“Of course we’re afraid of reality! Who isn’t?”

What a relief to have Paul back from sabbatical! It’s about time!

Paul, a scientist himself in his former life, weighs in on Stephen Hawking’s interview from last week, in which he said that the afterlife is a “fairy story for people who are afraid of the dark.” He discusses the temptation to psychoanalyze Hawking with the same broad strokes with which Hawking psychoanalyzes all religious believers. Here’s my favorite part:

Christians are often mocked for being afraid of reality. Of course we’re afraid of reality; who isn’t? All the reasonable people like Hawking? I can’t buy that. I think Jesus was pretty much unafraid, but he still sweat blood. And maybe Buddha was unafraid, but I don’t know enough about him to speculate.

So yes, fear motivates people. But saying “that’s what religion is” is just silly. I might as well say, “science is merely a manifestation of humanity’s crazed desire to control everything.” There’s truth there, and it would serve some people (not me) nicely if it were so. But it just isn’t. It’s really easy to write people off, but it doesn’t help anyone.

Roger Olsen, a theology professor at Baylor, whose blog entry on the subject I reflected on last week, dipped his little toe in the deep end of psychoanalysis with this comment.

Projection theory works both ways (as Hans Kueng has so well demonstrated in Does God Exist?).  Atheists project the emptiness of their own lives into the sky, believing God does not exist because, if he did, they might be in real trouble.

I wouldn’t have put it quite so starkly, but heaven knows that popular atheists accuse believers of projecting all the time. If projection is a real thing—and I’m sure it is—why wouldn’t it work both ways?

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