Like many families, mine loves the 2003 movie Elf. It has become a staple in our home at Christmas time along with A Christmas Story.
If you haven’t seen it, Will Ferrell plays Buddy, who, as a toddler, snuck in to Santa’s bag on Christmas Eve and is raised as an elf at the North Pole. As a grown man, he is informed that he is actually human and that his father runs a children’s book publishing company in New York City. He walks to NYC only to find that his father, Walter, (played by James Caan), is an emotionally distant man who places work above all else even his family. Buddy eventually wins his estranged father over after it becomes clear how empty his life is without any meaning beyond making his company a success.
The film was a huge success for several reasons: (1) it is a well-made movie that the entire family can watch; (2) the cast, from top to bottom, deliver incredible performances; and (3) it speaks to the universal belief that there must be a meaning to life. The lack of meaning leaves the average person feeling empowered only for the short-term. In the long-term, he or she grows to feel empty and purposeless. It is a universal moral intuition that there must be more to life than material success or physical gratification.
The third point is where I want to land. We all have a deep seeded belief that there is a grand meaning to our existence. Yet, if God does not exist, there can’t be such a meaning. If we are nothing but the product of favorable, random mutations then we, and our entire race, is destined for nothing except the dirt and the eventual destruction of our planet once the sun goes red giant.
But we know deep in our inner being that this is not so. We all believe life is actually special. In fact, we all feel that out of this there is right and wrong and obligatory actions that arise out of this truth. It is this truth that underlies the “moral argument for the existence of God.” The argument goes like this:
If God does not exist, objective moral values and duties do not exist.
But objective moral values and duties do exist.
Therefore, God exists.
One of my fellow former atheists insists this is THE strongest argument for the existence of God. He was haunted by the fact that if he embraced atheism, he had to release any notion of objective right and wrong. He had no longer had a place to stand and say, “the holocaust is wrong” or even “rape and child abuse is wrong.” He could say he didn’t like it…but…so what! Who cares! If there is no God, there is no truth, only opinion and who are you to push your opinion on me or anyone else?
If there is no God, the deaths of thousands of children in Syria this week may sadden you but you can’t say it is wrong. In fact, from the perspective of the Assad Regime, it isn’t enough!
But when we watch something as charming as Elf or are aghast at something as horrifying as Syria, we all feel a deep sense of right and wrong–therefore, God exists.