Thursday, November 01, 2007

ATHEISM

I have a strong impression that no one bothers with this blog anymore. I've left it completely abandoned now for over a year, and practically so for more than two. I have some thoughts of/desire to revive it, now that my situation in life has changed so drastically, but am somewhat uncertain of the propriety of so doing.

However, I just read an article which I need to highlight here, if nothing else for my own reference the next time Mr.'s Dawkins or Hitchens decide to publish a screed against religion at large and Christian Faith in particular. Mr. Dalrymple weaves a welcome counterpoint to the ongoing cacophony of virulent anti-religious ire. Would that more people thought as he does.

I might as well mention that I recently preached a sermon which attempted to address the same general point. Below is video, with a transcript following.


video

In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.

In today’s readings, we anticipate the coming Feast of the Elevation of the Holy Cross, which we will celebrate this Friday. The Fathers of the Church who compiled our lectionary thought it important that we reflect today on the Cross of Christ and on God’s economy of salvation, on the most essential tenets of the Christian Gospel.

And what precisely is that Gospel? It is encapsulated in today’s reading. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

And that message is intrinsically tied to the Cross, for the cross is truly, as we say in our hymnology the “weapon of peace”, by which our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ has saved the world. And therefore the Cross is the truest and most essential symbol of the Christian Faith.

Yet the symbol of the Cross all too often sends a negative message to those outside the Church—a message of arrogance, self-righteousness, and judgment, evoking images of violent crusaders with red crosses emblazoned on their shields as they sack the great ancient cities of the Mediterranean. To those outside the Church, the Cross is indeed seen as a weapon…not of peace, but of aggression and coercion.

Perhaps because of this perception, atheism, particularly publicly admitted atheism, has been on the rise over the past century. Especially in the past few years, a strong and active movement of anti-religious feeling has arisen, led by a loosely knit group of intellectuals determined to make all religions, and particularly Christianity and Islam, look as ridiculous as possible in the public light.

Their basic criticism is an old one, summed up in the subtitle of a recent book by a prominent atheist: How Religion Poisons Everything. The point? That religion is not only the excuse, but the essential cause, of the violence committed in its name, religion invented by charlatans in order to fleece their flock or use them as a means to power, or, to hearken back to the criticisms of a former age, to suppress them, to be the opiate of the masses.

Specific to Christianity, the charge is twofold. First, they condemn our supposed intolerance of anything except perfect belief as a force which compels us to violence, seeking to convert the entire world to our way of thinking by any means necessary. Second, they mock us as credulous fools, believing a ludicrous and laughable set of doctrines without evidence or proof.

And yet these charges bespeak a profound ignorance both of the full history and theology of Orthodox Christianity. For, on the contrary, where did even the idea of the universal rights of mankind come from if not from Christianity and our understanding of the dignity of every individual human being as a creature created in the very image and likeness of God? Further, we believe that the faith which God honors is the one born out of love, not out of fear, and therefore the use of any coercion is utterly contrary to our Faith. To compel to conversion one who does not wish it is ultimately a denial of some of the most basic and fundamental tenets of the Christian Faith. The Gospel is not spread by such means.

And as for the foolishness of our doctrine, it is not, as they accuse us, something believed without evidence--rather it is based in the intimate and immediate encounter of men and women like us with God Himself, from the Apostles themselves down through every saint we love and venerate, who have found the grace to walk with God Himself in this life, and have shown the proof of it with their love, their wisdom, their humility, and their miracles. It is based in the recognition that here, in this Church, and here alone, can a human being be healed of all that ails him and fulfil the uttermost potential of our nature in communion with God Himself. It is, in the end, a proof far more broad and convincing than any proof to the contrary can ever be.

But we must be cautious, and not triumphalistic. For, however blameless and praiseworthy true and authentic Christian Faith is, we may still ourselves fall into the temptation of using our Faith precisely as these modern atheists accuse us of doing, to justify ourselves, to shore up our self esteem by means of judging others, to embark on modern crusades to change the behavior of others, instead of concerning ourselves with our own sins and salvation. And it is this concern which brings us back to the Cross.

