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Book Chapter

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William B.Eerdmans Publishing Company


The religious intellect must recognize that in the nineteenth century it confronts a unique situation, unprecedented both in the depth of its challenge and in the extension of its claims. During that period, the denial of the reality of God rose to achieve an articulate and influential presence within the intellectual culture of western Europe. This denial was no longer the persuasion of this or that idiosyncratic figure such as Diagoras of Melos or Theodore of Cyrene in preChristian antiquity; nor did it constitute the mentality of a peculiarly enlightened cast such as the d'Holbachian circle in Paris in the eighteenth century. During the nineteenth century, "the eclipse of God" advanced much farther, descending massively upon modernity and upon the world that it embraced as non-European nations fell under the influence of Western thought. This eclipse circumscribed an absence of religious faith or of any living theistic affirmation, together with an attendant sense of alienation, indifference, or hostility toward religious doctrines, presence, and institutions. This atheism or secularism or agnosticism together with its cognate indifference or contempt for the religious was unique within the history of the world in the public acceptance it secured during that century, in the ascendancy within particular subcultures it gained, and in the rapidity of increase it enjoyed among intellectuals and the formative sources of culture. It came to shadow all ranks of society in Europe, from workers to bourgeoisie to intellectuals, gathering strength to spill into the twentieth century with an ideational force unmatched since the Protestant Reformation.

During this steady devolution of religious affirmation, not only did the judgment about the validity of religious belief fall under suspicion and question, but the nature or content of religious ideas themselves did as well. The religious culture of Europe was being reconfigured because the notion of "God" was being reconfigured. God was coming to be seen now as the alienation of the

human species in favor of an imaginary subject or as the structure of the human society now writ large or as the projection out of fear and longing of oedipal necessities. Each of these reconfigurations lent new shapes to political economy or theology, literature, philosophy, and rhetoric. Emerging as the psychological dynamic that explained religious ideas were such terms as Vergegensti:indlichung and Enti:iusserung, objectification and alienation, and the face of God changed, as in some way the hermeneutics of suspicion registered the human interests that had created it.1

But there was another, very different historical development in modernity's disclosure of the profound projection within religious belief. The initial grammars of religion revealed that the human was the truth of the divine. The second wave of interpretation would tear off this mask and see beneath it not the human but the antihuman. God is revealed as - to borrow a term from Spanish mysticism - el enemigo de natura humana, the enemy of human nature. The discovery of this equation between the divine and the diabolical was both the product of the nineteenth century and one of the fundamental reversals of the sacred in the history of religion. This discovery the following essay attempts to outline in a series of very broad brush strokes. To do so, it proposes: (1) to indicate something of the dialectic that lies at the origins of modern atheism, the paradoxical sources of modern atheism;2 (2) to examine the radical shift in fundamental thinking that took place in the nineteenth century- in what Hobbes called the "First Grounds of Philosophy"; (3) to trace the effect that this produced in the basic evidence advanced for the reality of God; ( 4) to outline some classic moments in the massive rise in atheistic consciousness that these philosophical and theological arguments dialectically occasioned; (5) to identify the "god" that emerges from these counterpositions.

Chapter of

Christian Spirituality and the Culture ofModernity


Peter J. Casarella
George P. Schner, S.J.


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