Why are atheists so angry lately? There has been a flood of books promoting the anti-belief system, and some of them even hit the best seller list of the “New York Times.” The pope keeps informing the world that humankind cannot exit without hope, a hope based on faith, but few are listening. Atheism is not a new development. When I was in college, the important advocate of such a view was widely read: German philosopher Frederich Nietzsche. And Fyodor Dostoevsky in his masterpiece, “The Breathers Karamazov” asked what happens to morality if there is no God. That seemingly abstract Russian preoccupation became very real with the rise of atheistic totalitarianism in Germany, Communist China, Bolshevik Russia and Fascist Italy.
The nominal answer to the awful twentieth century’s woes was a sort of diluted humanism that treated God as a senile old uncle kept in the dusty attic of Western Civilization. But humanism did not really inspire many people in war or peace. Then in the latter part of that century, God and religion were simply laid aside in place of secularism and consumerserism in much of Western Europe. In the United States, especially prone to born again movements, religion has made a real comeback. But it was not the liberal Protestantism of Harvey Cox or Bishop Sprong of Newark New Jersey that people turned to in droves. it was not to Vatican II style Catholicism that new devotees in Catholicism rushed. In both Christian cases, people returned to the old time religions of fundamentalism.
What have aggravated the usually quiet atheists are the resurrection of conservative Christianity and the rise of Moslem fundamentalism. It is almost as if atheists are initiating new Crusades against religion, especially against those people who passionately follow a religious code. People don’t often fight and die for secular humanism and freedom FROM religion.
They want us to not only share their belief that there is no God, no soul, no afterlife, but also to be stoically happy about it. They use science as an ally, but they get incredibly belligerent with scientists (including the head of the gnome project) who believe in God. They take comfort in the writings of philosophers who have argued that philosophy cannot provide any rational grounds for belief, and want academics to explain the nature of language or the social glue of organizations. Philosophers who believed in the spiritual from Socrates to the present are, to them, interesting cultural artifacts-like doctors who studied the humours.
Last summer my wife and I went with a group from Massachusetts to visit Warsaw and Krakow, Poland. There we stopped at the very sight of the 20th century’s inhumanity, the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz. The entrance way featured a wrought iron gate with the words in German, “Work will make you free,”-Nazi irony. We saw the primitive prison barricades and the actual death ovens. There, between two of the barracks, we saw a dark wall joining the two structures. Against the wall the guards would line up the prisoners and kill them, only one bullet per person. It was horrid ground. We all stopped, talking, stopped moving, and stopped taking pictures to record it. Then Father Richard Lewandowski quietly drew the group together and said a prayer for their memory and for the victims of intolerance everywhere. We listened and concurred. Somehow in these surroundings, he had managed to capture a moment of the sacred in the most horrendous of places, a few square yards of bloodied dust and grim stone wall. “May their souls rest in peace,” he concluded.
Somehow atheism, even in its most logical premises, cannot allow us to deal with the mysteries of life represented by good and in evil.