Friday, August 02, 2013

An Atheist Discovers the "God Beyond God"

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I am Plying for time while I seek to come up with better answers for Dave on his describe the Gospel challenge. I came across this stuff which is tangential to some of the problems of standardized symbols and meaning. It might good to reflect on some of this in thinking about that challenge.
I came across an interesting article by Marlene Winellon the atheist blog "Debunking Christianity. This person is a therapist of some kind. Her profile says that she offers therapy to those traumatized by religion. What I find interesting about this that her statement about the alternative to religious belief that she has found for her own personal world view is none other than Paul Tillich's notion of The ground of being! this is in fact my very understanding of God!

Winell indicates some basic misunderstanding about theology. In her statement she tries to attack religion. Although, this is not meant to be an attack. I can see some value in her attempts to help traumatized ex fundie s move forward in their lives. I do think religion can be very debilitating if it is not done right. Half truth is a very powerful weapon. But in making these theolgoical mistakes Winell is contributing to the half truth. The half truth of which I spoke is that of the fundamentalists, the way they distort the Gospel. Windell says:

Thursday, November 01, 2007

I keep getting asked, So Do You Believe in God?
So do you believe in God?

As a therapist working to help people recover from the damage of religion, I get this frequently. So I’ve decided to make a better effort to reply. To be honest, I don’t like the question because it presumes we know what those words mean. Here are some responses, touching on more or less serious aspects of the topic.

Yes I think I know what the words mean. She further demontrates lack of understanding in the nature of God in terms of necessity and contingency.

1. Which god? Do you mean Zeus, Baal, Athena, Shiva, Allah, Jehovah, or some other? If you mean one of those, then no. I am not a theist. I don’t believe in an individual being that created and now controls the world.

When people say things like this, which ;God, as though they are all so much alike, I see a read flag. It usually means a lack of theological sophistication. The similarity is in the metaphor suggested by ancient concepts of suzerain authority, the big man on a throne,t he ruler the potentate. That's a literary metaphor and that's where the similarity ends. The God of the Bible is totally different from these other little human figures because they are contingent.
They had parents. Zeus was the son of Saturn (Chronos in Greek set up). Athena was the daughter of Zeus and sprang from his head fully grown. Allah is the same God as the God of the Bible the Muslims just think he wants different things. that's not an argument about how he is, except they literaize the metaphor and just make him the real guy in the sky. Of course Jahova is the corrupted name of the God of the Bible. So clearly she doesn't understand the Christian concept of God. Like so many atheists they just take the literal version as the whole thing. This means basically that atheists are fundamentalists. Then she does something staggering. I really can't understand this, she denies that belief itself is an intelligible concept.

2. What is belief? Is it a cognitive conclusion that I have reached basic on logical consideration of evidence? That would assume I have access to all the information, and I do not. Is it an emotional feeling for something beyond myself? Well, my emotions vary, and some days are hopeful, other days are dark. Emotions are a rocky basis for “belief.” Do I make a leap of faith, not knowing anything really, but simply wanting to “believe,” and putting stock in a “scripture” to give it support? This is also difficult because knowing about the origins of “scripture,” I know the complexity; they were not simply dictated. Also, the strength of my blind faith can also vary and I’m not sure how completely I am supposed to convince myself in order to say I “believe.”

Here we see the typical atheist conception of faith; just blind leap into the darkness with no evidence. We really need to talk about this some time. These people have have just got to start looking thing up. The proper source to use would be Westminster Dictionary of Christian theology. You would not use a refrigeration manuel to define automotive standards or weighs and measures for agriculture, so you would not use a popular dictionary to understand theology. You would use the dictionary made by theologians to explain the way theologians use their specialized terms. See my recent blog piece on Faith is not belief without reason.
After questioning the concept of belief as a coherent concept she then speaks of what passes for belief, and for God, in her world view.

4. If I must use the concept at all, I would equate it with the “nature of being.” This is close to “ground of being,” a phrase coined by John Robinson many years ago in Honest to God. For me it involves a perception of existence grounded in the profound science of modern physics. Most ordinary people do not know much about this. Yet, we now know from findings in both relativity theory and quantum physics, that the universe is much more strange and incredible than we ever realized. It calls for massive humility because there are things no one understands, yet we now have good reason to question all of our basic assumptions about “reality.” The difference is bigger than finding out the world is not flat. We have evidence for questioning our ideas about matter, linear time, cause and effect, and more. String theorists agree there are eleven dimensions. Yet the general population operates all day every day assuming things that are completely out of date. The knowledge has not reached the masses. This is akin to having everyone act as if the earth is still flat. The issues are intensely profound, with implications for everything we do. The big words for me are “mystery” and “possibility.” Feelings are humility, awe, and excitement. There is no religious description of “god” that matches the grandeur of the universe as it is – elusive, ever-changing, impossibly mind-boggling. And this includes us. We are part of the fabric; there is no separation. If this is believing in god, then by all means, a hundred times YES! But I’m still not drawn to the language.

