"Smoking" Causes Atheism
by JUSTIN D. BARNARD
Director of the Institute for Intellectual Discipleship
May 5, 2009 - In his sermon “The Weight of Glory” Christian apologist C.S. Lewis writes that our desire for the good for which we were made is often far too weak. Lewis explains: “We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.”
As Christian theologians have noted for centuries, the fact that we seek and (sadly) believe that we have found deep and abiding satisfaction in the fulfillment of temporal desires is a reflection of our sinful nature – one that is chiefly characterized by disordered desires. In the particular cases that Lewis has in mind, the disorder is not in desiring something bad; it is rather in desiring something good in the wrong way. As aspects of God’s good creation, our desires for food, drink, sex, fulfillment in our work and life projects are not, in themselves, bad. Yet they become disordered when our desires exceed the intrinsic worth of the object toward which they are directed – when, for example, we want food more than infinite joy or sex more than Christ.
To the extent that Lewis’s assessment of human nature is right, one wonders what to make of the satisfaction of desire by voluntary self-deceit. Consider, for example, ECigarettes. According to the product website, the ECigarette offers “comparable satisfaction to any real cigarette” without the harmful side effects associated with smoking real cigarettes.
As a vehicle designed to enable those addicted to nicotine to quit smoking, the ECigarette no doubt serves a constructive societal function. But as a commentary on the extent to which our desires can become utterly disordered, the ECigarette is a tragic example of our “half-heartedness” as creatures – creatures “far too easily pleased.” For unlike the genuine desire for goods of God’s creation (e.g., food or sex), the desire that is satiated by an ECigarette is not a desire for any object beyond the mere satisfaction of the desire itself. Thus, as long as the “smoker’s” mind is fooled into believing that his desire has been satisfied, the reality (or lack thereof) behind the fulfillment of that desire matters not.
The danger here is worse than being “an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea.” For in this case, one is willfully indifferent to, not merely ignorant of, the very existence of the mud. Such a soul has lost not only its capacity to desire aright. It has also lost sight of the fact that what lies behind all desire is an Ultimate Reality toward which those very desires point. But in losing the point of desires, such a soul has lost the point of everything.