the last fading smile of a Cheshire cat.' - Sir Julian Huxley.
I notice that more and more people are calling themselves atheists these days---unashamedly. Not that there should be any shame about the matter. Not at all. Yes, atheism is fine with me. You see, in most cases, these people have simply rejected silly, outmoded ideas or concepts of God which weren’t God in any event. After all, the word is never the thing, as Krishnamurti kept telling us. The good thing about giving up belief in God is that there is then a real chance you may find the real God---which is the very livingness, oneness and self-givingness of life itself.
I detest religious fundamentalists because they do terrible things to religion. They destroy it by imposing upon it a rigid ideology, that is, an artificial construct which was never part of the original teachings of the religion or its founder. They turn many people into atheists.
Now, it’s not that I am against atheists or atheism. Not at all. By traditional definitions of God, I am an atheist, and I am proud of what I achieved when I was president of both the Humanist Society of New South Wales and the Council of Australian Humanist Societies. I am proud that I debated---in no ordinary or amateurish way---several prominent Sydney Anglican clerics (including a couple of bishops), exposing what I saw---and still see---as the weaknesses in their Christian apologetics, not to mention the corrupt version of Christianity which they present. I also found a couple of these clerics hopelessly duplicitous and disingenuous. They thought it was quite OK to lie for the sake of Jesus (cf 1 Cor 9:19-23). For example, I would meet with my opponent before the debate, and we would 'agree'---at least I thought we had reached an agreement---on how to debate the particular topic (eg the existence of God or the physical resurrection of Jesus) and on definitions (eg 'God'). However, during the debate I would often find my 'Christian' opponent turning their back on what we had agreed upon previously. They were certainly 'as shrewd as snakes' but in no way 'as gentle as doves' (cf Mt 10:16).
The truth is I dislike Sydney Anglicanism immensely. I see it as a horrible perversion of Christianity. The ultra-evangelical Sydney diocese---'Anglo-Baptists' some call them---is something of a laughing-stock in the worldwide Anglican communion---and rightly so. Sadly, the Sydney Anglican diocese is the only one in Australia which is growing. That is, or should be, a real concern to all who value religious, political and intellectual freedom, freethought, liberal religion and the separation of church and state. Now, for many years I was active as a Freemason---a movement known for its religious naturalism and religious indifferentism---and once in the particular lodge to which I belonged I was discussing---over dinner---the subject of Sydney Anglicanism with another lodge member who was a devout high-church Anglican layman from a rural diocese. I said to the other Mason, 'You know, we're not suposed to be discussing religion in the lodge,' to which he replied, 'We're not. We're discussing Sydney Anglicanism.' I like that.
I mentioned above that, technically speaking, I am an atheist. Yes, that's true enough, but at times I have also referred to myself as being a panentheist, which I see as the noblest and most mature concept of God described in the New Testament. The essence of panentheism is this---God is in all things, and all things are in God, but not all things are God. Also, whilst all that is can be said in a fundamental sense to be God, that is not all that there is of God. God is still much bigger than the sum total of all that has its being in God, for God is Be-ing (or, if you like, Be-ness) itself. Now, you may not know this, but the Bible does not present just one concept or idea of God. In many ways, there is an evolving concept of God. We have the vengeful, tribal God of the ancient Hebrews---the God that does not really exist except in certain people's troubled minds---then there are images of an almost pantheistic God in, for example, the Psalms, then there's the near absence or 'eclipse' of God in books such as Ecclesiastes, and in the New Testament we get various more mature concepts of God---as Love, the Spirit of Life, and so on. Be all that as it may let it be known and widely celebrated that atheism (which refers to the absence---and not necessarily the denial---of theistic belief) is not, in itself, a bad thing and---at the risk ,of sounding patronising (which is not my intention)---it can even be a very good thing. Yes, positive atheism is, or at least can be, an inspiring, sensible and courageous philosophy and life stance. However, the ‘new atheists’ are dangerous people. They are fundamentalists, and they are militant.
First, the ‘new atheists’ are fundamentalists because:
• they are utterly convinced of the ‘fundamentals’ of their position and their arguments---which is the very essence of the wicked and scary ideology known as fundamentalism!
