Atheism and Anarchy

For now they will say, “We have no King for we do not fear the LORD. And as for the king, what can he do to us?” (Hos 10:3)

Hosea does not equate anarchy with a failure of the state, but with atheism.  Likewise, Isaiah links atheism with indifference toward morality in general.

Now therefore hear this, you lover of pleasures, who sit securely, who say in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me…”

You felt secure in your wickedness, you said, “No one sees me”; your wisdom and your knowledge led you astray, and you said in your heart, “I am, and there is no one besides me.”  (Isaiah 47:8,10)

In Greece, we find philosophical schools that were radically skeptical in their outlook.  One such school was founded by Pyrro of Elis (mid 4th century BC) after he spent time among the gymnosophists (naked philosophers) of India.  According to Aristocles (2nd century AD), Pyrro claimed that a thing ‘is’ or it ‘is not’ or it both ‘is’ and ‘is not’!  Basically, Pyrro sought to suspend judgement on everything – including the nature and existence of God.  It is perhaps no coincidence that the Greeks learned radical skepticism from India.  Eastern religion in general, takes ultimate reality to be ‘Nothingness’ which fits nicely with a radically skeptical view of the world.

With time, radical skepticism emerged at the center of western civilization although not until relatively late.   Atheism did not fair well in Europe during the Middle Ages.  Even as late as the turn of the 19th century, one could not be overtly atheist in a university in Germany.  In what has been called the ‘Atheism Dispute’, the German philosopher Fichte was accused of teaching atheism and forced to give up his teaching position at the University of Jenna  (1798-1800).  Fichte had reduced God to an impersonal universal order.  His views are perhaps best summarized in the lines from Schiller’s Worte des Glaubens which Fichte quotes at the conclusion of one of his philosophical treatises.

“And God is!—a holy Will that abides,
Though the human will may falter;
High over both Space and Time it rides,
The high Thought that will never alter:
And while all things in change eternal roll,
It endures, through change, a motionless soul.”  (source)

In an open letter to Fichte, F.H. Jacobi warned that Fichte’s philosophy ultimately leads to ‘nihilism’.  (Atheism Dispute)  Jacobi recognized that Fichte’s philosophical system was essentially pantheistic.  According to the pantheistic view of the cosmos, the world is not ‘created’ but rather ’emanates’ from an impersonal and unknowable Source.  (ie. the Ein Sof of Kaballah or the Tao of Taoism)   In contrast, Jacobi emphasizes that God is the Creator and is “outside of me, a living being…”   Jacobi writes,

If the highest upon which I can reflect, what I can contemplate, is my empty and pure, naked and mere ego, with its autonomy and freedom… then rationality is for me a curse – I deplore my existence.

…the human being loses himself as soon as he resists finding himself in God as his creator…  Everything then gradually dissolves before him into his own Nothingness.  But the human being has such a choice, this single one: Nothingness or a (sic) God.   Choosing Nothingness, he makes himself into God, that is, he makes an apparition into God because if there is no God, it is impossible that man and everything which surrounds him is not merely an apparition.  I repeat: God is, and is outside of me, a living being, existing in itself, or I am God.  There is not a third.  (F.H. Jacobi, translated by Diana Buhler,

Jacobi expresses a Christian epistemology.    God may be known, although never comprehended.  Our knowledge of God is not like the knowledge we have of a ‘thing’.  It is rather the kind of knowledge shared between two persons that is capable of growing and maturing into a certainty that has nothing to do with scientific probabilities.   Jacobi emphasizes this personal aspect of ‘knowing God’ in the conclusion to his open letter to Fichte,

Hail to the human being who constantly feels this presence, for whom that old assertion: By the living God! Is in every moment the highest archetype of truth.  Whoever touches the sacred and noble simplicity of this belief with a corrupting hand, he is an adversary of the human race; because neither science nor art, nor any other talent, whatever name it might have, would compensate for what had been taken from it.   (F.H. Jacobi, translated by Diana Buhler,

We have come a long ways from the ‘Atheism Dispute’ of the 19th century.  Now, at the turn of the 21st century, 27.5% of professors in biology or psychology are atheists (Huffington Post), and many of our governing officials are de facto atheists.  But Jacobi’s words still ring true.  What atheists seek to take away cannot be replaced by “science or art, or any other talent.”

