An Atheist Who Believes In God (Part 2)

Photo Credit: gabrielsaldana via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: gabrielsaldana via Compfight cc

Click here to read part 1.

Last week, I discussed how the word “atheist” can mean different things to different people. It could refer to degrees of unbelief like strong or weak atheists. It could refer to one’s activity — like an anti-theist who actively promotes atheism and puts down theism, and so on. The point here being that someone calling himself an atheist may mean one thing while other people who hear the pronouncement may have another idea in their heads of what an atheist is.

The same can be said for the word “God” which can also mean different things for different people.

Many of the ancients believed in a pantheon of Gods. There was a God or Goddess for different kinds of phenomena or domain. Hence we read of a God of Thunder, a Goddess of Beauty, a Goddess of War, or a God of Death.

For Christians, Muslims, Jews or almost any monotheistic religion, God is the Creator, the Supreme Being. He is perfect, eternal, omnipresent and omniscient. They also believe that God intervenes in worldly affairs. Prayers can move him to act in certain ways, and he acts as the final judge and arbiter of one’s fate when one dies.

For some such as pantheists, God is not separate at all from creation but lives in and through every being. Everyone and everything is a different surface in the infinitely-faceted gem called God.

For others, God is simply a state of being, an attainment of perfection or what buddhists call Nirvana. It is as if a drop returns to the ocean or a part once again becoming whole.

Now I consider myself an atheist if God were defined according to the first two descriptions I outlined above. While I do not say that I am sure there is no God (of that sort), I live my life as if there were none. I do not depend on prayers. I recognize that bad things happen even to good people, and that’s just how life is. You work hard and strive hard, and sometimes you get lucky and win the jackpot of life.

I don’t believe there’s a guy up there keeping a scorecard or a record of your deeds, then giving you a pass or fail mark at the end of your life. Yes, with respect to that, you can call me an atheist.

However, of the latter definitions of God, I cannot really say anything against them. Perhaps because they render the point of belief moot. If I am a facet of God, what would it matter if I believed in God? And if God were a mystery, what is the point of striving to understand? The more important thing would be to live a life worth living, because, well, what else can you do?

I believe that if there were a God, then he, she or it would be a mystery too deep to be fathomed by our minds. Any attempts to describe or define him fall short. It is like using a thermometer to measure what shade of red a wall is. It is like trying to describe to someone what a rose smells like, or trying to describe what a green mango tastes like. Yes, it’s sour, but is it sour like vinegar? Nope. Is it sour like a lemon? Not that too. We simply do not have the proper instrument nor words to adequately express the experience.

So saying that I am an atheist who believes in God is a way of nudging the reader into looking past the obvious paradox and thinking about what the words really mean, to fight the initial impulse to consider it nonsense (although many still will do that), and to do your own reflection.

Some eastern mystics describe the dynamic between God and creation as dancer and dance. When you look at the dance, you are also looking at the dancer. They are forever intertwined. When the dancer stops, there is no dance to speak of.

I don’t know why but this is an image of God that I find endearing.

 

Originally published in Sunstar Davao.

Email me at andy@freethinking.me. View previous articles at www.freethinking.me.

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5 thoughts on “An Atheist Who Believes In God (Part 2)”

  1. ‘Ano ba talaga kuya.’

    You say “the word “atheist” can mean different things to different people… atheist may mean one thing while other people… may have another idea.”— But this is quite misleading actually. While there may be differences in terms of “degrees of unbelief” or “activity” as you say, in terms of belief in God (however you want to cut God—monotheist, pantheist, panentheist, deist) an atheist, well, is an Atheist—he/she does not believe in some transcendent reality/power above and beyond the universe that we know empirically.

    “The same can be said for the word “God” which can also mean different things for different people.”— Well yes of course, but notice “God” is, well, “God”—however you may want to cut God to be.

    “For some such as pantheists, God is not separate at all from creation but lives in and through every being.” – Not quite. This is more the panENtheist (pan/pas [all, every, everything], en [preposition, in], theos [God]) position; not pantheist.

    “For others, God is simply a state of being, an attainment of perfection or what buddhists call Nirvana. It is as if a drop returns to the ocean or a part once again becoming whole.” – This confuses Buddhist Nirvana with the Hindu Brahman. Also, the Buddha himself was quite apathetic toward the notion of God. To him the question of God was irrelevant in the pursuit of Nirvana. And the notion of Nirvana as the “attainment of perfection” is more a Western distortion of the original Buddhist doctrine. Buddhist scholars say that Nirvana is indescribable and indefinable. The word itself (nibbana) means “to blow out” or “to extinguish,” what? well, basically existence—personal, individual existence—as we humans know it. In Buddhism there is no continuing self (anatta) that attains “perfection” and experiences eternal bliss.

