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Cooperation with Atheists?

But sometimes one even says that the Church should abandon her ghetto and not only work ecumenically with members of other religions but with atheists whether Marxist or not for a better world, for a more humane existence for the individual. Here one does not apply the term “ghetto” to the Church as a fortress of truth, but to the Church's supposed detachment from non-Catholics in the attempt to solve the great problems which go with building a better world. One reproaches the Church whether rightly or wrongly remains to be seen with being indifferent to humanizing the world, and with refusing to work with non-Catholics on this urgent task.

To deal with this reproach, and to determine how much cooperation with atheists is possible, we must first of all make clear the meaning of humanization, for this word can be understood in very different ways.

If by humanization one means the struggle against poverty, the introduction of hygienic living conditions in a word, a purely external improvement of civilization (as distinguished from culture) then of course Catholics can work with atheists on projects of humanization. But it is carrying coals to Newcastle to urge this it is something which has for a long time been taken for granted in politics. Social democrats and Catholics formed for years a coalition in the Weimar Republic. What hinders cooperation for this kind of humanization are the distinctly economic interests of parties, as well as conflicting sociological theories, but not religious and basic philosophical questions.

But even this kind of cooperation is impossible with Communists for they are not really interested in improving the economic condition of man, but in spreading the Communist system. It is truly a naive optimism, which sees everything through rose-colored glasses, to think that real Communists have an interest in the welfare of the individual. Every other interest than absolute loyalty to the party is for them unthinkable; absolute slave-like obedience to the party is their only interest. Any pity, any interest for anything which would contradict, or in any way even harm the party, is looked on as wrong, as a weakness not to be tolerated. Whoever thinks that we could have an objective dialogue with a convinced Communist, and that the Communist would consider what we say from the point of view of truth, betrays great ignorance as to the nature of Communism. But of course one could vote with the Communists of a country for building for instance a highway, or one could vote in the United Nations with a Communist country like China against Russia on some question, or vice versa. But it is a sheer illusion to imagine that a common basis of fundamental agreement could be found with Communists for a humanitarian improvement of the world even with regard to quite external material goods. 71

But what is much more important in our context is the false but widespread notion of humanization. In this notion one often identifies basic material improvements in the life of the individual (such as the absence of war) with the full natural development of the person and his true earthly happiness.

Now it is true that real humanization includes struggling against the systematic depersonalization and dehumanization which dominate today's world. We have already discussed this in detail in speaking of the illusion of progress in the modern world. The struggle against dehumanization includes especially the struggle against collectivism, against all illegitimate modes of influence (such as brain-washing), against any totalitarian intervention by the state, against the destruction of organic forms of human life and community, as well as of the intimate sphere of the individual person, against the tendency to make everything uniform, against impurity, and shamelessness. How can we work for this humanization with men who neither believe in Christ, nor recognize Christian morality? How can we work with atheists towards this true humanization of the world we should rather say re-humanization? We are not thinking here just of Marxist atheists for then it would be absurd even to pose this question at all.

Even prescinding from Marxism, the notion of atheism remains very ambiguous. By an atheist we could mean a man who has not yet found God, but who would be happy if he could believe in God. Or we could mean the very different type of man who cannot stand the idea of the living God, who would say with Dietrich Kerler, “Even if you could prove mathematically that God exists, I would still not want Him to exist since He would limit my own metaphysical stature.” With this latter type, who prefers that there be no God, it is clearly impossible to work together toward the real humanization of mankind even from a natural point of view. If someone in no way realizes the transcendence of man, that man is created for something beyond himself (such was the view of Diderot, who said that there is nothing greater for man than man), and even more if someone feels his pride to be especially satisfied by his atheism, then he is simply incapable of understanding the real nature of man, the sources of true happiness, or the evil of depersonalization. It would be an extremely naive illusion to want to work with such men towards authentic humanization. There can be no cooperation with a Nietzsche in working towards humanization.

Of course there are certain individual matters on which we can work with those atheists who are really searching for God, who would be happy if they could believe in God, who recognize the transcendence of man, and who suffer under their inability to find an object for man's metaphysical drive to transcend himself. But all those atheists who replace God with “mankind” or the “totality” have already distorted man's real transcendence. Precisely with such persons it is utterly impossible to cooperate in working toward true humanization. In place of man's transcendence they have put a distortion of the individual person, a pseudo-courage, which as we saw satisfies man's pride by making him feel that he is a part of a larger whole. But even with “tragic” atheists I would call them searching atheists the cooperation which is possible in working for true humanization is very limited.

But if we turn to a Socrates, who could never be called an atheist, then there would be a broad field of possible cooperation; yet as we will see now, Socrates is no longer possible today.

Unlike purely external welfare, real humanization can never be attained by external means such as laws of the state. It demands instead thorough education, deep changes in attitudes toward life, a rediscovery of the true sources of human happiness. And at this point the question must be raised: is such a deep cure of mankind for the terrible depersonalization of our time is a grave disease possible at all without Christ? Can an unredeemed mankind overcome this disease? Does this not require the help of grace? Has one forgotten the reality of the fall of man? And of course we were speaking above only of a natural earthly humanization, and not of the fulfilment of the real destiny of man which lies in glorifying God by personal holiness, and in attaining to eternal happiness. But even if we limit ourselves to the question of a cure on the purely natural level for that depersonalization which is spreading today, we have to ask whether this is possible without Christ, without the new principle of supernatural life which we receive in baptism, without the true moral teaching of the Church.

Here we touch upon the great question of whether the natural watchful waiting of mankind before the coming of Christ, is still possible after He has come? Is a Socrates still possible today? Is this high natural humanity still possible today after Christ has illuminated the world with a completely new light? “He who is not with me is against me”: Socrates did not yet face this alternative. Can we hope today to attain even a natural rehumanization without Christ? (Kierkegaard has expressed all this in distinguishing between the pagan and the apostate.) It is in this light that the question  ‹‹‹ One page missing ›››


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