Why I Am Not An Atheist 1 – Series Intro

Posted: May 23rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

I recognize that the topic of this series might seem a little odd. After all, I’m not a lot of different things. In fact, the list of things I’m not at least approaches infinity while the list of things I am is by necessity thoroughly finite. Nevertheless, the thoughts I will try to outline in this series have been bouncing around my head for several months now. It’s time to form them into words.

I think part of the reason a series like this makes some sense lies within the culture of our country. Christianity and atheism are often set as foils against each other. I have Hindu friends, but nobody ever wonders or asks why I’m not Hindu. (Actually, for those who know my story, it would be more accurate to ask why I don’t consider myself a sort of Hindu believer any longer.) I have Buddhist friends, but again nobody wonders why I’m not Buddhist. Over the years I have had a few Wiccan or neo-pagan friends but, again, the fact that I don’t accept or follow Wiccan beliefs never seems to be an issue. By marriage, a part of my extended family is Jewish, but nobody seems to wonder why I don’t embrace modern Judaism. And yet atheistic family and friends do sometimes express or imply a curiosity about my rejection of atheism.

I think, in our modern American culture, Christianity (in some shape, form, or fashion) and atheism appear to be our two default positions, considered by many as the two opposing poles. When arguments against atheism are presented, they are almost inevitably Christian arguments. (Frankly a lot of them, particularly of the fundamentalist variety, are really bad arguments. But that’s a different discussion.) Similarly, even if they aren’t wholly cognizant of the fact, many of the atheistic arguments are not aimed at religion in general, but at Christianity specifically. Christianity and atheism sometimes appear to be the only two philosophical positions that actively proselytize in our culture and their methods and approaches can also be surprisingly similar.

This series will not be an apologetic for Christianity — at least not beyond those particular distinctions that are personally important to me. I won’t be attempting any sort of exhaustive examination of atheism. Rather, I will focus on those facets that help form my perceptions and understandings. In other words, I won’t really be trying to address the questions that other people have about religion in general or Christianity in particular. Rather, I will focus on the things that matter to me and which have been formed by my personal experience.

If anyone reading would like to comment on some of the reasons they tend toward either atheism or something else or post any questions they might have, I’ll let you know if I already plan to touch on that point. And if not, I’ll consider it and see if I perhaps have any thoughts on the subject and use it to expand my series.

I don’t assume that atheists are unfamiliar with Christianity or religion in general. Some may be, but I have a friend and long time atheist who in his youth either was a Catholic seminarian for a time or considered and explored the possibility. I appreciate it when others don’t similarly assume that even though I have not embraced atheism, I don’t know something about it. I believe aspects of that knowledge will come up in my series. I will note though, that I do not plan to write much about the so-call new atheists. Frankly, I’ve sampled their work and tend to find it caustic, argumentative, intellectually dishonest, and philosophically shallow. In many ways, they strike me as the atheistic counterpart of a Mark Driscoll. (If you don’t know who that is, count your blessings.) And I find their work similarly repellent.

Since this series is more a personal exploration, it may be that neither those who lean toward atheism nor those who lean toward Christianity will find it particularly interesting or helpful. (Someone who leans in some other direction entirely will likely find it a pretty boring series.) But it’s within the realm of possibility that someone out there may find at least some of it interesting in some way. If nothing else, writing this series will help me organize my thoughts so they stop bouncing randomly around my head.

Peace.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 22

Posted: November 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 22

64.  The passion of pride arises from two kinds of ignorance, and when these two kinds of ignorance unite together they form a single confused state of mind. For a man is proud only if he is ignorant both of divine help and of human weakness. Therefore pride is a lack of knowledge both in the divine and in the human spheres. For the denial of two true premises results in a single false affirmation.

This truth flows directly from the text on the two sorts of confession. When we fail to confess by giving thanks for blessings we bind ourselves in ignorance of the divine help we receive. And when we do not learn to speak the truth about our weakness to ourselves and others (and, of course, God) we will think ourselves stronger than we are. And when that happens, we suffer the rule of pride over our lives.

Pride is a passion that very easily binds us in our modern American culture. We are collectively so wealthy that it is easy for us to be ignorant of the divine help and blessings we receive. Even when we profess a thanks of sorts, it tends to be tinged with a sense of entitlement. Our Holy Scriptures warn us at great length about the perils of wealth. Wealth deceives us into believing we are self-sufficient.

At the same time, our culture is such that weakness or sin is often perceived as strength instead. I’m still trying to understand that Christian word – sin. Fundamentally, it means to miss the mark. And that mark, of course, is Christ. When I look at Jesus, I understand also that the mark we miss is love. All sin is a failure to love fully and truly. But pure, unadulterated love is also a hard thing to grasp — and a dangerous thing as well. We can see what it brought Jesus. Moreover, we lie to ourselves about our love — or lack thereof — more than any other thing.

We need to confess truly to escape our bondage to ignorance and pride.


Four Hundred Texts on Love 23

Posted: May 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

84.  First the memory brings some passion-free thought into the intellect. By its lingering there, passion is aroused. When the passion is not eradicated, it persuades the intellect to assent to it. Once this assent is given, the actual sin is then committed. Therefore, when writing to converts from paganism, St Paul in his wisdom orders them first to eliminate the actual sin and then systematically to work back to the cause. The cause, as we have already said, is  greed, which generates and promotes passion. I think that greed in this case means gluttony, because this is the mother and nurse of unchastity. For greed is a sin not only with regard to possessions hut also with regard to food, just as self-control likewise relates to both food and possessions.

This text provides one of the descriptions of the way a thought arouses a passion and the passion then translates into an act of actual sin. In some ways, I’m not totally unlike those ancient converts from paganism. I understand that you have to learn to see something as wrong, then stop doing it, and finally trace backwards the inward paths.

I don’t believe I had really considered greed as a form of gluttony, but it makes sense. They both manifest as the desire to acquire and consume more. Our modern American culture is a treacherous environment for us. Consumption and acquisition are considered to be the normal course of life. Perhaps in that way, we are all the new pagans?