The Modern Origins of Atheism and Xenophanes' Theological Criticism

At the heart of human problems, full of consequences for the destiny of the soul and the restoration of justice, is the problem of the existence of God. To this day the issue continues to be debated on the internet and in homes; and the origin of his ideas goes back to Xenophanes, from Ancient Greece, about whom I will write a few lines, after we situate ourselves in the quarrels of our era. The spirit of the times blows in two directions: spirituality without God and militant atheism.

The first airs of atheistic spirituality were inspired by Friedrich Schleiermacher ) (1768-1804). He is a translator of Plato, influential in Protestant circles, who lived in the era of criticism and romanticism. He radically modified the concept of religiosity, defending that religion is not a doctrine, revealed or rational, but a feeling of participation of the finite in the Infinite. Therefore, the only values ​​of dogmas and intellectual expressions are symbolic; translate the feelings of the inner life into images and ideas. The consequence is the direction of the religious phenomenon towards subjectivity, to the point that many men influenced by it defend “a religion without God”. It even maintains that it can be much more spiritual than a dogmatic religion.

Its most notable heir is Albrecht Ritschl (1822-1889). The Protestant-influenced theologian takes a step forward towards subjectivism, by reaffirming that religion is an experience, with the feeling of Eternity being less important than the well-being of the human soul. Perhaps every contemporary man has heard a statement similar to this one: “I only believe in God because without Him my life would be meaningless; I would end up in an asylum or committing suicide.” The idea behind it is this: “Belief in the existence of God makes me feel good, and what is useful to me is true.” The subjective value, therefore, imposes itself on the objective statement.

The result is the one described by the Christo Nihil Praeponere team, from Father Paulo Ricado: “Religion is not sought because of a Augustinian search for the Truth, but for a thirst for personal satisfaction, to solve some temporal problems and obtain some consolation.”

The journey of human intelligence, as for militant atheism, took its first steps in the footsteps of the Empiricism of David Hume (1711-1776). The British philosopher argues that knowledge comes from practical experience – the observation of phenomena, movement, facts – so that philosophical speculations depend exclusively on the apprehension of the senses. Due to the natural limit of knowledge, it is impossible to prove the existence of God – or the First Cause of reality. In Platonic language, to limit oneself to the knowledge of Hume is to be imprisoned in the world of sensible appearances, and any attempt to get out of the cave would condemn man to the illusion of the human mind.

Behold, it says Father Leonel Franca: “To make God inaccessible to human reason, it was necessary to immolate this reason and lower man to the conditions of the animal. The same criticism that would try to make it impossible to demonstrate the existence of God, does not reach this fatal result without first having destroyed the entire life of the intelligence.”

Then there is the subjectivist agnosticism, whose germ has a birth in Immanuel Kant (1724-1804 )). Although the philosopher recognized “Christ as a Master of pure law”, he destroyed the way in which traditional reason operates. As one of the leading exponents of Modern Philosophy, he argued that the nature of reality is always an impenetrable unknown. In other words: we do not know things as they are in themselves, but only the constructions we make of them.

Hence the idea that nature is a creation of the spirit, or the defenders that our objective claims do not come from the structure of reality, but from the subjective conditions inseparable from our perceptions. The theological consequence of this thought is that God in himself will never be an object of science; and that theological ideas are pure forms with no real content. If there is belief in God by those who think so, it is only as a practical requirement of action or morality. It is exactly as those who say: “If I believe in God, it is because, without Him, everything is allowed.”

In France, it was the positivism of Auguste Comte (1798-1857) the great precursor of radical agnosticism, in the defense that the human intelligentsia passed through three evolutionary stages: the theological, the metaphysical and the positive. The first, proper to the Odyssey and the Bible, is based on the imagination and appeals to preternatural beings, whose arbitrary wills explain what reason is incapable of explaining. The metaphysical state, on the other hand, has as its main function the destruction of theological thought and the preparation for the advent of the positive, by replacing anthropomorphic deities with abstract entities. However, the object of metaphysical investigations is identical to poetic fables: the absolute, the first causes, the essence of all things. Until modern man renounces supernatural entities and abstract principles to investigate the laws of phenomena, seeking in the scientific order the foundations of nature and society. The result is the conception of theology as childhood, metaphysics as youth and positive science as the maturity of humanity.

However, positivists commit the fallacy of begging the question, which it consists in affirming a thesis (the primitivism of theology and the imprecision of metaphysics), which one intends to prove true in the conclusion, already starting from the principle that it is true. Besides, it is quite possible that the three stages, instead of being phases that succeed and exclude each other, are three fundamental requirements of human discourse, such as the harmony that exists between the poetic, dialectical and analytical.

All these thoughts culminate in Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) – the anthropological atheist and the great influence of Marx – who defends how religion is just an old naivety, which manifests itself under a meaningless ritualism, or simply a social custom. The result is the obscuration of human nature, an imprisonment in dualism, which appears now as the opium of the people, now as the denial of carnal pleasures. For him, theology is anthropology, in the sense that everything that man attributes to God is, in reality, a projection of his own ego. Theologians say that God created man, because before man created God.

Finally, the Greek philosopher Xenophanes (478 BC-570 BC) starts from similar intuitions, but has different goals. He sees the Greek gods as creations of the human mind, to the point of judging them as fables that do not reflect reality, because of their anthropomorphic character and their moral deviation. On the one hand, the Ethiopians paint their gods as black people with flat noses, and the Thracians as entities with green eyes and red hair; on the other hand, all peoples attribute to their divinities everything that is infamy and shame among men, such as stealing, kidnapping and raping. The problem is that they do not reach a truly metaphysical divinity, in addition to teaching a series of moral corruptions.

Thus, unlike modern thinkers, the ancient philosopher’s objective with his criticisms of the Theological tradition is the ascent to a purer and deeper theology: “One god, the greatest among gods and men, in nothing like mortals, neither in body nor in thought. Everything sees, everything thinks, everything also listens. It always remains in the same, it does not move, nor is it convenient for it to go there and there.”

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