Sunday, August 10, 2008

Worshiping At c

Ah, Physics 364. Those were the days.

You are moving at the speed of light.

So am I. So is everything.

If that sounds preposterous, you're only thinking in three dimensions, while neglecting the fourth: time.

If you're acquainted with Einstein's Theory of Special Relativity, or at least some decent science fiction, you know that the faster someone moves through space, the slower that person moves through time.*

The reason everyday experience doesn't reflect this truth is we never approach speeds through space where this is relevant. But if you were to travel at the speed of light (impossible, I know, but forget that for a moment), you would actually cease to move through time at all.

A technical way of phrasing this idea would be to say that the magnitude of our velocity through all four dimensions of space and time is a constant, c, the speed of light.

Why do I mention this? Well, for one I find it fascinating. Maybe you find it less fascinating, and that's why I'm the one with a physics degree. At any rate, the concept is directly analogous to one about which I thought in church today.

That other concept relates to worship. God commands, in both the Old and New Testaments, that his followers should love him with their entire being: heart, soul, mind, and strength. In short, their entire lives should be worship.**

Such demands of devotion are not unique to Christianity and Judaism. It is often noted that religious believers of all stripes have in common the desire to "open themselves" to a "higher power," whatever that means. And it is here that many atheists find a great advantage for themselves. That advantage is freedom from worship.

If there is no higher power, as atheists believe, then all worshipers are wasting their time and, if they're sincere enough, their lives. By sidestepping this flaw in human nature, atheists are free to invest their devotion elsewhere. They thus lead tremendously more efficient lives; rather than spend one hundred percent of their energies on a God, as the Bible would command, they spend zero.

Such is the atheist-humanist gospel. In this view, religion is the great problem, because people waste their lives on it and even kill each other over it. If people could simply accept that there is no God, they say, we would be able to build the true future of our species. (Not that we'll be able to enjoy it; by then any of us will be luxuriating in oblivion.)

However, such thinking is based on the flawed preconception that freedom from worshiping God is freedom from worshiping. It might seem to be true, just as it might seem that by sitting still one is not moving. However, just as a stationary person continues at the speed of light through time, we all give our entire being away. It is our choice whether that gift is to God or to something which ultimately perishes.

There are a host of things which people worship yet aren't God. Some devote themselves to the pursuit of money, or power, or a legacy, or another human being. We're all familiar with these things, yet we're perhaps not as familiar with calling them what they are: idols. Stand-ins for God.

Everyone, even those who profess to devote themselves to God, is affected by the idols' shiny allure. And I know by experience that silver and gold and all their kin are far harsher masters than is my God.

Atheists are correct to observe that fundamental to human nature is a desire to worship; they are incorrect to disregard it. Unfortunately, the belief that there is no God and ultimately no purpose to anything, precludes them from considering the purpose of this facet of nature.

The clues are right there. God has sewn them into every stitch of creation. When we resist following them to their natural conclusion, we gain not freedom but bondage. That is to say nothing of answering to a being who is owed our all and finds us delinquent in our account.

*If you're not familiar with that idea, you're certainly familiar of animations where characters stretch very long when they are moving very fast. That effect, called length contraction, is intimately related to the one of which I speak: time dilation.
**This doesn't mean that his people aren't to love anyone or anything else, as is made clear by the accompanying command to love one's neighbors as oneself. But that love and devotion must always fall under the heading of love for and devotion to God.
***In light of God's just demands for our entire being
, John Piper has advice: Don't Waste Your Life.

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