Paul Kokoski
The new atheists
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By Paul Kokoski
July 19, 2012

"The New Atheists" is the name given to a group of writers including Richard Dawkins, Daniel C. Dennett, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens, who take a more aggressive approach to opposing religious belief than atheists and agnostics have traditionally done.

This New Atheism is, in its origins and aims, a type of moralism: a protest against the injustices of the world. The world, marked as it is by so much injustice, innocent suffering, and cynicism of power cannot, it is claimed, be the work of a good and just God. Such a God must be contested. In his absence man is called upon to establish justice.

The atheist's claim, however, that humanity can do, and must do, what God cannot is both presumptuous and intrinsically false. Indeed, this idea has led to widespread cruelty and the violation of justice.

We have seen the contemporary results: nihilistic yet impeccably democratic legislation that repudiates life itself! I am thinking here of existing, enacted, and pending articles of legislation that legalize the use of various drugs, the practices of prostitution, contraception, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, abortion, euthanasia, cloning, in-vitro fertilization, and the hollowing-out of human dignity through genetic manipulation, human trafficking, and other new forms of slavery.

On a global scale one can also add to this list: the inequality in the distribution of goods, the depletion of the earth's resources, and the increase in poverty, famine, and illness. Also, one cannot forget the brutal campaigns that were waged against religion in the 20th Century by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia.

A world which seeks to create its own justice purely through human reason, the very existence and origin of which the atheists cannot explain, is a world without hope. No one and nothing can guarantee that the cynicism of power, whatever beguiling ideological mask it adopts, will cease to dominate the world.

Contrary to the New Atheists, faith is necessary as a purifying force for reason, to liberate it from its blind spots and help it to be more fully itself. Faith and reason are like two wings on which the human spirit rises to the contemplation of truth. When human interests and values are based on reason alone, apart from the truth that transcends them, the individual and his human rights, dignity, worth, and capacity for self-realization are at the mercy of caprice.

When man rejects absolutes, he ends up judging by pragmatic criteria which are based essentially upon experimental data, in the mistaken belief that technology must dominate all things. All of life's mysteries are then reduced to problems that must be solved in commensurate with the human mind that has posed them.

However, beyond man's intellectual ability to solve problems there are mysteries which engage, not only the mind, but also the heart, body, and whole being. These mysteries do not challenge us to master their complexity; rather, with a sense of reverence and awe, they invites us to marvel in contemplation at their core simplicity.

God has given us an image of himself. This image we see in Christ, who was made man, was crucified, and who stands in complete opposition to the many false images of God created and posed by the atheist. God has revealed his true face in the figure of the one who suffers, who shares man's God-forsaken condition by taking it upon himself. This innocent God who suffers, has attained the certitude of hope: there is a God, and God can create justice in a way that we cannot conceive, yet we can grasp it through faith. No doubt, the question of justice constitutes the essential argument, or in any case the strongest argument, in favor of faith in eternal life.

In our everyday lives, we experience many greater or lesser hopes. But when these hopes are fulfilled, it becomes clear that they were not, in reality, the whole. We discover that man has need of a hope that goes further. We realize that only something infinite will suffice for us, something that will always be more than we can ever attain. This great hope can only be God, who encompasses the whole of reality and who can bestow upon us what we, by ourselves, cannot attain.

To protest against God in the name of justice is self-defeating. The New Atheists forget that man always remains man. They forget man's freedom; they forget that freedom always remains also freedom for evil. They believe that once the economy, for example, has been put right, everything else will automatically be put right. Their real error is materialism: man, in fact, is not merely the product of economic conditions, and it is not possible to redeem him purely from the outside by creating a favourable economic environment. Indeed, the kingdom of good will never be definitively established in this world. Anyone who promises a better world, guaranteed to last forever, is making a false promise; he is overlooking human freedom.

The New Atheists are wrong to believe that man can be redeemed through science. This kind of hope is deceptive. Science can contribute greatly to making the world a better place; yet, it can also destroy mankind and the world unless it is steered by forces that lie outside it. If technical progress is not matched by corresponding progress in man's ethical formation, in man's inner growth, then it is not progress at all, but a threat to man and the world.

The tragic consequences of atheism demonstrate that the growth of our technical possibilities has not been matched by an equal development of our moral energy. Moral strength has not grown in tandem with the development of science; on the contrary it has diminished, because the technological mentality of our time has largely confined morality to the subjective sphere.

The security we all need as a presupposition of our freedom and dignity can only come from the moral strength of man — not structures — and where this is lacking or insufficient, the power man has will be transformed more and more into a power of destruction. Man, ultimately, is not redeemed by science but by love. In this sense, it is true that anyone who does not know God, even though he may entertain all kinds of hopes, is ultimately without hope.

The new moralism of the atheist uses terms like progress, freedom, liberty, equality, justice and peace. But these concepts are decidedly vague and largely confined to party politics where they are open to all kinds of abuse. In contrast, being in communion with God draws us into his "being for all" and makes his way of being our own way of being. God commits us to live for others, but only through communion with him does it become possible truly to be there for others, for the whole.

The first essential setting for learning this hope in God is prayer. When we pray properly we undergo a process of inner purification which opens us up to God and thus to our fellow human beings.

The second place for learning hope is in suffering. Suffering is a part of our human existence. What heals man is not sidestepping or fleeing from suffering, as the atheists do, but rather our capacity for accepting it, maturing through it and finding meaning through union with Christ, who suffered with infinite love for us. A society that is unable to accept its suffering members and incapable of helping to share their suffering and to bear it inwardly through compassion is a cruel and inhuman society.

Our lives are involved with one another. Through innumerable interactions they are linked together. No one lives alone. No one sins alone. No one is saved alone.

Atheism is incapable of saving man for it is essentially a materialist ideology that reduces man to a mere machine. When man is nothing more than a product he becomes subject to the control of man. Imperfect individuals must then be weeded out; the path of planning and production must aim at the perfect man. Suffering must disappear, and life is to consist of pleasure alone. In the final analysis atheism encourages consumerism, selfishness, power, and pleasure-seeking — denigrating the importance of faith and scoffing at the "absurdity of thinking about God."

Perhaps the great tragedy of this world is that atheists have no one to really love. Since there is no one to love they never think of the love of God. Their life is tragic indeed.

© Paul Kokoski

 

The views expressed by RenewAmerica columnists are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of RenewAmerica or its affiliates.
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