Monday 30 January 2012

Christianity versus Atheism - where to start?


I think many people can grasp that ultimate belief is ultimately a matter of choice (I mean, belief is not compelled).

But the dispute is about the stance from which choice is made.

Three possible stances are modern, natural, metaphysical.


1. From where modern society places people, in a world where the public and professional arenas are thought systems which assume that all explanations are materialist, then atheism is the rational choice.

People simply believe what their job, the media, the law, what everybody assumes - that everything is to be explained with material causes and consequences.


2. But if we start from the natural man, who has not been raised in a modern society - we get to the various kinds of natural religion ('paganism') from where Christianity is - if not compelling - very appealing.


3. Or, if we start from a genuine engagement with metaphysics (true philosophy - that is, reflection on the basic nature of the world) then also we get fairly close to Christianity - to a place, at least, where Christianity is a plausible continuation.


Modern man is in an unique position from which the choice of Christianity seems arbitrary - since this position already assumes the irrelevance of natural religion and basic metaphysics.

What modern man fails to recognise is that skepticism about the relevance of both natural religion and metaphysics leaves no ground for knowledge.

Modern man is therefore a nihilist, and by choice; but without realising that he is a nihilist - he has no possibility of rational knowledge, by his assumptions, yet he will not accept that his assumptions destroy all possibility of knowledge, and he continues to claim and act upon his assumptions as if they were obvious knowledge - so obvious that he is incredulous that anyone can think otherwise.


This is the predicament: that modern man is a nihilist, but does not recognise the fact. Modern man believes he has grounds of knowledge for his beliefs, yet by his own assumptions he has no grounds.

Modern man thinks himself a realist above all other things, yet he denies that reality is real.

All that modern man means by 'reality' is that which he believes would, if contradicted, cause him suffering.


The modern choice of atheism is not perceived to be a personal choice - it is perceived to be merely an acceptance of 'reality' as reality is expressed through all of the powerful modern social institutions.

All of the powerful modern social institutions rule-out Christian explanations (indeed rule-out all non-materialist explanations).

The actual evaluations, the grammar of modern society is non-religious.

This is why it is absurd to imagine it is necessary or desirable to separate Christianity from Secular society.


When the explanations of politics, social administration, law, science, education, the military, the mass media etc all implicitly assume the irrelevance of Christianity - then why is it surprising that Christianity is perceived to be irrelevant?

Why is it then surprising that God is perceived to be an unnecessary hypothesis, when God is as (a matter of fact) an excluded hypothesis in all the public domains of modern society?

Modern society has placed us, as individuals, in this situation - God is excluded from the social bloodstream, atheism is active at a minute, capillary level.



Bruce Charlton said...

From Oznoto: "Your observations hold equally true to Hindus as to Christians; equally true to Buddhists as to Jews. This is an age of near universal apostasy. All of the modern world's religions have gone apostate except for Islam, and Islam is not modern. So it is that Moslems... still have all the courage of their convictions... and we do not. Without courage or convictions Western Moderns are like eunuchs in battle; they lack the "where it all came from" to go forth with. Without a strong belief in a foundational transcendent reality beyond the realm of the senses, we are sunk; as individuals, as a culture, and as a species."

Bruce Charlton said...

@Oznoto - Agreed.

Although, ironically, there were plenty of fairly formidable eunuch warriors in ancient times; and the second-greatest Byzantine general - Narses - was an eunuch.

Anonymous said...

Peter S. said…

Your point, that “Modern man is therefore a nihilist, and by choice; but without realising that he is a nihilist…This is the predicament: that modern man is a nihilist, but does not recognise the fact,” is not merely exactly correct but the very point that must be repeatedly stressed, if only because those who are in most need of its lesson are so recalcitrant in learning it. As I pointed out on Boland’s site some weeks back, and in which I praised your own efforts to hammer on this point:

“The readily observable fact is that individuals committed to modernity and secularism rarely realize the necessary entailment of this commitment: the collapse of the domains of meaning and value, inescapably leading to existential nihilism. On the contrary, the utterly typical condition is that of the individual convinced there is no God and persuaded of philosophic materialism – whether articulated or not – who nevertheless possesses moral convictions, often passionately adhered to. The question that might very well be asked is: ‘Why the utter failure to see the glaring contradiction? Is it a kind of societally induced selective stupidity?’… To paraphrase the immortal line from ‘When Harry Met Sally’: ‘He’s the worst kind of nihilist. He’s the kind of nihilist who thinks he isn’t one.’”


Proph said...

Before I was a Christian I grappled a lot with the idea of Hell. I no longer do. I have encountered profound and impenetrable ignorance, hardening of the heart beyond measure, a positive *will* to disbelieve. What can reach them through that?