The Argument from Contingency: A Brief Synopsis

Definitions:

Def 1: A contingent being is a being such that if it exists, could have not-existed or could cease to exist.
Def 2: A necessary being (or non-contingent being) is a being such that if it exists, cannot not-exist (and therefore could not not-have-existed and cannot cease to exist).

Note: I use ground-reason essentially to do the work of the German Grund, a word which neither the English “ground” nor “reason” sufficiently captures in meaning, since it unites the sides of being and knowing, the ontological and the epistemological, in one.

The Argument 

1. A contingent being C exists.
2. This contingent being C has a ground-reason for its existence.
3. If C were the ground-reason for C’s existence, C would not be a contingent being, but a necessary one, since C, as self-grounding, could not not-exist—contrary to 1.
4. Therefore, the ground-reason for C’s existence must be something other than C.
5. This ground-reason for C’s existence other than C must either be another contingent being or set of contingent beings alone or it must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
6. Contingent beings alone cannot provide a completely adequate ground-reason for the existence of any contingent being (neither ontologically as ground nor rationally as reason), so the ground-reason for C’s existence is not any contingent being or set of contingent beings alone.
7. Therefore, the ground-reason for the existence of contingent being C must be or include a non-contingent (necessary) being N.
8. Therefore, a necessary being N exists, because without such a necessary being N, C could not exist, contrary to 1.
9. The universe and every part of the universe is contingent (as is “the multiverse” and every part of it, if this concept is supposed to subsume “universe”).
10. Therefore, a necessary being N which is something other than the universe or one of its parts (or “the multiverse”), must be the ground-reason for its existence.
11. Therefore there exists a necessary being N which is the ground-reason for all contingent beings, including the universe or cosmos or multiverse, as well as all their parts, whatever they may be.
12. Et hoc omnes intelligunt Deum.

Commentary: 

Premise 1: This premise is empirical but evident. As long as anything at all exists which could have not existed or could cease to exist, it is a contingent being. It is obvious that physical beings are contingent.

Premise 2: This is simply a statement of the Satz vom Grund or Principle of Ground (usually expressed in English as the Principle of Sufficient Reason), although perhaps the Principle of Ground-Reason would be better as I use it.  This principle can be expressed negatively as “nothing happens or comes about FOR NO REASON.” It is a core principle about reality, that things cannot happen for no reason at all, just as it is about reality that a thing can’t both be and not be the same at the same time and in the same respect—and because Being is like this, thinking (which follows being) has the Principle of Ground and the Principle of Noncontradiction as basic first principles.

Premise 3: Evident. If C were its own ground-reason it could sustain itself in being and never cease to be, and would thus be a necessary being; but C is already posited in 1 as contingent, so it can’t be the ground-reason of itself.

Premise 4: Also evident. Since C is not its own ground-reason, the ground-reason of C must be something other than C.

Premise 5: By the Principle of the Excluded Middle, this something other than C is either fully contingent or contains a necessary being.

Premise 6: This is the premise that would take the most argumentative work to establish and to get clear about. Since in contingent beings, existence is a property that is “passed on” from another being, if a contingent being got its existence from another contingent being, that being would have to be either contingent or necessary. In this scenario in Premise 6, no necessary beings are in play.  So one would have to hold either that there is an infinite regress of contingent beings each passing on their being to another being and receiving it from the one before—most philosophers think the idea of an actual infinite is  absurd (conceptual or abstract infinites are not).  Or the passing on of existence would have to be circular, where A causes B to be and B causes C to be and C causes A to be.  This becomes more clear, perhaps, when we look at it from the side of explanation, as the reason for C: I want to explain how C got here, so I say C₋₁ explains C, but C₋₁ is explained by C₋₂ and it by C₋₃ and it by C₋₄ … infinitely C₋∞. But this “explanation” never actual explains anything. In simply passes the buck infinitely backwards.  It is as if I wanted to know the origin of a magic book that contains the secrets of the cosmos, and someone tells me he got it from his father, who got it from his father, who got it from his father … who … etc.  No matter how long you make this chain of fathers passing down books to sons, you never answer “Yes, but where did the book originate?”  We need something it terminate the infinite regress, where the “buck” of explanation can no longer be passed.  Similarly, it would be famous for the possessor of the book, Dave, to explain he got it from Mary, who got it from Josh, who, is it happens, got it from Dave. If I said to Dave, “Yes, I know Mary gave it to you, but where did it come from?” it would not do for Dave to say “I always get it from Mary, who always gets it from Josh, and I always give it to Josh. This circuit is itself the origin of the book.”

