GOD AND RELIGION

Mons. George Frendo O.P.

For some years I have given a course on contemporary atheism. So I was quite familiar with the writings of Jean Paul Sartre, a French existentialist, and those of Anthony Flew, a British humanist. Both were staunch, militant atheists. For this reason I was really surprised when later on I read about a U-turn concerning their view on belief in God’s existence.

In March 1980, about a month before his death, Jean Paul Sartre was reported to have confessed to his friend Pierre Victor: “I do not feel that I am a product of chance, a speck of dust in the universe, but someone who was expected, prepared, prefigured. In short, a being whom only a Creator could put here; and this idea of a creating hand refers to God”. Some years before he had already told his lover, the renowned feminist Simone de Beauvoir, that at times he saw himself “as a being that could only come from a Creator”.

Another staunch and outspoken atheist was the British philosopher Anthony Flew. He dismayed his atheist friends when, in 2004, he announced that God probably did exist. Later on, he wrote the book entitled: “There is a God: How the World’s most Notorious Atheist changed his Mind”. In this book he gives four reasons why he now believed in the existence of “a self-existent, immutable, immaterial, omnipotent and omniscient Being”.

One of the greatest paradoxes of contemporary society is the strange fact that, in such a secularized world, we are becoming ever more aware of the role of religion in society. Grace Davie, professor of Sociology of Religion at the University of Exeter, stated that to overlook religion amounts to underestimating human life itself. Indeed, religion penetrates all spheres of human life. It was Grace Davie who coined the phrase “believing without belonging”, by which she meant that although religious practice, like Church attendance, is dwindling, however this does not mean that people have become non-believers.

In a Symposium organized by the European Union in Brussels in November 2001 she made this interesting observation: “If you are present in or read about European societies, or Europe as a whole, at a time when the normalities of life are stripped away” you will see that “something unthinkable, unimaginable has happened. The 11th September, is a good example. But to stick to a purely European illustration, the best one I think is what happened in Sweden, supposedly the most secular society in Europe, or indeed in the world, when the Baltic ferry, the Estonia, sank. Where did the Swedish people go? Straight to their churches. They expected them to be there, they expected the Archbishop to articulate on their behalf the meaning of that terrible event”.

In the same Symposium, Gerhard Robbers, professor of European Constitutional Law at Trier University, stated: “Religion is an all-pervasive phenomenon that traverses all circumstances in our lives… Giving Europe a soul means showing Europe where its goals are”. May I remind you that it was Jacques Delors who, as President of the European Commission, in the 1980’s had spoken of the need to give Europe “a soul”.

Almost sixty years ago, Christopher Dawson wrote: “The great civilizations of the world do not produce the great religions as a kind of by-product; in a very real sense, the great religions are the foundations on which the great civilizations rest. A society that has lost its religion becomes, sooner or later, a society that has lost its culture”.

No one, not even the most militant anti-theists like Enver Hoxha, could eradicate man’s spiritual yearning for God. Man cannot deny God without, at the same time, denying himself. An authentic religion teaches us how to construct a world order more worthy for mankind to live in./ argumentum.al