I will tell you a vision I once had.
I hesitate to call it a vision because it makes me sound like some sort of Marian mystic. Probably better to call it a “mental image” or a “dream image”.
Anyway, it came to me in that in between state when I was not sure if I was praying or dozing. But it really doesn’t matter. What matters is the content and context of the vision.
It took place in November 1989 when the world was excited about the fall of the Berlin Wall. For those who don’t remember, the Berlin Wall was the literal barrier that was built across the city of Berlin to separate the Communist Eastern part of the city from the democratic free Western part of the city.
Across Europe communism was crumbling and my dream-vision was this: It was very simple. I saw a gigantic brown bear lumbering from along at great speed. It was terrifying with red eyes and an open, slavering mouth with sharp teeth and blood dripping from its muzzle. It came to a crumbling wall and clambered over it. And I understood that the bear–the Beast from the East–was the spirit of atheism and that as communism crumbled this beast was moving into new territory–from the East to the West.
I have thought much about that dream vision over the last twenty five or so years, and it seems to me that my vision was prophetic.
In these twenty five years in the West we have seen what can only be described as our own form of violent, virulent atheism.
Not only have the “New Atheists” come about during those twenty five years, but many more implicit, (but even more potent and poisonous for their seeming invisibility) forms of atheism have stalked our land.
What have we seen in these twenty five years? Ask yourself. We have seen an even more rapid decline into a nihilistic relativism, and what is relativism but a form of atheism? Why is relativism a form of atheism? Because it denies that there is any objective meaning or truth. You cannot be a relativist and a theist for if you believe in God you must believe in objective Truth. If you do not believe in objective Truth you are an atheist even if you don’t know it.
And this relativism has also infected Christ’s Church.
Here is a second form of implicit atheism: Eastern religions. Eastern meditation techniques take devotees into Hinduism and Buddhism which, in their “higher” forms teach that there is no personal, objective God. Instead true “enlightenment” is the understanding that there is nothing, and peace is the acceptance that there is nothing else out there.
And these religions have also infected Christ’s Church.
Here is a third form of implicit atheism: Materialism. Materialism as a philosophy is not just “go to the mall and shop until you drop” Acquisitiveness and greed are simply the outward symptoms of a philosophy that teaches that material things will not only satisfy, but they are the only things that satisfy, and they are the only things that satisfy because they are the only things that really exist.
Materialism says, “What you see is what you get” There is no afterlife, no angels, no demons, no heaven no hell. What the materialists fail to do is to take their argument all the way for they must also believe there is no God. Materialism is the default setting in our secular schools, colleges and universities. It is the default setting of most young people today. They are therefore atheists even if they don’t know it.
This greed which is rooted in materialism has also infected Christ’s Church. It has also taken another form in the church because too many who call themselves Christians care more about saving the planet than saving souls. They care more about good deeds than faith in Christ and care more about politics and creating a utopia on earth than longing for their heavenly home.
This is also a form of atheism and it is dressed in the robes of the cardinals.
A fourth form of implicit atheism is scientism. This is another form of materialism which teaches that the only legitimate form of knowledge is that which is obtained by the scientific method and which provides physical evidence. This is a form of atheism.
This also has infected Christ’s church, in those who dismiss the supernatural, despise prayer and deny the reality of miracles.
A fifth is utilitarianism which makes moral choices on the basis of expedience, efficiency and economy. There is nothing greater than the bottom line and this too is atheism.
This also has infected Christ’s church where parish and schools and dioceses are run like businesses, always concerned with the bottom line, more worldly fund raising and burgeoning bureaucracies.
A sixth is historicism which teaches that there is no over arching narrative to history, but that the events of history are the random sequence of events and power struggles. This is a form of atheism for it is essentially saying, there cannot be a story because there is not story teller. There cannot be a divine plan because there is no God.
This too has infected Christ’s Church because churchmen believe they must steer the course of history through political involvement rather than trusting in divine providence and living by faith not by sight.
The seventh form of atheism in our society is sentimentalism–the prevalence of making moral choices based only on an individual’s feelings, emotions and subjective reactions. Why is this atheism? Because it denies any objective set of rules to guide one’s behavior. Instincts, urges, emotions and reactions are all because there is no binding set of rules and there cannot be because there is no rule giver, and this too is the slavering bear of atheism even though it seems so sweet and adorable a creed.
This also has infected the church–where rules governing morality are replaced with sentimentalized situational ethics.
The final form of atheism rampant in our society is individualism. Not the individualism of having a strong character and an inventive mind, but the sort of individualism that places me, myself and I at the center of the universe because there is no other God out there to take my place.
This also has infected Christ’s church where Christians determine to do whatever they wish to do and justify their rebellion as self expression.
Why do I say that this atheism which has lumbered from East to West is bloodthirsty and cruel? Because it is just as ruthless and murderous as communism ever was in the East. Why are millions of unborn babies murdered? Because we are utilitarian materialist genocidal tyrants just like the communists. Why do we sell the baby body parts? Because it is cost effective and because we are atheists.
Why do we go to war and why do our young men go on killing sprees? Why is there an epidemic of drug addiction, suicide and crime? Because we are insane atheists and nihilists who believe there is nothing there and if there is nothing there why not go into the nothing?
And what is the answer for this absence? Transcendence.
What will fill the void? God.
What will enlighten the darkness? Only the Light of the World.
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[…] Father Dwight Longenecker has written a good blog post on the forms that atheism takes today. […]
Marian mystic describing the errors of California? Fascinating image of the bear, (the symbol of California.) Ironically, most of those forms of atheism probably crossed the wall from West to East, not vice versa. But your point is well taken, and your categories of implicit atheism cannot be ignored. Well written.
As an old history major all I can say is that anyone who really studies history especially the ancient, medieval and later history of the civilizations from what we would refer to as Europe and the Middle East can see an overarching story line. Think about the influence of the Greeks and Romans that still exist in today’s systems. And importantly the Judaic and then Christian religions thought and beliefs that rebuilt western civilization after the Roman world dissolved. More and more there are archeological discoveries that indicate that even when the European area stepped back after the fall of Rome, areas maintained and passed on the learning in Ireland and Briton. You need to step back from individual events and look at the patterns and employ some thought.