Ayaan Hirsi Ali recently stirred controversy by announcing her departure from atheism and embracing Christianity. This revelation has ignited fervent discussions among atheists and Christians alike. In this discussion, I aim to scrutinize not just the act of adoption but, more importantly, the rationale Mrs. Ali provides for this significant shift.
To comprehend Mrs. Ali's embrace of Christianity more deeply, it is crucial to examine her own articulation of the transformation. I use "adopted" instead of "converted" due to an ambiguity surrounding whether her acceptance is rooted in genuine religious conviction or as a comprehensive worldview. It appears her adoption is driven more by pragmatic considerations, a facet I will delve into shortly.
Mrs. Ali presents a singular "argument" regarding the pragmatic and political motivations underpinning her adoption of Christianity. To quote her directly: "I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable—indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: What is the meaning and purpose of life?" (Ali, 2023)
While the source of endurance in one's life—particularly if it's religion—merits unwavering conviction, it's essential to address what seems to be an antiquated hyperbolic rhetoric often wielded, predominantly by Christian and Muslim apologists. This notion suggests that atheism inevitably leads to nihilism, contending that without a god, life lacks purpose, meaning, and hope—not only for individuals but for humanity and the entire universe.
This is where I intend to delve into Ali's embrace of Christianity. I have extensively explored Nietzsche and nihilism in my writings, both in Shadow and on this blog, reflecting my profound passion for the subject. It is patently absurd to assert that the absence of a god implies a lack of purpose or meaning in life. Regardless of the existence of a deity, the universe remains indifferent to our presence and bestows no inherent purpose upon us. While this assertion holds truth, it overlooks valuable nuance and context.
Cosmic nihilism undeniably exists, but even if God exists, our meaning and purpose are solely derived from the divine will. If God ordains us to be mere actualizers of someone else's purpose, that becomes the extent of our existence. Personally, I find this notion more disheartening than the prospect of self-determining my purpose and meaning. The truth is, the meaning we attribute to ourselves and everything around us is entirely contingent on our perspectives and choices.
Consider a homeless individual who hasn't had a meal in three days, exposed to freezing temperatures. This grim reality is a recurrent occurrence globally, as evidenced by an incident in my hometown of Cincinnati, Ohio, in 2018. This man succumbed to the bitter cold on a bus stop, devoid of any known family. His demise, a poignant and harrowing chapter, became a mere footnote in history, overlooked even by the city itself.
This underscores a fundamental issue: it occurred in the very world we inhabit, irrespective of the existence of God. It prompts contemplation about his purpose and what held significance for him. I am certain he prayed, as is commonplace among many in the US, particularly during trying times. He likely prayed for sustenance, for a sheltered haven, perhaps just a fire to stave off the biting cold. Yet, in this life, his prayers remained unanswered.
The lingering question persists: what was his purpose? It wasn't to serve as a lesson in compassion for the homeless. The Cincinnati Catholic diocese, along with the vast majority of the three thousand churches in Hamilton County, possessed the means to provide him shelter and sustenance. Despite the city having a homeless shelter, it's almost invariably at capacity. Regrettably, he became just another statistic, largely forgotten by the city and its residents. Moreover, such scenarios are tragically commonplace not only in the US but globally. People succumb to exposure daily, and hunger claims even more lives. The collective power of humanity, particularly within the realm of Christianity, holds the capacity to eradicate homelessness and hunger. Yet, we opt not to act. Religion chooses not to act. In this regard, such a sense of purpose appears hollow, offering no tangible solutions, whether from theistic or atheistic perspectives.
The notion that the absence of ultimate meaning implies a lack of meaning altogether persists. Individuals like Mrs. Ali and Frank Turek often assume that atheism inevitably leads to nihilism, yet this assumption reveals a misunderstanding of what nihilism truly entails. Nihilism asserts that there is no meaning whatsoever, a position that is both extreme and untenable. In reality, I know of no one, whether atheist or otherwise, who professes or practices such a stark position. The undeniable truth is that we imbue meaning into our lives every day. This meaning can stem from a belief in a deity, a love for life, connections with family, interests in video games, books, music, or countless other sources.
Mrs. Ali is correct in pointing out that atheism, being a stance on the belief in a deity, doesn't inherently provide an answer to the question of life's meaning. However, this doesn't imply that atheists are left without an answer. On the contrary, both you and I, like many others, do have an answer, and it's deceptively simple: the meaning of life is whatever you decide it to be. Life itself is inherently subjective and individual, and consequently, so is the personal meaning one ascribes to it. Even if a god were to exist, individuals would still construct their own overarching purpose in life. Some aspire for power, fame, or wealth, while others seek the roles of parents, doctors, scientists, or philosophers. Some merely desire a tranquil existence on a beach, sipping margaritas. These pursuits are entirely subjective, and the existence or non-existence of a god bears no relevance to this individual determination of meaning.
In conclusion, it appears that the sole driving force behind Mrs. Ali's adoption of Christianity lies in utility, pragmatic, and political considerations. While discussions about these factors are valid, it's worth noting that her shift from Islam to "New Atheism" also seems more like an adoption based on emotional rather than intellectual grounds. It appears that Mrs. Ali may not have thoroughly delved into the philosophies and arguments of either atheism or Christianity in either of her transitions. This perception is reinforced by the seemingly weak rationale she provided for departing from atheism. Frankly, I would find her adoption of Christianity more respectable if she openly acknowledged a conversion based on a personal experience, as that, at least, would make sense.