The Positive Function of Atheism

  • Errol E. Harris
Part of the Tulane Studies in Philosophy book series (TUSP, volume 26)


‘Our age’, wrote Immanuel Kant ‘is indeed the age of criticism, to which everything must submit. Commonly religion seeks to exempt itself by virtue of its sanctity, and law by virtue of its majesty. But then they arouse justifiable suspicion against themselves and cannot claim that unfeigned respect which reason offers only to what has been able to withstand its free and open examination.’1 Uncritical belief is unregenerate religion not far removed from bigotry. Only the religion that survives criticism is worthy of our reverence. Such criticism takes several different forms. Historical and textual examination of the scriptures is one of them; philosophical analysis of the objects and contents of belief and of religious concepts is another; scientific criticism of cosmological myths and allegations of miraculous events is a third, and moral criticism of religious practices and precepts is a fourth.


Positive Function Christian Faith Final Satisfaction Moral Criticism Classless Society 
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  1. 1.
    Kritik der Reinen Vernunft, Preface to the first edition, vi, n.Google Scholar
  2. 1.
    Cf. R. G. Collingwood, Faith and Reason. (Ed. L. Rubinoff, Chicago, 1968) p. 144: ‘The defeat of superstition is a victory not only for reason but for faith too.’Google Scholar
  3. 1.
    Beyond Good and Evil, III, 46.Google Scholar
  4. 2.
    Cf. Thus Spake Zarathustra, I, Of Joy & Passion, Of War & Warriors, Of Friends; II, Of the Compassionate, Of three evils, Of Old and New Law-Tables, 10; IV, Of the Higher Men, 11.Google Scholar
  5. 1.
  6. 2.
    Cf. Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right. Google Scholar
  7. 1.
    Cf. Anti-Christ, §56 et seq. Google Scholar
  8. 1.
    Cf. Anti-Christ, §§39–45.Google Scholar
  9. 2.
    Cf. The Communist Manifesto. Google Scholar
  10. 3.
    Cf. The Future of an Illusion. Google Scholar
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    Cf. Nietzsche, Anti-Christ §56, and The Use and Abuse of History, in which Nietzsche himself advocated the noble lie. If Plato is rightly understood, however, the noble lie is not a lie at all.Google Scholar
  12. 1.
    It is hardly insignificant that, for all its professed atheism, the Marxist slogan is culled from the Scriptures. ‘If any would not work, neither shall he eat’ is Paul’s admonition to the Thessalonians.Google Scholar
  13. 1.
    The Future of an Illusion, §X.Google Scholar
  14. 2.
    Cf. Totem & Taboo §III and The Future of An Illusion §VI.Google Scholar
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    Cf. Hegel’s Philosophy of Nature, Tr. A. V. Miller (Oxford, 1970), p. 3.Google Scholar
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    Das Wesen des Christentums, Ch. I.Google Scholar
  17. 3.
    Ibid., Preface to the Second Edition.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Tulane University New Orleans 1977

Authors and Affiliations

  • Errol E. Harris

There are no affiliations available

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