    “Now I consider myself an atheist if God were defined according to the first two descriptions I outlined above.” – So you’re an ATHEIST.
    “While I do not say that I am sure there is no God (of that sort),” – So you’re an AGNOSTIC.
    “I live my life as if there were none.” – So you’re a PRACTICAL ATHEIST.

    Ano ba talaga kuya.

    “I don’t believe there’s a guy up there keeping a scorecard or a record of your deeds, then giving you a pass or fail mark at the end of your life. Yes, with respect to that, you can call me an atheist.”

    I’d like to extend the implications of this thought, see if you agree with it: “I don’t believe there’s a guy up there… who is outraged at a Hitler who murders 6 to 7 million people, or a Stalin who butchers 30 million of his own people, or a Mao who annihilates 40 million of his fellow Chinese, or religious nuts who fly planes into buildings or blow themselves up along with the innocent, or for the drug crazed maniac who rapes a 3 year old girl and decapitates her afterward. Nope, no one up there cares. Nada.”

    Would you agree Andy? Tracking your logic, you have to—indeed MUST—agree. I know YOU care, you care a whole lot. Isn’t it strange that the things you (and most people in the world) care deeply about in life do not reflect the true nature of your conceived reality? And that this “caring” thing is really, in your world, just a fiction concocted by biological adaptation.

    “of the latter definitions of God (pantheist-monist), I cannot really say anything against them… eastern mystics describe the dynamic between God and creation as dancer and dance…. They are forever intertwined… I don’t know why but this is an image of God that I find endearing.”

    For someone who professes to be passionate about rationality and logic, this is not a little strange. You see, Eastern thought and mysticism tends to dismiss the Western infatuation for reason and logic. For the Hindu, ultimate reality is Brahman, this indefinable, indescribable, ungraspable “it” (while the world that we experience is maya—illusion). Same with the Buddhist Nirvana (life as we know it, with all its desires, attaches us to the impermanent and illusory). Same with the New Age idea of a pantheist-monist reality. In fact for these traditions, critical reason and logic often get in the way of true enlightenment. They say, if you want to tap into ultimate reality you don’t do critical thinking and logical analysis, you go into a lotus position and say ‘OM’.

    “The more important thing would be to live a life worth living, because, well, what else can you do?” –Well, WHY should I live a life worth living? Do I really HAVE to? Do I OUGHT to? Sez who? WHAT is a “life worth living?” Isn’t it true that “worth” is really at the mercy of what the “liver” considers to be worth his while in this “nasty, brutish, and short” (Hobbes) stint on this infinitesimally small and insignificant planet? So you can choose to be a Mother Theresa, but you don’t really have to; you can also choose to be a Kim Jung Il (if you have the means), nobody really cares up there, right?

    “I believe that if there were a God, then he, she or it would be a mystery too deep to be fathomed by our minds. Any attempts to describe or define him fall short.” – I think this falls into the “LIAR PARADOX.” If what you’re saying here is true then you would not and could not really know it, and you would not have any basis at all to make such an assertion (you are actually making a knowledge assertion here, i.e., you claim to know something about God that is a fact, that he is unknowable; thus the claim is incoherent). In relation to the mystery of God, I think the best you can say is that as humans we’re limited in our ability to grasp God (can the human mind grasp the reality of God, and to what degree, we do not know with any certainty).

    “We simply do not have the proper instrument nor words to adequately express the experience.” – True. Unless of course this God actually took the effort to reveal Himself, like, you know, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”?

    In conclusion, you started this project by noting that “quite a few people wondered how… I, who claim to be a lover of logic and reason, support such a statement,” that “it is possible for an atheist to believe in God.” Yes there is a serious basis for such a concern. You meander everywhere in the map of belief and belief systems, only to end by cozying up with pantheism (not atheism), being endeared by this mystical image of “God” that is really outside the bounds (even contrary?) of the very values you hold dear—logic and rationality. You say that this “God” and creation is “forever intertwined,” but creation includes both the beauty of a rose or a loving relationship, and those damnable unbelievable ugliness of those who butcher others without batting an eye. So is that too the dance of God? So will you step into the dance floor and dance away with the likes of a Ted Bundy and John Wayne Macy (not to mention those guilty of monstrous democide)? They’re just part of the “ISness” of creation, so they too are part of God, right?

