Thursday, May 8, 2014

Some Thoughts on Atheism, V: Will and Intellect


Replacing reason with faith, as the solidarist political scientist and jurist Heinrich Rommen pointed out in his book on the natural law, is the inevitable consequence of putting your private interpretation of the Will (opinion/faith) over Intellect (knowledge/reason), and leads (as Adler concurred) to pure moral relativism, even nihilism, and is the basis of totalitarian government.  Everything ends up being opinion.  Knowledge itself becomes fit only for ridicule.  Might makes right.

Triumph of the Will
The only honest atheist, then, is one who admits he holds his non-belief by a faith as firm as the faith by which others hold their belief.  He understands that faith is not “believing something you know is not true,” but believing something that is not manifestly true, i.e., cannot be proven.  Faith does not contradict reason, as even many believers suppose, but goes beyond it.  As Pope Pius XII explained in the opening passages of Humani Generis (1950), faith and reason complement each other, they do not contradict — or either your faith or your reason is flawed.

Is human understanding of either faith or reason perfect?  Hardly.  As Saint Paul said, “For now we see through a glass, darkly.”  (1 Cor. 13:12.)  Whatever the cause, we do not grasp the essentials of either faith or reason as readily or as surely as many people seem to think.  We must respect others’ beliefs, even if they are non-beliefs or seem to us to be complete nonsense, if we cannot prove our case.

Gossip and slander are everywhere spread.
Even then, if someone is doing no harm even by what we can prove is wrong, we must leave them free and unmolested.  That includes refraining from backbiting: statements that we believe to be true but which are damaging to another that we have no right to reveal.  Our own proofs may be wrong.  On earth, only the pope is infallible . . . and that is a matter of faith, of opinion, not reason, and therefore cannot be used to prove anything.

If an atheist expects others to respect his non-belief, then, he must respect their belief.  As Archbishop John Ireland explained in “State Schools and Parish Schools,” his address before the National Education Association of the United States in 1890,

“Secularists and unbelievers will demand their rights.  I concede their rights.  I will not impose upon them my religion, which is Christianity.  But let them not impose upon me and my fellow-Christians their religion, which is secularism.  Secularism is a religion of its kind, and usually a very loud-spoken and intolerant religion.  Non-sectarianism is not secularism, and, when non-sectarianism is intended, the secularist sect must not claim for itself the field which it refuses to others.  I am taking my stand upon our common American citizenship.  The liberty that I claim, I grant.”

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