• their assertions all too often are a facile attack on a form or religious belief that we all hate and which, in any event, is a perversion and corruption of true religious belief
• they are all too often childishly unaware and ignorant of the true nature of world affairs, the latter ordinarily being much more complex than that espoused in their simple-minded two-dimensional worldview
• they demonise whole peoples, especially Muslims and evangelical Christians
• they are rigid, inflexible, dogmatic and----yes---narrow-minded in their thinking, for just as the Christian fundamentalist divides the world into the 'saved' (or 'churched') and the 'unsaved' (or 'unchurched'), so the fundamentalist atheist divides people up into the 'rational' and the 'irrational,' the 'enlightened' and the 'unenlightened' (the latter being those who believe in God as well as such things as fairies, elves and angels---they are always included as well, for the sake of ridicule), thus embracing a belief-system that is as puerile, intolerant, chauvinistic and bigoted as that of religious fundamentalists (whether Christian, Jewish, Islamic or otherwise)
• their approach is to ridicule, belittle and---as already mentioned---demonise
• they see only one truth – their version of 'rationalistic truth' – with all other values, worldviews and belief-systems being dismissed as mere 'fantasy' and 'superstition'
• just like Christian, Jewish and Islamic fundamentalists they impose upon sacred scripture an artificial construct, and a rigid ideology, that shows a complete ignorance of the Bible, the Qur’an and other sacred texts, and they cannot distinguish between religious myth and factual narrative
• like Christian fundamentalists, in particular, they are out to convert others to their point of view and posess an evangelical and obsessive zeal to proselytise
• they are simplistic, often naïve, and anti-intellectual, rejecting intellectual investigations into the true nature of religion, the various world religions, and the various reasons (social, cultural and otherwise) why people hold and maintain religious beliefs and views.
Secondly, the New Atheists are militant because:
• they are driven by a hatred and hostility toward any kind of religion ... without distinction
• they rightly attack a repugnant version of religion but use it to condemn all religion
• they blame God, or all religious people, for the sins of irrational religion and religious zealots
• they blame a ‘straw God’ for all the ills and evils in the world – for example, Dawkins self-servingly 'defines' the ‘God’ in which he disbelieves as follows: ‘He not only created the universe; he is a personal God dwelling in it, or perhaps outside it (whatever that might mean), possessing the unpleasantly human qualities to which I have alluded’ [emphasis added] – now, only a fool would believe in such a god!
• they generalise ad nauseam about religion, but they are, in fact, evangelists for their own peculiar form of secular religion, with a few of them even advocating the use of extreme violence (including murder) against certain religious extremists who they regard as being the enemies of civilization – these so-called enemies of civilization ‘should be beaten and killed and defeated, and I don’t make any apology for it’ (Christopher Hitchens).
The ‘new atheists’ are, as already mentioned, dangerous people. At times, they are totally irrational in their attacks upon religion and religious people. They tend to overstate their case. They often misunderstand the nature of religious faith. They are woefully ignorant of religion and theology, and they are fanatics---something which is always a worry. Some of them have even advocated the use of violence, even extreme violence, against other human beings.
So, who or what is God? Well, Fosdick pointed to the New Testament descriptions of God as both Love (cf 1 Jn 4:8) and Spirit (cf Jn 4:24), the latter referring to the very livingness of life itself, that is, the ground of being. I endorse those ideas. I also love the New Testament description of a God ‘in whom we live and move and have our being’ (Acts 17:28). Now, that is a very ‘big’ God indeed, but this is also true---in each one of us God lives and moves and has its being. That's why Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is within us (cf Lk 17:21). Great stuff. However, no matter how we conceive of God, the reality of God will always be so much bigger. Ultimately, God is Mystery---and not just a mystery.
There you have it. Life, Truth and Love---God, if you wish. Of course, there is so much sin, sickness, suffering and evil in the world---so much that it seems like there is no God at all. However, those who have a sensible understanding of God know that God is a verb---not a noun. God is something we do. The presence of so much sin, sickness, suffering and evil in the world is a constant everyday reminder to all of us, not that there is no God, but rather just how much 'God-ing' remains to be done---by you, me, and the rest of us. Yes, in the words of Fosdick quoted near the start of this post, 'we still have the universe on our hands' so let's all get on with the monumental task of being God to each other---and to our broken world.
Are you an atheist? If so, I am not trying to turn you into something else, let alone an orthodox heist---heaven forbid! We must reject all this nonsense that you have to believe in a conventional God in order to be a ‘moral’ and ‘decent’ (whatever that might mean) human being. That’s crap, but it’s the sort of crap regularly promulgated by the Christian churches which has helped produce the current lot of ‘new atheists’ and their many followers. It’s all rather sad---indeed, quite pathetic. However, until the mainstream Christian churches discover the real God of the Bible---the one I have referred to above---we will see more and more people identifying as atheists. That may not be a bad thing. At least in time we may see the death of mainstream Christianity (along with the other two major monotheistic religions), which would not, in my submission, be a bad thing, for out of the combined ashes there might arise, Phoenix-like, a new understanding of the All-in-all and of what it means to have one’s being in God. We can only hope---and pray.
LEADING ATHEIST SAM HARRIS ENDORSES MINDFULNESS AS RATIONAL SPIRITUALITY
MINDFULNESS---A VERY PRESENT HELP IN TROUBLE
THE DEATH OF PAUL KURTZ---FATHER OF SECULAR HUMANISM