Friday, December 06, 2013

An Atheist Talks About Salvation

Luc Ferry is a French, secularist humanist philosopher.  He writes with wonderful clarity, and his book, "A Brief History of Thought" is a kind of survey of Western philosophy.  One of the dynamics of the book that has made it so fun for me is that in one sentence he will express a significant truth with force and conviction, and with the next he will commit an egregious error or support an idea I find obviously false.  This excerpt is an example of the former:

"To reach this point [finding salvation - the theme of the book], the Moderns turned in two main directions. The first - I will not hide the fact that I have always found it faintly ridiculous, but it has acquired such predominance over two centuries that we cannot ignore it - are what we might call the 'religions of earthly salvation', notably scientism, patriotism and communism.  Unable to continue believing in God [one of his convictions of the Modern condition - we can no longer believe in God], the Moderns invented substitute-religions, godless spiritualities or, to be blunt, ideologies which, while usually professing a radical atheism, cling to notions of giving meaning to human existence, or at least justifying why we should die for them."

It is an undeniable reality of human existence - we are idolaters, and if we will not worship the One True God, we will worship any false one.  In the next paragraph Ferry borrows Nietzsche's word, 'idol', to describe these 'religions of earthly salvation'.  To paraphrase G.K. Chesterton, when people stop believing in God, the don't believe in nothing, they will believe anything.

And he is right about the roles of these ideologies in the Western world.  Scientism is roughly the belief that all that there is to the world are material things, and the only source of genuine knowledge is the scientific method guided by metaphysical and methodological naturalism.  It has become, ironically, a religion for many.  Patriotism, in Ferry's sense, is the belief that our nation/culture is the pinnacle of achievement and worthy of our lives above all else.  Too many people have actually substituted their faith for their nation instead of using their theology to guide their love of neighbor.  And communism, despite all the utopian wish-dreams still attached to it, is a brutal and bloody master of human culture.  Yet, it promises the world and many are willing to become its servant.

Even a secularist recognizes the human tendency toward worship and idolatry - our need to find salvation.

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