Tell Me About the God You Don't Believe In


As Marcus Borg likes to say in response to those who don't believe in God--tell me about the God you don't believe in, and I probably don't believe in that God either. The following quote, taken from a column written by Daniel O'Rourke for the Dunkirk New York Observer, reflects a similar sentiment:

Proponents of atheism seem to take as a given an anthropomorphic god, which sees god as a super human patriarch. This god, of course, is almost always male and upstairs somewhere. The Greek Philosopher Xenophanes, however, observed long ago, “If horses had gods, their gods would look like horses.” It is not surprising then that humans make their gods sound and look human. Indeed we call them father, son, mother-father, but their projected human likeness doesn’t end there. Many churchgoers believe in — and therefore atheists deny — a god who gets angry, seeks revenge, punishes his enemies and rewards his friends. Many theists, however, don’t believe in such a petty, human-like god.

Some theists have a subtler, more spiritual, more universal idea of the Mystery. God isn’t “up there” at all; He/She/It (the pronouns never work) is down here: in nature, in us, in relationships. Theologians call this panentheism. Not pantheism, but panENtheism. God is IN everything or better: everything is in God.

The professional atheists, however, ignore panentheism and focus their arguments against the more common acknowledged super human deity. They set up a straw man (a straw god?) and then dismantle “him” with their arguments.
As Daniel O'Rourke points out, their basic argument is that "if god is all-powerful and all loving, how can “he” allow" the various evils of the world. And most of these militantly hostile atheists allow themselves to be woefully ignorant of the variety of thinking that exists about the nature of God. That is probably why most of them never bother to mention people like Marcus Borg, since his theology doesn't fit into their nice, neat stereotype of what God is about.


Andrew said...

I think the atheist response is simply the antithesis of the human god. As much as humans may make their God reflect them. Atheists reject God based on the fact that his reactions AREN'T human reactions. If "I" were God, I would stop 9/11s, abuse, hunger, etc. At some levels, I think it is silly and perhaps arrogant to either design a god that looks like you, or conversely, reject god because he doesn't act like you. In each case, the universe must play according to MY rules, or as Cartman says "Screw you guys, I'm going home."

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

The New Atheist "theology" is so narrowly constructed that only the most bigoted and narrow of religionists abide by it. But for some reason it works -- the answer it would seem would be to start speaking up, which many of us are starting to do -- offering an alternative vision. By the way, check out Eric Elnes "Asphalt Jesus," (Jossey Bass) -- I'm reading it and finding it very helpful!

salient said...

God is in everything? What kind of meaningless drivel is this? You go to church to worship and obey everything including feces and prions?

This is merely another lame theistic ploy by which to insist that there is some kind of god, any kind of god, somewhere and everywhere, that theists can believe in because theists *must* believe in something.

You are actually talking about worshiping *nature* because it is the physical world of nature that is ubiquitous--and which inconveniently guarantees that there is nothing after physical death. Nature does not need pastors. The true theologists, by your Spinozan definition, are scientists, and I very much doubt that you comprehend much science.

The mere fact that theists have been forced into such a meaningless retreat indicates that at some deep level acknowledged in exhortations to 'have faith in that for which there is no evidence', theists know that their conceptualizations are empty and the emperor is stark naked.

You are incorrect about the "New Atheist" conception of god. The chief concept that is rejected is that of supernatural explanations upon which the dangerous edifice of deistic and theistic delusion is based. Of course, atheists should never have bothered to become vocal about atheism were it not for all the religionist damage to education, logic, morality, and society.

Religion may provide the illusion of comfort, but to believe that a 'god' that is in everything cares one whit about your behavior or your afterlife is utterly ridiculous, and *those* are the reasons that the religiously needy flock to churches, synagogues, temples, and mosques.

Mystical Seeker said...

Andrew, I agree with you that it is arrogant to anthropomorphize God-- and yet, in some sense it is probably very easy to fall into that habit. That gets back to the "if horses had Gods" idea. We have to somehow make sense of the infinite to the best of our ability, and in so doing, we often end up expecting God to be like us. Maybe it takes self-conscious effort to try to avoid that as much as possible. But by the same token maybe there is also value in the metaphors we use for God.

Bob, thanks for the book recommendation.

Unknown said...

I know this is old and you may never see it, but I thought I'd try. I was raised atheist. I truly believed there was no god or divinity. I never experienced either until I was in my early 20s.

I had to search years and years for my spirituality. I believe spirituality is essential to being a complete person. Ultimately my experiences in life led me to believe in a higher level of exsistence that I'm still hesitant to call god. I started reading more about eaten religions and low and behold their ideas are so similar to mine. That's when I really began to embrace my idea of divinity.

I now can say I believe in an all pervading divinity that is a part of everything and yet beyond everything. It has absolutely zero human qualities. It has no feelings, emotions, thoughts, ideas, or opinions. It just is. There is no afterlife, there is only the chance to experience divinity as a human. It is comforting to me the way the immensity of space is.

I am NOT religious, but I am very spiritual. These two are not the same thing.