Atheism per se did not exist until modern times. The Greeks and Romans had defined an atheist not as someone who disbelieved in God but as someone who rejected the traditional gods who protected the social order. Hence Socrates was an atheist, and so, in the eyes of the pagan Romans, were the early Christians. Almost everyone in the ancient and medieval worlds believed in a deity or deities. Atheism as we now know it, McGrath explains, grew up in one specific place, Western Europe (and its outposts in America and elsewhere), as a phenomenon of a specific time, the dawn of modernity, and as a reaction against a specific religion, Christianity. The roots of atheism, McGrath suggests, lay paradoxically in that primal phenomenon of Western modernity, the Protestant Reformation. The Reformers' efforts to purify the institutional church in order to make it more concordant with their vision of Jesus' authentic teachings generated a loss of trust in institutional religion in general. Furthermore, McGrath argues that the Reformers, by focusing upon the Bible as the sole source of God's revelation, effectively desacralized both the natural world and the secular human world, which in the integralist medieval Catholic view had been equally saturated with God's sacred presence. With the Reformation, "God became an absence in the world," writes McGrath.Charlotte Allen, "Believe It," National Review 13 Sep. 2004.
Friday, September 03, 2004
The following are comments from Charlotte Allen taken from her review of the book "The Twilight of Atheism." It is interesting how something as celebrated amongst Protestant Christians as the Reformation was the primary cause of atheism and the phenomenal growth of secularism in the Western world: