John Ballie on “The Top of Our Minds”

Do we really need to take atheists seriously when they claim not to have any knowledge or experience of God? Professor John Baillie argues we do not.

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“The Top of Our Minds”

by theologian John Baillie

In his celebrated essay Of Atheism, Francis Bacon asserts that ‘atheism is rather in the lip than in the heart of man’. That it is not in his heart I have already contended; but I think we must allow that it is not only in his lip but also in his head. There are undoubtedly some men among us who not only say but also think that they are utterly devoid of all religious belief and feeling, including belief in God …. Nevertheless there have been and are some men who wold apply the term ‘atheist’ to themselves and would do so, as we must believe, with some real meaning. There are men who think they do not believe in God …. The question then arises whether men may be mistaken concerning their own beliefs. Is it possible to hold that those who do not think they believe in God really do believe in Him?

The question has been investigated in an essay which I, in common with many others, have regarded ever since I first read it as one of the most important theological documents of our time—I mean the paper on ‘Rational Grounds for Belief in God’ which was read by the late Professor Cook Wilson to an Oxford society … Cook Wilson answers the question with a confident affirmative. He is able to produce many examples of knowledge which men have possessed without being aware that they possessed it, and even while expressly denying their possession of it—cases in which ‘it is not merely that we have not become aware of a necessary element in our thinking, but we have actually denied that we have it at all’. He therefore concludes that the fact that some people ‘think they have no direct experience or knowledge of God’ is quite compatible with the hypothesis of ‘His direct presence in their consciousness’. ‘The true business of philosophy’, he submits, ‘is to bring the belief to a consciousness of itself.’

What we have here to do with is thus a special case of the familiar distinction between consciousness and sub-consciousness. All belief must in some sense be conscious—unconscious beings cannot entertain beliefs—but not all belief need be conscious of itself. We may have an awareness of a certain reality without being aware of that awareness. And we may therefore, without ceasing to be aware of such a reality, set about doubting and denying its existence—and that in all good faith. There have been people, so-called solipsists, who denied the existence of everything and everybody except their own selves. But are we, who believe in the existence of other selves, therefore obliged to allow that these other selves are not really and directly present to the consciousness of the solipsists? There have been other people, so-called subjective idealists, who denied the independent existence of the external world. But are we others, who believe in an external world which is objectively presented to our consciousness, therefore obliged to allow that it is NOT so presented to the consciousness of the subjective idealists? We should not dream of allowing these things. Why then should we, who believe in God, think it necessary to allow that because some men, the so-called atheists, deny the existence of God, God cannot therefore be directly present to their consciousness as He is to ours? We should say that the solipsists and subjective idealists are as conscious of their neighbors and of the world about them as we are, but they have been misled by false and confused philosophical argumentation into a meaningless (though doubtless quite sincere) intellectual denial of their existence. We should say that though they deny the reality of their neighbors and of the world about them with THE TOP OF THEIR MINDS, they believe in them all the time in the bottom of their hearts. Why then should we be precluded from occupying the same ground with regard to the so-called atheists? There have even—and this, unlike the others which I have mentioned, is one of Cook Wilson’s examples—been people like Hume who denied the reality of their own selves …. For we who do believe in the reality of our own selves would not only refuse to allow that Hume’s self was not real; we should also refuse to allow that Hume was not conscious of its reality; the most we would allow being that he was not conscious of being conscious of it—that he had argued himself into an intellectual denial of a self-consciousness which actually was every whit as fully developed in him as it is in the rest of us.

It may possibly be objected that the case of the atheists is not entirely parallel to that of the solipsists and subjective idealists or of skeptics like Hume, in that these do not deny their acquaintance with the experiences which we others interpret as involving the direct presence of our fellow men and the external world, or of our own self-hood, but only deny the correctness of the ordinary interpretations of them. I should hold, however, that exactly the same thing is true of the atheistical denial of the direct presence of God. The Christian believer may indeed often be found pointing to experiences which he claims to have had and which the unbeliever can truly say that he has never had; but I am sure the commoner case is that the believer finds God in experiences which the unbeliever would equally claim to have had, but which seem to him susceptible of a purely humanistic or naturalistic interpretation. The believer finds in the most familiar experiences of life a meaning and a presence which the unbeliever does not find in them; and it is on this basis alone that he is able to proceed to those further experiences which the unbeliever cannot have at all.

22 God-Awful “Reasons”

I ran across a YouTube video called “22 Reasons to STOP BELIEVING in God” by The Atheist Voice.  Well, why not? It’s only 3 1/3 minutes long, and has nearly half a million views.  So let’s go through these 22 reasons and see if any of them comes close to a GOOD REASON to stop believing in God.

NOTE: It turns out that “22 Reasons to STOP BELIEVING in God” really means “22 Reasons to STOP BEING A CHRISTIAN.” Maybe not surprising, but I thought I’d warn you.

NOTE: Reason 1 is pretty bad. It’s the sort of thing a freshman in a philosophy or theology class would say. But they go steadily downhill from there. You have been warned.

NOTE: I apologize for how long this is going to be. I didn’t realize that, while it’s a short video, it’s also a Gish Gallop.  For those of you who don’t know what a Gish Gallop is, it’s the rhetorical technique of throwing out so many one-liners that your opponent is overwhelmed by them, since each one would take a lot more than one line to answer, and you get many—in this case 22—flung at you at high speed. This principle, noted by Charles Manson prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi also applies here:

vincentbugliosionesentence

This imbalance between the ease of asserting something in one sentence and the need for a lengthy argument to refute the assertion, combined with the Gish Gallop, actually makes this little video rather time consuming to answer.  Not difficult, but still time consuming.

Reason 1: If God knows everything we are going to do in the future, then we don’t have free will. But we do have free will.

Answer: This objection is somewhat sensible. It’s the kind of thing a freshman might come up with in a philosophy or theology class.  The error here is the failure to grasp that God does not exist IN TIME.  What this means (to keep it simple) is that God knows what you “will do” in the  future because from God’s point of view YOU ARE DOING IT RIGHT NOW AND HE IS SEEING YOU DO IT.  Now, it should be obvious that someone seeing you choose something doesn’t eliminate your free will. If I watch you order a Pepsi rather than a Coke, I don’t somehow control you. The error here is to mistakenly think of God as an entity in time, right now, but having knowledge, right now, of the future.  However God is not in time, but eternal. To be eternal does not mean (and has never meant) “to endure throughout all time” but “to be outside time entirely.”  If you want a philosophically rigorous account of this, I refer you to Boethius’ On The Consolation of Philosophy.

