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The grandest delusion and the secret to life

In his last column on the subject of objections to Christianity, N139047orwich local government officer, author and Proclaimers church member, James Knight, looks at the biggest psychological trick that mankind faces and explores the secret to life.

There is no doubt that those who try their best to avoid all forms of religious thought leave themselves open to errors of thought in other things. For if we were created to know God, then any attempt to live our lives away from Him must be, in some way, a solecism against our true existence. It is not always so easy for those who are living this way to effectively guide their actions in the right way. Errors of judgement work in a similar way to the domino effect - when one makes the first error it will often continue into other errors. 

Errors of judgement come in two spectral types; the first is what you might call ‘false positives’, when we think we see something that is not there. The clearest example of this with atheists is their various methods of thought which form conclusions about man’s place in the world by creating naturalistic images. Thus a man might have a quite illogical view of love - he might think that love is coveted in order to satisfy other cognitive longings. Or equally, he might think that pleasure is sought for the purposes of self-reassurance. 
These thoughts lead him towards a further misplacement, whereby two further errors of judgement occur. Firstly, he ends up believing that certain things make him happy when, in fact, it is not those things at all. For example he might be in a relationship with a girl who is not at all right for him, but the places where she is not right for him are coincidentally the places that make him feel better about himself. A lack of intelligence on her part might sub-consciously be causing him to feel that he is quite an intelligent guy; thus you find him persevering with a girl he cannot fully love because he is basing his future, not on his love for her, but on his own instinctive feelings about himself when he is with her. 
And secondly, he has spurious ideas about what he himself needs in this world to be content, confident, actualised and happy. This is what you might call ‘false negative’, whereby a man is failing to see what is there. He is stuck in the middle of false negatives and false positives, and he does not quite know how best to function as fully as he should be. In stating this, I do not wish for you to think that this is only occurring in outward fools and rebels; for if you look closely you will see it occurring in rich businessmen, school teachers, scientists and lawyers just as much as you will see it in uneducated folk who live in deprived and impoverished areas. And it is quite easy to see that atheists who have mixed up what is real with what they perceive to be real are going to find it difficult to come round to the right way of thinking unless someone shows them their errors of judgement. 
So how do we do this? How do we get through to someone who, firstly, mistakes A for B, and secondly, fails to see C at all? Firstly, it is useful to know that the majority of people usually err on the side of caution; so, for example, a woman, when looking for a husband, might minimise her chances of a false premise (becoming attached to a philanderer, for example), by becoming attached to a less exciting, but more dependable and trustworthy man. When it comes to religion, she will usually trust what is sensory, tangible, and easily attainable, rather than what seems to her to be externally true. Our job as Christians is to help make the faith easily attainable, easily accessible and congenial to those who investigate it.
It is not so hard to see that atheism, like relationships between non-Christian lovers, is the biggest psychological trick that mankind faces; it is the grandest delusion of all. If a man can get out of bed, read the newspaper, go to work, come home, have dinner, watch the television, and go to bed without seeing God in any of those activities, it is enough for him to presume that his entire psychological make-up consists of responses and transpositions which are attached only to the things he observes. He has created for himself a full picture of what he thinks life in totality consists of. And if we think carefully we can see that the same thing applies to non-Christian romances as well.
George Bernard Shaw encapsulated the whole thought nicely when he said that “Love is a gross exaggeration of the difference between one person and everybody else”. In non-Christian relationships this is so often true - togetherness merely involves the substitution of genuine wishes for fabricated stoicism, thus he or she will compromise their true desires, and, therefore, distort their feelings about their partner. They will have created a relationship based on false premises. 
I do not wish for you to think that this occurrence naturally involves couples looking perennially unhappy; it does not. This occurs in many couples that seem, from mere external observations, quite happy and well-suited - in fact, this process of psychological trickery does not always feel like a bad thing. It is bad in the same way that alcohol consumed on an enjoyable night out is bad for you; that is, the pleasure of consumption is not the badness, it is the poor health that often results from voluminous consumption that is bad. 
So often people maintain their self-deception about their partner and so often you will see that they are all the happier for it. The same applies to their religious belief too, for self-deception is one of atheism’s greatest gifts, because it teaches men and women the spurious notion that all is not lost without God. Christian relationships are different - there should be very little psychological trickery with two people who were brought together by God, because each person is growing with the other by growing in Christ first. Just as in darkness you can only feel the shapes of things, with atheism you can only see your true destiny as a flicker of light. 
