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The Obfuscation of the New Atheism | Dr. Jose Maria Yulo | December 31, 2007
"No man who is in fear, or sorrow, or turmoil, is free, but whoever is rid of sorrows and
fears and turmoils, that man is by the selfsame course rid also of slavery." —Epictetus
"Men invent new
ideals because they dare not attempt old ideals. They look forward with
enthusiasm, because they are afraid to look back." — G. K. Chesterton
It has been the
position of the current generation of atheism advocates (apologists does not
seem the appropriate term), that belief in a transcendent divinity is not
necessary for the development of a human system of ethics. Here, there is
present an unspoken rebuttal to those who would argue that morality, as
conjured in a space and time beyond transcendence, beggars most, if not all,
likelihoods. As a substitute for a divinely inspired source of revelatory
morality, the abovementioned advocates stress the theme of "human solidarity,"
the nebulous phenomena which is produced ex nihilo to promote the survival of the tribe and
species. Crucial to this idea—one which bases itself on "scientific"
analysis of the human condition—is the study of that condition within the
landscape of human civilizations.
At an end of the
semester Western Civilization class, and after many months worth examining
Hammurabi's Code, the strategies of Alexander at Gaugamela, and the republican
Roman virtues of Marcus Cato the Elder, I assigned a final primary text to be
read and discussed: the New Testament's Sermon on the Mount. Ostensibly, the
lesson was to walk through Christ's response to two major historical themes
from antiquity. The first of these was the ancient law of reciprocal justice
that was established in Babylonian law as elucidated by Hammurabi. The second
was the seemingly inexhaustible lineage of would-be conquerors, who, like the
Homeric Agamemnon, sought to gain the world regardless of both physical and
metaphysical prices paid.
As most will
probably surmise, Christ's admonition toward Pharisaic behavior extends as well
to the Mesopotamian root of such concentration on legality for legality's sake.
If righteousness beyond "that of the scribes and Pharisees" is called upon and
necessary for salvation, then one may ask the question, "what is so
un-righteous about following and keeping to the law?" Though Hammurabi will
make mention of ensuring "the strong not preying upon the weak," his legal
entity appears more punitive than redemptive. If considered a lawful society,
Babylon certainly was not egalitarian in its prohibitions and punishments,
since slaves and nobles did not receive equal reciprocal justice for the same
offenses. An individual could technically keep to the king's and city's laws
all his life, yet at the end of life not be considered righteous.
As C. S. Lewis
made mention, there is a special infernal quality particular to the Pharisee,
or "spoiled saint"—the individual whose lawful adherence degenerates to
disdainful pride. In a bitterly ironic sense, if an ancient code of laws (for
the sake of argument not divinely inspired, but necessitated for tribal
survival) arose out of purely human need, its built-in checks to offenses
actually lead to further human estrangement: a society with neither hope or
Iphigenia at Aulis, the Mycenaean High King Agamemnon charted an oft-repeated
course in the history of world conquest. Yet, if queried, he would probably
defend his actions with the sentiment that the search for empire is actually
for society's betterment, to spread a shared civilization throughout worlds
known and unknown.
In this vein,
Alexander sought to promulgate Hellenism as its champion, only to be later
waylaid by this urge. Caesar followed the lead of the ambitious Lucius
Catiline, who lusted beyond the balance of Rome's republic. In order to avoid
Catiline's mistake in warring against his own city, Caesar split its population
in two political blocs, winning the urban poor by seeking foreign conquests.
The pax romana, where
Virgil commanded Rome to "rule the nations with thy sway," may have spread a
form of unity through Roman civilization. Yet this peace was initially won by
sword and fire, hardly agencies promoting solidarity.
In contrast to
the paradigm of Roman strength came the meekness and poverty of spirit spoken
of in the Beatitudes, qualities not seeking to overcome, but rather to unlock.
In laying down the earthly pride which, desiring power seeks dominion, true
solidarity is forged by acts of mercy, humility, and charity.
