Although Henri de Lubac’s The Drama of Atheist Humanism is a work of nonfiction, he structured the work as a play. He analyzes the drama of atheist humanism in terms of conflicts between such philosophers as Friedrich Nietzsche and Søren Kierkegaard and between antitheist Auguste Comte and Christianity, the religion he opposed. Lubac resolves these conflicts through a person who, unlike the atheist humanists, was not a philosopher but a novelist—Fyodor Dostoevski. This Russian Orthodox Christian used the teachings of Jesus Christ to assuage the alienation and sufferings of those trapped in a world seemingly without providential succor.

De Lubac structures his drama in three parts: “Atheist Humanism,” “Auguste Comte and Christianity,” and “Dostoevsky as Prophet.” He writes from the perspective of theocentric humanism, and this work can be seen as a meditation on these words from Genesis: “God made man in his own image and likeness.” The humanism in the book’s title refers not to the Renaissance literary movement that emphasized freedom and tolerance but to a modern movement that makes human nature the measure of all things. Atheist humanists excised the transcendental God from their thinking to free humans from religious shackles and thus to establish genuine human greatness. However, by excluding God from their analysis of the human being, these atheist humanists denied what de Lubac believes is a human being’s spiritual nature and immortal destiny.

Two German thinkers, Ludwig Feuerbach and Friedrich Nietzsche, are de Lubac’s primary examples of antitheist humanists (neither liked to be called an atheist). Feuerbach, who argued that God was nothing but a mental projection or idealized abstraction, wanted to create a new religion based not on God but on the human being. He once stated that all his works were based on the idea that humans must have faith in themselves. Karl Marx, the creator of the modern communist movement, was critical of Feuerbach’s new religion and wanted to replace it with a science of the historical development of actual human beings. Nietzsche, too, was critical of Feuerbach, believing that God’s death must be passionately claimed so that he and other heroic individuals could become fully human.

Nietzsche’s emphasis on existential humans as specific individuals in a...

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Sources for Further Study

Balthasar, Hans Urs von. The Theology of Henri de Lubac: An Overview. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1991. Balthasar, a former student of de Lubac who became a prominent theologian, analyzes his teacher’s principal works to show how they insightfully present the truths of Catholicism to contemporary readers.

Hollenbach, David. The Global Face of Public Faith: Politics, Human Rights, and Christian Ethics. Washington, D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2003. An exploration of the relationship between humanism and Christian belief, a theme that concerned de Lubac, with an emphasis on the role that Christian ethics should play in the discussion about what constitutes a good global society.

Lubac, Henri de. At the Service of the Church: Henri de Lubac Reflects on the Circumstances That Occasioned His Writings. San Francisco: Communio Books, 1993. This memoir, originally published in French in 1989, contains de Lubac’s explanation of the provenance, meaning, and influence of his books along with compassionate responses to his critics.

Milbank, John. The Suspended Middle: Henri de Lubac and the Debate Concerning the Supernatural. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2005. A brief study of an important theme in de Lubac’s writings by one of his British disciples.