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For Atheists and Theists Alike: Time as God

By: for Believe Out Loud (The Houston Chronicle, USA) on April 4, 2009
The Grim Reaper

As a blogger on a metropolitan newspaper's religious blog page, I find that some of my references to a higher power or supreme being are met with ridicule or scorn by those readers who profess faith in atheistic views. This is certainly not surprising.

However, even the staunchest atheists will have a hard time logically denying one form of a "higher power" that invariably affects both believer and non-believer alike: almighty time. In the Bhagavad-gita 11.32, Lord Krishna declared, "Time I am, the great destroyer of the worlds," theologically linking time with God or at least an aspect of the divine. Robert Oppenheimer quoted this Gita verse at an initial test of the atom bomb in the early 1940s. Swami Prabhupada, the founder of the modern Hare Krishna movement in the West, often pointed out that if someone does not voluntariy submit to God while in health and youth, they will be forced to submit to an unseen higher power ultimately by time and death, involuntarily. He often pointed out, "No one wants to get old, but every one gets old. No one wants to die, but everyone is forced to die."

One of Shakespeare's characters famously admitted, "I wasted time, and now time doth wasteth me." Whether we waste time or not, the second part of this statement is certainly true: time will undoubtedly vanquish us, at least it will vanquish our bodies and material possessions. Of course, with our science and technology, modern medicine and cosmetic surgical advances, mankind tries to defeat time. Genetic research attempts this as well. However, the death rate is still 100%. Time is still winning. Atheists are trying vainly to become all-powerful, but in truth they are not all-powerful.

Time can be seen as a friend in the sense that it can help us to learn. For instance, in school, a time-deadline for a test or term paper helps us concentrate on what we need to learn. Without the deadline, in fact, we would space out and not learn as much. The deadline can be helpful. Ernest Becker cited Ben Johnson on death's possible redeeming effect: "The prospect of death," said Johnson, "wonderfully concentrates the mind." Spiritual traditions the world over hold that while the physical body does in fact die, the non-material soul within it does not, and the deadline of death can help it focus on higher spiritual lessons which will benefit it after it graduates from this short fleeting span of sixty to one hundred years.

A benefit for theistic people who see the bigger picture is that they tend to be more graceful and self-composed in the face of forces more powerful than themselves, including even death. Cyprian of Cathage eloquently upheld the wisdom of respectful obedience to death's beckoning:

"How preposterous... when God calls and summons us from this world, we should not at once obey His will! We struggle and resist, and like obstinate servants we are dragged into the presence of the Lord with sadness and grief, departing from this world only under the bondage of necessity and not with the obedience of a free will."

Of course, some atheists may say they're not afraid of death, that they control time; time doesn't control them. As Woody Allen said, "It's not that I'm afraid to die. I just don't want to be there when it happens." What do you think?

At the time of death, the Vedic teachings of India give an important tip: call upon the name of the Lord. What have we got to lose?

[ atheism ]