Stephen Strehle is a leading scholar of church/state issues. In this volume, he focuses his rigorous historical analysis and philosophical acumen upon a topic of great interest today and source of cultural wars around the globe—the process of secularization. The book starts with a discussion of early capitalism and how it saw the real world functioning well-enough on its own principles of individual struggle and self-interest, without needing religious or moral principles to meddle in its affairs and eventually dispelling the need for any intelligent design or providential orchestration of life through the work of Darwin. The book then discusses the growth of the secular point of view: how historians dismissed the impact of religion in developing modern culture, how scientists conceived of the universe running on self-sufficient or mechanistic principles, and how people no longer looked to the providential hand of God to explain their suffering. The book ends with a discussion of how the Deist concept of human autonomy became a political policy in America through Jefferson’s concept of a wall of separation between church and state and how the US Supreme Court proceeded to dismiss the importance of religion in shaping or justifying the values of the nation and its laws. The book is accessible to most upper-level and graduate students in a wide-variety of disciplines, keeping technical and foreign words to a minimum and leaving scholarly details or debates to its extensive notes.
Chapter Five: Innocent Suffering
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Atheism often develops as a reaction to the inexplicable nature of evil or suffering in the world. The problem of evil hits people on an existential and visceral level, where life has brought a great deal of pain to those experiencing continuous suffering, meaningless toil, and unanswered prayers. Epicurus receives credit for providing the classical formulation of the problem by finding the presence of evil incompatible with a divine reality claiming to be good and all-powerful.1 The presence of evil demonstrates that power and goodness have no ultimate ontological reality in a single being; otherwise, evil would be eliminated. Modern atheists like Bertrand Russell accept this argument and experience dark moments when they draw out the consequences for humankind with brutal logic.2
Brief and powerless is man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark. Blind to good and evil, reckless to destruction, omnipotent matter rolls on its relentless way.… That man is the product of causes which had no prevision of the end they were achieving; that his origin, his growth, his hopes and fears, his loves and his beliefs, are but the outcome of accidental collocations of atoms; that no fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought and feeling, can preserve an individual life beyond the grave; that all the labors of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of...
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