Reason 2: If God doesn’t know what we are going to do in the future, he isn’t omniscient.

Answer: God does know, so he is. Although I should note that, as with “omnipotent,” “omniscient” is a clearly defined term.  It means “knows everything possible to know.” One “limit” for example on God’s knowledge is false things. God cannot “know” something which is false.  If you do not have 33 brothers, God cannot “know” you have 33 brothers.  Because knowledge, by definition, is of true things only.  One rhetorical technique sometimes used by atheists is to redefine terms such as knowledge, and to pretend that it is possible to know false things, and then claim to impugn God’s omniscience if He fails to “know” false things.  This is much more common in the case of omnipotence, which like omniscience, is well-defined: the ability to do anything possible to do.  If a task is inherently contradictory, such as “give man free will while at the same time withholding free will from man”, one has NOT specified a task God is “unable” to do; one has merely said something self-contradictory, which is nonsense.  Logically, saying “God cannot do [self-contradictory thing X]” is a cogent as God cannot do [nonsense word W].”  And obviously, saying something like “God cannot farblefringersilize a vodvomormonort,” is hardly a strong proof that God is not omniscient—unless you are able to coherently define your terms.  The proper response to the old freshman question “Can God make a stone so heavy He can’t lift it?” is to ask “What do you mean by the property ‘cannot by lifted by something that can lift anything’?”  It’s really an appeal to an image concrete task (lifting a stone) which seems to make sense of the thing, but it’s logical form is “Can God do something He cannot do?” or “Can God do [meaningless because self-contradictory phrase]?” e.g. “Can God make a thing that is not what it is?” But God’s “inability” to do nonsense is not a limit to His power—because nonsense is not a something that it is possible to do.

Reason 3: God couldn’t stop a murder when there were only four people on earth.

Answer: Please tell me the freshman objection isn’t going to be the strongest one? God could have, didn’t, next. I will note that this is a very common atheist argument PATTERN: it assumes that God ‘would have done such and such’ or ‘if I were God I would have done such and such’—but of course no human being, not even atheists (even though they sometimes seem to think otherwise) are omniscient and infinitely wise. The theist, holding that God is all-knowing and all-good, holds that God always acts in the way that is best, even if the reasons for this are not apparent to us.

Reason 4: If we’re supposed to be God’s special creatures, then the universe is full of a lot of wasted space.

Answer: This argument from the “bigness” of the universe is one of the worst possible arguments “not to believe in God.” First, it’s a non sequitur, insofar as we don’t actually know that the rest of the universe is “wasted” as opposed to FOR SOMETHING UNKNOWN TO US.

What is truly ridiculous is that this ridiculous argument is FELT (not reasoned, obviously) to have some sort of point. And I think it does have a kind of resonance with a certain kind of emotional attitude towards life and existence, and not a healthy one.  I’m going to give this insipid argument far more reply than it deserves, because the replies are of much greater worth than the “objection”:

Here is G. K. Chesterton, from Orthodoxy:

Herbert Spencer would have been greatly annoyed if any one had called him an imperialist, and therefore it is highly regrettable that nobody did. But he was an imperialist of the lowest type. He popularized this contemptible notion that the size of the solar system ought to over-awe the spiritual dogma of man. Why should a man surrender his dignity to the solar system any more than to a whale? If mere size proves that man is not the image of God, then a whale may be the image of God; a somewhat formless image; what one might call an impressionist portrait. It is quite futile to argue that man is small compared to the cosmos; for man was always small compared to the nearest tree. But Herbert Spencer, in his headlong imperialism, would insist that we had in some way been conquered and annexed by the astronomical universe. He spoke about men and their ideals exactly as the most insolent Unionist talks about the Irish and their ideals. He turned mankind into a small nationality. And his evil influence can be seen even in the most spirited and honourable of later scientific authors; notably in the early romances of Mr. H.G. Wells. Many moralists have in an exaggerated way represented the earth as wicked. But Mr. Wells and his school made the heavens wicked. We should lift up our eyes to the stars from whence would come our ruin.

But the expansion of which I speak was much more evil than all this. I have remarked that the materialist, like the madman, is in prison; in the prison of one thought. These people seemed to think it singularly inspiring to keep on saying that the prison was very large. The size of this scientific universe gave one no novelty, no relief. The cosmos went on for ever, but not in its wildest constellation could there be anything really interesting; anything, for instance, such as forgiveness or free will. The grandeur or infinity of the secret of its cosmos added nothing to it. It was like telling a prisoner in Reading gaol that he would be glad to hear that the gaol now covered half the county. The warder would have nothing to show the man except more and more long corridors of stone lit by ghastly lights and empty of all that is human. So these expanders of the universe had nothing to show us except more and more infinite corridors of space lit by ghastly suns and empty of all that is divine.

In fairyland there had been a real law; a law that could be broken, for the definition of a law is something that can be broken. But the machinery of this cosmic prison was something that could not be broken; for we ourselves were only a part of its machinery. We were either unable to do things or we were destined to do them. The idea of the
mystical condition quite disappeared; one can neither have the firmness of keeping laws nor the fun of breaking them. The largeness of this universe had nothing of that freshness and airy outbreak which we have praised in the universe of the poet. This modern universe is literally an empire; that is, it is vast, but it is not free. One went into larger and larger windowless rooms, rooms big with Babylonian perspective; but one never found the smallest window or a whisper of outer air.

Their infernal parallels seemed to expand with distance; but for me all good things come to a point, swords for instance. So finding the boast of the big cosmos so unsatisfactory to my emotions I began to argue about it a little; and I soon found that the whole attitude was even shallower than could have been expected. According to these people the cosmos was one thing since it had one unbroken rule. Only (they would say) while it is one thing it is also the only thing there is. Why, then, should one worry particularly to call it large? There is nothing to compare it with. It would be just as sensible to call it small. A man may say, “I like this vast cosmos, with its throng of stars and its crowd of varied creatures.” But if it comes to that why should not a man say, “I like this cosy little cosmos, with its decent number of stars and as neat a provision of live stock as I wish to see”? One is as good as the other; they are both mere sentiments. It is mere sentiment to rejoice that the sun is larger than the earth; it is quite as sane a sentiment to rejoice that the sun is no larger than it is. A man chooses to have an emotion about the largeness of the world; why should he not choose to have an emotion about its smallness?

