Reasonable Atheism (29): Why (most) atheist criticism doesn’t reach me

This is our car. It is a very nice car, very practical, capacious, safe – and it has served us very well in meeting our needs. It is not a perfect car. There are several things wrong with it – it has low mpg, it tends to get too hot inside on sunny days, it has a steadily accumulating number of bumps and scratches, especially from the bicycles of small boys – but it serves the job well. It is extremely reliable and we often depend upon it.

Now imagine someone coming along to comment upon our car. This person points out the various things that are wrong with it – as listed above – and tries to persuade me that I would be better off owning a car like his (and it normally is a ‘his’). He points out how beautiful the car looks from the outside, how seamless is the paint work, how there isn’t even a minor blemish. However, when I inspect his car, I notice various things. To begin with, the car is cosmetically perfect, as if it has come straight out of the showroom. I begin to suspect that it has never been used for a journey. So I investigate further. I look inside and see some very comfortable seats and a state of the art stereo system. But I also note with great concern that there is no steering wheel, no foot pedals, no gear stick. I look with amazement towards the owner, but the owner doesn’t seem to understand why I am concerned. I ask to look under the bonnet, which he happily opens for me, and my concerns reach fruition: there is no engine. This is something that looks very like a car, but it can never be used as a car. It won’t take you anywhere.

So I discuss with the man what I see as wrong with his car. I say ‘it looks lovely – much nicer than mine – but you can’t take it anywhere’. And the response is ‘it’s impossible to go anywhere, that’s not what cars are for’. So I try to explain, ‘No, that’s not true – we use our car to go places and do things, it’s very useful’. And he says – ‘ah, no, sorry, you’re deluded. What you call an engine and a steering wheel is in fact an extremely advanced projection system. When you sit inside your car and you feel yourself to be going somewhere, the truth is that you are being lied to and deceived’. But then I say ‘but what about the shopping that I picked up, that’s now in the boot – and I do that on a regular basis to feed my children!’ And the man says ‘I see that the delusion has really sunk its teeth deep into you, I think you need professional help. I know a lot of car dealers who are very good at removing those projection systems and helping you see cars in the way that I do’. And I say, ‘Sorry, my kids need their supper.’