Imaginary Friend for Comfort?: God and Wish Fulfillment
God & Wish Fulfillment
Atheism removes God, keeps evil, and creates the problem of ultimate hopelessness. This statement is surely correct, but it opens up the possibility of the friendly atheist responding: “Yes, what you say is true, but at least we are courageous enough to face the facts, as unfriendly as those facts may be. Our existence may be absurd, but we have the fortitude to embrace that absurdity and live our lives with dignity. At least we can’t be accused of wish fulfillment like you Christians. Your belief in heaven and cosmic justice and redemption is solely the result of your wishes and longings projected onto an otherwise cold and uncaring cosmos; God, heaven, ultimate justice, all are just projections of human wishes and longings with no objective reality in our universe.”
How is a Christian to respond?
The Double-edged Sword1
Firstly, this argument cuts both ways. In fact, the wish fulfillment hypothesis implies that all worldviews, or overarching cultural narratives, are birthed out of human desires (collective or individual) and that would include atheism. When I originally wrote this article, a status update from one of my Facebook friends read: Stephen Hawking says, “Religion is for those afraid of the dark.” John Lennox says, “Atheism is a fairy tale for those afraid of the light.” This pithy clash of wits illustrates the point exactly; witness the double-edged sword in action. After all, how do you know a person’s belief that God doesn’t exist isn’t fueled by their desire to be an autonomous individual, or to live their life free from the entanglements of a meddlesome deity that presumes to interfere with their sexual proclivities – a desire to side step the light? Many atheists don’t want there to be a God. Does that psychological fact alone prove that God actually exists? Of course not! In the same way, longing for God to exist, or for life after death, doesn’t imply that God doesn’t exist, as the wish fulfillment argument would seem to suggest.
In fact, in our experience the opposite is often true. In our lives our desires often correspond to real objects or experiences that satisfy those desires. For the Christian our longing for God or eternity makes perfect sense. We desire God because we were created to know and enjoy God forever.
Wouldn’t Wish For That!
A second point to make involves the many elements of orthodox Christianity that few would wish for. For example, I don’t relish the thought of hell for enemies of friends. In addition, Jesus’ ethics found in the Sermon on the Mount certainly make life a little more difficult; learning to ‘love my enemies’ is not on my ‘bucket list.’ Moreover, I would change some of the Ten Commandments and do away with uncomfortable religious duties like fasting. In my religious scheme sanctification would involve making fun of the Toronto Maple Leafs and eating hot wings. And I don’t for a minute want to appear mean-spirited but the only type of cultural Christian that can legitimately be accused of wish fulfillment, in my view, is of a liberal variety that tends to jettison anything in scripture that doesn’t jive with their personal proclivities, or the cultural moment in which they theologize. This theological liberalism is an exegetical hall of mirrors where different versions of oneself appear wherever one looks. To quote some little known words of C.S. Lewis:
This [theological liberalism], by the way, exposes the feebleness of all those watered down versions of Christianity, which leave out all the darker elements and try to establish a religion of pure consolation. No real belief in the watered down versions can last. Bemused and besotted as we are, we still dimly know at heart that nothing which is at all times and in every way agreeable to use can have objective reality…Dream furniture is the only kind on which you never stub your toes or bang your knees.2
Dream furniture has a startling resemblance to dream theology. To believe and receive the whole counsel of scripture is a splash of cold water to the face, waking us up from our attempts at fashioning a God in our own image and likeness, as the wish fulfillment argument would convict us of doing.
*This article is adapted from Appendix 2 of the book Suffering With God: A Thoughtful response on evil, suffering and finding hope beyond Band-Aid solutions.