Learned Something about Modern Atheism

Well, dear readers, here’s my first crisis: I have a mere 42 minutes to keep my promise to post everyday.  Fridays are the busiest days for me, so I have been effectively kept from writing until now.

In class today, I felt like I had my eyes opened at little concerning the roots of modern atheism.  The attitudes of modern atheists seem to have their philosophical roots in Feuerbach and Sartre.  Feuerbach was the son of a Lutheran minister who turned athiest.  (My professor joked that the reason Catholic priests don’t marry is because minister’s sons always–at least the famous ones–become atheist.)  He adopted Hegel’s theories of alienation into his own, but he added the nuance that man was most alienated by the religious ideas which he holds–which Feuerbach also posits are the result of human beings’ own thoughts.  For Feuerbach, religion limits man’s ability to be a free agent by the idea that things occur according to God’s will, which inclines man to use his freedom less in imposing his will on the outside world.  Instead of praying, man should roll up his sleeves and work.  Interestingly, this line of thought was also pivotal in changing attitudes of modern religious people: even though things still happen according to God’s will and prayer is of great necessity in the believer’s life, one ought to be more active in doing good works and trying to help people.

Sartre felt that the existence of God would prevent man from having freedom.  In order to be free, God must not exist.  You see, he had this idea that things were either “pour-soi” or “en-soi.”  (French phrases meaning “for itself” and “in itself” respectively)  Human beings, considered in themselves, are pour-soi or ends in themselves; though, people have a nasty habit of turning people into en-soi or objects.  (Think of Kant’s differentiation between viewing people as ends or means.)  If God exists, people become en-soi in regard to God: “just another object in God’s field of vision.” (courtesy of Father Robert Leavitt’s instructive summation of these philosophies)

While Feuerbach was right in pointing out that believers of his day were too passive, he is wrong in believing God to be of human invention.  God excels everything a human being can imagine, which one especially sees in God’s superabundant mercy.  Human beings always want justice to be done–except when they are the debtors, anyway.  I remember speaking to a lapsed Catholic about how God was so merciful that he would forgive a mass murderer or Hitler merely for that person experiencing true contrition on the point of death.  Of course, such sins would require a great deal of time in purgatory before such a soul was ready for heaven.  He did not like this idea of mercy at all.  In his mind, even if that person truly repented then, it would be to late for that person to ever enter paradise, even if he stayed in purgatory until the end of the world.  He said that he might see God forgiving such a person after they spent many years performing penance.  So, God’s mercy surpasses what finite man can imagine–at least, a finite man thinking reasonably.

In answer to Sartre’s problem about whether human beings can be free if there’s a God, I’m reminded of John 16:11: “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and your joy may be complete.”  Following our own will leads either to unhappiness or a false kind of happiness.  People will be stuck in a cycle of sin, which is slavery.  It needs God’s grace to be freed from this cycle and to possess virtue, without which no one can be said to be happy.  God gives us the greatest degree of freedom by uniting us to the freedom He has in Himself.

(Posted at midnight exactly!  I’d say that it counts as Nov. 2)

2 comments on “Learned Something about Modern Atheism

  1. circlecitadel says:

    //In his mind, even if that person truly repented then, it would be to late for that person to ever enter paradise, even if he stayed in purgatory until the end of the world. He said that he might see God forgiving such a person after they spent many years performing penance.//

    I would imagine the penance done in purgatory would be much harsher than any kind of penance done while alive. I mean, in the confines of purgatory, they’re not really within time anymore.


  2. That’s true. Perhaps, I ought to have phrased it to him that way, but the pain of purgatory is difficult for most people to understand. I remember reading something from Maria Simma that by taking the pains of purgatory for someone for three hours, she covered three years of that person’s sentence–more reason to do penance here and now.


Legens, scribe sententias tuas.

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