Skip to comments.Christian Atheism
Posted on 06/28/2008 9:38:51 AM PDT by annalex
The title for this post sounds like an oxymoron, and, of course, it is. How can one be both an atheist and a Christian? Again, I am wanting to push the understanding of the one-versus-two-storey universe. In the history of religious thought, one of the closest versions to what I am describing as a “two-storey” world-view, is that espoused by classical Deism (the philosophy espoused by a number of the American founding fathers).
They had an almost pure, two-storey worldview. God, “the Deity,” had created the universe in the beginning, setting it in motion. He had done so in such a way that the world could be described as directed by His Providence, but not in any sense interfered with after its creation. Thomas Jefferson produced a New Testament, wholly in tune with this philosophy. He expunged all reference to miracle and kept only those things he considered to have a purpose in “moral teaching.” The creator had accomplished His work: it was up to us to conform ourselves to His purposes and morality - which were pretty indistinguishable from natural law. If you read the writings of the period it’s much more common to read Providence where a Christian might put God. Many modern evangelicals mistakenly read such statements as Christian.
Functionally, other than having some notion of an original Creator, Deists were practical atheists. The God Who created had completed His work. Ethics were as much a matter of scientific discovery as any other principle of physics. They believed in something they called “God” or “Providence” but only in a very divorced sense. It would be hard to distinguish their thought from that of an atheist except that they clung to an idea of God at least as the initiator of all things.
I have here introduced the notion of “practical atheism,” meaning by it, that although a person may espouse a belief in God, it is quite possible for that belief to be so removed from everyday life, that God’s non-existence would make little difference.
Surprisingly, I would place some forms of Christian fundamentalism within this category (as I have defined it). I recall a group affiliated with some particular Church of Christ, who regularly evangelized our apartment complex when I lived in Columbia, S.C. They were also a constant presence on the campus of the local university. They were absolute inerrantists on the subject of the Holy Scriptures. They were equally adamant that all miracles had ceased with the completion of the canon of the New Testament. Christians today only relate to God through the Bible.
Such a group can be called “Biblicists,” or something, but, in the terminology I am using here, I would describe them as “practical atheists.” Though they had great, even absolutist, faith in the Holy Scriptures, they had no relationship with a God who is living and active and directly involved in their world. Had their notion of a God died, and left somebody else in charge of His heaven, it would not have made much difference so long as the rules did not change.
I realize that this is strong criticism, but it is important for us to understand what is at stake. The more the secular world is exalted as secular, that is, having an existence somehow independent of God, the more we will live as practical atheists - perhaps practical atheists who pray (but for what do we pray?). I would also suggest that the more secular the world becomes for Christians, the more political Christians will become. We will necessarily resort to the same tools and weapons as those who do not believe.
Christianity that has purged the Church of the sacraments, and of the sacramental, have only ideas which can be substituted - the result being the eradication of God from the world in all ways other than theoretical. Of course, since much of modern Christianity functions on this ideological level rather than the level of the God-Who-is among-us, much of Christianity functions in a mode of practical atheism. The more ideological the faith, the more likely its proponents are to expouse what amounts to a practical atheism.
Orthodox Christianity, with its wealth of dogma and Tradition, could easily be translated into this model - and I have encountered it in such a form. But it is a falsification of Orthodoxy. Sacraments must not be quasi-magical moments in which a carefully defined grace is transmitted to us - they must, instead, threaten to swallow up the whole world. The medieval limitation of sacraments to the number 7 comes far too close to removing sacraments from the world itself. Orthodoxy seems to have declared that there are 7 sacraments solely as a response to Western Reform and Catholic arguments. In some sense, everything is a sacrament - the whole world is a sacrament.
However, if we only say that the whole world is a sacrament, soon nothing will be a sacrament. Thus the sacraments recognized as such by the Church, should serve not just for pointing to themselves, but also pointing to God and to everything around us. Holy Baptism should change all water. The Cross should change all trees, etc. But Baptism gives the definition: water does not define Baptism. Neither do trees define the Cross. Nor does man define Christ. Christ defines what it is to be human, etc.
The more truly sacramental becomes the Christian life, the more thoroughly grounded it is in the God-Who-is-among-us. Such a God is indeed, “everywhere present and filling all things.” Our options are between such a God - as proclaimed in the New Testament - or a God who need be no God at all for He is removed from us anyway.