Lamech’s Boast

Adah and Zillah, listen to my voice… I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me.  If Cain’s revenge is sevenfold, then Lamech’s is seventy-sevenfold.” (Gen 4:23-24 ESV)

A mere boy struck me, so I will crush him like an ant.  Lamech could be a gangsta rapper, with Adah and Zillah hanging on each arm.

Better watch how you talk, when you talk about me
‘Cause, I’ll come and take your life away…

I’m the diamond in the dirt, that ain’t been found
I’m the underground king and I ain’t been crowned
When I rhyme, something special happen every time
I’m the greatest, something like Ali in his prime…

I walk the block with the bundles
I’ve been knocked on the humble
Swing the ox when I rumble
Show your ass what my gun do
Got a temper nigga, go ahead, lose your head
Turn your back on me, get clapped and lose your legs
I walk around gun on my waist, chip on my shoulder
Till I bust a clip in your face, pussy, this beef ain’t over…

50 Cent – Many Men – MetroLyrics

Lamech is the prototypical  ‘great man’ – which is a literal translation of the Sumerian word for king, ‘lugal’.  His boast has been repeated by kings throughout history.   The same spirit moved the king of Babylon strike the peoples “with unceasing blows” and rule the nations “in anger with unrelenting persecution.” (Isa 14:6 ESV)  The same spirit moved Halel to boast, “I will rise, I will ascend, I will make myself like the Most High.”  It is the spirit of the Antichrist who would create a world empire that stands in opposition to the kingdom of God.   The gods of this world are the gods of State; the object of their worship is Power; and their loftiest aspiration is to Conquer – even up to heaven.

Naram Sin Victory Stele
The god-king Naram Sin climbs the cosmic mountain, trampling his enemies under his feet. This victory stele, dating to the 3rd millennium BC, is a vivid depiction of the boast of Halel, (Lat. Lucifer), “I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will make myself like the Most High.” (Is 14:13-14) (Louvre)

One of the interesting questions of history is, “When did humility become a virtue?”  If we let Nietzsche answer that question, he will tell us “with Christianity”.

What is good?  All that enhances the feeling of power, the Will to power, and power itself in man.  What is bad? – All that proceeds from weakness.  What is happiness? – The feeling that power is increasing – that resistance has been overcome.  Not contentment, but more power; not peace at any price, but war; not virtue, but efficiency (virtue in the Renaissance sense, virtue, free from all moralic acid).  The weak and the botched shall perish: first principle of our humanity.  And they ought even to be helped to perish.  What is more harmful than any vice? – Practical sympathy with all the botched and the weak – Christianity. (Nietzsche, The Antichrist)

Nietzsche finds much that is admirable in the old pagan religions. He was one of the early modern philosophers who romanticized Nature and made it into an Idol. The struggle for survival became the ‘will to Power’ and all of the savagery of this world was deemed natural and necessary.   Christianity, on the other hand, suppresses our natural instincts and is therefore to be despised.    Well, Nietzsche was right that Christianity is unnatural.  Jesus said,  “You must be born again.” (John 3:3; cf. 1 Cor. 2:14; 15:50) [1]  But he was wrong that Christianity is weak.   Real Christianity, as Wilberforce liked to call it, is the only power in the world that has the moral will to oppose a modern day Sennacherib because only Christianity makes real moral outrage possible. [2]   Love may be expressed in absolute fury more terrible than anything produced by the lust for conquest and glory.  It is the fury of a husband or father who would defend his family.

Heinrich Heine, the 19th century German poet and philosopher, saw clearly what was at stake with the rising popularity of a new form of pantheism in Germany.  He was not particularly religious although he came to faith in Christ towards the end of his life.  [3]  But earlier in his career, he wrote a book titled “On the History of Religion and Philosophy in Germany”.  In it he describes, with almost prophetic insight, the ultimate result of natural philosophy in Germany.

…the Philosopher of Nature will be terrible in this, that he has allied himself with the primitive powers of nature, that he can conjure up the demoniac forces of old German pantheism; and having done so, there is aroused in him that ancient German eagerness for battle which combats not for the sake of destroying, not even for the sake of victory, but merely for the sake of the combat itself. Christianity—and this is its fairest merit —subdued to a certain extent the brutal warrior ardor of the Germans, but it could not entirely quench it; and when the cross, that restraining talisman, falls to pieces, then will break forth again the ferocity of the old combatants, the frantic Berserker rage whereof Northern poets have said and sung so much. The talisman has become rotten, and the day will come when it will pitifully crumble to dust. The old stone gods will then arise from the forgotten ruins and wipe from their eyes the dust of centuries, and Thor with his giant hammer will arise again, and he will shatter the Gothic cathedrals. . . .

