February 16, 2011

Catholicism and the Rise of Atheism

Just a quick note of clarification regarding my last post titled F. Dostoyevsky: The Origins of Modern Atheism.

Some may think the "original fault" of Catholicism hardly exists anymore which lead to the rise of atheism, as noted by Dostoyevsky and other Orthodox theologians. We should keep in mind however why this is so. Basically it is because of the rise of Humanism and Secularism in the West, and of course one cannot discount the Reformation. It is hardly because of any repentance by the papacy in Catholic doctrines, which allowed such divisions to arise in the first place. Catholicism today has put on a new facade, such as denying that there are essential differences between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, but essentially Catholicism is still the same with the intention of having Orthodox bow before the Pope as the Supreme Pontiff of the Church. And the present Pope is very open about this intention, which is why Orthodox-Catholic dialogue today focuses on moral issues and not doctrinal. Today Catholicism, as huge as it is, is in a very vulnerable position in Western Europe especially because its weaknesses slowly yet surely are being exposed, though they have strength still in being the basis of moral order in the West (along with all of Christianity), which answers at least this fundamental human need even in a secular environment.

At the root of the historical problem with the papacy is the Frankish influence it received by implementing the scholastic method of doing theology, which placed reason as the ultimate tool in gaining knowledge, as opposed to the Orthodox method which existed in the West also during the first millenium, which is basically the empirical method of theological knowledge. The empirical method focuses on one's experience of God through the vision of His uncreated energies or powers. By the West placing reason as the supreme source of knowledge and relegating revelation to what was revealed only in Scripture, it allowed atheism to flourish since it took the direct personal experience of God out of the picture (except through a sentimental emotionalism or deluded mysticism). By logic one can argue for faith and against faith, back and forth endlessly. Arguments can be made that are valid for God's existence and against God's existence. The Orthodox however still emphasize what was always taught in Scripture and the Church Fathers, that one cannot know if God exists with absolute certainty unless there is direct knowledge and experience of God. Jesus said: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." The purification of the heart is at the heart of Orthodox spirituality, and the only way one can truly "see God" and acquire the Holy Spirit and faith based on actual evidence is through the purification of the heart of its passions and sins.

This is basically the essential difference between Orthodoxy and Catholicism, which leads to many other differences.