Posted by: edsohn | October 29, 2007

Atheistic Humanism: A Source of Civilizational Suicide

I believe that we live in a broken world, one whose natural inertia is decay. It is the indomitable human spirit that attempts to prevail against this massive momentum, a battle I believe God Himself equips His people to engage in, to accomplish some purpose of supernatural glory. Whether you are a Christian or whether you profess any other faith, it is this belief in what is higher that spurs us to be light shining into darkness.

But can it be that as we have taken collective steps away from the Source of that light, casting God out of our field of vision and seeing only our self-invented purposes, we have not only begun slipping into the trend of decay, but we are committing civilizational suicide?

In The Cube and the Cathedral, George Weigel (most famous for his biography of the late Pope John Paul II) writes about how civilizational morale in Europe has declined over the past 90 years or so. This decline was totally unexpected, as Europe was entering a veritable Golden Age and the 20th Century represented a leap forward, a historic advance in humanity. The question posed by the book is best quoted:

Why did a century that began with confident predictions about a maturing humanity reaching new heights of civilizational accomplishment accomplishment produce in Europe, within four decades, two world wars, three totalitarian systems, a Cold War threatening global catastrophe, oceans of blood, mountains of corpses, Auschwitz and the Gulag? What happened? Why?

The topic that has gripped me the most is this concept of atheistic humanism. It is a concept that in order for humanity to succeed, it must be rid of the Judeo-Christian Biblical God. He considers the dominant philosophies of the 20th century: Comte’s positivism (empirical science is humanity’s only reliable tutor); Feuerbach’s subjectivitsm (“God” is a mythical projection of human aspiration); Marx’s materialism (there is no spiritual world); and the radical wilfullness of Nietzche (the will to power is the index of greatness). De Lubac, a primary influence in Weigel’s book, makes a powerful case that these philosophies were the underpinnings of communism, facism, and Nazism.

Enough with waxing philosophic. Weigel’s book is not an exercise in purely academic intellectualism, so I shouldn’t portray it as such. Instead, he considers some of these problems as indicators of low “civilizational morale” (I’ll paraphrase):

* Why do Europeans defend certain fictions in global politics, clinging to empty shells with hollow promises of global unity (i.e. the Hague Conventions and the Kyoto Protocols of the world)?

* Why do 1 in every 5 Germans believe that the United States was responsible for 9/11?

* Why is European productivity dwindling? Why does Germany, the economic stronghold of the EU, have a per capita GDP equivalent to Arkansas?

* Why are so many European intellectuals “Christophobic”, and Christianity mocked in a way that Judaism and Islam never would be?

* Most of all, why is the entire continent systematically depopulating itself in what is called the greatest “sustained reduction in European population since the Black Death”? At the present birthrate in various countries, Germany may lose the equivalent of the population of former East Germany halfway through the 21st century (and in the same span, Spain will lose almost 25% of it’s population)!

These are really serious issues, issues that Weigel posits are linked to a godless culture. It freaked me out altogether.

The question that occurred to me was this (and something I think Weigel is going to address in the book, once I get there): how is this “atheistic humanism” affecting us today? Not only in Europe, who is still rising from the ashes of the 20th century with hesitant attitudes towards religion altogether, but in the United States and globally? Is there a powerful force pushing out society away from God, and thereby tearing the collective fabric of humanity in various societies?

One other thing: Weigel makes compelling arguments for Christianity in particular, but also notes that this is NOT paganism (a topic we touched on briefly in this blog in discussing the Otherkin). This is spiritual no-man’s-land, atheistic humanism, a secular society where any notion of God is absent and with no goal greater than satiating itself. In your own personal culture, have you observed this? Are there areas in our own lives, in our own culture, that are not simply non-Christian and professing a different faith, but completely devoid of any concept of God altogether?

Weigel claims that the disaster of the 20th century in Europe was the result of machinations in human philosophy that repelled notions of God altogether. Can we begin to understand that secularism, especially in this form of atheistic humanism, is a poison to human advancement on any level? Is this an area where faiths can connect?Speaking to the life of an American, is not one of the most important traditions of this country that of religious freedom? Have we taken for granted that which many oppressed persons would bleed for, the fundamental liberty of engaging with our God in the public forum? And do we stand in danger of slipping into the idolatry of secularism separated from the concept of not just Christianity, but any religion at all?

This is not only the fight to claim our own faith freely. It’s not merely the right to have a church or to play sacred music or read holy texts in the public square, without fear of persecution. It is a battle of life and death, of suicide or redemption, of the anti-purpose and hope.

Whether we know it or not, I believe that now more than ever, we are entrenched in the fight for our own civilizational morale.



  1. It’s funny how this article comes right after worinld’s article about the prevalence of “God” in our American sports.

    I don’t know where to start, what with all the religious rhetoric spouted out from the political Religious Right and the recent article in the NY Times about how out of touch they are. Or with the massive popularity even of Christian media from music to television.

