THE FIVE FACES OF ATHEISM, Part 4

April 10, 2010

Last week we discussed the third person to put a face on Atheism. Everybody has heard of Charles Darwin. His, along with Auguste Comte and Karl Marx has adorned the Mt. Rushmore of Atheism since the last half of the nineteenth century.

With this article we present you with two others whose face complete the pantheon of modern Atheism.

Following the pattern set forth with the Hegelian paradigm of dialectic, Comte, the founder of scientific positivism, removed God from the realm of sociology, explaining that positive social development is possible only through science, not religion or faith.

Marx, the face of economic and political atheism, denounced religion as the instrument of oppression and the enemy of progress.

Darwin gave us the biological and anthropological face of atheism by postulating that rather than man being made in the image of God he is an evolution from lower life forms and is nothing other than a higher form of animal.

The fourth person to put a face on modern Atheism is Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). Nietzsche's view of man was simple. Man, says this German philosopher, was the CENTER of the universe who must be free from God or tyranny or things from the outside. Equating Napoleon Bonaparte to "Superman," Nietzsche believe that if man is to be better than what he has been in the past and progress toward "super" status, it would require atheism.

Nietzsche was quite a complex fellow. Very early on, he challenged the foundations of Christianity and traditional morality. He was interested in the enhancement of individual and cultural health, and believed in life, creativity, power, and the realities of the world we live in, rather than those situated in a world beyond.

Central to his philosophy is the idea of “life-affirmation,” which involves an honest questioning of all doctrines that drain life's expansive energies, however socially prevalent those views might be. Often referred to as one of the first existentialist philosophers along with Søren Kierkegaard (1813–1855), Nietzsche's revitalizing philosophy has inspired leading figures in all walks of cultural life, including dancers, poets, novelists, painters, psychologists, philosophers, sociologists and social revolutionaries.

Nietzsche's imagination was captured when, at the age of 21, he discovered Arthur Schopenhauer's The World as Will and Representation. Schopenhauer's atheistic and turbulent vision of the world, in conjunction with his highest praise of music as an art form, captured Nietzsche's imagination, and the extent to which the “cadaverous perfume” of Schopenhauer's world-view continued to permeate Nietzsche's mature thought remains a matter of scholarly debate.

After discovering Schopenhauer, Nietzsche read F.A. Lange's newly-published History of Materialism and Critique of its Present Significance (1866) — a work that criticizes materialist theories from the standpoint of Kant's critique of metaphysics, and that attracted Nietzsche's interest in its view that metaphysical speculation is an expression of poetic illusion.

By the time he was 30, Nietzsche formulated the theory that if God exists then man cannot fulfill his vocation of creating himself.  He said that there is a psychological explanation of man's belief in God. It would be left to the fifth face of atheism to answer the psychological issue (Freud), but Nietzsche's interest for rejecting God is outlined the four reasons he gave for believing "God is Dead":

First, morals connected with God forbid the strong to develop their power. In other words, if there is a God or God is still alive and relevant, then man can never become a superman, living up to his full potential and therefore (to borrow from Darwin) can never become "fit to survive."

Second, God lead to equality of all men. Quoting from Galatians 3:28 and other verse relating to oneness in Christ, Nietzsche said that if there is no hierarchy in society there can be no superman to rule society.

Third, Nietzsche argued that faith in Providence means man does not matter, saying that God would determine the future. Faith robs man of any motive for striving for power and greatness.

Fourth, as long as belief in God prevails in a society, Nietzsche taught that neither man nor the earth can be restored to their original "innocence," whatever that state is.

As far as Christianity itself, Nietzsche believed that throughout history Christians destroyed civilizations. Believing that from the Crusades, the Inquisitions and through the Protestant-Catholic Wars, Christianity was the cause of death and despair.

Nietzsche also argued that Christianity lowers man to slavery and thus the enslaving morality concept.