Premise 7: If it is correct, then, that the ground-reason for a contingent being cannot be nothing but other contingent beings, whether in the mode of an infinite regress (which is a non-explanation) or a circular explanation (which is a non-explanation), then it must be the case that there is a necessary being which terminates the regress.

Premise 8: Since C requires there be a necessary being N in order for C to be, and C is (premise 1) then there is an N.

Premise 9: The argument from 1-8 applies to every being without the universe, all of which are contingent, as well as the whole ensemble of contingent beings called the universe. A whole made entirely of contingent beings cannot itself be necessary, since it is susceptible to change—which a necessary being cannot be.  Someone might say that an inference from the things that make up the universe to the whole universe might be a fallacy of composition, but this cannot be the case, since the universe is an aggregate that contains contingent parts and therefore changes.

Premise 10: The same argument 1-8 reapplied to the universe as contingent. There must be something other than the universe, a necessary being N, which is the ground-reason for the universe.

Premise 11: So there is such a necessary being N which is other than the universe and is its ground-reason.

Premise 12: Bit of a joke. This is a variant of how St. Thomas Aquinas ends each of his Quinque Viae or “Five Ways” of proving the existence of God: “And this everyone understand to be God.”

As a piece of natural theology, the argument from contingency will indeed not get one straight to the Christian God—but then, it isn’t meant to. It will get is to “there is a being other than the universe such that it is the ground-reason for the universe’s existence and is in itself a necessary being, such that it has the ground-reason for its own existence in itself.

From there we can go on to flesh out what other things this entails about such a being: if we work through it will find out it is timeless, spaceless, unchanging, and perfect.

In other words, it is very certainly AT LEAST what Jews, Christians, and Muslims call “God, what Hindus call Brahman, what the Chinese call “The Tao,” what Plato knew as “The Idea of the Good,” Etc.

The argument from contingency isn’t enough to settle the theological question of what God is like, but it is enough to show that atheism is false and agnosticism unwarranted.

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Nietzsche Contra Buddhism

Nietzsche despised Christianity, because he believed—falsely—that it was essentially hostile to life, that it substituted a fictitious afterlife for life in this world and taught a hatred and despising of the body.  I believe this is a false understanding of true Christian teaching although this kind of thing is certainly something heretical Christians have fallen into from time to time.

The despair and world-weariness that Nietzsche reproaches Christianity with he called nihilism, and it is something he found to be the essence of Buddhism as well.  He referred to Buddhism as a “passive nihilism” and found it far less dangerous than Christianity, which was “active nihilism” insofar as Christian love, in contrast to Buddhist resignation, actively engages in the world to help the weak and suffering (the contradiction between Christian activity in the world and Christianity’s supposed hatred for the world seems not to have occurred to him).

Anyhow, I was reading some Buddhist texts, and I find that Buddhism suffers from (1) bad metaphysics—the Buddha present arguments that Aristotle would tear to shreds in seconds, and (2) exactly the kind of nihilism that Nietzsche charges it with. As far as I can tell, Buddhism really does despise life and the body.

I am going to juxtapose the Buddha’s words with those of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra.

The Buddha says

The learned noble disciple feels loathing for the body, for feeling, for perception, for the aggregates, for consciousness.  Feeling disgust, he becomes free from passion, through freedom from passion he is emancipated, and in the emancipated one arises the knowledge of his emancipation.  He understands that rebirth is destroyed, the religious life has been led, done is what was to be done, there is nothing beyond this world.

The Buddha teaching “loathing for the body” put me in mind of Zarathustra’s speech “On the Despisers of the Body,” but the nearby speech “On the Preachers of Death” is even more appropriate.

Here is Zarathustra:

ON THE PREACHERS OF DEATH

There are preachers of death; and the earth is full of those to whom one must preach renunciation of life. The earth is full of the superfluous; life is spoiled by the all-too-many. May they be lured from this life with the “eternal life”! Yellow the preachers of death wear, or black. But I want to show them to you in still other colors.

“Yellow and black,” i.e. Buddhist monks and Christian priests.

