Thank God for Atheists?

I was intrigued by the title of Simon Marlow’s article in the Oct-Dec 2016 issue of the magazine The Beacon, published by the Lucis Trust. Marlow explores the ‘new atheism’ of modern times, exemplified by authors such as Christopher Hitchens and Richard Dawkins, putting them in [what is for me] a helpful context.

There are three facets, which I will cover under the following three headings.

Atheism as an expression of materialism

There is a contrast between two views of materialism:

  1. that of those such as Helena Blavatsky, who see all as one, encompassing spirituality, so that “Matter is spirit at its lowest form of manifestation and spirit is matter at its highest”.
  2. that of many modern scientists, who see matter as what we can perceive with our physical senses and equipment. Matter is primary and consciousness is an effect of material activity.

Whichever view is adopted, Marlow notes that there is still a strong ethical and empathetic focus in many professed atheists, such as Bertrand Russel, philosopher Peter Singer. However, the second perspective can lead to a rather bleak outlook on life as being without meaning.

Atheism as an antidote to religious superstition and scriptural realism

It is observable that religions have often in history, and today, become distorted from their original inspiration to regarding the religious institution and its scriptures as of paramount importance, rather than how people live their lives. Such fundamentalism has caused or contributed to many wars over history, obviously including much modern terrorism.

It was the time of the Enlightenment and the rise of science that put forward reason as a counterweight to the unhealthy state of religions at the time. This has done great service in breaking the hold of religious traditions on the mind of humanity, leading to the modern explosion of technology, social interaction and knowledge.

Modern atheism lies within this tradition, so the debate initiated by them is of value, so long as their atheism in variant 2 does not seek to discredit all that is not within this limited paradigm.

Atheism from an esoteric perspective

Esoterically, we are in the process of a great transition from the Age of Pisces to the Age of Aquarius. The new atheism is undoubtedly part of this process in helping to release humanity from the hold of the old religions and their fundamentalist aspects.

But again this must not replace the old fundamentalism with a new one of its own – a new atheism that denies the inner world of human beings. Marlow quotes one of the ‘new atheists’ Sam Harris: “there is a place for the sacred in our lives”.

There seems to be a sort of convergence with progressive elements of the modern religious world whose “religious life is not one of dogmatic assertion, rather an exploration and journey into new truth… their natural home  is the core value… of service… beauty… sacredness…”.

Conclusion

I’ve just given an idea of what’s in Marlow’s article. You need to read it to understand more.

The point is that maybe the atheists and the religionists could reach an accommodation in their common search for truth, so long as both avoid the fundamentalist pitfall.

 

Religion

Let’s face it. Religions tend to lose their way. They are started usually by the immediate followers of some highly realised and wise individual – Jesus Christ, Mohammed, Zoroaster, Buddha, etc. – with the best of intentions, aiming to keep that original flame alive. But in the process of codification and institutionalisation this soon gets lost. The church becomes an end in itself; the institution itself becomes the way, the path, the mediator with God.

Often the true flame is understood by a special group of truly spiritual  individuals – Sufis, Gnostics, Cathars, St Francis and many of the catholic saints etc. – despite them, the less realised and more worldly and ambitious often seize their chance to dominate the organisation.

Worse, with codification there comes that element that believes their ‘book’ is the word of God, and absolute truth. Without real justification they think their truth is more valid than that other lot. Then we have the fundamentalist nightmare, and the long history of wars of religion – still all too evident today.

Georgin_François,_The_3_Roads_to_Eternity
The 3 Roads to Eternity – Catholic version, I think!

To my mind, the only way forward is when we recognise the spiritual nature of man, and regard these religions as equally valid paths to the one universal truth, which is about the nature of man and reality. The modern increase in the number of people who regard themselves as ‘spiritual ‘, but not necessarily attached to any particular religion, is thus a positive sign that man as a whole is beginning to transcend the baleful influence of much of the lower level of religion.

[NB I use ‘man’ in its original sense as relating to the human mind, and not as a sexist term relating to the male of the species.]

Featured image is ‘Les 3 Chemins de l’Eternité’, woodcut by Georgin François 1825,
courtesy Cornell University Library and Wikimedia Commons