It happened that I had that emotion. When one is fond of anything one addresses it by diminutives, even if it is an elephant or a lifeguardsman. The reason is, that anything, however huge, that can be conceived of as complete, can be conceived of as small. If military moustaches did not suggest a sword or tusks a tail, then the object would be vast because it would be immeasurable. But the moment you can imagine a guardsman you can imagine a small guardsman. The moment you really see an elephant you can call it “Tiny.” If you can make a statue of a thing you can make a statuette of it. These people professed that the universe was one coherent thing; but they were not fond of the universe. But I was frightfully fond of the universe and wanted to address it by a diminutive. I often did so; and it never seemed to mind. Actually and in truth I did feel that these dim dogmas of vitality were better expressed by calling the world small than by calling it large. For about infinity there was a sort of carelessness which was the reverse of the fierce and pious care which I felt touching the pricelessness and the peril of life. They showed only a dreary waste; but I felt a sort of sacred thrift. For economy is far more romantic than extravagance. To them stars were an unending income of halfpence; but I felt about the golden sun and the silver moon as a schoolboy feels if he has one sovereign and one shilling.

And if Chesterton isn’t enough, I also refer the reader to John C. Wright’s blog post “Earth Looked so Small as to Make me Ashamed of Our Empire” and “Size Does Matter.”  Enjoy!

Reason 5: The myth of a great flood and a virgin birth were around long before Jesus came around. Maybe those are just elements of an interesting story.

Answer: Christians have always known this.

A more interesting question is WHY certain stories and themes repeat themselves throughout the world’s mythology.  To take things in order, the flood was not said to have happened at the time of Jesus, so it isn’t clear what why stories of a great flood pre-dating Jesus would be evidence against … what? Universal stories of a great flood may not be conclusive evidence FOR a great flood, but they sure as hell aren’t evidence AGAINST one.  “Everyone, everywhere speaks of a certain event; therefore, this event did not happen.” This is a strange argument, at the least.

But the Christian account suggests that the myths and the mythological in general served as a kind of divine foreshadowing. Remember, Jesus is not in any way a “mythological” person, but a living, concrete, historical person. In Christ, myth becomes reality.  Another way the virgin brith was foreshadowed was prophesy.  That certain cosmically important events were foreseen or foreshadowed is not an argument that they didn’t happen.

The fundamental distinction that needs to be held on to is that Jesus is a historical person, not a myth.

I won’t, here, get into all the ways in which the “mythological stories that pre-date Jesus” are far less common that is often suggested.  To take a simple example: it is almost certain that the parallels between Jesus and Krishna are a result of Hindu priests taking their tales from the Christians, and not the other way around (Krishna tales first appear around 600-800 AD).

And isn’t this supposed to be “22 Reasons to STOP BELIEVING in God”?  It seems it is, in reality, “22 Reasons to STOP BEING A CHRISTIAN.”

Reason 6: Virgins can’t get pregnant.

Answer: Really? THIS is a “reason” to stop believing in God? Really?

God is all powerful. God can cause a virgin to become pregnant.

Oh, God. That freshman level objection you started with really is going to be the strongest one, isn’t it?

Reason 7: Michelle Bachman and Sarah Palin: Christian. Barney Frank: Not a Christian.

Answer: So? St. Francis of Assisi: Christian. Joseph Stalin and Adolph Hitler: Not Christian. Also: Barney Frank? Not an atheist.

Reason 8: Christians disagree among themselves about some things, so Christianity is false.

Answer: Disagreement doesn’t prove no one is right. Scientists disagree with each other. Flat-earthers disagree that the earth is spherical: does that “prove” that all theories about the shape of the earth are false? Atheists disagree with other atheists; therefore atheism is false. See how convincing that is?

Reason 9: The Bible is full of contradictions.

Answer: No it isn’t. Learn how to read it properly.  You didn’t give any examples, so I won’t attempt to refute any.

Reason 10: If God made us in His image, why do we have vestigial organs and body parts that often fail?

Answer: The Christian teaching is not and never has been that “made in the image of God” means God has a human body. He doesn’t. This question is just stupid.

Reason 11: 99.9% of all species are extinct. How many “do-overs” does God need?

Answer: So above re: the “wasted space” argument, since this is basically a “wasted species” argument. Lacking omniscience, why do you think this is not according to the divine plan? What percentage of species SHOULD BE extinct, according to you? “If God existed, no species would be extinct.” Is that the premise here? Why would you think that?

Reason 12: “God doesn’t exist because I said so.”

Answer: There’s just no bottom to this, is there?

Reason 13: The Holocaust.

Answer: Yes, we know God permits evil. Your point? Can you refute this claim, for example? It always seems to me like the argument from evil rests an inability to imagine something so good and perfect that would make any finite amount of evil worth it. But of course, that is precisely WHAT GOD IS.

motherteresa

Reason 14: The proof people give that God exists is often based on their personal experiences. “It’s the sort of proof we would NEVER take seriously if it were applied anywhere else.”

Answer: There are no impersonal experiences. ALL experience is personal experience. What else would it BE? What’s your point?

And about the “we’d never take it seriously,” that’s false. We have NO EVIDENCE WHATEVER that anyone besides ourself is CONSCIOUS—other than THEIR own personal experience that they are, and them telling us.  It is no more UNREASONABLE to believe reports about experiences of God than it is to believe in other minds. And if you don’t believe in other minds, you are a manifestly irrational person who has ridiculous standards of belief, probably due to some sort of ideology.

In fact, the ONLY people I have ever heard DENY that other minds exist are atheists who have realized that our evidence for other minds is very similar to our evidence for God, and who (therefore) want to close that possible door. I really don’t believe them when they deny believing in other minds, not least because they are bothering to TELL ME, a presumably mindless automaton, all about it.

Reason 15: Too many of God’s followers, using Bible verses to support their beliefs, have made life worse for other people.

Answer: Many have. But how does that impugn the truth of Christianity? Christianity doesn’t teach that Christians will be good people. It teaches (1) they should be, and (2) most won’t be.  Also, many Christians have lived lives of charity and service to their fellow man, due to their Christian faith.  Do you really think the world would be a BETTER PLACE if Christianity with its commandments to love one’s neighbor and practice charity, did not exist?

Reason 16: “No matter what Ray Comfort says, God didn’t create bananas to look like this. They evolved this way without God’s help.”

