Monday, August 2, 2004

From a raving atheist (literally)

In response to my recent "What's behind the door?" joke, The Raving Atheist (TRA) sent me this comment:

. . . or you could be an atheist for just one second and know the answer: NOTHING.

My first impulse is just to say lighten up. It speaks volumes when you take a joke as your opportunity to pop in out of nowhere to pontificate on the emptiness of life and faith. Such a comment, in fact, reeks wholly of a cloudy squinting failure to appreciate even a drop of wonder. So hey, TRA, lighten up. (Then again, his kamikaze silliness does add some to the humor. I mean, who can resist smiling at the guy without a sense of humor just standing there when everyone else is laughing?)

At a deeper level, I'm inclined to say that having a sense of humor, walking in a selfless, humble embrace of the loony and silly in God's Creation, is, strangely enough, one of the greatest gifts along the path of faith. Far from being dour and dolorous, one of the clearest fruits of grace is a childlike joy. Stifle that gift, as TRA has so gleefully done, and I suspect you're also stifling embers of faith in the God of joy and wonder. I'm reminded of Chesterton's closing lines in *Orthodoxy* that, for all Christ showed us of God and Himself, the one side of Himself He did not show us was His mirth. May TRA, and may we all, accept the grace given to see the joy of God, and, in turn, the God of joy. To know God is to know life and to live is to laugh. However, to refuse to laugh, even for the most stoical purpose, is nothing short of a rejection of life, a rejection of God Himself.

What's funny is that the same narrative "instinct" to that kept the RA reading (I presume) till the end of the joke is exactly analogous to the transcendental "instinct" (spoken of in St. John's Gospel as a light given to all people, in Aquinas, in Calvin, in CS Lewis, et al.) that keeps us "reading life" until the end. If there really is nothing behind the door, why keep following the joke? If there really is nothing at the end of the road, why keep counting the miles, humming along at the wheel, pretending you're headed somewhere? Let's call a spade: if this really is a dead end, and if I really believed that, I'm done. It's over the cliffs for me. At least I'd have my integrity. Something TRA's humorless sobriety denies him.

So, why keep reading; why keep living? Because TRA, like every other person, knows there really is something at the end of the line. There really is a punchline to life. Heaven is the joke we keep getting, in increasingly deep waves of laughter, for eternity. Hell, by contrast, is the joke we refuse to laugh at, in increasingly arduous bouts of inconsolable navel-gazing, for eternity.

It's easy as pie just to sit by the highway, idling, letting the drivers pass you by. (Sadly, it's only slightly harder to shut off the car completely.) But, like it or not, TRA will keep reading every joke, and living every day, till its bitter pointless end, just for the snide satisfaction of revealing the atheistic secret of life: nothing. Now that I think of it, that really is a joke.

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