At the Divine Liturgy, before approaching the Communion Cup, Orthodox Christians pray together:
I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ the Son of the living God who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first. I believe also that this is truly Thine own most pure Body, and that this is truly Thine own precious Blood. Therefore, I pray Thee: have mercy upon me and forgive my transgressions both voluntary and involuntary, of word and of deed, committed in knowledge or in ignorance. And make me worthy to partake without condemnation of Thy most pure Mysteries, for the remission of my sins, and unto life everlasting. Amen.
There is not a single hint of a distance between us and God. At this point, having prepared for communion, having confessed our sins, we stand at the very center of the universe, before the God Who Is, before the God with Whom Moses conversed on Mt. Sinai, and we receive His true Body and Blood.
Such realism of a first-storey character makes bold claims about the nature of the God whom we worship and how it is that we relate to Him. It’s removal from the “end of miracles” deism of some Biblicists could not be more complete.
There is a dialog that may take place between Christians and atheists. But there is, prior to that, an even more important dialog to be had, and that is with the practical atheism of Christians who have exiled God from the world around us. Such practical atheism is a severe distortion of the Christian faith and an extremely poor substitute for the real thing.
Richard John Neuhaus has written frequently of returning the Church to the public square. I think the problem is far deeper. In many cases we have to speak about returning God to the Church. In cases where practical atheism is the faith of a goup of “believers,” their presence in the public square makes no difference. Who cares?
But within the Orthodox faith, God cannot be exiled from our world no matter how men try. He has come among us, and not at our invitation. “While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). He is already in the Public Square as the Crucified God who is reconciling the world to Himself, whether we like it or not. The opposite of practical atheism is to do the only thing the Christianity of the first-storey can do: keep His commandments and fall down and worship - for God is with us.
So youre saying that every single solitary illiterate peasant on Crete or in Guatemala is an evolutionist and higher critic? Is this really what you are saying? . .
Wow. I did not know that. Guess you learn something new about Guatemalan peasants every day.
BTW, I couldnt care less what the Torah says. The OT of The Church is the Septuagint and that, ZC, was written in Greek.
Then I guess that makes you a member of the world's oldest Protestant denomination, doesn't it?
You forgot to claim that the Torah is a forgery written by evil Chr*st-killing Jooooooooos who wanted to suppress the Septuagint because it was so obviously chr*stian.
And I rest mine. Thanks, Kolokotronis.
“And I rest mine. Thanks, Kolokotronis.”
You are, as always Alex, very welcome! :)
Of course they did.
This modern notion of limited inerrancy - namely that the literal sense of Scripture and the spiritual sense of Scripture contradict one another - was completely unknown to them.
“It cannot seriously be claimed that Gregory of Nyssa, John Chrysostom, Basil of Caeserea, Cyril of Alexandria and the other great saints of the Eastern Church did not believe that man was directly formed by God out of the mud of the earth.”
Perhaps not...but it is quite clear that the Fathers did not take every “jot and tittle” of the OT literally, quite the contrary. In fact, they actually write about how the OT says things “for effect” on a fairly regular basis. You should know that, w! I’m surprised.
In the context that God does not really have arms, nor does He really change His mind like people do, etc.
They didn't believe that the Flood didn't really happen and is mentioned solely for literary effect.
Nor do I. In fact, I sincerely doubt that “literary effect” was the issue, then or now...didactic effect, yes, literary, no. They didn't believe in literal inerrantcy either. Making literal inerrantcy the "point" wasn't something the Fathers would have recognized. In a Christian context, that's something that came along with more modern bibliolatry.
Right, and they probably held other beliefs about the natural creation that were inaccurate. These were not about faith and morals, so their consensus on them is not dispositive.
A good Catholic may believe in the literal text of the first chapters of Genesis, or he may take into account the frame of mind of the inspired writer and allow for his lack of knowledge or interest in the mechanics of the Creation. Even better, he should simply acknowledge that the Bible is inerrant but he has limited ability to understand the message. Maybe "made from mud" is a way the ancient writer meant to say "allowed to evolve from dead matter". Then maybe not. We don't know. No matter how convincing the evolution hypothesis becomes through research, we won't know. The book of Genesis describes a miracle of creation. That it is, a miracle. It is pointless to look for natural explanation of miracles when they exist, and it is equally pointless when they don't.
