By Msgr. Pedro Lopez-Gallo
With the publishing of his book, Religion for Atheists, Alain de Botton, a Swiss writer, is ready perhaps to replace Christopher Hitchens, a well-known self-proclaimed atheist, now dead. The contradiction in terms in this title purports to conglomerate people who profess that God does not exist.
The term "atheist" was originally used in pagan Greece for those who did not believe in the official gods of the state. The earliest philosophers did not distinguish between matter and spirit, and Socrates is the classic example of one suspected of atheism and impiety.
Plato and Aristotle spoke of the existence of God, but it was St. Thomas Aquinas who explained the perennial philosophy through his "Five Ways," proving the existence of a monotheistic God through arguments such as the Unmoved Mover and the Causa Causarum, the Cause of all Causes.
In the Roman Empire the term "atheism" was amplified, and "pantheism" included all kinds of superior powers. They called the first Christians "pagans," and these "pagans" applied the same term to their persecutors.
Early Egyptian, Mayan, and Aztec cultures worshipped multiple divinities drawn from nature, and a glorious pantheism flourished. Besides Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, and Taoism hold that there is an after-life. Only Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are monotheistic (worship only one God).
What is amazing is that, one way or another, people of all times have been intrigued, happy, or rebellious about venerating divinities, idols, and icons.
Atheists are supposed to be those who deny the existence of God, but since the Middle Ages, and especially since the 18th century, atheism has been directed towards attacking Christianity.
It is not possible to formulate a simple comprehensive definition of atheism that will cover all cases adequately. So often I have encountered people who consider themselves atheist and live without God, but who, as soon as they face problems of health or poverty, are quick to implore a miracle!
In fact, atheists are more concerned with overthrowing moral principles and conventional ideas of right and wrong than in denying absolutely the reality of divinity.
Alain de Botton suggests building an open structure 46 metres tall, representing the age of the earth, with a millimetre-thick band of gold at the bottom. To put humanity's lifespan into perspective it will have fossils lining the interior walls, and the human genome inscribed on the exterior.
This enormous and insipid monument, to be called the Temple to Atheism, is backed by anonymous donors and is awaiting construction approval in the central financial district of London, England. De Botton hopes that this will spawn a network of shrines to atheism across Britain and perhaps the world.
Not all followers of this new atheism agree with the idea, saying it is nonsense and a waste of money, and ridiculing it as a move to imitate the God-believers when a pure atheist should be opposed to any form of worship and veneration.
The simple fact of trying to create a temple is tantamount to nostalgia and the need to fill a vacuum, a silent desire to act gregariously to combat believers in God. Methinks such fury is indicative of feeling the lack of God Himself.
They would not rage against The Rage Against God (the book by atheist-turned-Christian Peter Hitchens, the brother of Christopher) if they didn't believe there really is a God. Just as we cannot love someone we know does not exist, we cannot fight somebody who does not exist, tilting at windmills like the famous hero Don Quixote.
As one reviewer put it: "Religion for Atheists sounds as if addressed to some nightmarish ideal reader or to a commitment-free yuppie who seeks to fill his howling inner void."
According to J. Maritain, there are three types of atheists: the practical atheist, who denies, by the way he lives, the God in Whom he professes to believe; the pseudo-atheist, who believes in spite of himself, in the God in Whom he thinks he does not believe, and jokes: "I do not believe, thanks be to God"; and the absolute atheist, who denies, knowingly and in reality, the true God.
I do fear that de Botton's book and his plans to build a temple for the faithless are utopian. Auguste Comte (1798-1857) attempted to found the "religion of humanity," by which altruism would replace the idea of God and destroy egoism.
Comte also wanted to start a cult with its own priests, sacraments, and temples, and he came up with a "calendar" in which the names of scientists replaced those of saints. Of his positivist theory, only some books remain, buried in dust.
By its very nature, religion means worship of God Who the new atheists profess does not exist. I suggest that they instead call themselves a club or fellowship of atheists.