Sunday, August 3, 2008

The Meaning of Contemporary Atheism

Let me make the point I made in Nietzsche, Atheism and the Eucharist in another way.

Let us grant the atheist all his premisses. There is no supernatural, divine being as proposed by Christianity or the other great religions. Jesus of Nazareth performed no genuine miracles and did not rise from the dead. Furthermore, religion is a pernicious blight on the world. It is responsible, if not for everything bad in the world, at least most of it. We would all be better off if it simply went away.

Let us grant all that. Yet the facts of religion remain, and in particular I am thinking about the facts of Christianity. Whether it is true or false, the Bible is a fact. The two-thousand year old Catholic Church is a fact. Chartres Cathedral is a fact. Furthermore, the culture inspired by religion is a fact. The Christian-inspired West explored the world, invented modern science, and created Handel's Messiah, Shakespeare's MacBeth, Dante's Divine Comedy, Rembrandt's The Prodigal Son and the Calling of St. Matthew, and the Sistine Chapel.

My point is not that, because Christianity created Chartres Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, and inspired Handel, Bach, Rembrandt, Dante and Dostoyevsky, that it must be true. It is that these things happened whether Christianity is true or not. There are two possibilities:

1. The Bible and the culture it formed were inspired by God.

2. The Bible and the culture it formed were creative products of the human imagination.

The believing Catholic says the former; an atheist, of whatever stripe, says the latter. But in saying the latter, the atheist doesn't always understand the full implications of his own position. The Catholic attributes the profound achievements of Western culture to natural human creative powers taken to new heights by divine inspiration; the atheist must say that human creative power reached those heights all on its own. In eliminating God, the atheist necessarily elevates the purely human. 

And now we come to Nietzsche. If indeed Chartres Cathedral, Dante and Rembrandt are but purely natural products of human imagination, there is nothing stopping us from achieving similar creative heights, albeit without any reference to the divine.  The real test for atheism is cultural, and whether it can match the "divinely-inspired" cultural achievements of Christendom with its own cultural achievements that make no reference to God. We know the atheist can mock the cultural achievements of Christendom, e.g. by displaying Crucifixes in urine or smearing paintings of the Virgin Mary with excrement. Nietzsche would be disgusted by such sophomoric atheism. Mockery is the refuge of the immature and the uncreative; an atheist who is satisfied with atheism doesn't need to mock because he is secure in his own cultural achievements. The end result of such mockery is nihilism and, finally, the "Last Man", the denizen of the culture that has given up the attempt to do anything significant and satisfies itself with watching TV from cradle to grave. Sort of like our own.

Desecrating the Eucharist only testifies to the emptiness of contemporary atheism. It is an act that testifies to its own insignificance, for it has power only to the extent that the Eucharist itself is significant. Instead of mocking the Eucharist, the atheist should be creating his own rival, secular liturgies that match the Catholic Mass in sublimity and solemnity. When the atheist sees Catholics reduced to mocking secular liturgies, he will know that he has won.


Moses Gunner said...

I would highly suggest for you, and any one else interested to read the book ""The Devil's Delusion: Atheism and its Scientific Pretensions." by self-professed secular Jew and mathematics/philosophies teacher David Berlinski.
This tells the story of a Jew who was forced to dig his own grave prior to being shot by a German soldier. Prior to being shot, the old Jewish man advised the German that “God is watching what you are doing.” The Jewish gentleman pointed what i think is the real problem with atheism. "If you have the time please check the book out

David T. said...

Yes, Berlinski is excellent. I read that book this past Spring.


Gandolf said...

jaajoe the german soldier was from a country that had much religion .He followed a dictator that posibilly had a part jewish father who had beat him as a child and left his mother as a single parent .This dictator had much religion witin his youth and infact had had dealings with a german christian priest who had fed hatred of the jewish race into his soul .

Do you suggest the average morals of atheists is to go around killing people ?, i do hope you can produce imformation to provide witness and facts for this judgement you seem to be trying tp make .Otherwise i doubt that Jesus or any god would be very happy with this conviction .

Samuel Skinner said...

Gandolf, don't you know? Apparently theists think that without religion people would go around killing. Have these people never heard of Plato? Am I surrounded by morons?

Sorry. Anyway, Plato cover why morality is independant from God in the Euthyphro dilemma.