    In Eastern/New Age mindset, all that happens in the world has its own purpose in the larger scheme of things; there is synchronicity, a reason for all things; each event is like a piece of the grand puzzle of the Oneness of all. The great Unity of All is accomplishing its own goal in the world, thru nature, and in human history; everything has its own proper place. Thus, for the enlightened mind, even Hitler and his Holocaust served its purpose for the grand scheme of Higher Reality. You cannot call Hitler and the Holocaust as evil.

    You may respond and say that this is preposterous—nobody actually believes this. Well, let me present to you Neale Donald
    Walsch, bestselling author of the series Conversations with God (available locally). In 1992 Walsch, somewhat a lost seeker, wrote angry notes to God. Then, he claims, “God” immediately responded via “inner voice.” The following conversation on good and evil followed:

    “God”: “So the first thing you have to understand—as I’ve already explained to you—is that Hitler didn’t hurt anyone. In a sense, he didn’t inflict suffering, he ended it… I tell you this, at the moment of your death you will realize the greatest freedom, the greatest peace, the greatest joy, and the greatest love you have ever known.”

    Walsch: Well, I’m going to have to ask the questions here that I know so many people are thinking and wanting to ask. How could a man like Hitler have gone to heaven? Every religion in the world. . . every one, has declared him condemned and sent straight to hell.

    “God”: “First, he could not have gone to hell because hell does not exist. Therefore, there is only one place left to which he could have gone. But that begs the question. The real issue is whether Hitler’s actions were “wrong.” Yet I have said over and over again that there is no “right” or “wrong” in the universe. A thing is not intrinsically right or wrong. A thing simply is.”

    “God”: “Now your thought that Hitler was a monster is based on the fact that he ordered the killing of millions of people, correct?”

    Walsch: “Obviously, yes.”

    “God”: “Yet what if I told you that what you call ‘death’ is the greatest thing that could happen to anyone—what then?”

    “I do not love ‘good’ more than I love ‘bad.’ Hitler went to heaven.”

    “The mistakes Hitler made did no harm or damage to those whose deaths he caused. Those souls were released from their earthly bondage, like butterflies emerging from a cocoon.”

    “So the first thing you have to understand—as I’ve already explained to you—is that Hitler didn’t hurt anyone. In a sense, he didn’t inflict suffering, he ended it.”

    This is Eastern/New Age spirituality pushed to its logical end. And thousands upon thousands get their spiritual inspiration from such spirituality! So would you dance along with this “God?”

    I definitely will not.

    Blessings

  2. Hi Bogs (as in Fr. Bogs?),

    Thanks for the lengthy and comprehensive comments to both articles. I’m sorry it took so long to respond as I’ve been swamped with work lately.

    Well, I can’t go point by point on what you said, but yeah, I understand what you’re saying and where you’re coming from as I have thought the same things myself.

    In those two articles, I was trying to achieve what Schaeffer was describing in his book, and that is to hold contradictions together, so yeah I was aware that I was making a lot of contradictions…but I did it anyway. I think the point is that I tend to sway this way and that way. Sometimes, I am more of this, and sometimes I think more of that.

    It’s interesting that you mentioned that bit about Walsch and that passage about Hitler as I’ve written about Walsch elsewhere and yes, I have read his books.

    Unlike you, however, I do get the point of that kind of spirituality “pushed to its logical end” as you say. Tony de Mello, your fellow Jesuit (if you are Fr. Bogs) said in one of his seminars, that a person who is “awake” realizes that, “All is right in the world. Yes, the world is a mess, and everything is all right.”

  3. Thank you, bogs, for responding so quickly and efficiently. It is refreshing to see such a logical progression of thought. I respect Andy and his search for truth, but some of his points and pitstops along the way have been baffling. I have been waiting for him to respond to many rebuttals, but most importantly, I have been waiting for his response to what went so wrong in his Christian walk to drive him to embrace the things he claims to be against. This very article points to it, he knows it, and admits to it. He may disagree with Christianity. He posits that it is illogical and only points to people that back his mindset. He alludes to ideas that demonstrates he could be wrong, rejects them with no explanation other than it did not convince him. At this point, even he has to admit that Christianity, although he says he rejects it, is much more logical (the very thing he claims to love) than he is. In several of his postings, he claims that he will follow whatever is most logical.
    Thanks again for the post.

  4. Hi Andy, thanks for the reply. Same here, inundated with, you know, life. So this will be a very short one. I’m not a ‘Father,’ by official Confession i’m not even Catholic. So bogs would do.

    Freethinking rebuttal, thanks for the nice comments about my thoughts. Obviously you’ve had more interactions with Andy, i can’t comment on that. I just deal with thoughts and ideas as i encounter them. But perhaps we’ll have fruitful dialogues in the future (as life permits).

    Blessings to you both.

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