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.”

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