by Fr Roberto Ubertino
How atheist can help us….
We seem to face the reality of Atheism where we feel most vulnerable: in our children. Our children so often seem to be seduced by the Atheist position. They of course are simply the easy victims of an illness that affects a considerable, growing, large number of people. A recent author, Michael Buckley, suggests that Atheism is essentially a parasite that feeds off bad religion. Atheism, he suggest, feeds off bad religion and picks apart bad religion. If that is true, then atheists do us a big favour. Atheism shows us the log in our own eyes.
Feuerbach and Nietzsche, two famous atheists of the 19th century, criticized religion as the “opiate of the people.” They criticized that by focusing on the next life, people cold then be subjugated in this one. But they had a much deeper criticism, namely that we use the idea of God and religion to rationalize our own desires. For these two atheists, God did not make us in his image and likeness, but rather, we've made God in our image and likeness.
It is a great temptation that we have not always overcome by using “God” as our reason to do whatever we want and then calling this “God's will.” Bernard (St) of Clairvaux called the 2nd Crusade as “God's will.” We justified slavery, oppression, injustice, imprisonment, pogroms, all in the name of God. We Orthodox are not exempt. There is much for atheists to feed on. Our endless discussions on jurisdiction, our zealous acceptance to break communion with each other over minute details , the brushing under the carpet of sexual and financial abuses, our lack of interest in the poor. There is much for atheists to feed upon. Today atheism sharpens its knives through popular writers such as Hitchens and Dawkins. When it is most painful is to see that bad religion is picked upon and thorn apart by our children. Going “on the defensive” is not helpful. Promising them hell if they don’t start going to church is a waste of time. Rather than being defensive, we need to find a response to what often are valid criticisms. We need to find a way to speak to these challenges with a witness that has a chance to be heard. Preaching to the choir is no longer a sufficient response of the church to the challenge that atheism levels at us.
We first need to be humble and even grateful, because the challenge atheism levels at the church is really an opportunity that is offered to us, to purify our witness of the Lord and His gospel.
Second consideration. We need to humbly and without making excuses acknowledge to our children what is true in our failure to be the authentic witness of the true faith. We have failed miserably in many ways to live the Orthodox faith.
Finally, what is most important is to understand that the response that must be given to “bad religion” is not secularism or atheism, but rather what St Paul calls a “beautiful witness of the hope that is within us.” How can we recognize authenticity when it concerns the Orthodox Church? What will convince our children to recognize where is the truth? In the same way we recognize beauty and goodness! They are self-evident! The same with the true faith! It declares itself! It attracts by itself. The reverse is also true: atheism is a parasite that feeds of the believers' betrayal of the truth.
When atheism becomes aggressive like it is today, when it even becomes nasty, this is perhaps a time to examine more closely what this phenomena mirrors inside many of our religious institutions.