"Every man of faith is an atheist"
-Father Nino Tovar de Lemos SJ
"Often, when conversing with someone who considers themselves an atheist, I have found myself in absolute and honest agreement. I reject the God rejected by my atheist interloceteur. I agree that He cannot exist.
This is why we need not concern ourselves too much if someone tells us they are an atheist. What is the idea of God they do not believe in? Perhaps the atheist will respond: "I cannot believe in a God who would forever monitor us in an attempt to catch us in some evil in order to send us to Hell." Or: "I cannot believe in a God who created us and left us alone with our freedom." Someone who says such things is absolutely right. It is a good thing he is an atheist. I am also an atheist with respect to that kind of God. I do not believe in that God. He cannot exist.
In other words: we are all atheists, even those of us who are believers. We are atheists with regard to false gods. The real question we should ask is not whether someone believes in God, but what kind of God they believe in and what kind they reject. To use biblical language: the faith requires the rejection of false gods, of idols like the golden calf, which are merely the fruit of our desires and fears..."
-O Príncipe e Lavadeira
Readers will excuse the lengthy quote, but it is one which always comes to mind whenever the eternally boring question of theism contra atheism rears its ugly head. The question is regarded by moderns as indicative of progress, but nothing can be further from the truth.
Doubt is as old as faith. Modern man, whose modernity usually consists of being functionally illiterate, has convinced himself that the question of God was forbidden in ages past, inconceivable even in the impoverished pre-scientific mind. Modern man flatters himself that he lives in enlightened times when it is possible to conceive of rejecting God and explaining the universe through science.
All of this is claptrap to the extreme. To make the case against it is tedious and boring. It is enough to invite the delinquent who thinks this way to visit a good library and read good books. The delinquent will no doubt protest that they are educated, which nowadays is indeed the principle problem.
Gone are the atheists like Nietzsche who knew the Christian God they rejected better than many a Christian who not only could not read ancient Greek and Latin, but likely had trouble with their mother tongue as well. Now everyone is literate and goes to school and has very little to show for it.
This of course brings us to the one and only tenable argument to be made against Father Lemos' reasoning: if everyone were capable of becoming wise, atheism may well be a means towards rejecting false gods and theism merely a member of the great dialectic which is itself the absolute Divinity made known to Man in Time.
Sadly, this is not the case. More often than not, doubt is not the beginning of philosophical wonder, it is the first step in rebellion. Hence we return to the most unpopular tenant of Catholic thought: obedience, and find that it may be necessary in a world unwilling to join in the conversation Father Lemos proposes.
Image by Nicolas Poussin
Image by Nicolas Poussin