Speaking of atheism…

February 6, 2013

In case you haven’t seen it, here is an entertaining song that Steve Martin has been singing with the Steep Canyon Rangers these days, called “Atheists don’t have no songs.”

Speaking of atheism…

In religious publications there has been a lot of buzz recently about the rise of atheism and agnosticism.  This is closely connected to those who have no affiliation with a religious community – now about 20% of the US population.  The most recent issue of The Mennonite cites the Religion News Service which notes that unbelief is now the world’s third-largest ‘religion,’ after Christianity and Islam.  About 1.1 billion people worldwide claim this identity of non-religion.

This doesn’t particularly bother me.

The whole idea of God as a Being that one may or may not believe in is itself a pretty bad idea.  The Judeo-Christian emphasis on the personal nature of God easily leads to the idea of God as a person, or a being, which easily leads to the idea of God as an object in the cosmos – which we may or may not choose to believe in.

Because we often speak of God as one who calls, acts, saves, delivers, creates, forgives, etc – God as a subject – we easily slip into the idea of God as an object, which gets us in dangerous territory.

Although this doesn’t apply across the board, my general read of the increase in those claiming atheism is that people are rejecting a particular image of God that people of faith would do well to also reject.  That is to say, atheists challenge the idolatry of making of God that which God is not.  This is an important and valuable challenge.

Rather than imagining God as a very large and powerful being – which one may or may not believe actually exists – some of the language that we may use to name God that rings more true to modern and post-modern ears might be: God as the Ground of Being, Being Itself, the depth dimension of reality, the personification of ultimate reality, Consciousness itself, or, to use more biblical language, the I Am.  Like all names for God these, of course, are still metaphors, and only evoke that of which they speak, rather than capturing its fullness.  But for all of them, the question of whether or not God exists doesn’t really make sense.  It’s kind of like asking whether or not existence exists.

The next time you meet someone who calls themselves an atheist, you may try asking them, “Tell me about this god you do not believe in.”  You may find them describing an understanding of god you yourself also reject.  And then the conversation could get interesting…

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