There are the terrible ones who carry around within themselves the beast of prey and have no choice but lust or self-laceration. And even their lust is still self-laceration. They have not even become human beings yet, these terrible ones: let them preach renunciation of life and pass away themselves!

This passage is odd, since Nietzsche and Zarathustra both usually praise “beasts of prey” as an ideal to be aspired to.

There are those with consumption of the soul: hardly are they born when they begin to die and to long for doctrines of weariness and renunciation. They would like to be dead, and we should welcome their wish. Let us beware of waking the dead and disturbing these living coffins!

They encounter a sick man or an old man or a corpse, and immediately they say, “Life is refuted.” But only they themselves are refuted, and their eyes, which see only this one face of existence. Shrouded in thick melancholy and eager for the little accidents that bring death, thus they wait with clenched teeth. Or they reach for sweets while mocking their own childishness; they clutch the straw of their life and mock that they still clutch a straw. Their wisdom says, “A fool who stays alive—but such fools are we. And this is surely the most foolish thing about life.”

“Old man, sick man, corpse.” These are three of the Four Sights beheld by Prince Siddhārtha Gautama that set him on his journey to becoming the Buddha.  Zarathustra does not mention the “fourth sight,” which was a monk who had renounced the world—but of course that is what this speech is about.

“Life is only suffering,” others say, and do not lie: see to it, then, that you cease! See to it, then, that the life which is only suffering ceases!

The first of the Buddha’s Four Noble Truths is “Life is Suffering [duḥkha]. Everything else in Buddhism follows from this rejection of life.

And let this be the doctrine of your virtue: “Thou shalt kill thyself! Thou shalt steal away!”

I can honestly see no reason that suicide would not be the immediate course of every Buddhist if it were not for the additional belief in rebirth.  If the Buddhist believed, like the modern Western atheist, that the end of mortal life ended existence, this seems to be a direct and immediate good.

“Lust is sin,” says one group that preaches death; “let us step aside and beget no children.”

Upon the birth of his son, Rāhula, the Buddha pronounced “A son is born to me, a fetter has been forged for me.” [Rāhu jāto, bandhanam jātam.] In the Dhammapada, the Buddha says

The wise do not call that a strong fetter which is made of iron, wood, or hemp; far stronger is the care for precious stones and rings, for sons and a wife.  That fetter the wise call strong which drags down, seems soft, but is difficult to undo; after having cut this at last, people leave the world, free from cares, and leaving desires and pleasures behind.

The Buddha does not teach a doctrine of sin as Christians understand that concept, but he does teach that lust is a fetter, and that one ought not to desire a family or children.  Back to Zarathustra:

“Giving birth is troublesome,” says another group; “why go on giving birth? One bears only unfortunates!”

I do hear this often said today, but not by Christians.

And they too are preachers of death.

“Pity is needed,” says the third group. “Take from me what I have! Take from me what I am! Life will bind me that much less!”

This too seems to be a fairly direct expression of the Buddha’s teaching, although it is much more passive.

If they were full of pity through and through, they would make life insufferable for their neighbors. To be evil, that would be their real goodness. But they want to get out of life: what do they care that with their chains and presents they bind others still more tightly?

And you, too, for whom life is furious work and unrest—are you not very weary of life? Are you not very ripe for the preaching of death? All of you to whom furious work is dear, and whatever is fast, new, and strange—you find it hard to bear yourselves; your industry is escape and the will to forget yourselves. If you believed more in life you would fling yourselves less to the moment. But you do not have contents enough in yourselves for waiting—and not even for idleness.

This restlessness and relentless drive for distraction is an important modern phenomenon. We moderns are busy, but rarely happy. Here is Pascal on this point:

pascalvanity

Back to Zarathustra:

Everywhere the voice of those who preach death is heard; and the earth is full of those to whom one must preach death. Or “eternal life”—that is the same to me, if only they pass away quickly.

This spoke Zarathustra

What I find interesting is that throughout his denunciation of the “preachers of death,” Zarathustra alternates between the teachings of Buddhism and various moderns, but nowhere actually directly cites a Christian teaching—instead he relies on his usual hermeneutic of finding in the Christian teaching of eternal life a concealed preaching of death.