Finally, in his book, Beyond Good and Evil, Nietzsche brought forward the belief that Christian virtues led to decadence. As long as their was a Christian influence upon society there would be no way to eliminate the misfits and the weak and would prohibit a culture from becoming a higher form.

Nietzsche was the first to use the phrase "God Is Dead," which, according to him and his followers, God is irrelevant and of no interest whatsoever.  With God out of the way, man can become god.

A younger contemporary of Nietzsche would, by the time of Nietzsche's death, become the face of Psychological Atheism. His name was Sigmund Freud. Without having to write several chapters on this controversial figure, a few comments on his teachings will suffice.

Freud's theory of the origin of religion is somewhat revolutionary, yet well accepted in most circles today. To him religion is nothing but a scheme by which man tries to defend himself against the overpowering forces of nature. He said that religion in general, Judeo-Christianity in particular, is nothing less that totemistic. 

Totemistic religion is illustrated in the picture of the tribal community. The tribe catches an animal, savagely kills it via beating or tearing it to pieces alive, then mourn death. This, says Freud, is the origin of guilt and anxiety. To illustrate this further, Freud postulated that the totem animal stood for the father. In primitive hordes, the jealous father kept all females for himself, thus frustrating the sexual cravings of adolescent sons. The brothers, then, would join forces, killed and ate the father.  The brothers (tribe) then take on the persona of the father and acquired his power.

Freud would go on to note that the Totem meal is the beginning of social organization with moral rules and religion. All of this he equated very neatly into what he sees as the biblical mandate for mankind and the church.

As a result of this theory, Freud would go on to use this picture as reason for regarding practicing Christians as psychological misfit to be in positions of influence or capable of reasoning rationally.

Since the early 1900's the adherents of Freud's teachings have resulted in the view that Christians are to be regarded as neurotics and, most of the time, not fit to survive in a civilization which is in progress. Freud said practicing and believing in the Judeo-Christian worldview will ruin a culture or civilization.

Second, he regarded the concept of "sin" as nothing other than a medical term, that is, sin is a sickness. Marx, would regard sin with a legal term, "crime."

Third, Freud and his followers would come to believe that determinism naturally flows from psychoanalysis. Thus, either man's environment or his genetic make-up, or both, determines the actions of man. The end result to such a view would come to be accepted among many in the Progressive-Socialist wing as grounds to doing away with capital punishment and other leftist ideas. Why? Because if a person is genetically or environmentally determined, he or she cannot be responsible for their actions, after all, he or she could help it or do something other than that for which they were "programmed" to do.

Another implication from Freud's teachings is the idea of salvation. Salvation is now reduced to mean whatever brings about ultimate peace and a whole person. Freud says that the whole person is one who can completely perform sexually. Since belief in God creates guilt when it comes to sex, then God brings man down to less than man.

If man is determined, then he is little more than a machine, programmed by genetics and environmental factors. If this is true is there little wonder that the environment would produce such characters as Adolf Hitler, Josef Stalin, Mao Tze-Tung, etc.

Friedrich Nietzsche postulated the theory that God is Dead. It is interesting to note that his views and philosophy resulted in his emotional and twice mental breakdown which ultimately resulted in him dying in an insane asylum. As for Freud, it is equally interesting that he would go on to openly admit to avoiding the work of Nietzsche, "whose guesses and intuitions often agree in the most astonishing way with the laborious findings of psychoanalysis". Nietzsche, however, vociferously rejected the conjecture of so-called 'scientific' men, and despite also 'diagnosing' the death of a God, chose instead to embrace the animal desires (or 'Dionysian energies') the humanist Freud sought to reject through positivism.

Despite their differences, Nietzsche and Freud helped to mold are current age into a culture which rejects the possibility of a Creator, Redeemer God who exists and works in the world today. Those who believe such things, they would teach, need to be isolated, and if possible, eliminated.

Next week, we will look at the current state of Atheism as fashion my the five faces, and give a simple response for the Church and Christianity to consider.

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