It’s a beautiful song with an unimaginably horrible message. John Lennon, the celebrated singer-song writer, originally part of the Beatles, encouraged listeners to consider how wonderful this world would be if it were all that existed, if there were no heaven or hell.
Have you ever considered what the world would look if atheism were true? What if John Lennon’s vision for the world was correct? It would certainly be a travesty for someone to reject Christianity in favor of the secular story without fully considering the consequences of atheism.
This two-part post will consider four basic human values that would be lost if God doesn’t exist.
The first thing that would clearly be lost is hope. The playwright Samuel Becket once unwittingly illustrated this in a short play he wrote called “Breath.” The play begins with a theater in darkness. As light slowly illuminates the stage, a baby’s cry is heard. As the lights grow brighter the audience can make out the dark image of trash scattered across the platform. The lights then fade and the cry is heard a final time.
For Beckett, this is a summary of life. This is a way of seeing the world that is expressed in the philosophy known as “nihilism,” a rejection of religious belief and a conviction that life is meaningless. Without God, to quote author Alan Moore, life is simply a “successful virus clinging to a speck of mud, suspended in endless nothing.”
Many will object: If the universe has no meaning, then maybe we can just create meaning for ourselves. But the truth is, we can’t be the exception to reality. If the entire show, all of creation, is without meaning and hope, then so are we. No amount of wishful thinking could change that.
2. Intrinsic human worth
In the absence of God, there also is no basis for intrinsic human value. As one person stated, “Without the fatherhood of God, there is no brotherhood of man.” This doesn’t mean that humans cannot have extrinsic worth, an external value that is based on what we can do or produce. It just means we would lose a value that is fundamental to who we are as created in the image of God.
If our worth is external to us, not intrinsic, then we could view some humans as less valuable than others since some people can do or produce more. This view wouldn’t give us a basis for human equality. That’s why we don’t have to look very far to find great inequity and injustice all around us. It’s self-evident that not everyone is treated as if they are equal.
That’s because we need more than just external worth for human equality. We need a worth that is intrinsic to who we are, that is innate. You can see this in the transcripts of famous speeches against slavery, where you often find biblical themes that ground human worth in the fact that God created us in His image.
Oliver Wendell Holmes, a committed evolutionist, illustrated this point when he said, “I see no reason for attributing to man a significance different in kind from that which belongs to a baboon or a grain of sand.” If we are just one more part of the material universe, then Holmes is absolutely right. But if we are created special, with intrinsic worth from our Creator, then we have a basis for human significance and equality.