Answer: Setting aside the fact that you correct YOURSELF, and note that bananas WERE INDEED engineered to be as they are, albeit by human beings, you offer no evidence that any case of evolution was “without God’s help.”  How do you propose to prove that evolution is UNGUIDED?  Seems like you are just question-beggingly assuming it. Most Christians don’t see a contradiction between evolution and Christianity—that’s only some loony Protestant fundamentalists.  And yes, thinking all Christians are loony Protestant fundamentalists must be very comforting, because they are living straw men.  But, sorry to tell you, eventually you’ll have to address serious and educated Christians, if you want to discredit Christianity, and not merely its lunatic fringe.

Reason 17: Every time science and religion go head to head, science wins.

Answer: When has this happened?

Reason 18: You don’t need God to be a good person.

Answer: Well, you do need God to have a good reason to be a good person, or a rationally coherent ground for your ethics.  Also, atheism renders at least two virtues impossible: piety and faith. So, without God, you can’t be a fully good person. And even more, our ability to be good is limited, and at the end of the day, we are incapable of being good in an exemplary way, without God’s assistance, viz. divine grace.  So, this is a half-truth. An atheist can be, for a given value of “good”, a relatively good person as far as natural human effort can accomplish, except for the virtues which his atheism actually prevents him from having.  But no atheist can be holy, that is, a saint. So atheism does put a definite ceiling on how good you can be.

Reason 19: People have been saying that Jesus is coming back in their lifetime for many, many, many lifetimes.

Answer: Yes, they have. But Christian teaching is very clear that we do not know when Jesus will return.  Again, human beings are highly fallible, which includes Christians, and are prone to overreach in their claims to know things—much like your claim to know, e.g. that evolution is unguided by God.

Reason 20: God works in mysterious ways is typically a euphemism for “stop asking hard questions.”

Answer: No, it isn’t. It’s a convenient expression for the rather obvious point that we are not in a position to evaluate, know, comprehend, or judge the actions of an infinite, all-powerful, all-knowing being.  As I Christian I’m perfectly content to say “I don’t know” about many things. “I don’t know” seems to be the sane answer to “Why did God do X or not do Y?” So it’s more like “stop asking unanswerable questions, and expecting an answer.” Unanswerable questions are neither “hard” nor “easy.” They simply cannot be answered.

Reason 21: Natural disasters.

Answer: Again, God permits evil, including natural evils, such as natural disasters. We never said he didn’t. If your claim is “God as Christians understand God would not permit natural disasters” what’s your argument that He wouldn’t? How do you know? Where did you get the yardstick to measure the actions of an infinite being? This seem to be yet another variant on “I, atheist X, am in a position no know what God, an omniscient and all-wise being, would or would not do in situation S, and to make judgments on the basis of my knowledge.”  But this premise is either false or you are, yourself, omniscient and all-wise.

Reason 22: You were made in God’s image—except for your foreskin, apparently; you need to cut that off.

Answer: Well, you managed to save the worst for last. Frankly, I didn’t think you could go lower than “God doesn’t exist because I said so” but this may have done.

I’m done, and I am now a dumber person for having gone through this. I hope you, readers, enjoyed it more than I did. My pain is over now, at least—for now.

Three Steps to Orthodox Christianity

The question of the relation of reason and revelation has occupied some of the greatest thinkers in the Christian tradition, as well as in the Judaic and Islamic theological traditions.

I wanted to be clear with my readers what I understand to be the relationship between human reason or philosophy and the Christian faith, by which I mean the orthodox Christian faith in general (“little-o orthodox”) and Orthodox Christianity specifically, since I am Orthodox.

Step One: Reason and Natural Theology. I hold that human reason alone, that is, philosophy—and more specifically, sound metaphysics—is sufficient to demonstrate the existence of God understood very broadly, as i.e. ἡ ἀρχή τῇς οὐσίας, the ground of Being.  When I speak of ‘God’ in this sense, that of natural theology, I take myself to be referring not only to what Christians call ‘God,’ (θεός, Deus), what the Jews call YHWH (יהוה), what the Muslims call Allah (الله), but also to what Plato is refers to as ἡ ἰδέα του ἀγαθού or the Idea of the Good (“beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power”), what Aristotle refers to as the unmoved mover, what the Stoics refer to as the Λόγος, the Chinese as the Tao (道), Vedantic Hinduism as Brahman (ब्रह्म), the Zoroastrians as Ahura Mazda (اهورا مزدا ), Fiche, Schelling, and Hegel as The Absolute, etc .As far as I am concerned, all these are names for one and the same, that which is the first and the last, the beginning and the end, the highest and deepest.

[NOTE ON BUDDHISM: Buddhism is a strange case.  It is worth noting the Buddha clearly and explicitly teaches that “There is an Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed. Were there not this Unborn, Unoriginated, Uncreated, Unformed, there would be no escape from the world of the born, originated, created, formed”—Buddhism seems to reject the idea of God under the headings of Brahma or Īśvara, but what the Buddha is rejecting seems to be a degenerate concept of Brahman that was prevalent in his time, much as the original concept of God as θεός degenerated among the Greeks merely to Sdeus or Zeus, and kind of Sky-Father god or “king of the gods”. I have found that Buddhists frequently mistake the God of Christianity for that which the Buddha rejects under the name of Īśvara; however, I believe that they have radically misunderstood the orthodox Christian teaching on this point.]

Step Two: The Strongest λόγος. Socrates teaches that human beings, not being gods, cannot have the perfect possession of truth by their own efforts. As beings essentially defined by λόγος (speech/reason, discursivity) human wisdom consists in open inquiry and to always follow the strongest λόγος and where the λόγος leads. My view is that, given the above essentially universal theistic agreement concerning many aspects of the Absolute, the question turns to their differences, not only in their accounts (λόγοι) of what the Absolute is LIKE but also the various accounts they give of the human condition, the nature of the world, and man’s place in the world and in relation to God/the Absolute.  Here, I think the case can be made that the Christian account proves to be strongest λόγος, that is, it provides the account of all things which both best conforms exemplifies the divine nature and best accounts for the state of man and the world.  It is, for example, evident to me that it is a greater perfection to be a WHO than a mere WHAT, which leads me to reject any conception of the Absolute that is impersonal, or a mere ‘Force’—similarly the Christian account of the divine personhood and the divine essence as being LOVE (ἀγάπη) is the only conception that adequate to the divine nature.  It would be a long and complicated matter to lay out why I hold the Christian λόγος to be the strongest λόγος concerning God, man, and the world, but I want to emphasize that here we are not entirely beyond the reach of reason. To reach Christianity, a leap of faith is required, as Kierkegaard rightly taught and (over?) emphasized—but it is not a blind leap of faith; philosophically it may be regarded as one of the most rational procedures which one commonly finds in all science: an argument to the best explanation.

