if people “really” deny God’s existence? Do we have the capacity to honestly consider the weight of our decision? May be, they are just denying their constructed versions of God. Under those conditions it is a good idea to deny god’s existence. The story of the tower of Babel is an interesting construct of religion attempting to reach God on our terms. The destruction, though resulting in confusion, allows God to re-enter our lives. Jesus does something similar in the temple at Jerusalem. He goes in and shatters convoluted ideas of God and offers himself. In John 2:19 Jesus is not rejecting the temple, instead he is merely offering himself as the temple. Jesus is, so to say, at the centre of man’s attempt to reach God and God’s attempt to reach us.
Finally, the middle path between these two extremes – heteronomy and autonomy – is what Paul Tillich calls, Theonomy. This is not an act of force but an act of love. It pierces this dichotomy and infuses it with love. The prime mover moves in to move us towards ultimate happiness. Every other power greater than us exercises force in competition with our wills. Only Christ has the ability to work and reshape our wills to find the happiness for which it was created. This is done without violating our wills. A scene from Jesus’ life that comes to mind is when Jesus doesn’t chide the rich young ruler’s denial of his offer, instead he looks at him with love. That is Jesus’ position on our wellbeing – love – we are free to accept it or reject it depending on the direction we want our souls to take.