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 ARE THERE ATHEISTS?

[From The Rosicrucian Digest May 1934]
 
 
NOTWITHSTANDING the continual clamor of self-styled atheists and the alarmist propaganda of some religionists that society is drifting toward atheism, it can be conscientiously asked, Are there atheists? If we confine ourselves to the exact definition of the word, then all who deny the existence of a God are atheists. In reality, however, is the denial of a God sufficient to give one the appellation of atheist?
 
Let us presume that we intentionally engaged one designated an atheist in controversy, the object being to analyze the point of issue. An atheistic view, it is generally presumed, is negative. It is thought its purpose is the refutation of theism. Hardly ever is it conceded that atheism may be the positive presentation of a conception which negates theism only because of its contra views. In other words, it is generally accepted and held that the final end of atheism is not to contribute a different conception, but to be a direct attack on the existing religions and theism generally. Therefore, the theist or religionist usually approaches a polemic discussion with an atheist by vehemently asserting the virtues of theism and frantically strengthening every possible weakness that may exist in the structure of theistic theory. The entire presentation is usually one of preparedness as if awaiting an attack from the atheist, rather than the presentation of a different conception free from malice.
 
The procedure is commonly, first, the assertion of an unqualified belief in God; second, following with a personal definition of what God is. As a rule, the definition of God does not exactly correspond with the inner conviction the theist has of God. This fact he may reluctantly admit, and if so, is quick to state that it is because of his inability to ordinarily find adequate words for the definition of God. The interpretation he gives is usually borrowed and hardly ever original. It is usually the orthodox definition of a creed or sect, or the more quaint terminology of an individualist, which gives the user distinction without the effort of originality. In fact, the defender of theism confidentially admits quite frequently to one of his own clan that his argument falls short in words of his inner convictions. There is a gap between the inherent appreciation of the existence of divinity and any forceful, rational presentation in words of this feeling. This inability of expression is comparable with relating a dream, the details of which we cannot recollect, and the emotional effects of which still linger with us.
 
If the religionist's definition of God were words, the meaning which each conveyed being part of the very nature of his sense of God, then the refutation of them would be the quelling of the emotional surge inciting the belief. The sheer logic and rhetoric of his opponent may at its best but destroy the illusion of the visualization of God, for a word description is the religionist's humble and crude attempt to portray his emotional responsivity to an intangible influence he senses--an afflatus.
 
A basic doctrine of theology is the sameness of divinity in all men. If all men could appreciate, be conscious of this essence alike, and alike rationally define its nature and function, there would be a unification of all religion. Alas, this is not so! So we have religions, and each religion its God. Each has its prophets who profess to be divinely inspired and who bequeath to their followers an ideal of God obtained through direct communion. The ideals clash. Religionists oppose and denounce the ideals of each other.
 
Is God an imperfect factor? Is He moving forward toward an eventual attainment and final excellence? Such an hypothesis would not be approved by modern theology, nor even the religious conception of a barbarian people. It would detract from acknowledging His supremacy and His omnipotence. A review, however, of the history of religion and an examination of the doctrines of even today's sects reveal a startling similarity to such an hypothesis because of the discrepancy in the definitions of the nature of God. We find that the splendor attributed by theology today, to God, surpasses in many respects that attributed to Him in past ages. Further we find that His accomplishments of today are manifold in comparison to those ascribed to Him in other eras. Where once He was multiplicity of form, man now has Him as a single entity and even beyond that as an impersonal intelligence pervading all. It is, however, declared fervently by the creeds and sects of today, that nevertheless, the God of yesterday, today, and of tomorrow is the same. They declare He is the only unchangeable factor in a universe of change. If He be unchangeable, perfect and excellence supreme, how can the religionists reconcile that with the obvious difference of nature ascribed to Him by all who recognize Him? Obviously, all conceptions cannot be right. Some must be erroneous.
 
If one group of human minds cannot interpret the divine impulse in their own nature correctly, then all men can possibly likewise err. In defense of the religionists it can be said that some more nearly perceive the divine in their nature than others and their realization more closely participates in the divine reality. But who are they? What criterion is there to ascertain the accuracy of man's perception of God? Sincerity of purpose is not a sufficient criterion to judge the accuracy of one's conception of God. Man in his sincere endeavors to persuade his fellowman that he or his sect alone has envisaged God and is the medium for His word, resorts to the strangest fanatical practises--practises which in themselves detract from the sublimity of God, the sublimity one feels rather than knows. Which is of the greater value to man, the ideal of God that he must endeavor to approach, or the expression of that ideal in a form composed of words? Man can never know God from without, no matter how alluring and magnificent the description given him if he lacks within himself a responsivity to a spiritual urge. Man cannot accept the God defined by another if the description does not invoke within him a sympathetic appreciation. The eyes of the artist and a physicist may view the same dawn, but the idea engendered in the consciousness of each is different. One appreciates the mechanics of what he sees, the physical law accounting for the phenomena, and the other, the artist, feels the harmony of the color, its balance, its proportion, and the exhilaration of true beauty which actuates the sensitivity of his soul. Both could comprehend the idea of what the other perceives, but neither would have the same emotional feeling toward that idea as if it were his own.
 
