THE DENIAL OF GOD:The Causes of Atheism

CATHOLIC TEACHINGS

The different philosophical arguments presented to “prove” the existence of God do not, by themselves, produce faith in (the revealed) God. Taken alone, they only show that such a faith is reasonable. There are several reasons why a person, despite these proofs, might not come to have faith in the God of revelation.

First of all, these arguments, while they show that God exists and lead a person to consider philosophically some of his characteristics (his goodness, intelligence, etc.), do not tell us who the personal being is to whom one directs the act of faith.

Second, faith is a free response of man to God who reveals himself and not a necessary philosophical deduction; despite proofs, a person may withhold the assent of faith.

Third, it is primarily God and not the person himself who is the cause of faith. God reveals himself gratuitously and with his grace moves man’s heart to adhere to him.

Fourth, we need to recognize that sin has obscured man’s mind and wrapped it in darkness, making difficult the recognition of God’s existence and a response of faith to his Word (cf. CCC 37). For all these reasons, particularly the last, it is always possible for a person to deny God.

Atheism takes on two forms.
The theoretical form tries positively to deny the existence of God on the basis of reason.

The practical form, on the other hand, effectively denies God by living as if he did not exist. To profess positive, theoretical atheism as a consequence of a rational analysis based on empirical science is contradictory, because God, as a spiritual being, is not the object of experimental scientific knowledge.

It is possible to deny the existence of God on the basis of philosophical reasoning, but only when one begins with a preconceived view of reality, as happens with materialism and other ideologies.

That such philosophical positions lack a sound basis can always be shown with the help of metaphysics and a theory of knowledge that is based on reality.

Positive atheism often results from the notion that to accept God implies a limitation on man: if God exists, then we are not free and we do not enjoy full autonomy here on earth. This way of looking at things fails to consider that a creature’s freedom and autonomy flow from that creature’s dependence on God. In fact, the truth is just the opposite.

As history has shown, particularly in our times, when one denies God one ends up denying man and his transcendent dignity as well. Others deny God because they think that religion, especially Christianity, is the fruit of ignorance and superstition and that it represents an obstacle to human progress.

We can respond to this objection on historical grounds, for it is possible to show the positive influence of Christian revelation on the concept of the human person and human rights, and also on the origin and progress of science.

The Catholic Church in fact has always considered ignorance (rightly) as an obstacle to the true faith. In general, those who deny God to affirm the perfection and the progress of humanity do so in order to defend a this-worldly view of historical progress that denies man’s fulfillment in the world to come.

The ends they propose are a political utopia or a purely material well-being incapable of fully satisfying the deeper desires of the human heart.

Among the causes of atheism, especially practical atheism, we must also include the bad example of believers, who “to the extent that they neglect their own training in the faith, or teach erroneous doctrine, or are deficient in their religious, moral or social life … must be said to conceal rather then to reveal the authentic face of God and religion.”

On the other hand, beginning with Vatican II the Church has always pointed to the testimony of Christians as the principal factor in carrying out the “new evangelization.”

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