Father Stephen on Modern Atheism
I am gradually learning things that I have not known before - or only suspected. Posting occasionally as I have on the subject of atheism, and receiving occasional reponses from atheists, is an education in itself. There is atheism as I imagine it to be (I suppose what it would look like were I one) and there is atheism as it has historically expressed itself (in such writers as Nietsche or Sartre) and there is what I would dub “neo-atheism” if only because it seems to differ from its predecessors.
The major difference is this - there is a classic despair in early continental atheism and something of a search for a meaning that would replace the overarching themes of Christianity. And there’s the phenomenon as I am seeing it, particularly among younger people today. If I had to describe what I’ve been reading (and I’ve been surfing around a bit to test my theories) it would be an atheism that has jettisoned despair, or, rather, a way of human living in which hope (in a transcendent sense) is not a major issue. Thus it is not a “living large” but learning to “live small.”
I encounter elements of Buddhism (some forms of Buddhism are strictly agnostic or atheist in belief), elements of an existentialism, and primarily a defining of life in terms which do not require what atheism cannot supply.
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Apparently, the despair that I project and expect of an atheist is not a given - or more to the point - it is a gift. To see the world without God and perceive its meaninglessness - and to perceive the tragedy of such - is a gracious gift of perceiving the truth. Modern Orthodox writers who have spoken about despair or even standing at the edge of the abyss (despair, hell, etc.) in order to pray for the whole world (this is an image that occurs in both Fr. Sophrony’s writings as well as in the life of St. Silouan) are not speaking of a place that we reach naturally, but that we reach supernaturally (that is by grace).
Read it all.