For the Cross is the truest and deepest symbol of what it means to be a Christian, representing our acceptance of the yoke of Christ, as the Lord Himself said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it." It is by accepting and embracing this denial, this faith, this love and this sacrifice that we will become true Christians, innocent of the accusations of the atheists and vehicles of the grace of God, so that through each of us Christ's prophecy may be fulfilled. "And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself."

But this can only be if we first cast far from ourselves all pride in the rightness of our belief, and all judgment of others. For as we said, the cross, is a weapon of peace, not of aggression or judgment, and as such, is a weapon that we must turn on ourselves, a weapon which can only transform others if it first transforms our own lives. For after all, what profit is it to us to merely know the truth? Our knowledge of the truth, our orthodoxy of belief, only increases our responsibility to live in accordance with the truth that we have received—and, if we fail to do so, only increases the magnitude of our sin and of our judgment. For unlike all others, we will not be able to say that we were ignorant of the truth. It is for this reason that the way of the Cross is one not of judgment, but of patience, humility, self-denial and love.

It is by such means that we convert others to the Faith--by our love for one another, by our humility, by our good works practiced in love and humility, so that through us the love of Christ may touch the lives of those around us. And it is by such means that we ourselves are shown forth as true disciples of Christ, denying our own needs, our own pride, living in service to one another--as Christ again said, "By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another, as I have loved you." This is what it means to take up our cross and follow Christ--and this is why it is of all ways of life most blessed. As Christ said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden light."

Let us then take up this yoke, loving one another, casting aside all pride, all judgment, all feelings of superiority, and throw ourselves into the genuine work of the Christian life, serving and loving one another, following Christ's example, and thereby ourselves once again elevating the Cross of Christ where all the world can see that it is indeed a weapon of peace, reconciling us to one another and to Christ our God, to whom be all glory, honour, and worship, together with His Eternal Father and the All-Holy, Good and Life-giving Spirit, now and ever and to the ages of ages. Amen.



The Reading is from John 3:13-17

The Lord said, "No one has ascended into heaven but he who descended from heaven, the Son of man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him."

The Reading is from St. Paul's Letter to the Galatians 6:11-18

BRETHREN, see with what large letters I am writing to you with my own hand. It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh that would compel you to be circumcised, and not only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who receive circumcision do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may glory in your flesh. But far be it from me to glory except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. Peace and mercy be upon all who walk by this rule, upon the Israel of God. Henceforth let no man trouble me; for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brethren. Amen.

7 comments:

Elizabeth said...

I keep you on my Bloglines account so I can see when it is updated.......

Will said...

I, too, subscribe to your RSS feed. Fear not; you write, people will read.

Nice homily, and I enjoyed the link, too. It was similar, surprisingly enough, to a piece I read in The New Republic a year or so ago.

Daniel Silliman said...

Fr. Gugg,

A nice sermon (geez it's been a long time). I wonder, though, if, when Christians counter that Christianity isn't foolish, if they miss that fact that it is so inversive to the world's systems, that it is, in fact, very very very foolish. Because it disregards the foundations that make something sensible. We are called to reject violence for peace, power for sacrifice, authority for submission, winning to loosing.... and approval for foolishness?

That's not a disagreement with you, just a related thought.

All my best,
Call me sometime and I'll tell you murder stories if you tell me preisthood stories.

Judge373 said...

I'm glad to see you blogging again, and I really enjoyed your sermon.

Oh and for a long, very well-done critique of Dawkins, look at A Skeptics Guide to Dawkins,
here
.

Judge373 said...

BTW, this is Tom :-)

Judge373 said...

Okay I'm ready to watch another of your sermons.

Pete said...

Father Anthony,

Good to see you again even if it is in the virtual world. I am getting ordained Deacon this Sunday so please keep me in your prayer. Say hello to Elizabeth for me and your little one too. God bless and keep you and yours.