Why does he do this? The answer is obvious. If one takes Christian teaching at face value, Christianity preaches not death, but life. It teaches, in fact, the total and complete victory of life over death.  Consider the following:

christwaytruthlife

christwaylifemoreabundantly

stpauldeathvictory

As we Orthodox (and also Byzantine Rite Catholics) sing in our Paschal Troparion:

Χριστὸς ἀνέστη ἐκ νεκρῶν,
θανάτῳ θάνατον πατήσας,
καὶ τοῖς ἐν τοῖς μνήμασι,
ζωὴν χαρισάμενος!

Christ is risen from the dead,
Trampling down death by death,
And upon those in the tombs
Bestowing life!

For the Christian, these words, Χριστὸς ἀνέστηChrist is risen—signify the ultimate defeat of and repudiation of death.

For Buddhism, the only possible goal is detachment and renunciation, by means of liberation from selfish craving [taṇhā], to a state of nonbeing [nirvāṇa; literally “blowing out” as of a candle, or “quenching” as of a fire; “extinguishing”; “extinction”].

Life is suffering, says the Buddha, and so he preaches nirvāṇa, extinction—death.

The Buddha’s understanding of the human condition was not false, but he was unaware that this condition was that only of fallen humanity, suffering the twin sicknesses of sin and death.  Nor can the Buddha’s path, noble though his effort was, attain its aim.  His [selfish?] desire for detachment from selfish passion led the Buddha to mistakenly attempt the annihilation of the self.  The Buddha, alas, became a preacher of death.

I close with one final contrast between Nietzsche’s teaching and that of the Buddha. I like to think of this as Nietzsche’s One Sentence Refutation of Buddhism (he has several of those):

buddhalaughter

nietzschelaughter

Nietzsche has the right of it. Any doctrine that stands against laughter is eo ipso false!

[NOTE: Nietzsche has a good deal more to say about Buddhism and the Buddha. Perhaps I will return to this topic later.]

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.

“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.

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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.

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Χριστὸς ἀνέστη

The Spiritual Disorder of Atheism: St. Nektarios

 

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St. Nektarios of Ægina

Atheism is a mental disorder: it is a terrible ailment of the soul that is difficult to cure. Atheism is a passion that severely oppresses whomever it seizes. It holds in store many misfortunes for its captive, and becomes harmful not only for him but also for others who come into contact with him.

Atheism denies the existence of God. It denies that there is a divine Creator of the universe. It denies God’s providence, His wisdom, His goodness, and, in general, His divine qualities. Atheism teaches a falsehood to its followers and contrives false theories concerning the creation of the universe. It professes, as Pythia upon a tripod, that the creation is an outcome of chance, that it is perpetuated and preserved through purposeless, random interactions, that its splendor transpired spontaneously over time, and that the harmony, grace, and beauty witnessed in nature are inherent attributes of natural laws. Atheism detracts from God, Whom it has denied, His divine characteristics, and, instead, bestows them and His creative power to lifeless and feeble matter. Atheism freely proclaims matter to be the cause of all things, and it deifies matter in order to deny the existence of a superior Being, of a supreme, creative Spirit Who cares for and sustains all things.

On account of disbelief, matter becomes the only true entity; whereas the spirit becomes non-existent. For atheism, the spirit and the soul are egotistical inventions of man, concocted to satisfy his vainglory. Atheism denies man’s spiritual nature. It drags man down from the lofty height where he has been placed by the Creator’s power and grace, and lowers him amongst the rank of irrational animals, which he accepts as ancestors of his distinguished and noble lineage. Atheism does all this in order to bear witness to the words of the Psalm: “Man, being in honor, did not understand; he is compared to the mindless animals, and is become like unto them” (Ps. 48:20).

Atheism detracts faith, hope, and love from the world, these life-giving sources of true happiness for man, it expels God’s righteousness from the world, and denies the existence of God’s providence and succor.

Atheism accepts the laws that exist in nature, yet denies Him Who has appointed these laws. Atheism seeks to lead man to an imaginary happiness; however, it abandons and deserts him in the middle of nowhere, in the valley of lamentation, barren of all heavenly goods, void of consolation from above, empty of spiritual strength, bereft of the power of moral virtue, and stripped of the only indispensable provisions upon the earth: faith, hope, and love.

Atheism condemns poor man to perdition and leaves him standing alone as prey amidst life’s difficulties. Having removed love from within man, atheism subsequently deprives him of the love from others, and it isolates him from family, relatives, and friends. Atheism displaces any hope of a better future and replaces it with despair.

Atheism is awful! It is the worst of all spiritual illnesses!