A cartoon in the San Francisco Chronicle illustrates this truth wonderfully. Two atheists are going door-to-door introducing their religious beliefs. They stand in front of an open door, and the man inside says, “This pamphlet is blank.” They answer, “We’re atheists.”
If there is no God, there is no story. There is nothing to write, no guideline, no indicator. Nothing makes any difference. Do whatever you want to do! The pamphlet is blank. The universe is silent.
The mere fact that atheism might be depressing does not mean that it is false. If it is true, we may as well own up to it now.
But we all have this sense, not just that life is hard, not just that we suffer. We have this sense not just that things are bad, but that things are not the way they’re supposed to be. Children are not supposed to grow up with no one caring about them, no one providing for their education and health just because they’re the wrong color. Women are not supposed to be abused. Dads are not supposed to die of cancer when they are forty years old and their children are young.
If the universe is a machine, a giant accident, a blind, pitiless indifference, where did we get the idea that there is a way that things are supposed to be?
This is a very simple picture. It is not philosophically profound, but it helps me to think about it in a simple way: A woman I know named Sheryl went to a salon to have her nails manicured. As the beautician began to work, they began to have a good conversation about many subjects. When they eventually touched on God, the beautician said, “I don’t believe God exists.”
“Why do you say that?” asked Sheryl, who has MS.
“Well, you just have to go out on the street to realize God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine loving a God who could allow all these things.”
Sheryl thought for a moment. She didn’t respond because she didn’t want to start an argument. The beautician finished her job, and Sheryl left the shop.
Just after she left the beauty shop, she saw a woman in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair. She looked filthy and unkempt. Sheryl turned, entered the beauty shop again, and said to the beautician, “You know what? Beauticians do not exist.”
“How can you say that?” asked the surprised beautician. “I am here. I just worked on you. I exist.”
“No,” Sheryl exclaimed, “beauticians do not exist, because if they did, there would be no people with dirty, long hair and appearing very unkempt like that woman outside!”
“Ah, but beauticians do exist,” she answered. “The problem is, people do not come to me.”
Exactly. —Faith and Doubt by John Ortbergf