Atheism is “the belief that there is no God, or denial that God or gods exist.” (Webster’s New World, 3d Ed.). As soon as atheism does more than deny God (i.e., offers propositions about the nature of existence or creation) then it becomes a belief system, and therefore, a religion.
Beyond belief, further proof that atheism is a religion exists because atheism requires faith, which is defined as “unquestioning belief that does not require proof or evidence.” (Ibid.).
Perhaps atheists would take issue with the “unquestioning” part, but unless the atheist is content to exist without answers, he must be content with believing in what lacks evidentiary basis.
Setting aside the question of God’s existence, a religion such as atheism (at least among certain “intellectual” adherents) attempts to explain fundamental questions of existence by direct appeal to science. “Intellectual” atheism posits that anything previously (superstitiously) regarded as supernatural is capable of explanation through scientific study.
In other words, if the atheist wishes to explain the miracle of creation, he does so through science. While the “Big Bang Theory” (e.g.) does not conflict with the notion of an Intelligent Creator, an atheist who adopts this theory must reject that there is anything supernatural going on; science must ultimately provide an entirely natural explanation.
The problem with this is that science has yet to offer an answer to the question of our origin or any other ultimate question. There are many theories, but no proofs for a Universe that began from nothing, and came about without God. Until science proves itself capable of answering ultimate questions, the atheist must believe that it will do so, or he is forced to admit that something else is going on.
Thus, the “intellectual atheist” must have faith that one day science will be capable of answering the ultimate questions. Whether the atheist chooses to admit it or not, faith is transferred (but not eliminated) from believing in a Creator, to believing in the existence of sound scientific explanation capable of attainment through human understanding.
In contrast, the Vatican II Dogmatic Constitution Dei Verbum states “…that religious truths which are by their nature accessible to human reason can be known by all men with ease, with solid certitude and with no trace of error, even in this present state of the human race.”
Because of God, the nature of the Universe is first a religious truth, and secondarily a scientific one, since science involves study and the testing of hypotheses. It is not dogmatically correct to say that science can provide all answers; pure science would counter that such a statement is pure hypothesis.
What is reflected by the Council Fathers is that our individual intellectual capacity is not relevant to understanding our origin or answering ultimate questions. Rather, what is accessible to human reason concerning the nature of God is capable of being known by all people, with certitude. What’s implicit here is that this capability is furnished to us, and not inherent to our nature. As with our own salvation, God gifts us with understanding.
That means that an illiterate-rosary-bead-clutching-third-world-grandmother is just as capable of knowing God and His fundamental truths as is the Mensa member or ivy-league professor. “Intellectual” atheists find that this notion doesn’t sit very well. Atheism is, after all, rather elite and exclusive. If there are no atheists in foxholes, you find very few of them where the poor uneducated masses also roam.
Coincidentally, this morning I was sent this link regarding the Third Secret of Fatima, and then-Cardinal Ratzinger’s attempt to interpret it:
…..Today the prospect that the world might be reduced to ashes by a sea of fire no longer seems pure fantasy: man himself, with his inventions, has forged the flaming sword. The vision then shows the power which stands opposed to the force of destruction—the splendour of the Mother of God and, stemming from this in a certain way, the summons to penance. In this way, the importance of human freedom is underlined: the future is not in fact unchangeably set, and the image which the children saw is in no way a film preview of a future in which nothing can be changed….. God remains immeasurable, and is the light which surpasses every vision of ours. Human persons appear as in a mirror. We must always keep in mind the limits in the vision itself, which here are indicated visually. The future appears only “in a mirror dimly” (1 Cor 13:12)…..
The Pope Emeritus’ analysis calls to mind the problem with atheism generally. Man has forged the flaming sword and considers himself capable of wielding it, dangers be damned. There is claimed illumination, perhaps by the fire of the sword itself, but it is always limited by finite human capacity, demonstrably evident by the erroneous conclusion that what we have achieved — and can achieve — is due to our own collective merits, and not supplied to us by a loving Creator for a specific purpose. Consequently, humanity gives itself license to unmake what it cannot claim to have made.
Since no atheist can claim to have brought about his own existence, or created anything out of nothing, it becomes little more than irony that believers in God are considered by atheists to be the delusional ones. If we all “appear as in a mirror”, then atheists are the modern day equivalent of those souls chained in Plato’s Allegory of the Cave; though they see shapes in shadows for which there are names, there is little unfiltered inspiration, because “God remains immeasurable, and is the light which surpasses every vision of ours.”
The light of God is, in fact, blinding, which permits the atheist to honestly say that he does not see. But it is the atheist’s belief (premised upon negative religious conviction) that there is nothing there that presents the problem to his own salvation.