To every man who is a theist God is the Summum Bonum, and he instinctively endeavors to pattern his life in accordance with the good he sees in life and human conduct. This is religion's greatest duty--the defining of what constitutes the good in human action and in all things perceived by man. Because of this, religion could easily be unified. But when it attempts to limit God to form, to describe His nature, then does confusion arise and then also arise those who are said to be atheists.
 
Will it not be agreed that a man is not godly, no matter how loudly he professes to be, if his conduct and life are not compatible with the good ascribed to God? Shall we be hypocrites? Shall we place the mantle of sanctity upon one who is ostentatious in his exhortation of God, yet is ungodly in his personal conduct? A man is truly godly when he acts in accord with the acts ascribed to divinity. What of the atheist? A man whose personal life exemplifies the highest good and whose conduct toward his fellowmen corresponds with that spirit of righteousness, which all godly men are said to possess, is truly living a spiritual life. This man, however, when interrogated on God may loudly denounce your conception of Him and say that to him there is naught of that nature. Wherein does the difference lie? Can it not now be seen that it is in the illusion man has of the nature of God and not in godliness? For one to be atheistic in respect to godly conduct would be to renounce all that society and that human emotions feel to be just and good. An atheist in respect to defiance of all spiritual conduct would need degrade himself below the beast. How many self-designated atheists, or those pointed to as such by society, are actual violators of the chastity of women? Or failed to honor their parents, or are unjust in their material affairs? Truly, but few! Therefore, if this ignominy does not constitute the very fabric of atheism, then all purported to be atheists are not ignoble. History reveals numerous glorious characters who suffered the opprobrium of atheist because their conception of the divine or first cause was misunderstood, or did not conform to the popular conception.
 
Copernicus, Thomas Jefferson, and even Luther Burbank and many of the present day men of the school of science were and are declared to be atheists. As for many declaring themselves to be atheists, this is ignorance on their part of the true meaning of the word. Realizing that God, as most men conceive Him, does not satisfy their personal appreciation or perception of the universe and its primary cause, they permit themselves to be so named for want of a more adequate term. They refer to themselves as atheists to indicate an utter disapproval of the present conception of the first cause of all things held by the mass of men. Who is to blame for this? It is the religionist, the theist. He permits of no intermediary interpretation of God, no gradual approach to his particular understanding. Either, he says, you contend that God is as I say or my sect defines, or you are clearly out of the realm of theism. You are an atheist. Some opposing sects look upon each other as being of atheistic tendencies merely because of opposite views. Thus orthodox religion prescribes what the mental garb of atheism is. Up until a century ago and even today in some instances it prescribed what constituted a heretic. Those so declared three centuries ago to be heretics would today be considered undoubtedly as leading Christians.
 
He who recognizes a cause, whatever its nature, which cause accounts for all being and its order, is not truly an atheist even though he may declare that cause not to be God. By recognizing a cause he is first conforming to his own nature, for his own nature is the effect of a cause, and he admits thereby that he is a part of a process, if not a plan. He does not consider himself a factor apart from everything, and as being able to function independently of all things. This reasoning produces a state of humility and respect upon his part and a sense of unity with all being, the first requisite of theism. This cause he may define as mechanical, emotionless but orderly. Order is also one of the characteristics of theism, for no one ever conceived of a God as reigning supreme over a chaotic existence. As to intelligence, he may deny the cause as being intelligent, but today the fuller meaning of intelligence, which is becoming better known, may be acceptable to him. Then, perhaps, he would admit the cause as being intelligent, though not conscious. Intelligence does not in its final sense mean conscious knowledge, but rather conformity to an internal order. As an example: Let us take the order of the life of a plant. The plant is intelligent in its perseverance and growth, but it lacks consciousness of the acts which make perseverance and growth possible.
 
Instead of merely reprimanding, condemning, and ostracizing those who fail to recognize God in the sense you define Him, and thereby causing them to believe their conception the opposite of God, attempt to understand their views. Admit that what they declare as "mechanical causes" are truly Cosmic manifestations, as recognizable and perceivable by you as they are to them; but you define the characteristics of those manifestations as the works of God. Gradually you will see that those thought to be confirmed atheists will admit that if what they have found to be fact in nature you do not deny but merely give the appellation of God, then God it must be. If, however, you set up an interpretation of God which is inconsistent with human perception of the manifestations of God, then you will find many atheists, for many persons will renounce the God you expound. It is not so far in the past when all religions asserted God to be a personal entity, a being in form like unto man. Such an impossible ideal was not acceptable to the more profound students of nature, and they rejected it and immediately were acclaimed atheists. Today, only the most impossible religionists are anthropomorphists. Today the average religionist realizes that any conception of God that limits Him to form, limits His sphere of omnipotence. Religionists should realize that theism has changed with time and that this change has not destroyed it, nor has it detracted from its glory. Therefore, the different conceptions of today held by others may not be harmful to theism but may be progressive and should be analyzed unbiasedly, not suppressed, nor should those who expound them readily be called atheists.
 
As to the one who states that there are neither effects nor causes in the universe, being or non-being, natural process or unity of all substance, nor natural law, is not only an atheist but a fool. The theist and the agnostic both look upon him contemptuously. Such a person is an abnormal being and is to be pitied, not censured.
 
Hesitate before hurling the cognomen atheist at another, lest it return to settle upon you later when time has tempered your reason and broadened your spiritual perception.
   

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