I personally, by the way, think that evolution between species is simply a hoax.
Here's the view I am very comfortable with:
What Does the Catholic Church Teach about Origins?
- God created everything in its whole substance from nothing (ex nihilo) in the beginning. (Lateran IV; Vatican Council I)
- Genesis does not contain purified myths. (Pontifical Biblical Commission 1909 1 )
- Genesis contains real historyit gives an account of things that really happened. (Pius XII)
- Adam and Eve were real human beingsthe first parents of all mankind. (Pius XII)
- Polygenism (many first parents) contradicts Scripture and Tradition and is condemned. (Pius XII; 1994 Catechism, 360, footnote 226: Tobit 8:6the one ancestor referred to in this Catechism could only be Adam.)
- The beginning of the world included the creation of all things, the creation of Adam and Eve and the Fall (Jesus Christ [Mark 10:6]; Pope Innocent III; Blessed Pope Pius IX, Ineffabilis Deus).
- The body of Eve was specially created from a portion of Adams body (Leo XIII). She could not have originated via evolution.
- Various senses are employed in the Bible, but the literal obvious sense must be believed unless reason dictates or necessity requires (Leo XIII, Providentissimus Deus).
- Adam and Eve were created upon an earthly paradise and would not have known death if they had remained obedient (Pius XII).
- After their disobedience of God, Adam and Eve were banished from the Garden of Eden. But the Second Person of the Trinity would subsequently pay the ransom for fallen man (Nicene Creed).
- Original Sin is a flawed condition inherited from Adam and Eve (Council of Trent).
- The Universe suffers in travail ever since the sin of disobedience by Adam and Eve. (Romans 8, Vatican Council I).
- We must believe any interpretation of Scripture that the Fathers taught unanimously on a matter of faith or morals (Council of Trent and Vatican Council I).
- All the Fathers who wrote on the subject believed that the Creation days were no longer than 24-hour-days. (Consensus of the Fathers of the Church)
- The work of Creation was finished by the close of Day Six, and nothing completely new has since been createdexcept for each human rational soul at conception (Vatican Council I)
- St. Peter and Christ Himself in the New Testament confirmed the global Flood of Noah. It covered all the then high mountains and destroyed all land dwelling creatures except eight human beings and all kinds of non-human creatures aboard the Ark (Unam Sanctam, 1302)
- The historical existence of Noahs Ark is regarded as most important in typology, as central to Redemption. (1566 Catechism of the Council of Trent)
- Evolution must not be taught as fact, but instead the pros and cons of evolution must be taught. (Pius XII, Humani Generis)
- Investigation into human evolution was allowed in 1950, but Pope Pius XII feared that an acceptance of evolutionism might adversely affect doctrinal beliefs.
For more information contact:
The Kolbe Center for the Study of Creation 952 Kelly Rd., Mt. Jackson, VA 22842, (549) 856-8453 www.kolbecenter.org; E-Mail- email@example.com 1 In 1909, the PBC was an arm of the Magisterium and dissent from its decisions was tantamount to dissent from the teaching of the pope himself.
What Does Molecules-to-Man Evolutionism Teach about Origins?
- In the beginning there was neither heaven nor earth, just concentrated primeval matter.
- This matter expanded and exploded.
- The explosion produced gas, mainly helium and hydrogen, which expanded. Over billions of years, clumps of the gas contracted and formed stars. One of these stars was our sun.
- Part of the sun detached itself and became planet Earth.
- Radiometric dating strongly indicates that the earth is more than four billion years old.
- Given enough time, random interactions of matter will produce spontaneous increases in specific complexity in randomly-formed units of matter.
- When the planet cooled, chemicals reacted together to form amino acids.
- Primitive living cells resulted from combinations of the amino acids.
- A process of evolution led to the primitive cells developing into complex cells.
- Over millions of years the cells transformed into higher organisms.
- Gradually the organisms divided themselves into flora and fauna.
- All the known species of plants and trees evolved over immense periods of time, perhaps from some primitive form of algae.
- Similarly, man evolved from simple marine life, transformed over eons of time from some form of bacteria into all the aquatic, land and air species that have ever existed.
What Does Cutting-Edge Science Teach about Origins?