Smile not at my counsel, at the counsel of a dreamer, who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, Philosophers of Nature.  Smile not at the fantasy of one who foresees in the region of reality the same outburst of revolution that has taken place in the region of intellect. The thought precedes the deed as the lightning the thunder. German thunder is of true German character: it is not very nimble, but rumbles along somewhat slowly. But come it will, and when ye hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then know that at last the German thunderbolt has fallen. At this commotion the eagles will drop dead from the skies and the lions in the farthest wastes of Africa will bite their tails and creep into their royal lairs. There will be played in Germany a drama compared to which the French Revolution will seem but an innocent idyll. At present, it is true, everything is tolerably quiet; and though here and there some few men create a little stir, do not imagine these are to be the real actors in the piece. They are only little curs chasing one another round the empty arena, barking and snapping at one another, till the appointed hour when the troop of gladiators appear to fight for life and death… (Heine 1882, 167)

Heine understood that the changes he observed taking place peacefully in Germany would eventually lead to war.  I wonder where the quiet but rapid transformation of North American society will lead down the road?  The lightning of thought precedes the thunder of action.

Many men, many, many, many, many men
Wish death upon me, Lord I don’t cry no more
Don’t look to the sky no more, have mercy on me
Have mercy on my soul, somewhere my heart turned cold…

50 Cent – Many Men – MetroLyrics


[1] The highest virtue in the Roman world was to attain honor and glory for oneself.   But Jesus taught that a man must lose his life before he can find it.   God cares about the poor and the despised and is more pleased with the widows mite than with all the treasure in the temple.    The essence of the Sermon on the Mount is found already in the words of the prophet Micah, “He has shown you, oh man, what is good and what the LORD requires of you.  But to do justice, and to love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.”   These words of Micah were as radically different in tone and outlook from the religious texts of the Assyrians as the words of Jesus were from the philosophizing of the Epicureans and Stoics.

[2] This moral outrage is found in passages like Isaiah 30, the book of Revelation, or the imprecatory Psalms. Regarding the latter, C.S. Lewis notes that there is really nothing like them in ancient literature.  He writes,

If the Jews cursed more bitterly than the Pagans this was, I think, at least in part because they took right and wrong more seriously.  For if we look at their railing we find they are usually angry not simply because these things have been done to them but because these things are manifestly wrong, are hateful to God as well as to the victim.  The thought of the “righteous Lord” – who surely must hate such doings as much as they do, who surely therefore must (but how terribly He delays!) “judge” or avenge, is always there, if only in the background.”  (Lewis 1958, 31)

[3] Heine was born to Jewish parents, and converted to Christianity.  In the final prologue to his book “Religion and Philosophy in Germany”, written, I think, shortly before his death, Heine says: “In my latest book, “Romancero” I have explained the transformation that took place within me regarding sacred things. Since its publication many inquiries have been made, with zealous importunity, as to the manner in which the true light dawned upon me. Pious souls thirsting after a miracle, have desired to know whether, like Saul on the way to Damascus, I had seen a light from heaven; or whether, like Balaam, the son of Beor, I was riding on a restive ass, that suddenly opened its mouth and began to speak as a man?  No; ye credulous believers, I never journeyed to Damascus… nor have I ever seen an ass, at least any four-footed one, that spake as a man, though I have often enough met men who, whenever they opened their mouths, spake as asses. In truth, it was neither a vision, nor a seraphic revelation, nor a voice from heaven, nor any strange dream or other mystery that brought me into the way of salvation; and I owe my conversion simply to the reading of a book. A book?  Yes, and it is an old, homely-looking book, modest as nature and natural as is; a book that has a work-a-day and unassuming look, like the sun that warms us, like the bread that nourishes us; a book that seems to us as familiar and as full of kindly blessing as the old grandmother who reads daily in it with dear, trembling lips, and with spectacles on her nose. And this book is called quite shortly—the Book, the Bible. Rightly do men also call it the Holy Scripture; for he that has lost his God can find Him again in this Book, and towards him that has never known God it sends forth the breath of the Divine Word.


Lewis, C. S. (1958). Reflections on the Psalms. New York,, Harcourt.

Nietzsche, F. W. (2004). Twilight of the idols ; and, The Antichrist. Mineola, N.Y., Dover Publications.

Heinrich, H. The Religion and Philosophy of the Germans,


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