Does Disbelief Come From Privilege?

I’ve shared on this blog before about my background and my faith upbringing. My father was active duty military for the majority of my life, and my mother didn’t work. While we weren’t rolling in money, we lived a relatively okay life. Our basic needs were satisfied (heck, my house and a percentage of the money we spent on food were subsidized by the military). I grew up in suburbia as a middle class white boy who never really struggled in school. It was around this time that I struggled with doubt and claimed Atheism as my belief system.

Looking back now, I often wonder if the growth of Atheism in Western civilization is the result of privilege. In his book, The Problem of Pain, C.S Lewis speaks about pain and God in a profound way.

If the universe is so bad, or even half so bad, how on earth did human beings ever come to attribute it to the activity of a wise and good Creator?…Certainly at all periods the pain and waste of human life was equally obvious. Our own religion begins among the Jews, a people squeezed between great warlike empires, continually defeated and led captive, familiar as Poland or Armenia with the tragic story of the conquered. It is mere nonsense to put pain among the discoveries of science. Lay down this book and reflect for five minutes on the fact that all the great religions were first preached, and long practiced, in a world without chloroform.

C.S. Lewis is answering himself, or his past self, with this passage. From his time as an atheist, he would have claimed God didn’t exist because there was so much pain in the world (note: coming from a white man in 19th/20th century England.) As Atheist-Lewis sat in his den being warmed by his roaring fire, he took a pen to paper on that quiet evening in a country where he had the freedom to write whatever he cared about and said that God cannot exist because there’s too much pain in the world.

Contrast that with Paul sitting in a jail cell as a tortured, blasphemous Jew writing in if not all of his epistles about the goodness of God and the joy of knowing Jesus Christ, Corrie Ten Boom who watched her father and her sister die in front of her at a Nazi concentration camp and still praising God in the midst of it, or modern-day pastor, Matt Chandler, surviving brain cancer and continuing to worship God’s goodness.

God has a way of speaking in our pain. When we’re faced with the reality of our helplessness (job loss, terminal disease, death in the family), we tend to look up. Have you ever heard the phrase, “there are no atheists in the fox hole.” When confronted with an intense threat of death, many turn to the Great Other, the God who can help them in their helplessness.

Lewis goes on to say this, “We can ignore even pleasure. But pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains: it is his megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”

Ultimately, our pain is what reminds us of our humanity, what acknowledges our shortcomings, and what points us to the bigger picture.

Photo Credit: Thomas Hawk via Compfight cc

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