- Molecules-to-man evolutionary theory violates the second law of thermodynamics by positing spontaneous increases in order through random interactions of matter.
- Matter from explosions does not condense to form objects like galaxies.
- Chemicals do not react together randomly to form amino acids through natural processes.
- Amino acids do not randomly interact to form living cells through undirected natural processes.
- Molecules-to-man evolutionism violates the Law of Biogenesis: Life does not come from non-life.
- The specific complexity of genetic information in the genome does not increase spontaneously. Therefore, there is no natural process whereby reptiles can turn into birds, land mammals into whales, or chimpanzees into human beings.
- All organisms are irreducibly complex. Therefore, in order for any kind of organism to exist, all of the essential parts of that organism must be fully functioning from the beginning of its existence.
- As now used by evolutionary scientists there is virtually no value in radio dating as an objective source of prehistoric chronology.
- Many worldwide natural processes indicate an age for the earth of 10,000 years or less. These include population kinetics, influx of radiocarbon into earths atmosphere, absence of meteorites from the geologic column, and decay of earths magnetic field.
- Sedimentological research has challenged the principles upon which the geological time scale is based.
- There is no gradualism in the fossil record, no intermediate types.
CONCLUSION: Natural science offers no evidence that would contradict the plain and obvious sense of Genesis 1-11, the consensus of the Fathers of the Church, or the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church on creation and the origins of man and the universe.
This is an oximoron. There is one simple inerrancy and of course all good Christians believe in it. The fundamentalist problem is not that they believe in inerrancy and we don't, not that they believe in one kind of inerrancy and we in some other kind, but that they believe in what the bible does NOT teach. For example, the bible teaches the miracle of Creation, but it doesn't teach chemistry botany or geology. If you read the Bible for geology, you do not uphold the belief in the biblical inerrancy, you abandon it.
This is completely contrary to what kolokotronis said on this thread, which you apparently agreed with at the time. He said an illiterate peasant was either an evolutionist or a bad Catholic.
I realize this probably amuses you, but I am confused by your dismissal of the church fathers and defense of the possibility of the evolution followed by your citing material from the Kolbe Center, a literal creationist organization that says the exact opposite on these matters. Just how do you interpret the Kolbe Center to be defending the possibility of evolution or dismissing the beliefs of the church fathers on this subject?
I personally agree with the material from Kolbe Center (maybe with some amendments here and there), but I would not, had I been the Pope, excommunicate those who believe in God-directed evolution “from mud”. Both positions do not violate biblical inerrancy, or any other tenet of the Church.
You asked a multi-part question to Kolokotronis and he responded with a laconic Yes. What I can tell you about “illiterate peasants” is that both authentic Catholicism and authentic Orthodoxy believe in biblical inerrancy and also in humility. We do not presume that our personal interpretation of the Scripture is dispositive. If we don’t know how to understand “the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth”, we ask a priest, and we are ready to accept the answer “the Church does not teach any particular theory on the mechanics of creation”. That attitude, old as the Church herself, you equate with denial of biblical inerrancy. That is wrong.
A laconic "yes" that indicated that every single illiterate Catholic and Orthodox peasant is either an evolutionist and higher critic or else a "bad" Catholic/Orthodox whose religion was adulterated by Protestantism. And you seem to still think that was just hunky-dory.
What I can tell you about illiterate peasants is that both authentic Catholicism and authentic Orthodoxy believe in biblical inerrancy and also in humility.
To read in the Torah that G-d made the world in six days and then to assume that G-d made the world in six days is arrogance, because if you accept what it says at face value you're "imposing your own meaning" on the text. Right. Got it.
So just because the "new testament" says "this is my body, this is my blood" it doesn't necessarily mean that, right? Only an arrogant fundamentalist would read that and assume it means what it says. And just because it says "five loaves and two fishes" doesn't mean it was really five loaves and two fishes. Maybe it was two loaves and five fishes, or maybe four loaves and four fishes and the human author merely chose to represent this as "five loaves and two fishes." After all, to read "five loaves and two fishes" and then assume it means "five loaves and two fishes" is an act of arrogance that no truly humble person would engage in. That is correct, isn't it? You surely aren't such a hypocrite as to abandon your non-literal interpretation at a certain point in your bible, are you?
We do not presume that our personal interpretation of the Scripture is dispositive.
