- Atheism in General
We noted above that St. Paul’s words concerning the ‘Suppression of Truth’ refer not only to supernatural, but also to natural, truth. This is clear from verses 19-20 where the Apostle proceeds to speak of the knowledge of God which may be obtained by contemplating the creation: ‘…Because that which is known of God is manifest of them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made. His eternal power also and divinity: so that they are inexcusable.’
The suppression of the natural truth about God is atheism: the denial that God exists (‘positive atheism’) or the denial that His existence may be proved (‘negative atheism’ or ‘agnosticism’). If we look at man’s passage across the centuries we witness a tendency on his part to emancipate himself from God, his Master. Under the Old Dispensation we observe the infidelities of the people of Israel culminating in the crucifixion of the Messiah; under the New Dispensation a turning away initially from the God of the Faith and then from the God of reason as well.
The roots of modern atheism may be sought as early as the Middle Ages in the anthropocentrism of the Rhineland Mystics. We see its face more clearly in the humanism of the Renaissance and later in the figure of Martin Luther, whom the renowned 16th century Dominican, Fr. Tommaso Campanella in his work Atheismus Triumphatus, identifies as one of its principal causes.
The principal root of atheism in the last 500 years is certainly that of subjectivism: first the theological subjectivism of Martin Luther, then the philosophical subjectivism of René Descartes and the modern philosophers. Within this philosophical trend we may specify two particular theories which colour modern atheism: Materialism and Idealism. Materialism favours positive atheism: the thesis that God does not exist; Idealism favours negative atheism(- agnosticism): the thesis that we cannot know whether God exists.
Atheism has of course always been a position of individual persons or philosophical schools or élites, but in the present day it has taken on a well-nigh universal dimension, and become what one might call a mass product. It is of course an attitude typical of the World, but in recent years it has entered the Church as well, that is to say within the current of Modernism, as an immanent, pantheist system of thought (cf. St. Pius X’s Encyclical Pascendi § 39). It follows that the suppression of the truth about God within the contemporary Church is a suppression of the truth not only about the God of the Faith but also about the God of reason.
- The Irrationality of Atheism
Verses 19-20 of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans quoted above constitute one of the principal scriptural sources for the Catholic dogma of the natural knowledge of God. In accordance with this text, the First Vatican Council declares infallibly that God may be known ‘with certainty by the natural light of human reason’, and the Anti-modernist Oath, repeating and amplifying this declaration, adds that the existence of God may ‘…thus also be proved’.
As the latter document states, the proof proceeds from the created world to the existence of the Creator by means of the principle of causality. This proof, which has five distinct modes, is set forth formally by St. Thomas Aquinas in his ‘Five Ways’- the Five Ways which are notable for their depth and subtlety, as also for the concision and the clarity of their expression.
Since the existence of God may conclusively be proved, atheism is not a logically tenable position. It follows that, strictly speaking, there is no such thing as theoretical Atheism, but only practical Atheism. In other words, one may live as though God does not exist, but there are no logical grounds for so doing.
- The Immorality of Atheism
In becoming a mass product, atheism has gained a certain acceptance and respect in the common consciousness. Indeed the title ‘atheist’ has become well-nigh self-justifying: it is enough to present oneself as atheist, and usually no questions will be asked.
This does not however correspond to the vision of the Church. Father Tomas Tyn O.P. says: “Some-one will tell me ‘he is an atheist, but very nice’. I reply: ‘He may be very nice, but not as an atheist.’” Indeed since God’s existence, in the words of St. Paul, is ‘manifest’ and ‘clearly seen’, the atheist is not only irrational but also ‘inexcusable’.
The reason for atheism is sin. ‘The fool said in his heart: There is no God.’ Such is the unequivocal first verse of both Psalm 13 and Psalm 52. The word ‘fool’ in the original Hebrew signifies coarseness, both intellectual and moral, and implies that the fool denies God in order to justify himself in his sin. Our Blessed Lord Himself speaks of those who rejected Him because they preferred darkness to light: so that their sin should not become manifest; and St. Augustine in the same vein says that the atheist always has good reasons for being an atheist. In scholastic terms, we are talking about ignorantia affectata, the ignorance which does not diminish, but rather increases, the culpability of the agent. It is the ignorance of those responsible for the death of Our Lord, who were possessed of an ill will.
Because atheism is both a palliative and a mass phenomenon it may accurately be described it as ‘The Opium of the People.’
The original author of this blog passed away in July of 2016. RIP Father Carota.