Far from being a convincing argument against the existence of God, much of the comedian-cum-writer’s new book seems to find its natural fulfilment in Christian theism, says Chris Witherall

David Baddiel

Source: HarperCollins

I love David Baddiel. I like his comedy, his song about football coming home, and the fact that he’s the only celebrity I’ve ever spotted around London.

But he’s not just a funny man and stirrer of premature sporting hope. Baddiel’s first non-fiction book Jews Don’t Count (HarperCollins), which was recently made into a TV documentary, was eye-opening and sensitively conveyed. He clearly has a talent for the written word, too.

The comedian-turned-writer seems to have started exploring deeper issues in recent years, so it’s not wholly surprising to see him wade into the God debate with his latest offering, The God Desire (HarperCollins). So far, it has garnered strong reviews, with Stephen Fry describing it as “Magnificent. Breathtaking. And shockingly rare…”.

In it, Baddiel unpacks the reasons for his atheism. He does so thoughtfully and gently; often eschewing what he calls the “macho atheism” of people like Richard Dawkins and the late Christopher Hitchens.

It’s an interesting book, offering a candid insight into a man wrestling with life’s big questions and, whether you agree with his conclusions or not, it’s an enjoyable read.

Driven by desire

The central argument in The God Desire could be stated as: Most people desire for God to exist, but there doesn’t seem to be any evidence for this. Therefore, belief in God is driven solely by a desire for him to exist.

Baddiel pares this down to a nifty equation: “desire + invisibility = God”, writing: “God is all about death…[and] the heart’s cry for an eternal protector [from it]…”

So much of The God Desire seems to find its natural fulfilment in Christian theism

He’s so confident of God’s non-existence that he says: “I know that He doesn’t [exist]… like I know that stone is hard.” But curiously, he never really unpacks why he doesn’t believe in God; or how he arrived at such a strong conclusion.

He does spend a paragraph or two on phrases like: “Throughout history…there has…been progress towards something that might be called actual truth…the thing we call science.” This hints towards Scientism – the belief that science is the only discipline that can lead to truth (ironically self-refuting, because Scientism can’t be proven scientifically).

An inseparable identity

Baddiel writes at length about his identity as a Jewish person, stating: “it confuses me at times…just how Jewish, despite, or rather through, my atheism, I am.”

He then describes how Judaism has helped him express his anguish in suffering (less so his joy in celebration); and reflects on how “religion is a key part of many people’s identity…it may be inseparable from that identity.”

Intriguingly, Baddiel also suggests that belief in God may be “hard wired” into people and, towards the end of the book, illustrates this by discussing how we grow out of belief in Santa Claus but not God. He also shares his concern that love may have replaced God in our modern society, and become a kind of deity in itself – thus our propensity to look for ‘God’ continues in various guises.

There is, of course, no necessary link between what we want to be true, and what is true, and so it is a red herring to talk about desire in the way that Baddiel does. Rather, I’d prefer to know what he thinks about the many arguments for God’s existence, which include:

The intentionality argument: Everything in the universe moves with purpose, and therefore needs a conscious director of that purpose.

The Kalam cosmological argument: Everything which begins to exist has a cause, and an intelligent cause is the best explanation for the universe’s existence.

The argument from objective morality: Some things are morally right and others are morally wrong. This goes beyond human opinion, and needs grounding in a transcendent, objectively moral being.

Like mistaking the reflection of the sun for the sun itself, perhaps we all need to be reacquainted with love’s true source

The evidence for the resurrection of Jesus: Jesus’ existence is accepted by the vast majority of historians today. It’s uncontroversial that he was crucified and that belief in his resurrection exploded very soon after. These facts demand an explanation.

The experience of billions of people throughout the world and throughout history: Christianity offers a real, living God who can be (and is) experienced today.

It’s beyond the scope of this short article to unpack all of these arguments, or present the many others that exists, but they do begin to demonstrate the gaping hole at the centre of The God Desire.

The reason for logic

The fact is, there are many good reasons to take theism – and Christianity – seriously, even if you don’t accept them at the moment. Countless academic books and articles are being written on these subjects all the time, but Baddiel doesn’t comment on any of this. He simply dismisses it, saying: “Those who believe in God should not use logical arguments to support that belief because God exists beyond logic and reason.”

I’m not sure how he came to this conclusion. Ironically, the development of science in the Western world was largely predicated on the conviction that God is a rational being, and that his creation could be explored rationally.

Quite apart from existing beyond logic and reason, Christian theism states that God is the foundation of logic and reason.

Made for more

So much of The God Desire seems to find its natural fulfilment in Christian theism, not atheism. And Baddiel himself acknowledges that atheism may not be a workable philosophy: “We might not be OK without [God]. That…might be why we hang onto Him.”

And his observation that God seems “hard wired” into us lines up exactly with what the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:11: “he has also set eternity in the human heart”.

There is, of course, no necessary link between what we want to be true, and what is true

Baddiel’s suggestion that modern society may have made an idol out of love is thought-provoking. If you accept the Bible’s assertion that God is love (1 John 4:8), it’s no wonder we’re drawn to it. Like mistaking the reflection of the sun for the sun itself, perhaps we all need to be reacquainted with love’s true source.

All of this leaves me scratching my head, wondering what led David Baddiel to become such a staunch atheist. It seems that Christianity could be the perfect fit for him, even if he hasn’t realised it yet!

C.S. Lewis once reflected that: “If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

Quite apart from leading us away from God, The God Desire leads us straight to him.