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Wishful thinking and reality

| Monday, November 22, 2021

The idea that Christianity is simply wish-fulfillment is a common line of attack among skeptics. “It just seems too good to be true,” I could imagine someone saying. “Sure, we all want purpose and meaning in this life and a reason why things happen. But it’s just wishful thinking. We’re tricking ourselves. We need to face reality. A cold reality, but reality all the same. Not things we believe just to make us feel better.”

When faced with such a challenge, we must not succumb to panic but first realize a crucial fact: This, and this type of “wishful thinking” argument in general, attempts to suggest Christianity is false by explaining why Christianity is false. In other words, it assumes Christianity is false from the very beginning. This is no argument at all; it fails before it gets started.

One should also note that the skeptic is being inconsistent. While affirming there is no such thing as meaning or purpose, the skeptic is only telling you Christianity is wish-fulfillment because he believes truth is important, and we should follow reason and logic. But if the whole show, ourselves and everything about us included, is utterly meaningless and without true purpose, why do we have any obligation to believe what is true, let alone try to convince others to believe the truth and suggest they have an objective moral obligation to follow the evidence? In arguing against meaning, they assume and affirm meaning. And thus their argument — and atheism as a whole — collapses. I have written about this before, so I will not belabor the point.

We have good grounds to dismiss the charge of wishful thinking already, but let’s go deeper. The skeptic assumes Christianity is immensely preferable to atheism, the latter of which provides them little reason to be biased in its favor. This is wrong-headed. When someone begins to wonder whether God exists, they often think that if they just knew God existed then all would be well and they would immediately worship Him enthusiastically. But the nearer they get, the more that idea proves totally false. The intellectual doubts are done away with. They have no reason to deny Him now. But they will still not follow His commands.

Why not? It’s simple: It runs up against their desires. This leads one to quite a shocking realization: Their opposition to Christianity was not so much about intellectual qualms as it is a desire to follow practically anything that’s not the Creator. It is one thing to believe in a god that gives you some vague feeling of meaning but is very much like you. It is quite another to believe in One who is not like you, who is holy and just and good — and therefore must punish your transgressions, rebellion and sin. All of them.

That’s why we find Jesus’ words so frightening: “Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3). It’s scary because we know we are not good. Even “our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment” (Isaiah 64:6). And so, we stand helplessly guilty before Him, having committed the most egregious crime imaginable: rebelling and spitting in the face of the Lord Almighty. Nothing we do, no great thing we could ever hope to accomplish, can pay for such an unspeakable crime. We are like Macbeth: “All great Neptune’s oceans [cannot] wash this blood clean from [our hands],” for the punishment for sins is not “x” hours of community service or good works but death and condemnation. This reality seems anything but wishful thinking.

Indeed, atheism seems far more likely to be wishful thinking along this line of reasoning. Sure, we want a God that helps us when we want, but we don’t want Him telling us what to do (who does He think He is?). We want to do what we want, when we want and how we want. But more than that, we know our sins. We cannot bear the thought of having our friends and family (let alone God) see our thoughts and our search history or what we’ve said and done behind others’ backs. How much, then, would we love if there was not a judgment, not a final reckoning, none to tell us what we’re doing is wrong and heinous and black? We want to define how we should live. We want to be our own god. So, when God says our hearts are evil and we love evil and we will face a judgment for it, we naturally desire to stifle this voice in our minds. The natural man loves sin, which God hates. That’s why he will not obey Him and desires to rid himself of any reminder of Him.

But what of salvation? Is that not wishful thinking? It would be if the Christian were merely “[presuming] on the riches of [God’s] kindness” (Romans 2:4), thinking God will simply sweep our sins under the rug. It would be, too, if we said our works could save us. All attempts to save ourselves crumble into dust before God’s Throne. But we see the God-Man, Jesus, who “came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). We see His wounds, His body through which “he bore our sins… on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24) and once for all time (Hebrews 9:12) paid in full the sins of His people. His death, His resurrection and His ascension to “the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Hebrews 1:3) prove to all generations that the Christian’s salvation is not wishful thinking but reality. As one hymn puts it:

Here we have a firm foundation,

here the refuge of the lost;

Christ’s the Rock of our salvation,

his the name of which we boast.

Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,

sacrifice to cancel guilt!

None shall ever be confounded

who on him their hope have built.


Andrew Sveda is a junior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science with a supplementary major in theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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