How the utopian fantasies of modern western atheism turned sour: Modern atheism has in some situations been able to liberate people from some of the intolerance, bigotry, authoritarianism, and stupidity of the past. And in addition, in parts of the globe, we live today with more food and material belongings, and far better health care, than any previous century of human history was able to enjoy. But there are also numerous places where human beings are still starving to death.
All in all, modern atheism tends to have to clear of a conscience. In writings promoting atheism, there is still apt to be an absence of any admission of the evil that has been done in the name of this philosophy of life. Even if some good has been done in some small parts of the world, it is difficult to exaggerate the negative effects which modern atheism has also had over the history of the last century and a half. It produced Hitler’s Nazi Germany, Stalin’s Soviet regime in Russia, the deaths of millions of Chinese caused by Mao Zedong’s atheist theories, the proliferation of nuclear weapons (and other weapons of mass destruction) beyond all reason, the genocidal murder of millions of human being in Europe Africa and a whole series of other catastrophic effects.
The kind of atheism which began sweeping through the western world in the 1840s should have a very guilty conscience indeed. Its defenders are in no position to deliver moral lectures at people who hold other beliefs. So let us not be duped by the more grandiose promises of modern atheism, and instead use the idea of the Big Bang and the ground of being to create a spirituality which respects the findings of modern science, but which also recognizes the presence of Mystery and the numinous power of the holy. Only in this way will we be able to link ourselves with the life giving power of freedom and creativity rather than the dark power of fate and destruction.
When we are beginners in the spiritual life, let us not argue what name to put on what we are sensing (such as whether we should call it God or nature). The only question we should be asking at that stage is can we feel the wonder and the awe and the majesty and the sense of the infinite?
Rudolf Otto, one of the two greatest Protestant theologians of last century, wrote a book entitled, The Idea of the Holy in which he showed how the intuitive perception of what he called the holy (which he also referred to as the sacred or the numinous) lay at the basis of all the world’s religions. It was a kind of feeling (German Ahung) which was in some ways more like an aesthetic sense. It was of fundamental importance to note that it was not an intellectualized concept (German Begriff). He said that the awareness of the sacred had to be added to Kant’s list of fundamental categories of the human understanding, because it spoke of something real which human beings have been able to feel and sense in the world around them at all times and in all cultures, and because it referred to a specific category of perceptions which could not me explained in terms of anything simpler. Otto said that this fundamental category (the numinous) could be schematized in three different ways: as the holy in the realm of spirituality and religion, as the sublime in the realm of aesthetics (matters concerning art and beauty), and as the transcendent good in the realm of ethics…To be continued.
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