Step Three: Becoming a Christian.  If and when one ventures a leap of faith into Christian belief, one is not left untransformed by this. As crude as the “born again” talk of some fundamentalist Protestants is, this is trying to name something absolutely fundamental, that entrance into the Christian faith, primarily by the mystery of Baptism, is rebirth, a new birth, in which one dies to oneself only to live again in a new and changed way. Becoming a Christian is not merely an adoption of a certain set of beliefs, but is an ontological change at the deepest level of one’s being.  It is on this side, the other side of the leap of faith, that one learns that the leap was fully and totally justified (although it was a reasonable leap beforehand).  There is simply no adequate way of explaining this to one who has not yet become a Christian—including those who are merely nominal Christians, those whom the Thomist philosopher Jacques Maritain termed ‘practical atheists’—for the are atheists in their praxis.  I wanted a rational and satisfactory explanation of the nature of reality, and I got much more than I could ever have expected or guessed.  As I have said to many atheists—and this seems to annoy them, which does not bother me—before I had encountered God for myself, I had not thought there could be anything more certain that the Cartesian cogito sum, the “I think; I am”, the absolute certainty I have of my own existence.  Why possible evidence or argument could one present to me that could persuade me that I do not exist? The idea seems absurd, self-contradictory. How could one even try to convince ME that I do not exist? And yet, although I still hold this to be the case, that I am absolutely certain that I exist, the certainty I have of God’s existence is still more absolute.  I am aware that saying things like “more certain than absolute certainty” sounds paradoxical. Indeed, in saying such a thing I perhaps begin to sound not like a philosopher, but a mystic. Well and good. There is simply no other way to talk about God, however inadequate this is. Socrates was not ashamed to utter the speech that the Good “is beyond Being, exceeding it in dignity and power,” and even though I say with Descartes, and with absolute certainty, “I think; I am!” this certainty is but a dim shadowy image of the eternal I AM.

This is my account of the three steps that led me to theism, to Christianity as seen from without, and finally to Christianity as seen from within.

David S. Oderberg’s “Why Abortion Isn’t Important”

This is an important article by philosopher David S. Oderberg, which first appeared in the Human Life Review, 2002. I highly recommend Professor Oderberg’s works, particularly his books on ethics, Moral Theory: A Non-Consequentialist Approach and Applied Ethics: A Non-Consequentialist Approach.  His work in metaphysics, Real Essentialism, is no less valuable, but is highly technical—I recommend in only for those already well versed in metaphysics.  It is dry and difficult, although the case he makes—for the reality of essences—could not be of greater importance.  My readers probably know that I hold the nominalism of William of Ockham to be GROUND ZERO of where Western Civilization went off the rails. Everything that has gone wrong since has gone wrong because of the denial of real essences and Platonic forms.  Indeed, I believe this is the basic thrust of Oderberg’s case below “abortion isn’t important,” he says, in the sense that, horror that it is, it is only one local manifestation of a much deeper sickness of the intellect and the will that has infected our civilization for a very long time now.  It is “not important” only in the sense that it is first of all a symptom of a much deeper and more pervasive disease.

But I don’t mean to interpret his words for you. I mean only to present them to you:

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Why Abortion Isn’t Important

Human Life Review | Summer 2002 | David S. Oderberg

Abortion is not important. I never thought I could write such a sentence. In fact, I never thought I could think it. But I do. That’s not all. I also think that euthanasia is not important. Nor cloning. Nor contraception. Nor IVF, embryo experimentation, genetic engineering, nor any other issue at the core of pro-life activity and policy. In fact, pro-life activity and policy themselves are not important. However, before you write a letter of outrage to the editor, or tear up your subscription, allow me to explain.

To clarify what I mean by these issues’ not being important, let me point out that I am not saying for a minute that pro-lifers should stop being pro-lifers, that we should spend our afternoons tending our rose bushes rather than campaigning, protesting, writing, or whatever it is that we do best in defending the pro-life cause. Like most pro-lifers, I am opposed to every single one of the things listed above. Every one of them is a moral crime, an attack on the sanctity of human life, and every one of them should be opposed in heart and mind and action by all people of good will. And yet—they are not important.

As a professional philosopher, I am trained to look at the big picture. True, most of my fellow philosophers, at least in the Anglophone academies, have pretty much given up on big pictures. We philosophers hardly ever talk about big pictures at our end-of-term garden parties, or in the common room between lectures. We don’t knock on each other’s doors and say, “Hey, Fred, what do you think of the state of Western civilization?” It’s just not done. What is done is to knock on a colleague’s door and say, “Hey, Fred, what do you think about Quine’s denial of the analytic/synthetic distinction? Don’t you think recent theories of meaning have cast doubt on his critique?”

Don’t get me wrong. Quine’s denial of the analytic/synthetic distinction is important and well worth debating. Plenty of good papers have been published on it. My list of things to research in philosophy would be a lot shorter if I didn’t have subtle or not-so-subtle technical distinctions to analyze. It was good enough for Aristotle and St Thomas Aquinas (let alone all the other great figures in the history of my subject)—so it’s good enough for me. Yet through it all, through the endless training in technicalities, and even despite the best efforts of many of those who taught me to philosophize, I have, one way or another, been trained to look at the big picture.

Which is why I have come more and more to see that pro-life issues, including the ones on which I have published at length and will continue to publish, form a smaller component of the overall stance that should be taken against society than many pro-lifers would think. Social activism, like everything else in the marketplace of goods and ideas, inevitably involves a division of labour. Animal rights campaigners (for all the bad mixed in with their good intentions) campaign for animals and very little else; animals are their world, the abolition of the battery cage their raison d’être. Campaigners against paedophilia have the welfare of children as their sole social concern, and see social policy through the prism of their anxiety that children be protected at all costs. Anti-globalists interpret every facet of economic policy in terms of its promotion or reduction of the depredations of transnational big business.

Pro-lifers are no exception. Of course I exaggerate, but the basic point is correct, that when a person embarks on the defense of a cause (and why they pick one cause rather than another depends on all sorts of reasons both personal and political), they tend to focus exclusively on that cause and to see all other social issues primarily in terms of how those issues reflect upon it. The division of labour is a good and necessary thing, both in economics and in social activism. I am certainly not advocating the disappearance of single-issue campaigning, or of multi-issue campaigning (like pro-life activism) that revolves around one large chunk of social policy. No policy would ever change if activists regularly spread their campaigning too thinly, thus depleting their intellectual and emotional (not to mention financial) resources beyond their usefulness in any one specialized operation.

