Is atheism just another religion?
The pious atheists
Atheists and scientists tend to replace the crucial question of how one feels about religion with the question of why others need religion. But only apparently we are dealing with a knowledge that leaves faith behind. A small change of perspective is enough to see that atheism is itself a belief - namely, belief in unbelief. The unbelievers need to believe in the nonexistence of God. The atheist is converted to godlessness, his unbelief a refined form of piety.
The atheist always denies God in the name of an unknown God. Although he likes to portray himself as an intrepid enlightener, in truth he is looking for relief. The atheist denies God in order not to have to compare himself to him. After all, he still makes the effort to deny God. To fall away from God is, of course, an act of faith. And from the perspective of the pious there is really only one more step to take, because faith is unbelief that has been overcome.
Max Stirner already exposed atheism as the most stubborn form of piety. In atheism only the vacant position in the system of the Christian God is refilled by man. Nietzsche's "God is dead" formula then shows the way out of this dilemma. His basic insight is that atheism has failed. And that is why he replaces the denial of God with the murder of God.
That can no longer be surpassed, and Freud's Enlightenment also follows Nietzsche's trail. But with Stirner and Nietzsche, the Enlightenment began at the same time, and it must allow itself to be offered a theological interpretation, namely from the perspective of a religion after the Enlightenment: Enlightenment was man's flight from Almighty God into atheism. And it was the Enlightenment's self-misunderstanding that they saw religion as an enemy. Because Christianity is itself Enlightenment - as a religion.
The dialectic of the Enlightenment today consists in the fact that the Enlightenment, which once freed Europe from religious fundamentalism, has itself become fundamentalist; just think of the British biologist Richard Dawkins and his crusade against religion. As it was two thousand years ago, revelation arouses faith or anger. The enlightenment fury with which an atheist scientist like Dawkins storms the bestseller lists today does not mark any progress in the certainty that God does not exist. Rather, it is a symptom of the fact that the secularism of the modern world, which has become a matter of course, is being challenged today by a new religiosity. More and more people no longer believe in unbelief.
Science only creates knowledge without certainty. It is now considered certain that the foundations of the sciences are uncertain. Such a science is no longer scandalous. Modern man neither feels affected by their results, nor can he find a measure of his own experience for them. With the expansion of knowledge, ignorance grows - and with it the need for belief. Modern science is so highly abstract that we can no longer convey its findings and hypotheses with the interpretation of our living environment. This fundamental incomprehensibility of modern science for the layman makes religion unrivaled in matters of worldview. Darwin was a threat to the Church - Dawkins is no longer.
Bare irreligion is a defense mechanism. You avoid the point where a question arises that has no answer. There are people who only shrug their shoulders when one speaks "of God". They may not even know that they are unbelievers. But the history of atheism also urges the educated among the unbelievers to be careful. Can one explain religion without the declaration itself becoming religious? Above all, those who deny God get caught up in the paradox of confirming religion precisely through its negation.
Usually you believe what others believe because they believe it. This is especially true for scientists, who of course prefer to speak of a “paradigm”. Knowledge is a well-sounded and then institutionalized belief as objectivity. To use a popular metaphor of modern epistemology: belief is the blind spot of knowledge. We can understand any atheistic scientist who admires the structure of the world as a religious infidel. The scientist believes in science, the astrologer believes in the horoscope, the fundamentalist believes in the Holy Scriptures. You think with what you believe; and everyone has a belief under control. The believers profess their faith, the unbelievers are the slaves of their faith.
All understanding is only possible in a prejudice structure, and it is therefore part of a clarification of the enlightenment to rehabilitate the prejudice. Every culture is an inescapable prejudice. And whenever something goes without saying, a belief has us under control. Even if you compare or observe how others are observing, you can only ever be in one place; you always have only one perspective: “as far as I can see…”. Thinking is not the opposite of belief, because one always thinks within the framework of a belief. You don't have a belief, but belief has you. One thinks with what one believes - the intelligent among the pious have this awareness above the enlightened universalists. In other words: the belief that has us is the blind spot of our thinking.
Whoever recognizes that all knowledge takes place in a framework of faith and that the last logical level of an argument demands the confession of one's own personal faith, is no longer afraid of dogmatism and orthodoxy. It is about the awareness of having to start from unproven beliefs in every act of knowledge. Most of those who know, however, cannot believe that their knowledge is also based on a belief. One would have to get those who believe they know to know that they believe. That is why religion today has the problem of the Platonic Cave: One cannot make it clear to the "knowing" cave dwellers that there is an outside of faith.
