|Orthodox Outlet for Dogmatic Enquiries||Atheism|
The stages in atheism
By the Rev. Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Saint Vlasios, fr. Hierotheos
Every event and every spiritual condition has its stages. Man develops gradually, in stages, and he experiences certain situations in stages. One can also discern gradations in sin, but also in virtue. Thus, we can say that atheism also has certain gradations.
When referring to atheism, we need to be slightly careful. Because the person whom we perceive as an atheist may, in reality, not be one. One may live quite differently than we Orthodox do, but that cannot be labeled “atheism”. There exists a theoretical atheism, and a practical atheism; in fact, we can argue that there even exists a “religious atheism”. This category pertains to those people who live within the realm of the Church, but very superficially, without ever attaining a personal awareness of divine Grace – a personal “knowledge” of God. The Pharisees of Christ’s time observed such an odd kind of atheism. They upheld and taught the Law, and yet, they ignored the Lawgiver; in fact, not only did they ignore Him, they even crucified Him. This is why it is so difficult for one to draw a dividing line between faith and faithlessness: one can appear to be faithful, and yet, end up in complete atheism and agnosticism. On the other hand, someone else may appear to be an atheist externally, and yet eventually end up finding the perfect faith.
Despite the difficulty involved, I would now like to present the stages of atheism, as described by Clement. He basically discerns three stages in atheism:
«The first stage is anti-theism, the revolting against God in the name of freedom and justice. Anti-theism is born of Christianity’s decomposition, when it has remained silently dead and has been transformed into an ideology, and looks to totalitarianism in order to replace the lost power of the whole». An established religion which has been turned in to an ideology usually disappoints people, who, influenced by other world-theory motives, openly attack this dead and fossilized religion. Reactions are violent; they ridicule everything that has to do with religion, and in fact, they do so in the name of justice and freedom. In other words, they are revolutionary and oppositional by nature.
The second stage follows the first. After having exhausted themselves with their ridiculing and their attacks, they arrive at another condition: «Revolutionary and militant atheism is weakened by its own victory, while the masses slide away towards an indifference….or, they slide away towards an escape and the “recreation” provided by the “society of spectacles”. The more demanding ones among them find themselves up against something finite and forgo every optimism, and thus develop various philosophies of the illogical and of nausea». Thus, we note that indifference and despair are the things that distinguish this second stage in atheism. From being a religious experience, it becomes a sociological one. Weary of his battles, Man falls into a despair that absolutely nothing can cure. Instead of transforming this into a despair addressed to God (in other words, repentance), he transforms it into a despair addressed to the world. He feels disillusioned by everything, and he seeks ways of alleviating his suffering, but he does not succeed.
When he has become thoroughly disillusioned, he ends up in another particular stage of atheism: «Already, a third type pf atheism takes shape; one that we could name “occult”. One looks for antidotes for the “fiery desert” of science and technique, by striving to render them “esoterical”, but always within the bounds of the one or the other; in other words, by persevering in the denial of the personal God who became a Man. They discover once again the odd, the apocryphal potentials of man, and the old symbolism of the universe». During this third stage, they seek the «spirituality» of the oriental religions, of philosophy, but also the illusion of social justice from within pseudo-Messianisms. We can in fact say that contemporary Man is possessed by this mysticism, which is a morbid phenomenon.
From the above analysis, certain conclusions can be drawn:
The first one is that –unfortunately- whatever has become obsolete in the West is now being lived in Greece. We are living through situations that the Westerners went through 50 years ago. Unfortunately, this is what has been happening in every area. We become influenced by the West, but unfortunately it is the obsolete West; influenced, by the things that the West has bypassed. We are the recipients of outdated models of living, hence the reason one observes in many areas the phenomenon of anti-theism – the first stage of atheism – which has now been bypassed in the West, where they have begun to also abandon the second stage and are in search of the third; i.e., they are in search of redemption and deliverance from their gnawing, internal problems. We are constantly lagging behind.
The second one is that the Orthodox Tradition contains a healthy spirituality; one that is balanced and lively, which we can live and thus be able to escape the hoax of morbid occultism. We are enabled to acquire a personal “knowledge” of God. Our God is not an abstract one - a God of philosophers and contemplators – but a real God; the God of our Fathers. Why must we therefore resort to an impersonal mysticism of the oriental kind, or to sorcery and the suchlike, when in our Tradition we have a complete teaching and life, which lead us to the experiencing of the personal God?
The Orthodox Church possesses an unfathomable depth, which we cannot discern with the naked eye; we may regard the Church as an established institution, but, beyond Her superficial aspects, there exists a living reality. Reality exists, incarnate, in every person. The quest for this truth - and our actually living it - can divert our course towards an atheism that sucks out our life and our entire existence.
Translation by K.N.
Article published in English on: 2-6-2007.
Last update: 2-6-2007.