What I am advocating, however, is that pro-lifers as a whole spend more time thinking about bigger issues and how they relate to their primary concern to protect innocent human life from womb to tomb. Perhaps the single thing that contributed most to this realization was when I first read the famous paper published in 1958 by the eminent (and recently departed) Cambridge philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe. Writing about the utilitarianism that has, since Bentham and Mill, taken over virtually all moral theorizing in the English-speaking departments of philosophy (perhaps less true today of high-level moral theory than of applied ethics, where of course the damage is really done—witness Singer and Co.), Professor Anscombe noted that it had become a serious topic of moral debate among philosophers whether it could ever be justified to kill an innocent man (e.g., to save five others). Her response was brave—brave because it went so contrary to the grain of philosophy as argument and dialectic. What she said (and here I paraphrase and interpret¹) was that when confronted with a person who really thinks it a live moral issue whether killing the innocent might ever be justifiable, even if that person offers sophisticated utilitarian arguments in support, the right thing to do is to walk away rather than argue; for such a person shows evidence of a corrupt mind.

Here is one of the (to my mind) greatest philosophers produced by England in the last century, telling people—especially other philosophers—that sometimes it is better to walk away than to argue. Why? Because a person’s conscience can become so corrupt, and lead to such equally corrupt rationalizations, that to engage them in serious argument about those rationalizations is both pointless—being unlikely to have the slightest impact on their thinking—and, what is worse, dangerous—bringing the thinker of good will into serious danger of having his own conscience perverted by the sophistries of the other.

Professor Anscombe did, nevertheless, write much in defense of life— though, notably, much of it for those who already valued life, arming them with arguments, rather than for those who could not even see the truth of the conclusions the arguments were arguments for. As to activism, well, it is not often that one sees a picture of an eighty-year-old female academic lying on the ground being dragged off by the police to the local lock-up. Her crime? Protesting outside an abortuary, of course.

Had she decided that protest against the devaluers of life was more rational than engaging them in argument over the futility of utilitarian thinking? I never got the chance to ask her, but the remarks in her 1958 paper gave pause for thought. After all, thousands of philosophers across the Western world (and it is the West with which I am solely concerned) continue to pose the very sorts of question Anscombe derided as showing evidence of moral corruption. Killing the innocent? No, that’s no longer even a question—most philosophers do not have a problem with it. Rather, it’s meatier territory they stake out now. In fact, when I first learned that the Doctor Exsecrabilis Peter Singer was now somewhat of a fan of bestiality,² I caught myself being not nearly as surprised as I thought I might be: surely this was the logical working out (by a thinker who satisfies G. K. Chesterton’s definition of a maniac—not someone who has lost his reason, but someone who has lost everything but his reason) of a moral position that had already been poisoned decades ago by those first thoughts about whether morality is all about costs and benefits, and whether the job of modern moralists was to overthrow tradition and replace it with a brand new morality for our brand new times.

I assume it will be paedophilia next. Or perhaps incest. (Only a few weeks ago I happened to listen on BBC radio to a learned discussion of incest [not involving Singer] that was as remarkable for its high seriousness as for the insouciance of its participants.) I ask pro-lifers: can we really expect to have a rational debate with these custodians of what’s left of our cultural norms? Perhaps we should keep trying, lest there be one single person out there who changes his mind because of what pro-lifers have to say. Nevertheless, we also play right into the hands of the modern moralists when we approach ethical debate with such a narrow focus. What happens when a pro-lifer publicly debates, say, the so-called “morning-after pill” (alias the early abortion pill) with one of its advocates? Usually, the pro-lifer is accused of an unhealthy obsession with what goes on in people’s bedrooms. Why all this fixation on sex? they want to know. Is it the usual “Catholic guilt” thing, or the fact that they want to deny to others what they secretly wish they could have for themselves? Why don’t they get out of other people’s private lives and worry about their own?

Of course, none of these responses is remotely rational. But the point is that listeners to such debates usually take the rhetorical bait, having long ago abandoned any pretense at rational thought about the issues themselves. And so pro-lifers are portrayed all too often as swivel-eyed, obsessive single-issue fanatics. Needless to say, the double standards are obvious, since such epithets are rarely applied to animal liberationists or anti-globalists. The pro-lifers always get the worst of it: partly due to the obsessions of their opponents, who are really the ones who are utterly fixated on all things carnal; partly through a genuine fear that pro-lifers still (more so in the USA than the UK, by far) have political clout and can actually change things, at least by clogging the courts and slowing down the passage of anti-life measures, at most by getting their own measures adopted (e.g. anti-euthanasia legislation). Partly, as well, due to a tiny trace of residual moral conscience left in their critics. But partly also, it must be said, to the pro-lifers’ own excessively narrow focus.

Does that mean I advocate that pro-lifers should stop being obsessed by matters affecting the sanctity of life? Of course not. If we are not obsessed by life and death, we might as well not be obsessed by anything. What I do advocate, however, is that pro-lifers increase their obsession—not just with life matters, but with the whole state of Western society. We need to be obsessed by the state of utter desolation into which Western society is throwing itself. It may well be (as I believe) that what is left of Western civilization is doomed to extinction—but doing and caring nothing about it is just not an option. It is not only on what we achieve (and we may achieve a lot in the short or medium term), but on what we defend that we will be judged. And we must come to the realization that when a society has reached a state in which abortion and other attacks on life are not only tolerated; not only legalized; not only accepted as normal; but are positively embraced by millions of people as the very solution to what ails that society—then we must realize that something has not only gone seriously wrong, but went wrong a long time ago, long before the Sixties, long before any of us was alive.

We do not need to become social or cultural historians to analyze the current state of things. We should also acknowledge that there is a feedback loop among the phenomena under discussion: explanation is not always in the one direction. A general state of slow-burning moral disintegration gave rise to the climate in which the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s could take place; but equally, with that revolution now secure and its aging vanguard installed as our rulers, the revolution feeds back into the wider state of decay and gives it added momentum. Which way the explanation should go in a given case is best left to the historians. What is more important is that we need instead to see that actions such as abortion can only ever become the norm in a society in which the very bonds that tie us together as human beings have been torn apart. We need to understand that the anti-life movement is a secondary cancer, a metastasis of a primary tumor that began to grow when the West began to lose its religious sensibilities, its sense of communal obligation, its norms of respect and due deference for the elderly, the wise, the experienced, those who govern in our name, its standards of gentility and politeness, when people began twistedly to interpret manners as hypocrisy, noblesse oblige as exploitation, civic duty as state oppression, state patronage as a human right, love of neighbor as poking one’s nose into the business of others, hypocrisy as the greatest vice of all (to which I reply—better double standards than no standards), and proper autonomy as the right to do as one pleases.

