Atheism in Academia

Martin E. Marty, Varieties of unbelief (Holt, Rinehart and Winston: NY 1964)

Chapter 5. Two Types of Unbelief
1. integral or closed systems
2. non-integral or open systems
p 72

Chapter 7. The Secular Varieties of Unbelief
1. Unbelief which cancels out the seriousness of belief and unbelief: anomie and accidie (p103)
2. Unbelief which rejects the possibility of positive belief: nihilism (p111)
3. Unbelief which rejects God and roots out the idea of God: atheism and antitheism (p118)
4. Unbelief which supplants the God of Christian faith and develops pantheism and paganisms of history and power (p128)
5. Unbelief based on methodological preoccupations which casually crowd historic belief patterns (p140)

Chapter 8. The Syncretistic Varieties of Unbelief
6. Syncretistic unbelief which combines elements of Christian belief with contradictory cultural features (p152)
7. Syncretistic unbelief which combines elements of Christian belief with contradictory political features (p163)

Chapter 9. The Religious Varieties of Unbelief
8. Unbelief within the Christian orbit: the institutional aspect (p177)
9. Unbelief in the Christian orbit: the religious aspect (p187)

Integral or Closed Neither Nonintegral or Open
1. -------- anomie-accidie --------
2. Nihilism "Longing"
3. Atheism Agnosticism
4. Pantheisms of history and power --------
5. Scientism-secularism Scientific method-secularity

p 150

The problem of God has, as its obverse, the problem of the godless man, the a-theos. It is better to put the problem thus concretely, rather than to speak of the "problem of atheism." It is not as if atheism were some sort of doctrine or intellectual position that, as such, presented a problem, needed to be made intelligible, and could be understood. The problem only becomes a problem when it is concretely stated in terms of the godless man, who is existent and present in history. ...
Therefore the man who does not fear God somehow does not exist, and his nature is somehow not human. On the other hand, there he is. That is the problem. 13-14
-John Courtney Murray, S.J., "The structure of the problem of God" Theological Studies, XXIII, no. 1; march 1962

Atheism may be two steps up from anomie-accidie and one step up from nihilism. It is always intellectually serious and often morally serious. Quite frequently it is characterized by affirmative elements not found in some other forms of unbelief. It can develop explicit theologies (or better, antitheologies) and extensive systems of philosophy, morality, aesthetics. ... But atheism is a permanent theoretical possibility even where it is rare in practice, and in many parts of the world which were once called Christian, there are publicized spokesmen for, and cells of, "metaphysical" atheists.
Because the word "atheism" has taken on pejorative tones and because it often implies a moral condemnation, it has become an all-purpose word for the many forms of unbelief. In an important interview, "Is the modern world atheist?" Friedrich Heer has cautioned against lumping all forms of misbelief, disbelief, nonbelief, and unbelief under this single heading. "The word 'atheist' is a harmful and dangerous term." Christians were seen to be atheist by the Romans, and in the Reformation era the various church parties called each other atheist. "There is consequently in Europe a long tradition of treating as 'atheists' those whose faith differs from one's own." ...
The term "atheist" is here applied only to the integral form, the closed-system definition, which roots out God and the idea of God from human existence. It denies his transcendence and his action in history. Since it is surrounded by beliefs in gods, to preserve its identity it must also be antitheist; that is, it must reject the idea of God as a threat to human freedom.
Modern atheism or antitheism , then, must be regarded as an event, just as the other original families of unbelief under discussion are. It occurs and can occur only where belief is or has been. 118-119

As [Etienne] Borne depicts it, atheism is dogmatic, as is nihilism; it also rules out the possibility of revelatory elements. But it differs from nihilism in that it can construct--and indeed desires to construct--positive views of history after the death of God. His corpse must be removed in order to make man free. Borne makes much of the basic divisions within atheism. He distinguishes an atheism of solitude and an atheism of solidarity, the former, Nietzschean (God is dead, individual man becomes free), and the latter, Marxist (God is dead, so man in the collective form becomes free to fulfill the historical process). But atheism must also be broken into what we would call nonintegral (e.g., pantheist) forms and what he, too, calls integral ones.
Integral atheism seeks and claims to have found a decisive proof against God in the order, or rather the absence of order, in the world. It sees discord and contradiction everywhere. ...
Sartre, with some insight, finds the negations of God in the irreducible opposition between value, which has so little strength it is confounded with nothingness, and reality, which is so strong as to be altogether too much. ... It is from absolute evil that integral atheism infers the impossibility of God. [Thus it refutes philosophies of history such as those of Marx.] The supreme argument is between Christianity and integral atheism.
- Etienne Borne, Atheism, translated by S.J. Tester (Hawthorn: NY 1961) pp 49-83, and esp pp 80-83

Integral atheism is so sure of itself that assent to a belief system which is open to the divine is always by its nature, to use Sartre's phrase, "bad faith." Integral atheism, it must be noted, is difficult to see incarnate and institutionalized. Some would go so far as to suggest that this form of atheism is impossible to sustain. Paul Tillich would see the reflective and impassioned atheist gripped by an attachment to "ultimate concern" and thus--by Tillich's definition--religious. The student of religions, Gerardus van der Leeuw, doubts its historic reference: "It has never, in any conditions whatever, acquired historical form." Individuals may run away but they end up in the jaws of the next power. "There is no religion of atheism: there is only the individual fleeing from God. ..."
Insofar as every religion experiences a flight from God, it has an atheistic dimension, but that is different from persistent atheism. 121
- Gerardus van der Leeuw, Religion in essence and manifestation, trans. J.E. Turner
(Harper & Row: NY 1963) II

The source of modern atheism is closely connected with Christian faith. Only where God is so radically proclaimed and believed can he be so radically denied. ...
Furthermore, Christianity [in its failures] has also a guilty connection with the pre-history of modern atheism. 121
- Gerhard Ebeling, The nature of faith, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith
(Muhlenberg: Philadelphia 1961) p 80

Martin Marty, one of America's best known theologians, senior editor of Christian Century magazine, an expert on American civil and public religion. Since 1963 Marty has served as a professor of the history of modern Christianity at the Divinity School of the University of Chicago where he received his Ph.D. in American religious and intellectual history. Author of many books on American religion, including Righteous Empire, winner of the National Book Award, and A Nation of Believers, Marty is an editor of MacMillan's Encyclopedia of Religion. He is past president of the American Academy of Religion and the American Catholic History Association and is currently senior scholar-in-residence at The Park Ridge Center.

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