The message of Christ seems like foolishness to those who have no way of relating it to their lives. He is but a shadowy presence in the minds of those who have relegated Him to an abstraction in order to compound their predisposed feelings. This is not too dissimilar to what an uneducated man feels about knowledge or a foolish man feels about intelligence. Both know such things exist, but they can only really guess what it is like in others. They can deduce that a thing called 'intelligence’ does exist, but they would have no way of experiencing it through their own senses. In fact, if it does come upon them infrequently, it will be scarcely recognised as the thing which they see in others. It will be a wholly new form of intelligence, one that they themselves would not call intelligence at all.
So here we have a false negative: the error of accepting a null hypothesis when the alternative hypothesis is a true realisation of our creaturely position and God’s part in our lives. In other words, this is the error of failing to observe a difference when clearly there is one. We see this occurring all the time with people's thought processes, so it is not surprising that so many people are making errors of judgement when it comes to Christianity and their own salvation. Many people are not so sure about the levels of significance for their hypotheses, so naturally they try to minimise the chances of one occurring that will upset their comfort zone. This is the easiest way to call yourself an atheist, but it does not bring about much wisdom or contentedness. 
In order to help people out of this state of mind, we should try to assist them in reconfiguring their levels of significance, to help them see that the method one uses for prioritising significances is not always concomitant with one’s own personal wishes. For if it were, Christ would not have told us that we must take up our crosses if we are to follow Him. Of course, this way of thinking is anathema to many people. They go on assuming that their way of thinking is right - and this is why it can be difficult for Christians, for in one sense, they are right; their answers are right - it is their questions that are not. They give the right answer to the wrong problem. It is better to solve the right problem the wrong way than to solve the wrong problem the right way, for everyone knows that mere coincidences and instinctive thoughts can so often lead us to places that culminate in our own edification and enlightenment. 
JesusWindowAnd this is how I think we should be approaching this problem of intransigent atheism. One of the primary determinants of a problem's solution is how that problem has been incorporated or formulated in the first place. I suppose you could say that it is the right medicine but the wrong diagnosis; thus the medicine given is the right medicine for the perceived and assumed illness, but the wrong medicine for the illness with which they are actually afflicted. 
And there I think we have it; the solution to the problem. You have to show a person where they are going wrong, that is, help them alter the face of their own thinking, before you even start with the solutions. If non-believers are not entirely sure of what the right questions are, they are not, as yet, ready for the solutions. In one sense they need to be waken from their sleep.
It is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: "Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you." Be very careful, then, how you live-- not as unwise but as wise. Ephesians 5:14-15
To end this series over the past few months of Objections to Christianity, I would like to say this. As we have now looked right into the heart of Christianity and all the objections to it - we are, in a sense, faced with two very different realties. If you have thus far disbelieved, it might be worth putting all the Christian claims together to see what they amount to. If Christianity is true, it is the most stupendous fact of all - one which cannot be ignored. If it is true, every single person will find out about it in the end. And all truths must be faced - unless you are going to spend your life with your reason in abeyance - forever drifting from day to day looking for fruitless patterns and consolations.  
We all know the allure of everyday life; we all know the strong grip it has on our souls. For we are offered the chance to be kings and queens; to be masters of our souls. It is a temptation which we should resist - in fact, we can be raised above the level of king or queen - a level to which true exaltation really belongs - the level of servant. We can serve Christ, who is the master of all domains. 
Christianity is not an easy shortcut to eternity, it teaches a man, along the way, to confront the salient decisions he should be making in his life. Without God, these decisions are obscured by optimistic illusions or by the tension that follows the dissipation of these illusions. That sounds very negative, but when thought about carefully, it takes us back to that unquenched thirst we have, and that nothing can satisfy it. We covet tangibles, but we aspire something greater. If we refuse to believe in God, yet we modified our thinking to realise we cannot achieve these illusory things by ourselves, we are left with nothing but our coveting of tangibles.
If the thought of Christ in your hearts is still anathema to you; change it - just for a second. Think about all the precious things in your life; they are precious because they belong to your heart. Perhaps the tumult of the world has led you to believe that beauty belongs to the creatures of nature. Nothing could be further from the truth - for beauty comes through the pursuit of the search, not through habitual observations. Tennyson once wrote - 'There lives more faith in honest doubt', and he is absolutely right. The more you search, the more God will reveal Himself to you. But He only does so when He is ready for you, not necessarily when you are ready for Him.
The choice of mortality or immortality is before you, but you can only see choice through the glass of time. It is a picture of minutes following one another and yourself inside each minute making choices and decisions, some transitory, some everlasting. But neither these choices, nor the results of these choices are itself freedom, they are a stopwatch. For every attempt to see eternity except by observing this stopwatch obliterates your knowledge of freedom. I am not saying that freedom is a bad thing in a different context, but in this context, freedom is uncertainty. 
This stopwatch is your life on earth, but eternal reality does need to wait for earthly decisions; it exists alongside them, and it desires the removal of your freedom, for it knows that when your freedom is removed, you have eternity in your hands. You are only free (in the bad sense) when your eternal future is undecided, and those who have the certainty of eternity promised to them, no longer desire to be free in the sense of being uncertain. 
For those who do become Christians, I should say this. Sometimes people will hate you for following Christ; they will scorn, scoff, ridicule and disparage, but do not be too hard on them; for they think you have relinquished your autonomy and supposed freedom. They do not, and cannot, realise that this servitude is really a prodigious and astonishing liberation. Even though they think they have complete sovereignty over their life’s actions, they are suffocating, spending their time forging chains and coveting acceptance. How can they be free when they have that all-encompassing need for admiration? They are worried, not by what Christ thinks of them, but about others’ views of them. Their approach has not once failed to incarcerate them more and more every day. 
God breaks the chains, and against our suppressed desires He rekindles the fire of love and mercy. You should have no problem empathising with them - your life was once courting opportunity, as you waited for the shallowness of affectation. Remember, they are too proud to do what you have done, but pride is not, and never was their true friend. True friends stay loyal to the cause of friendship, but pride stings like a wasp, or rampages like a bull; it is unremitting, it runs at the first hint of trouble. It is then that natural passions often seem like your last remaining friend. Pride is disguised, stifled, sublimated, but it is never dormant - it is as cold as ice. This may be understood in another sense: unbelievers run against the wind, suffocating on the dust, but sanctified souls stand heaven-bound, and are raised above the world. The world as they knew it has become evanescent, as the spirit calls them forth, towards a new-found understanding, not previously envisaged.
Before you go back to everyday life - I shall have the audacity to ask you to think of one more thing. Habitual outlooks are really condensed philosophies; they break the rules of cognition - for even Christians (shocking where habit is predominant) are really being renewed and enriched every day, with fresh ideas and fresh impartations from our Lord. And all the time - throughout every thought about Christianity, you have tried to reconcile rumours of the supernatural with your own rumours; you wondered if those Christian claims of the miraculous - of the Spirit entering them - were really true after all. The ordinary world is another dream that has needed, but fresh dreams will come tomorrow. This is procrastination, this is denial, this is the real mystery of unbelief - it is a mystery not by being alchemical, but by being uniform. Those fascinating stories of the miraculous in other people’s lives belong somewhere else you say - ‘they do not belong in my world’
But would you not expect to feel the same thing, if you do not belong to this world of uniformity? For that ‘real world’ when you return to it is so unanswerable. Of course the fascinating story had limitations, of course the voice really subjective, or course the apparent prescience was merely an anticlimactic coincidence. You feel bad that you ever thought otherwise - for when you did, they were the times you were learning, not about ultimate realties, but of the true fragility of the self. Your rational thinking has no respite in your habitual outlook - for it takes hostage those things which hint at new spiritual beginnings.
God cannot give us a blissfulness and tranquillity apart from Himself, because it is nowhere else; it does not exist. We are connected to Him as a tree is connected to its roots. Every bit of pleasure or happiness we experience is given to us from God. The pleasure enjoyed from s*x, or from being in a love, or from being generous, are all pleasures from God; even though there are many things of which God does not approve, He still makes them pleasurable, and this causes the non-Christian problems. He will say, ‘How can I give up s*x, or avarice, or profligacy when I enjoy them so much. I could not possibly enjoy being a Christian more’. I too have thought this way, and it simply is not true. A simple formula can be used; if God who created everything, including every happy and pleasurable feeling we have ever had, is capable of creating that kind of experience even for non-Christians, it stands to reason, if He tells us that there is even more pleasure, fulfilment and happiness to be gained from having a relationship with Him, that the happiness He imparts to Christians far supersedes the experiences and pleasures to which non-Christians are so nervously attached.
If you look for the reality that governs the universe, you will find comfort in the end: but if you look for that comfort as a detached entity, you will get neither comfort nor truth - only grains of sand and unrealistic hope. Surrender yourself, and you will discover your real self, and the purpose God has for you. Lose your life and you will save it. Look deeply inside yourself, and you will find in the long run only envy, disappointment, loneliness, disillusionment, and unfulfilled desires. If you cannot find these things, you are not looking within yourself properly. Look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him all the joy that comes with knowing the Creator of the universe.
For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
If there is anyone out there who would like us to pray for them - drop me an email (anonymously if you wish), and I will see that it is done.


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 Reproduced from the Network Norwich web site. Used with permission