Sunday, 20 November 2016

A Critique of Atheism


A bus in the desert. Source: desertskytours.com
In a couple of earlier posts I have spoken against the role Christianity played in my mother’s mind in the months leading up to her death from cancer – she was worried that as she was an apostate she was destined for hellfire.* However, it has since occurred to me that atheism was perhaps the fiercer torturer of her mind, because it was her quasi-atheism that prevented her from becoming the Christian she clearly wanted to be. Her heart was a Jesus loving Christian but her mind was a sceptical atheist – the two combined were a toxic mix that eroded her peace of mind at the time in life when we need peace of mind most (when we come to meet death). Atheistic tendencies and assumptions are becoming increasingly pervasive in contemporary (Western) society, and this is a problem for polytheists, for atheism denies the existence of all deities and so has the potential to act as spiritual poison in the wavering mind, as it did for my mother. I must admit that occasionally I feel myself swayed by atheistic tendencies (especially when I am sinking into depression). Thus, I feel the need to articulate the problems with atheism as I see it. They are as follows.**
  1. By denying the existence of the divine (including the human spirit which continues on after death) atheism implicitly advocates the supremacy of a profaned material world.
  2. Taken to its logical conclusion atheism gives us no reason to live; each of us is as Sisyphus, pointlessly labouring for a lifetime with nothing more fleeting than pleasure to console us.
  3. Atheism gives us only reason and logic to trust in, but reason and logic can only get us so far. The unreasonable, emotional, imaginative, fertile and wild attraction of the Bacchanalia (and similar) will continually unfetter itself so long as life itself prevails.
  4. Atheism invites us to ignore, dismiss and degrade past personal experiences of the sacred as mere delusions and encourages us to shut our minds and our hearts to the possibility of future experiences of the divine. In this respect it lacks the very spirit of enquiry and curiosity that its adherents so often proclaim to elevate.
  5. Hard atheism amounts to the desertification of the human condition by implying the futility of religious action (though soft atheism allows for a more open mind).
  6. Atheism is boring (but science is interesting; contrary to what we sometimes read, atheism and science are not the same, and not all scientists are atheists).
  7. The most ardent proclaimers of atheism are (at least when they start talking about religion) frequently smug, cynical, arrogant and difficult to admire. Whereas the most committed adherents of religion are able to inspire us through their serene dispositions, quiet confidence, wisdom and kindness. 
  8. The sacred does exist and evidence of this is continually provided, for example, when we feel sunlight on our skin, or when lightning thunders. The polytheist recognises the sacred forces of nature but the atheist struggles to see it. Cicero wrote “the Gods frequently manifest their power in actual presence”, but it is a question of perception. For example, at various points in history various philosophers, theologians and other leading thinkers have put forward the assertion that women are so intellectually, morally and psychologically (or emotionally) inferior to men that female intelligence is fundamentally flawed and feeble. Consequently, swathes of people throughout time have refused to acknowledge the intellectual capacities of their mothers, daughters and wives. Believing what they were taught – that women’s intelligence was mediocre, if not negligible – they could not see what in fact was there. In the same way, atheism (potentially) blocks the ability of its adherents to perceive the world in its full range.
  9. At the end of the day atheism is a philosophy of negation, and that is its Achilles' heel. Religion will persist so long as people aspire to be part of something transcendent, and this will always be so. Bring on the candles and incense; pass me the flowers and wine;p

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* Although I have criticised Christianity in some earlier posts, I would like to point out that I do think there are some very nice things about Christian teachings. Those things include:
  • An emphasis on the inherent (potential) dignity of all people, regardless or class, race, etc. The love of God and a state of grace is accessible to all.
  • An emphasis on the value of life-long marriage between two people. Whilst this may not be achievable for everyone, it seems to me that people married according Christian custom enjoy greater security and dignity than those who feel the threat of divorce to be a distinctly real possibility or who are (non-consensually) subject to polygamous unions.
  • A belief in the inviolability of a sworn oath.
  • A strong ongoing tradition of charity for the homeless and destitute.
  • Teachings about the love of God, mercy and forgiveness. Any religion that genuinely helps bring love and compassion into the hearts of people is at least partly praiseworthy.
  • An emphasis on the virtues of frugality and self-restraint.
  • Having enough confidence in the power of God (as they conceive him to be) that they don't feel the need to wage "holy wars" against people who insult their religion, rather they are encouraged to "do unto others as you would have them do unto you", to love their enemies and to pray for those who persecute them.
  • The aspiration to become a Saint, which constitutes a beautiful, transcendent goal. 
  • The sound of Church bells, which I always think are lovely and reassuring.

** I feel I should point out that when I mention atheism I refer to self-identifying atheists and the atheist movement, and definitely not people who are merely non-practicing or agnostics.

Sources: written ad lib. The quote from Cicero is sourced from oll.libertyfund.org.


Written by M. Sentia Figula.
Find me at romanpagan.blogspot.comromanpagan.wordpress.com and on Facebook

2 comments:

  1. Interesting post. This kind of atheism is probably one of the most typical "sign of our times"...
    Atheism is a very polyhedric and paradoxal phenomenon. Sometimes I found more spirituality in many scientists than in (even high) representatives of the so called "major religions".

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    1. I agree! I don’t know if you have heard of him but the current poster-child for Atheism in Britain is Professor Brian Cox, who made a couple of brilliant documentary series looking at the solar system and the greater universe. In them he flirts with polytheism a number of times by favourably referencing Hinduism and Greco-Roman myths, and he flirts with spirituality almost every episode, in terms of his sense of wonder and amazement at how beautiful and interconnected the universe is. Unfortunately though he too seems to be vulnerable to Atheism induced arrogance and cynicism, if reports of his degrading (for him) twitter war with new age guru Deepak Chopra are anything to go by. I do think Atheism can be done well (just as Christianity can be done well) but the problem seems to be that many staunch (as opposed to lax) Atheists are really just recovering Christians with an axe to grind. There is a kind of venomous disdain for Christianity, and anything else which passes for religion – even while they may be perfectly lovely people most of the time. These people seem to me to be emotionally reacting, rather than using reason and logic, in their denouncement of religion … but this is a generalisation. In writing this piece I don’t actually wish for any Atheists to read it, or to condemn them wholesale, and I'm not lying when I say some of my best friends are Atheists. I just wanted to wage my own internal self-defence against this way of thinking, and of course in the same way I hope it might be helpful for at least a small number of other polytheists, but Atheism is certainly not without charisma, which makes it a tricky subject to tackle.

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