    But yes, America is following Europe’s footsteps. I think, however, this is a wonderful opportunity for Christians. No longer will we be spoon-fed our faith containing the bitter spices of American consumerism. No longer will Christendom have its totalitarian power over the Western world. This is a rather exciting time for Christians to move forcefully in the way of love, justice, humility, and truth.

    I won’t say more, as I think this may be the subject for my next entry =)

  2. i agree with dan in that christians have a great opportunity in America (and opportunities in europe also) to live out a gospel that, if we believe is real, can manifest itself as real through our lives. and if there’s power in the gospel, then that should be enough. at least on a person-to-person level.

    does Weigel go into detail how those questions he posits are related to atheistic humanism? i don’t really see a clear connection with godlessness and those issues. maybe it’d take too long to go into it, but is there like… a gist?

    in the end, you/Weigel (do you agree with him?) may be onto something, but in general, there’s a lot of dialogue that goes the other way. just check out the comments section of sites like there are people who view america as overly christian and they tend to digg articles that talk about how christians have imposed their views on science, public schools, gov’t, the army, etc. from what i read, they tend to blame christians for the problems in the world. and historically, there are tons of horrible events and wars that have happened in the name of the judeo christian God (the crusades, being a huge example). i don’t mean to be critical or adversarial. but i do want to point out that there are other sides to this conversation of why society is so messed up. either way… these are very broad strokes!

  3. Yes, you might be right. Perhaps there’s a large population of American Christians that are overly such. But I believe that though Christians rattle their swords loudly and account for some pseudo-important political population or voting bloc (and that was really just the presidential race of 2004), actual Christian populations with beliefs and faiths that inform their morality and decision-making are growing smaller. I wish I had stats to back it up.

    But in any event, I don’t believe Weigel’s point (and certainly this is not my point at all) is to increase Christianization. I haven’t finished the book, so I don’t know. But I do believe that he is vehemently opposed to utter secularism. Again, atheistic humanism is the total disbelief in any concept or notion of God, and instead, a worldview whose field of vision is occupied ONLY with humanity.

    Also, atheistic humanism is a fairly recent development in human history. Again, it is NOT paganism, nor deism, nor anything that has any concept of a higher power. It is not a majoritarian view, even, but Weigel writes of the influences of Comte and Nietzsche and Marx’s godless philosophy on Europe, and backlash that remains to be rebuilt in Europe today.

    Though I haven’t reached his commentary regarding the United States yet, I don’t think he’s trying to be pro- or anti- religion. That’s not how I read it. Rather, I think he’s trying to paint a very direct correlation between civilizational health for the entire continent and the influence of faith on anthropological formation.

    It’s not pro-Christian, anti-Christian. It’s not pro-religion, anti-religion. It’s not even really pro-God vs. anti-God. It’s pro- anything spiritual vs. anti- everything spiritual. In a world where there is no spirit, no soul, and nothing but the human appetite… Weigel and the people he cites believe that you’re left only with a self-destructive monstrosity, and that such terrors are at work in the world today.

    Does it seem absurd? Do we have a largely religious world today? But only 80 years ago, Europe remained staunchly religious. Today, France is doing its best to outlaw ANY form of religious expression, in the name of “religious freedom”. From where I stand, even though it may not be the trend within my own circles of friends, I believe that authentic faith in the United States is on a severe decline.

  4. […] theology, and as a result, secularism (and its sister atheism) is on an amazingly sharp rise (as anakainosis talked about), then glory to God. For the first time in our lives, the new generation of […]

  5. I see no one here’s bothered to ask an actual atheist humanist thinks about all this… so I’ll play that guy.

    According to the Gallup polls, the European nations with the highest levels of atheism are also the healthiest, as indicated by almost every measure of societal health you can name. In the U.S, the states with the highest religiosity are also have the highest rates of general crime, teen pregnancy, abortion, STD infection, and divorce. Looking at the most beleagured nations in the world, they are unwaveringly religious. While none of this means that it’s religion or lack of it that’s causing these things, it does conclusively show, at least, that atheism is compatible with the basic aspirations of a human society.

    Now look at the actual position of Humanism. It’s simply that human reason and intellectual honesty is the best way to deal with the world (rather than faith and reliance on books written down 2000 years ago). And think about it: science is the only thing separating the first world from the third world. If you doubt it, turn off your electricity, give up your car, your phone, your computer, your ipod, and go live in a cave near you.

    This is the basic position Humanists defend. So the only way someone can try to pin people like Hitler or Stalin on us is by arguing that these criminals did what they did because they were just too reasonable, too intellectually honest, too willing to evaluate the evidence… which is, frankly, ridiculous. Their regimes were ideological dogmas to the core.


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