If we dont know how to understand the Lord God formed man of the slime of the earth, we ask a priest, and we are ready to accept the answer the Church does not teach any particular theory on the mechanics of creation. That attitude, old as the Church herself, you equate with denial of biblical inerrancy. That is wrong.
And J*sus didn't rise from the dead either, right? That's a didactic parable about not giving up, right?
I told you what I think about “illiterate peasants” in 91. I think at this point you obstinately put words in other people’s mouths.
The Church has a definitive teaching on most of these things you mention, and we take them all exactly like they are described in the New Testament.
“This is my body”, etc. is taken literally because the Gospel makes it clear Jesus meant it literally (see John 6).
Some of the numbers in the loaves and fishes episode vary from gospel to gospel and so cannot be taken literally; it is unlikely that anyone counted the people in the crowd, for example. The number of loaves and fishes, I believe does not vary and so there is no reason to dispute it. The entire story of miraculous feeding of thousands of people with real, limited amount of fish and bread is to be taken literally and not allegorically. That is, again, clear from the text.
The Church, of course, teaches that the Resurrection was an actual historical event and is to be understood literally.
There are things also in the New Testament that we don’t have a definitive teaching on. For example, we believe that Jesus is sitting at the right hand of the Father, — these are inerrant words of the Scripture. But we are free to understand it in some physical sense or in metaphorical sense. The Church does not teach any specifics on that.
Arrogance ir reading the scripture, making up your own mind about it, then teaching others in contradiction to what the Church has to say. We believe the Church; the scripture is her teaching tool.
I'm sorry the Church is too afraid of the Hebrew Bible to defend its accuracy with equal enthusiasm.
Both are inerrant, and both contain parts that people are free to take either literary or in some figurative sense, as I tried to show.
From the Wikipedia Jefferson_Bible:
Jefferson arranged selected verses from the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John in chronological order, mingling excerpts from one next to those of another in order to create a single narrative. Thus he begins with Luke 2 and Luke 3, then follows with Mark 1 and Matthew 3. He provides a record of which verses he selected and of the order in which he arranged them in his Table of the Texts from the Evangelists employed in this Narrative and of the order of their arrangement.
The Jefferson Bible begins with an account of Jesuss birth without references to angels, genealogy, or prophecy. Miracles, references to the Trinity and the divinity of Jesus, and Jesus' resurrection are also absent from the Jefferson Bible. The work ends with the words: Now, in the place where he was crucified, there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus. And rolled a great stone to the door of the sepulchre, and departed. These words correspond to the ending of John 19 in the Bible.
As sonme of you know, I grew up and received education in the Soviet Union. The school books are not in front of me, but being a good student with good memory, I remember what they said about Christianity well.
In 1c Palestine, a province of Roman Empire, legends began to spread about a mysterious teacher called Jesus whom his followers called "Christ". He taught against the authority of the day but he did not call for a revolution; instead he believed that social change can be brought about by peaceful means. He was executed on the cross, the capital punishment of the time. Religious people of his time considered him a son of god and also believed that he "rose from the dead". So a new religion appeared called after his nickname christianity. The Roman authority suppressed the new religion brutally, but the religion grew because it answered the desires of the oppressed masses in the slaveholder society. Roman emperor Constantine (4c) recognized the value of christianity as a religion that taught obedience to the ruling class and since then the kings emperors and clergymen all used christianity to oppress working people.
Historical science does not point to existence of Jesus, but it is of course possible that such a man indeed existed and taught somethign similar. Teachings of several religious men, including the legendary Jesus, were combined together in the book called the Bible.
Plain people often rebelled against the clergimen and their rule. They would rise up and smash the churches and burn the icons (illustration: people burning icons). But the lack of proper grasp on the workings of society and superstition limited their success. Especially strong was the rebellion of the peasants in Englant under Wat Tyler, and in Czechoslovakia under Zizka and Hus (illustration: peasant army). Finally, in 16c religious leaders emerged that threw away the yoke of roman papacy. Their leader was Martin Luther (illustration: Luther burning the papal Bull). This movement is called Reformation. But the leaders of the Reformation did not understand that in order to overthrow the oppression of the masses it was not enough to free themselves from the church. They were themselves religious men and so they started their own church and continued to be an instrument of oppression in combination with the kings, princes and emperors.