But the topic
that easily garnered the most attention in the class and generated spirited
debate was a seemingly unlikely product of the Beatitudes. Christ warns His
followers that they would be "persecuted for righteousness' sake," at the very
least an intriguing notion. If the followers of Christ begin laying down the
temptation of Agamemnon and all of those cut of the same imperial brocaded
cloth, how could this lead to them being subject to ostracism, today often
performed by the atheism advocate du jour?
were not long in coming. The last tolerated prejudice was so because of a
variety of causes. There was the apparent ubiquity of Christianity's flawed
representatives. From picketers at armed forces funerals, to mega-church
millionaires, there were abundant surpluses of straw men for this line of
criticism. Next, came the hypocrisy which today's brand of congenital cynicism
automatically assumes in persons of piety. Since those who aspired to the
heavenly city were "just people," their rhetoric and practice of self and
worldly denial became objects of mockery for the flippant humor which today is
society's mark of sophisticated intelligence.
Two points of
irony were soon evident in the midst of the Socratic discussion. First, by the
vigorous explanations, or justifications, as to why Christianity is thus
treated in today's culture, this only served to prove the two millennia-old
Beatitude right. There need not be any rationalization for the ostracism of a
societal group if said ostracism was not taking place at all.
Christianity is vilified because of some of its prohibitions, as well as its
aspirations, then one must accept what the British philosopher Roger Scruton
said regarding societies whose chief value was tolerance. In such societies,
"it is vital to prohibit the prohibitor." However, this sentiment is not only
illogical but ambiguous enough to descend to the immoral. Agamemnon conquered
because, simply, he could. So did the Athenians at Melos. Isolating the
Christian ethos betrays a similar paradigm; the absence of a moral framework
begetting justifications for power. Along Socratic lines, in the absence of
truth, strength prevails.
remains the clever obfuscation of today's advocates of atheism. As the Athenian
sophists in mock piety charged Socrates with worshipping gods other than those
of the city (while they in truth worshipped nothing), these authors claim
Christianity is a source of division while they themselves perpetuate
backhanded ostracism. The story of Western Civilization tells us that such souls,
confused of where to search for righteousness or disavowing such an idea and
its source, are seldom if ever satisfied.
Related IgnatiusInsight.com Articles and Excerpts:
Professor Dawkins and the Origins of
Religion | Thomas Crean, O.P.
Are Truth, Faith,
and Tolerance Compatible? | Joseph Ratzinger
Atheism and the Purely "Human" Ethic | Fr. James V. Schall, S.J.
Evil? Secularism's Pride and Irrational Prejudice | Carl E. Olson
Introduction to Atheism | Carl E. Olson
Case for Christianity | An Interview with Richard Purtill
Paganism and the Conversion of C.S. Lewis | Clotilde Morhan
Designed Beauty and Evolutionary Theory | Fr. Thomas Dubay, S.M.
The Universe is Meaning-full | An interview
with Dr. Benjamin Wiker
The Mythological Conflict
Between Christianity and Science | An interview with Dr. Stephen Barr
The Source of Certitude | Fr. Thomas
Deadly Architects | An Interview with
Donald De Marco & Benjamin Wiker
The Mystery of Human Origins | Mark Brumley
Relativism 101: A Brief, Objective Guide | Carl E. Olson
Jose Yulo, Ed.D. teaches courses on philosophy, western civilization,
United States history, and public speaking at the Academy
of Art University in San Francisco. He has a Doctorate in Education
from the University of San Francisco, with an emphasis on the philosophy
of education. He also holds a Master's degree in political communication
from Emerson College in Boston, as well as a Bachelor's degree in the classical
liberal arts from St. John's College in Annapolis, MD.
Originally from Manila
in the Philippines, his research interests lie in Greek philosophy, the
histories of Greek and Roman politics and warfare, and the literature of
J. R. R. Tolkien. He has written several articles for IgnatiusInsight.com.
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