Engaging The Atheist Delusion

Engaging The Atheist Delusion September 29, 2016

It can be said that many contemporary forms of atheism, with their constant desire to fight against God and all who believe in God, represent a rather new form of delusion, wherein the atheists argue with self-contradictory assertions that whatever their delusion presents to them is truth. Like all delusions, not everything they believe or think they experience necessarily is illusory; much of it develops out of a misinterpreted understanding of the truth hiding the truth which they do not want to admit to themselves. They hold to a self-contradictory ideology; they believe in a form of the absolute while denying the absolute itself exists. Though they might not use the term God for the absolute, objective form of reality they believe to exist, their adherence to it demonstrates that in reality, they are not atheists, but rather contending with others as to how to read and understand the absolute which is God. Ultimately, it can be said, no one is truly an atheist. They might deny some form or understanding of God, and call themselves (or be called by others) an atheist as a result, but they always have something in the place of the absolute, something which takes the place of God in their life. This means we do not have to doubt them when they say they deny God, because they are denying some common image or understanding of God, but on the other hand, their delusion hides from themselves their own unconscious acceptance of some form of absolute. All of us have something which is placed in the position of the absolute, that is, in the place of God, even if we do not name it God, it still serves for us the role of God in our lives. Sometimes, it is ourselves, though often it is something else, something external to the self, like the universe itself, which serves as our absolute. [1]

Four-faced Brahma statue Phra Phrom at the Erawan Shrine, Bangkok, Thailand. By No machine-readable author provided. TongJar322~commonswiki assumed (based on copyright claims). [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
Four-faced Brahma statue Phra Phrom at the Erawan Shrine, Bangkok, Thailand. [CC BY-SA 2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia Commons
This tendency to self-theosis can be found in the Long Discourses of the Buddha, the Dīgha Nikāya,  in which we quickly run into the story of Brahmā, the one who, upon seeing no others beside himself, no gods apparently before himself, came to believe that he was the Creator-God:

Then in this being who had been alone for so long there arises unrest, discontent, worry, and he thinks: “Oh, if only some other beings would come here!” And other beings, from exhaustion of their life-span or of their merits, fall from the Ābhassara world and arise in the Brahmā-palace as companions for this being. And there they dwell, mind-made . . . and they stay like this for a very long time.

And, then, monks, that being who first arose there thinks: “I am Brahmā, the Great Brahmā, the Conqueror, the Unconquered, the All-Seeing, the All-Powerful, the Lord, the Maker and Creator, Ruler, Appointer and Orderer. Father of All That Have Been and Shall Be. These beings were created by me. How so? Because I first had this thought: ‘Oh, if only some other beings would come here!’ That was my wish, and then these beings came into this existence!” [2]

Further, those beings believed that they came into existence  thanks to Brahmā, agreeing with him that he is indeed the Creator-God, the first and greatest. And then more beings come into existence, lesser beings, who worship the earlier ones as gods, and Brahmā, as Creator. But all of this is founded upon the mistake of Brahmā, who, in his ignorance, came to believe himself to be what he is not, so that others could follow him in that mistake.[3]

This story serves to show how easy it is to follow through with a rejection of God, seeing or believing that we encounter no God in our lives, by putting ourselves in his place. Through such ignorance, our pride is able to raise us up, to make us think we are greater than we are, even to the point of thinking ourselves to be gods. It is quite common for those who deny the existence of the divinity to put themselves into that place, to say they know there is no God (how?) and then act as if they are themselves a god.  To say humanity created the gods is itself saying the same thing as Brahmā in this instance – it is to say humanity, alone in the universe, called forth the gods out of their inability to cope with their apparently godless situation. To say humanity created the gods as reflection of themselves is to say humanity is God, and it is no surprise that once this ideology is put in place, humans act accordingly. What is often said to be the Promethean tendency of the modern age lies with this reconsideration of the divinity by placing humanity into the position of the divine, putting its declarations, based upon its very limited perspective, on the level of absolute truth. And if it is absolute truth, then we must act on it – and so we do, with world-wide devastation in our wake.[4]

The story of Brahmā not only is the story of some being falsely thinking itself to be God, it is the story of modern humanity, which thinks that its powers, demonstrated in the transformation of the earth and the calling forth all kinds of mechanical marvels, proves our superiority in the universe. Closed off from the metaphysical order of the universe, humanity declares itself to be God. We cry out, marvel in our triumph! It is, likewise, the story of all pride, of how ignorance mixed with pride, leads many to make extraordinary claims for themselves, and others, who are equally ignorant but not so prideful, take to heart what they hear and follow along blindly with the blind gods which rule the world.

Try as we might, we can never overcome the natural tendency to place something or someone on the place of divinity; we might not want to call what we put there a God, and recognize that we have turned them into such, but as we place them at the height of creation and find ourselves in absolute fidelity to them, we find that the gods never vanish, just change their name. We need the gods. It’s in our nature to look for and put someone in their place. Try as we might to deny them, we find something to put in their place, because we innately know there has to be some absolute from which all things flow. There is no escape from God. Try as we might to make it disappear, the place of divinity reasserts itself after we have tried to clear it from reality. To deny God is just to make room for a new God to put in his place. [5]

But why do people deny God?

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