The need for the one truth is metaphysical. You can't be a relativist. More precisely, as an intellectual one can adhere to a relativistic epistemology, but one cannot live relativistically. The need for a transcendent anchoring of life is growing again today. To put it paradoxically: we believe in God, even without believing in him, because we need him as the highest witness for the formulation of truth.
Today it seems beyond dispute that religion can only be replaced by religion. Even if the individual can do without their consolation - modern society cannot do without the function of religion. That seems to contradict the rational self-certainty of the Enlightenment and its scientific-technical project of modernity. But it was precisely the disenchantment of the world through science that made the inevitability of religion evident in the first place.
That is why belief and knowledge are no longer in conflict. Religion is about to be or not to be; science is about the ability to be different from everything. Science is becoming more and more important to us as the basis of our technical world domination; but at the same time it is becoming increasingly unimportant in its dizzying abstraction for our everyday practice and world orientation. Precisely by asserting itself confidently and casting down any doubts about its legitimacy, the world of science creates a vacuum of significance.
Modern science is centrifugal - it moves away from humans and their earth in astronomical and nano dimensions. Religion, on the other hand, is centripetal - in Christian terms it refers to the historical event of the incarnation, in neo-pagan to the cosmic exception earth. The successes of science and technology in particular lead to a return of human interest: one flies into space - to finally discover the precious blue planet earth. You are educated to be multicultural - in order to finally discover the uniqueness of European culture. One starts a century experiment of atheism - to finally discover the inevitability of religion.
But not only in the abstract world of science, but also in the very tangible reality of our everyday consumerism, it becomes clear that one cannot be non-religious. The old gods of paganism have long since returned. You are green and you adore nature; one wins the design of the new microchip in Buddhist meditation; you are a holist and believe in the creative power of chaos. Superstition turns out to be the choice of the proper formula. Today everyone is actually blessed according to their own style. And that's why we live in a polytheism of brands and fashions. The gods, displaced from the heaven of religions, return as idols of the market. Advertising and marketing occupy the vacant positions in the sky of ideas. Fragrances mean “Eternity” and “Heaven”, cigarettes promise freedom and adventure, cars ensure happiness and self-discovery. In a word: brands occupy values in order to ultimately replace them. So today consumerism unfolds as the religion of the incapable of God.
But not only consumerism, but also its green enemies show religious traits. Even today, the religion of caring and protection is the actual civil religion of the western world of affluence. We follow the green high priests who lead us away from God the Father and towards Mother Earth. This cult of nature, which compensates for the loss of grace, culminates in the love of the living itself. The eco-religion has its priests, its pilgrimages and its Holy Grail. Except that the young heroes of faith are now occupying oil platforms and the "Rainbow Warriors" are going to sea against dark nuclear powers. Greenpeace - these are the crusaders of the ideal world. They stand more clearly than other non-governmental organizations for a new religiosity that has been dubbed “environmental awareness”.
Environment is called the humiliated God, to whom care and salvation expectation apply. The salvation concern of our time is articulated as concern for the ecological balance. And that means in plain language: For the fundamentalist Greens, nature itself is supernatural. This is how environmental awareness works as a source of a new religiosity. This green belief system is of course much more stable than the red one it supersedes. Nature replaces the proletariat - oppressed, offended, exploited. The disappointment of the left promise of salvation has provoked apocalyptic visions, namely those of the destruction of the environment.
You can clearly see here who is profiting from the decline of the Christian churches. It is above all those organizations that can redirect the unchanged strong religious impulse into a new religious scheme. We remember the RAF, but also think of fundamentalist terror and the self-proclaimed saviors of flora and fauna. They all unleash the madness of self-conceit with the law of the heart. The eco-religion is the new belief for the educated middle class, in which one can accommodate technology hostility, anti-capitalism and actionism. Those who turn to nature with religious fervor are disappointed with the story. And because they no longer dare to throw themselves into the arms of the church, they pray green rosaries. Nature replaces God as the external authority for judging society.
So the need for devotion has shifted to nature: the environment as supernatural. Those who indignantly reject it as unreasonable to worship God the Father, naturally worship a cult of mother earth. And he has all the evidence of the modern media world on his side; the photo of the blue planet is probably the most frequently reproduced. The iconic quality of the earth seen from space has given eco-religion an incomparable aura. This picture stands for the sacralization of the earth and the great turning back of human interest from measuring the immeasurable to worrying about one's own finitude.
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