The primary cancer is as deep as it is old, and it is almost certainly terminal. But for us—as campaigners, writers, thinkers, activists—its terminal nature cannot be of prime concern. What we must attend to is the enrichment of our thinking about pro-life issues by studied consideration of just how the anti-life culture is rooted in a much broader social pathology. We need not, and must not, become self-styled experts on everything that is wrong with Western society (which of us can claim any such expertise?), and we must not dilute the pro-life message to the point where it no longer stands out against the cacophony of perpetual social commentary that clogs the exhausted airwaves and ever diminishing magazines of “opinion.”

Still, pro-lifers must widen their perspective. We must understand the simple fact that a society in which people are judged not by their looks but by their virtues is a society in which abortion would be impossible. That a society in which travelers regularly give up their seats to the elderly is a society in which euthanasia would be impossible. That the antithesis of a me-first society in which physical perfection is the ultimate goal is a society in which genetic screening for physical handicap would be considered not as a moral outrage, but as just plain absurd—unthinkable, even. This is what I mean by saying that abortion is not important. A society which has gone as far as devaluing the lives of its own members has gone wrong long before. It is not just the metastases which must be attacked, but their malignant origin. Sure, let us be obsessed by anything that touches on life and death—how could we not? But let us also be obsessed by much, much more.

NOTES

1. To read her exact words, see ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ in her collected papers entitled Ethics, Religion and Politics: Philosophical Papers, vol. III (Oxford: Blackwell, 1981), pp.26-42.

2. See his review of Midas Dekkers, Dearest Pet: On Bestiality, published on http://www.nerve.com in 2001 and also in the British magazine Prospect (April 2001).

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“Where is the Lord?”

Prayer LXXIX of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich from Prayers by the Lake (partial):

Like a good host, the Lord sets His table and awaits His guests. The Lord listens attentively for knocking, and is quick to open the door to every guest.  Around His table are clustered undreamed-of mansions; at His table are many seats. Whoever strikes His door and knocks, will not be turned away, and yet you say: “Why did the Lord not open when we knocked?” Because you knocked at the door of the Lord with doubt, but at the door of the world with faith.

The Lord stands at the door of your soul with a broom, ready, at your invitation, to clean the horrendous filth out of your soul, to make your newly-cleaned soul fragrant with incense and fragrance, and to adorn her with virginal jewelry—the Lord is standing and waining for your invitation.

At the edge of your heart the Lord is standing with a tall candle that burns without smoking or melting. The Lord is standing and waiting at your invitation, to bring the candle into your heart and enlighten it, to burn up all the fear in your heart, all its selfish passions, and all its ugly desires, and to drive out of your heart all the smoke and foul stench.

At the edge of your mind the Lord is standing with His wisdom and with His tongue, ready, at your invitation, to enter into it and drive out all its foolish thoughts, all its filthy fancies, and all its mistaken notions, and to erase from your mind all nonexistent images—the Lord is standing and waiting introduce His reason, His seals, and His words.

Yet you say: “Where is the Lord?” At the edge of your life. Therefore your life has become hunchbacked. If the Lord were in the center, where He was in the beginning and where His rightful place is, your life would be upright and you would see the Lord, and you not be asking “Where is the Lord?”

You have become bad, therefore you ask: “Where is the Lord?”

The Lord is too good, therefore the bad do not recognize Him.

The Lord is too translucent, therefore the dusty do not see Him.

The Lord is too holy, therefore the unholy do not perceived Him.

If there are not enough people, who will confess the name of the Lord, the Lord will manifest Himself through objects.

If even the stars of heaven forget the name of the Lord, it will not be forgotten by the countless hosts of angels in heaven.

The weaker the confession of the Lord’s name in one realm, the stronger it is in another. Neither can the uttering of the name of God be decreased, nor can it be increased. If one brook dries up, another will begin to rise, and thus—the sea maintains the same level.

The Unbelievers

Prayer LXXXII of Bishop Nikolai Velimirovich from his Prayers by the Lake.

The unbelievers have girded for war against the Lord of heaven and earth—like dry leaves against the mountain wind! As long as the wind is soundless, one hears the rustling of the leaves. But once the wind begins to howl, it will scatter the leaves over the marshes and roadways, and left there, leaf upon leaf, they will perish like rumors and will be blinded with mud.

For an unbeliever feels strong in a crowd and makes noise. In solitude fear and weakness devour him. But when a believer is in a crowd, he shares the weakness of the crowd., while in solitude he shares power with You; therefore, solitude is his strength and his song.

Against whom do you wage war, you lunatics? Is it against the One who kindles suns with His thought, and goads His flocks of suns and stars with His staff? Truly, it would be a less ridiculous war for the willows to declare war on the thunder, or for the loach fish to carry out a war against the awesome condors.

You have forged weapons, with which you crush one another, and so you have risen up to battle against Him with the same weaponry. But behold, He can walk over your swords like soft moss. Nor is He intimidated by your fortresses, any more than He is by your graves.

You have concocted petty words, with which you insult and humiliate one another, and so you think that with your petty words you will humiliate the One who alone knows what a word is and whence it comes? Indeed, He created your vocal cords in your throat, and expanded your lungs beneath these cords, and cut open your mouth and attached your tongue to your mouth. Truly, it would be less ridiculous for a shepherd’s flute in a shop to rebel against its master craftsman, or for the strings on a harp to rebel against the hand that plucks them.

You have declared war not against God but against yourselves, and God watches your suicide with compassion. Dry leaves are declaring war on wheels of iron!

The more seriously you war against Him, the more unimpededly is He drawn out of you.  The Lord withdraws His strength out of you, as well as His beauty, His health, His wisdom, and His blessedness. This is the way the Most High Lord wars with His adversaries.

What remains of you, embattled battlers, once the Lord has drawn out from you what is His? Does anything remain other than weakness, ugliness, sickness, madness and wretchedness? The Lord will not take from you anything of what is yours. And what is yours is weakness. And once He takes away His power, which you are abusing, He will leave you with your own sepulchral weakness, which can be neither used nor abused.

The Lord will pull His health out of you, and your blood will be transformed into sweat, and your odor will be pleasing to worms, an odor that will cause cities to close their gates.

The Lord will return His wisdom to Himself, and in your madness you will run through the groves and quarrel with caves.

The Lord will retract His blessedness and His peace to Himself, and even the springs will be frightened by your anxiety and flee; and the vines in the hills will wither from your wretchedness, and the earth in the fields will return its fertility back to the earth.

This is the way the Most High Lord wars with His adversaries.

Like a child, He is powerless to do evil. He does not return evil for evil, for He is destitute when it comes to evil. Instead He merely gathers His good gifts and walks off with them, away from the one who gnashes his teeth at Him. And the Lord leaves the unbelievers to be by themselves. And they disintegrate like worm-eaten wood, from which the moisture has evaporated and throughout which worms wend their way for food, as through a deserted home.

Thus does it happen with a people, who declares war on the Life-Giver.

I have told my people—remember: such is the victory of the Life-Giver, and such is the defeat of the Godless.

“Of all people, the atheist is the most unfortunate”

st_nektarios_of_aegina

St. Nektarios of Ægina

Of all people, the atheist is the most misfortunate person because he has been deprived of the only good thing upon the earth: faith—the one true guide toward the truth and happiness. The atheist is a most misfortunate person because he is deprived of hope: the essential staff needed to journey through life’s lengthy path. The atheist is a most misfortunate person because he is deprived of human love, which caresses the aching heart. The atheist is a most misfortunate person because he has been deprived of the divine beauty of the Creator’s image, which the Divine Artist has etched within man and which faith unveils.

The eye of the atheist sees in creation nothing other than the operation of natural processes. The brilliance and magnificent beauty of the Divine Creator’s image remain hidden and undetectable to him. As he glances aimlessly at creation, nowhere does he discover the beauty of God’s wisdom, nowhere does he see God’s omnipotence, nowhere does he observe God’s goodness and providence, nowhere does he discern the Creator’s righteousness and love for creation. His mind is neither capable of ascending higher than the visible world nor reaching beyond the boundaries of physical matter. His heart remains anesthetized and indifferent before God’s ever-present divine wisdom and power. Within it, not even the slightest desire to worship the Lord exists. His lips remain closed, his mouth silent, and his tongue frozen. His soul voices no hymn, doxology, or praise as an expression of gratefulness to God.

The peace of the soul and the serenity of the heart have been removed by disbelief; instead, mourning has inundated the depth of his being. The delight, which the faithful person experiences from executing God’s divine commandments, and the great pleasure that he enjoys from an ethical way of life are unknown feelings for the atheist. The elation which faith bestows to the believer has never been felt by the atheist’s heart. The assurance that arises from faith in God’s providence, which relieves man from the anxiety of life’s worries, is a power unknown to him.

creation-icon

The joy poured upon the entire universe has abandoned the heart of the atheist because God has fled from his heart. The ensuing void has instead been filled by sadness, dejection, and anxiety. The atheist lives in a dispirited state; listlessness has taken hold of his soul. He wanders astray in the lightless and expansive night of this present life without even one ray of light to illumine his crooked paths. There is no one to lead him or guide his footsteps. All alone, he passes through the arena of life with no hope of a better future. He walks amidst many traps, but there is no one to free him from them. He is caught within these snares and crushed by their weight. In times of difficulty and sorrow, there is no one to alleviate or console him.

Feelings of love and gratitude remain unknown mysteries for the atheist. The atheist, having appointed matter as his principal governor, limited man’s true happiness within the narrow confines of temporary pleasures. Consequently, he constantly seeks to enjoy these pleasures and is ceaselessly concerned and preoccupied with them. The beauty of virtue is completely foreign to him. The atheist has not tasted the sweetness and grace of virtue. The atheist is oblivious to the source of true happiness and has raced toward the fountains of bitterness. He has been filled to satiety by ephemeral pleasures; satiety in turn has induced in him disgust; disgust has resulted in ennui; ennui has given rise to affliction; affliction has developed into pain; and, finally, pain has led to hopelessness. All the pleasures have lost their glitter and beauty because all of the world’s pleasures are transient, and, as such, are incapable of rendering the atheist fortunate.

Man’s heart was created to be filled by the greatest good; therefore, only when it enjoys this good does it leap and rejoice—because this good is God. God, however, has fled from the heart of the atheist. The human heart has infinite desires because it was created to embrace the infinite God. However, since the atheist’s heart is not filled with the infinite God, it can never be filled or satisfied with anything—even though it perpetually groans, seeks, and desires to do so. The pleasures of the world are incapable of filling the heart’s emptiness. The pleasures and delights of this world quickly evaporate, leaving within the heart dregs of bitterness. Similarly, vain honor and praise are accompanied by sorrows.

christcrucified

The atheist is unaware that man’s happiness is found not within the enjoyment of earthly pleasures but in the love of God—Who is the greatest and eternal good. He who denies God denies his own happiness and eternal bliss. The poor atheist struggles through life’s hard and toilsome journey, fearfully walking toward the end of his life without hope, headed for the grave that happily waits for him. The sweet waters of joy and happiness flow beneath his feet, while he, as another condemned Tantalus,1 is incapable of quenching his thirst and watering his tongue that has been dried and withered by atheism—for the waters flowing from the life-giving spring of faith recede from his lips.

The atheist has become a misfortunate slave subjugated to a harsh tyrant! How was your happiness stolen? How was your treasure seized? You lost your faith, you denied your God, you denied His revelation, and you rejected the abundant wealth of His divine grace.

How wretched is his life! It consists of a series of torments. His eyes see nothing joyful in nature. The natural world seems to him sterile and barren. It neither provides him with joy nor generates within him feelings of delight. None of God’s works smile at him. A mournful blanket covers the grace and beauty of the creation, which no longer contains anything attractive. His life has become an unbearable burden and a perpetual, unendurable misery.

Despair already stands before him as an executioner, and a merciless tyrant tortures this fearful man. Disbelief has corrupted the ethical powers of his soul; he has run out of courage and is now too week to resist. He is led, like a helpless being, by disbelief and handed over to the frightful bonds of despair. Unmerciful and uncompassionate despair, in turn, violently and harshly severs the thread of his pitiful life, and hurls him into the depths of perdition and darkness, from where he will resurface only when the voice of his divine Creator—Whom he denied—calls him to give an account of his disbelief, at which point he will be condemned and sent to the eternal fire.

anastasis

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη