IS ATHEISM OUR PROBLEM?

In an new encyclical, Pope Benedict XVI has launched a powerful attack on atheism, writing that it is responsible for some of the “greatest forms of cruelty and violations of justice” in human history.

The Pope also urged Christians to put their hope for the future in God and not in technology, wealth or political ideologies. He goes on to argue that ideologies such as Marxism that holds that man must establish a society that ignores God have been proved wrong by history.

The idea that man can do what God cannot by creating a secular kingdom on earth is “presumptuous and intrinsically false.” He added: “It is no accident that this idea has led to the greatest forms of the violations of justice.”

“A world which has to create its own justice is a world without hope.”

Marxism, the Pope wrote, had left behind “a trail of appalling destruction” and it is essential to realise that man could not be “merely the product of economic conditions” but that man has been redeemed and he also needs God’s unconditional love.

Do you generally agree with the thinking of this new encyclical or do you disagree?

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17 Comments »

  1. 1
    Barbara Says:

    You cannot make a comment based on phrases excerpted from the whole document.
    I look forward, however, to reading it. From longer passages read elsewhere, it sounds quite thought-provoking.

  2. 2
    Tony Kondaks Says:

    As represented by your excerpts, yes, I do. The destruction left by Marxism in the 20th century is not mentioned enough in the media and our culture.

    I take issue with the ways this Pope views man’s relation to God and other matters but he seems to be right on here.

  3. 3
    Cate McB Says:

    As represented by your excerpts, no, I don’t agree with the thinking in this encyclical. Any and all ‘isms’ can & have brought destruction, even and to a great degree, Catholicism. Atheism is no exception, obviously, but at the same time, even atheism creates a space for dialogue that is not often present within institutional religions like Catholicism.

  4. 4
    Paul Costopoulos Says:

    In the name of “isms” much evil has been done. However the “isms” are not the culprits. Those who misunderstand or exploit them to grab power and dominate others are the real criminals. An “ism” in itself is neither good nor bad, the use we make of it makes the difference.
    What I have seen so far of Benedict’s thinking worries me even when it seems to open a door. You always wonder what is behind it. I guess it still is cardinal Ratzinger.

  5. 5

    The trouble begins when one type of thinking, perhaps harmless enough on the printed page, becomes enforced at the expense of all others through the sword, gun, or guillotine. Totalitarian governments, as their name suggests, attempt to execute total control of people, even over their thoughts. An atheistic state can fall (and has fallen) to the temptation to declare its way of thinking as the only valid way and to punish all those with dissenting views. This doesn’t seem to be a requirement of atheistic states, though, as they can be based on a reasoned understanding of justice. I wouldn’t say atheism is our problem, referring to the problem of mass murder and destruction. The problem occurs when any of us, theistic or atheistic, attempt to make ourselves into gods. All utopian plans and programs that put faith in human instruments have as their foundation this folly and hubris.

    I guess it also depends upon what is meant by an atheist state. If it is a state that forbids the freedom of religion (and therefore is exercising control over thought), then yeah, I’d say it’s a problem, as such a state will proclaim itself as god, if by using different words.

    BTW, I think its pretty cool that the pope brings the critical theorists (Adorno et al) into his discussion.

  6. 6
    Chimera Says:

    “The problem occurs when any of us, theistic or atheistic, attempt to make ourselves into gods.”

    I’m 180 degrees away from this way of thinking. I’m of the opinion that our problems began to occur when we forgot we are gods, and ceded our power to a nameless, faceless, supernature which thenceforth received all the credit for that which we do, and none of the blame.

    Atheism is not the problem. A steadfast refusal to take back what rightfully belongs to us — our diety — that is the problem.

    But, hey…live and let live, laissez faire and all that, eh?

  7. 7

    Yes, Chimera, it seems our thinking is apart on this question. Curious, when did we think we were gods, what was our basis for thinking thus, why did we forget, how would taking back our diety help matters?

  8. 8
    Chimera Says:

    “…when did we think we were gods…”

    We never thought we were gods. We were gods. We still are, if we pay attention, and if we want it. Some of us have already reclaimed our diety.

    The when, how, and why of it goes so far back into pre-history that it very likely can’t be pinpointed with any accuracy. But it started when individuals realized that power gives privileges to those that hold it. And control is power. If you can control the behaviors of other people, you have power over them…and that is the why of it. The how is by inventing a supernature of such awesome proportions that nothing can defeat it, make it invisible as well as all-powerful, then appoint yourself its spokesman. Convince enough lazy sycophants of your intercessional abilities and necessity, and you’ve got yourself a job for life. At that point, the snowball effect comes into play, and the rest is — literally — history.

    That’s the short version of it. Anthropologists, archeologists, theologists, philosophers, historians…all those people and more have explained and will explain in much more detail.

    The inventor of organized religion was the first travelling salesman of his day. And he made out like a bandit.

    “…how would taking back our diety help matters?”

    When we stop blaming some supernature (conveniently, over which we have no control) for all our problems, and when we stop appealing to that same supernature to fix all our problems for us, and when we stop viewing life as a team sport and claiming that the supernature is on our side, then maybe we will actually begin to solve some of the problems we have created for ourselves.

    Recognizing our own diety will also acknowledge the diety in others. We will stop hating other people because they are not exactly like us. We will take responsibility for ourselves, and expect the same of others. We will stop being fearful of that which we do not understand, and instead will try to find the understanding.

    It’s difficult to pack an entire culture into a few paragraphs, but will this do for a start?

  9. 9

    Thanks for your response, Chimera, and yes, it will do for a start. I think I’ve got a sense of your thinking on this matter, but before I offer a response to your particular points, I have to ask, what do you mean by the words “god” and “diety” as applied to human beings?

  10. 10
    Chimera Says:

    God, diety, and human beings: different names for the same thing.

    In principle, anyway. Some human beings (and that would be most) do not want the diety part of themselves. They would rather think of diety as being outside themselves rather than part of themselves. It’s easier for them to remain philosophical juveniles so they don’t have to assume responsibility for their own actions. You’ll hear them say things like, “It’s God’s will,” a lot, thereby divorcing themselves from any cuplability if things go wrong. They also tend to credit their outside diety for all the good stuff that happens to them.

    They see themselves as puppets, continually at the whim of the puppetmaster, with no influence of their own. They don’t articulate it that way, but that’s the essence of their existence.

    I use the term “juvenile” for the sense of not having reached full potential, rather than childish. Children tend to have an awesome connection to their own diety until the grown-ups in their world convince them to deny it.

  11. 11

    Chimera:

    Surely free will (and accompanying responsibility) is at the heart of the Christian message. What’s with the puppet stuff?

  12. 12
    Chimera Says:

    Neil, not a lot of Christians bother to get the message of free will and responsibility. They say it’s there, but they usually mean it’s there for themselves and not for anyone else. Unless you’re Christian — and their specific type of Christian, mind you — you don’t have the right to free will. They see it as one of the perks you get for joining their club.

    Puppet, marionette…wrong image? What image would you prefer to use for someone who is constantly other-directed?

  13. 13
    Chimera Says:

    Neil, not all Christians bother to get the message of free will and responsibility. They say it’s there, but they usually mean it’s there for themselves and not for anyone else. Unless you’re Christian — and their specific type of Christian, mind you — you don’t have the right to free will. They see it as one of the perks you get for joining their club.

    I don’t limit this to just Christians, though. Any of the book religions have cliques that do the same thing. Not all followers of the religions do this. But enough of them to make a bad impression for the rest.

    Puppet, marionette…wrong image? What image would you prefer to use for someone who is constantly other-directed?

  14. 14
    Joe Agnost Says:

    I always thought “free will” was how christians explained sin…

    How could an ‘all powerful’ god allow so much evil in the world?? It’s the “free will” part of humanity, that’s how. Without “free will” the earth would be like heaven – which it clearly is not!

    So, even with “free will” the religious are still puppets because they are told by the authority what is right and wrong and exactly how to behave. Excercise your “free will” while still abeying ALL of these rules or you will go to hell.

  15. 15
    Chimera Says:

    “I always thought “free will” was how christians explained sin…”

    Aaaaahhh…what an interesting point! I shall have to remember that.

  16. 16
    jeffrey1 Says:

    The pope takes a ‘shot’ at Marxism but maybe he should ‘take the log out of his eye’ and remember the evil that the Christian regime of his fatherland brought upon Europe, or maybe the crusades especially the Children’s Crusade or burning at the stake or….

  17. 17
    Peter LeBlanc Says:

    If I thought God was only theistiic I would be an atheist. A God pulling strings would drive me nuts and perhaps that was the cause of all the violence the Pope was talking about. Pantheism teaches that everything is God, partly right. The Catholic Church teaches that God shares His Divinity with us. It also teaches that God is transendent of us . We cannot corner God, this is called Panentheism. The “en” Gives God His escape route.


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