First of all, John Robinson did not coin the term "Being itself." It is found as far back as the intertestamental translating of Exodus by the Rabbis who produced the LXX. In Exodus 3, 11-21 they translate the phrase often rendered "I am that i am" in English bibles, as "I am the being." Since the definite article (ego o' ami) carries a sense of quality when used in this way, "I am being " or I am being itself is the best translation. By the way John 1:1 should be translated "the word was deity" not "the word was the God." The concept is picked up by John of Damascus in the eighth century AD. Robinson got it from Tillich, it is also used by Ware in The Orthodox church to describe Eastern Orthodox beliefs about God, and John MacQuerry uses it extensively.
Secondly her tak about knowing beyond langauge is just coming out of Christian mysticism. People are seeking God like it or not. She is a believe in Gdo even though she doesn't know God, ust as Paul said of the Athenians in Acts 17: 11-21.
She quotes a couple of notables to back up her view:

A couple of quotes that I find consistent with this:

“How is it that hardly any major religion has looked at science and concluded, ‘This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant’? Instead they say, ‘No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way.’ A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths.”`
-Carl Sagan

The actual fact is that atheists have stunted their spiritual growth. they tend not to understand Christian views at the higher level of sophistication. Of course its hardly their fault. liberal theology gets almost no air play, one never sees clearly references to it and even on PBS they give it short shrift. There are concepts by Christian thinkers which dwarf anything short of Einstein Process theology certainly is as sophisticated s anything Sagan ever thought about. Greater scientists than him have been Christians, even in the modern age.

“I do not believe in a personal God and I have never denied this but have expressed it clearly. If something is in me which can be called religious then it is the unbounded admiration for the structure of the world so far as our science can reveal it.”
-Albert Einstein

He was wrong about the uncertantainty princple too.
We need to be careful that in our attempts to move beyond the traumatizing aspects of our lives that we don't miss the valuable things. I was traumatized by my fundamentalist environment as a child. I think it caused no end of problems for me. I think the "sucky" parts of my personality can be traced to that era of my life. I and my brother used to stand up in church and lead singing, or help. we really weren't we were jut waving our arms, people thought it was cute and encouraged us. They would go "good job leading sining today." One day I thought "I think I'll preach the sermon today." I stood up, faced the guy sitting right behind me, (I was about five or four) looked him in the eye and shouted "You are going to hell!" He was horrified and didn't know what to thin.. I will never forget the look on that guy's face. As "luck" or "fate" or god whatever would have it, he was a visitor so he didn't know about the two little twins leading sining and how everyone encouraged us. What's interesting about that is that acting out my idea of what a sermon was I immediately went right ot the condemnation and threats of hell. Now no preacher had actually done that in our church. How did I know to do it? I probably saw something on tv, but it fit the mentality of the church.
My point is I can understand the problem with religion. I have more air curling stories than that that I could tell. One thumbnail example, I once dreamed that I was at one of the old churches we went to when I was in high school int he dream it was a center of satan worship. In another dream of the same era the little religious private school I attended in eighth and ninth grades was ran by a secret cult of vampires where sucking the kids blood. That might give an idea of ho these places affected me. Yet, I found healing when I found Jesus. My solution to the bad religious experince was to have good religious experiences.

Not only does Winell throw the babby out she watns to kill the whole concept of God.

5. Dispensing with the “god” word, it makes a little more sense for me to address “spirituality,” although this word has often meant a focus on other-worldly things. I prefer to describe spirituality as a way of living which is here-and-now. These are attributes rather than a definition. They involve feelings and perceptions and experiences which depend on openness. This openness can be chosen and developed. Rather than escaping into a different realm, I think of spirituality in terms of how we live our lives – the choices, the consciousness, the texture of daily life. There are several aspects of this:

I don't totally disagree there. But the interesting thing is she wants to do away with the term "God" and yet her alternative to it is the more sophisticated concept of God that is less known, but no less Christian. The idea that the reality of God is beyond words and must be explored experimentally is hardly new in Christian thought, ti is the stuff of which Christian mysticism is made. The idea that the reality of God is something beyond our cultural constructs of God is explored by Tillich in his book The Courage to Be, in the chapter "The God beyond God." I highly recomend it.


Dave said...

I can appreciate where she is coming from, and with time, some increased cross-cultural, historical, and theological literacy, she might find herself where I am now, which is more sympathetic to religion but still largely unable to engage with it do to lack of faith. Although it sounds like she might actually be ahead of me in the faith column (which isn't hard since I am sitting at zero).

BTW, you planning to read the new book on the historical Jesus that's been making waves in the news because of the uproar by the fundamentalists? Here's an excerpt from the opening.

Metacrock said...

The important to note is that with the M scale when they take away the names the descriptions of experience are the same and reactions are the same weather atheist or Christian or any other religion.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Good post, hardly pushed any of my buttons. ;-)

In regards to removing the names: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet"

Metacrock said...

Thanks Mike. that's a great comment.

Mike aka MonolithTMA said...

Even a blind squirrel finds an acorn every now and then. ;-)

Metacrock said...

LOL ;-)