The following text is a reflection on several articles or books I read over the years by Catholic writers concerning the decay of Western civilization, particularly French author André Frossard, a convert from atheism. The three brands of atheism are taken from his writings, but the comments on atheists’ motivations are mine. Like Frossard, I brand myself in my agnostic period as a dumb atheist. Though I never actually doubted God’s existence, I was completely indifferent to spiritual reality for many years. The last paragraphs, on natural and eternal law and fundamental choices, are inspired from Jacques Maritain’s works on moral philosophy. The quote from Leon Bloy is from Maritain’s testimonial to that Christian writer who had a decisive influence on his own conversion to Catholicism.


 ATHEISM

Twenty years ago we had the historic chance to witness the bankruptcy of the first militant atheist government in the world. It crumbled to dust due to its own degradation. No war, no embargo, no pressure from the outside. It was living on philosophical errors, lies, disinformation and terror and it had silenced or lost to the West its best thinkers and artists. Perestroika and glasnost were intended to improve communism but, when the people caught a glimpse of truths forgotten for seventy years and of the political and social freedom still enjoyed in Western democracies, the grip of the system was gone and it soon died.

Of course, atheism and its tendency to totalitarianism did not disappear in the process, and Western societies are still exposed to the same threat. As they are heading away from the very principles that would keep them alive, Western countries are slowly killing themselves. Due for a good part to the lures of atheistic and neo-pagan philosophies (New Age, particularly), Christian values are fading away, leaving the ground to pragmatism and hedonism, thus to practical atheism. The phenomenon is not new, but it has been growing much faster from the latter half of the 20th century among those millions who still call themselves Christians, but are in fact practical atheists.

1. The generic brand of atheism is philosophical or militant atheism. Based on rationalism, it is generally found in educated liberals. There is little use to argue here about the philosophical bases of atheism, for they have been thoroughly refuted by distinguished Catholic thinkers. But it could be interesting to question the motivations underlying the atheists’ personal or collective choices, and to see what results for civilization are to follow. With regard to philosophical atheism, its main motivation is intellectual pride.

2. Practical or de facto atheism may be logically second, but comes first in time. It is very ancient and much more common than the first brand. Large numbers of people who declare to be either atheists, deists, pantheists, or even believers in the One God, are in fact practical atheists. They may even worship in a Church, and profess externally what appears to be charitable behavior, but they usually live as if there was no God, or as if God demanded nothing or was at their service. Their worldly prudence and fear of being deprived of worldly goods leave almost no room for real charity. Their philanthropic practice is generally limited to what is necessary to appease their conscience. Practical atheism is motivated mainly by greed.

3. Last but not least is dumb atheism, more politely called hedonism. It can be observed in the legions of people who never devote any serious reflection to existential problems, as they only live for superficial goals and self-satisfaction. André Frossard gave this description of the dumb atheist’s psychology: “The dumb atheist does not ask himself questions. He founds it natural to be placed on a fire ball covered in a thin layer of dried mud, revolving on itself at supersonic speed and around a kind of hydrogen bomb driven into the gyration of billions of lanterns of enigmatic origin and unknown destination.”(1)  Dumb atheists are motivated mainly by lust.

The link between the three is individualism. Individualists are not oriented towards true love, which can come only from selflessness and the desire to be good, and leads to the practice of virtue. Instead, they live according to their selfish passions and, consciously or not, take their own kin as means to use or hindrances to discard in order to reach what they consider happiness.

Atheism motivations are exactly contrary to Christian core values. Ultimately, they destroy all virtue. Even the natural virtues — prudence, justice, courage and temperance — that were held in high esteem in the Greco-Roman Antiquity are a mere façade in an atheistic system. Atheists boast social or natural virtues but, when cut from their religious foundations, virtues can only wither and die. This is why atheistic systems or organizations, while pretending to establish justice and peace, lead instead to totalitarianism and eventually the destruction of civilization. Conversely, a totalitarian regime pretending to be religious is in fact atheistic, because denying freedom and promoting violence is contrary to true religion and also destroys civilization.

It is no coincidence that intolerance against traditional Christian religion and morals is everywhere present, to the extent of outright persecution in certain areas. Injustice, social troubles and poverty are spreading. Those who should be the elite of society demonstrate a deplorable shallowness of thought and behavior in the media, public life and education. It seems now that only a few people are able to appreciate what is truly good and beautiful in the arts while the majority devotes attention and praise to trivial, stupid, even gross or ugly things. This is unmistakably decadence and, save from a significant return to Christian values, it will bear the same results it did for ancient paganism and for Russian Communism.

Civilizations usually don’t die by acts of war, they die by abandoning the values that are the basis of civilized life: acknowledgement of the sacredness of human life, respect for freedom, respect for legitimate authority and just laws, responsible citizenship, just government and courts, sharing of wealth, care and protection of the weak. No need to be Christian to consider these things necessary to a life-friendly world and, as they are naturally appealing, their equivalent is sometimes found in non-Christian societies. But to infer that they are natural to fallen man is an error. Their existence is the result of Christian or other sane religious influence.

Awareness of natural law as the basis for human acts codification necessarily arises from belief in eternal truths. The ancient Greeks already had this thought that natural law is binding only because there is a pre-existent eternal law on which it is modeled. The reverse applies to atheists: since they refuse to believe in eternal law, they think natural law is either nonexistent or a pure product of human will that can be transformed according to man’s ideas.

Agnosticism about eternal truth and eternal law are the modern face of a very old disease which can be traced back to original sin. It simply consists in choosing one’s satisfaction over the objective good. And it is reiterated every time a human being allows for pride, greed and lust to prevail over the love of God and neighbor.

No matter how forcefully atheists deny there is a God, Man was created by the One transcendent God for a transcendent destiny and this is why he is naturally religious. As a free being, he is given the power to choose between good and evil and all his decisions proceed from a fundamental determination towards the objective good, or what he thinks or wants to be good but actually is not. Such a determination is basically and unavoidably a RELIGIOUS choice, conscious or not.

For that reason, our most secret decisions bear consequences for the entire Creation. French author Leon Bloy, in his characteristic grandiose style, has this strong metaphor for the outcomes of sin: “The penny given unwillingly makes a hole in the poor’s hand, falls through the earth, crosses the firmament, pierces the stars and puts the universe in jeopardy.” (Le Désespéré, 30). He then balances this terrible truth with the opposite results born from charity, mercy and God’s forgiveness. But what we must remember is that “lesser evils” are dangerous weaknesses in the eternal fight of good against evil. To indulge in lesser evils is to become gradually blind to the good and is a sure way to kill our very ability to love.

2009-2011.


(1) Original text:

« L’athée idiot ne se pose pas de questions. Il trouve naturel d’être posé sur une boule de feu recouverte d’une mince enveloppe de boue séchée, tournant sur elle-même à une vitesse supersonique et autour d’une espèce de bombe à hydrogène entraînée dans la giration de milliards de lampions d’origine énigmatique et de destination inconnue. » (André Frossard, Dieu en questions, Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1990, 5)

Gyration (Fr. “giration”): The word is also a navy term, meaning “turning circle”. Frossard was in the French Navy at the beginning of World War II, then in the Resistance, then in prison. Though partly a Jew by his paternal grandmother, he escaped deportation and death because his father was in the French government, but also, and mostly, because he and his young sister were Catholic converts since before the war.

Advertisements