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antitheist

Some of my best friends are atheists. God is with them. God is present where God’s name is never heard, and God does not affirm all that is done where God’s name is regularly pronounced.

Some people tell me, “I do not believe in God.” My response often is, “tell me about this “God” you do not believe in.” And when they do, very often I find the “God” they describe I do not and could not believe in either!

So atheists can be prophets, they can challenge the idol we call “God”. I want to work in partnership with all of good will, Christians, those of other faiths, agnostics, atheists, to make this a better place. My atheist friends work in partnership with me. Many challenge me by their altruism and generosity. Some people see Christianity as being about great rewards for limited loving investment. Well orthodox Christianity is not about rewards – it is about love for its own sake and life (in its fullness) is always a gift – not a reward.

But there is, increasingly, a new style of atheist. They do not want to work in partnership with good people of faith – they proclaim faith itself as evil and the source of most of the world’s evils. These are not simply atheists – they are antitheists. Theirs is an obsessive belief-position that they incessantly have a need to impose upon others. Their mindset is most comparable to the fundamentalists they constantly berate – not surprisingly: our enemy is a mirror to ourselves was an insight from Jesus. They do not address middle, moderate, thinking, caring Christianity, but rather ask the same questions that fundamentalists do – they just come up with different answers. They do not appear to pause to examine whether the questions themselves are at issue. Fundamentalists ask questions of the Bible and find God scary. Antitheists ask the same questions of the Bible and find God silly. Atheists often struggle to live with metaphor. So do fundamentalists.

bus

For more on the antitheist bus campaign click here. I generated the above advertisement incorporating the Biblical phrase “do not be afraid” which occurs at least 70 times in the Bible. My advertisement reworks the antitheist “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life”. As a qualified Mathematics and Science teacher I base my “probability that God is” on the anthropic principle – the low probability that the universe we live in exists by chance.

More than half of atheists deny evolution

A recent article in the Melbourne Age again highlighted the intellectual weakness of many claiming atheism. “24 per cent of Australians firmly believe there is no God, and 6 per cent are pretty sure.” Here’s the crunch: “Only 12 per cent believe Darwin’s theory of natural selection”. I would like to think that there are a few Australian theists who accept (I do not like “belief” applied to Science – I think it confuses things) Darwin’s theory. But, for argument’s sake, let’s pretend ALL Australian theists do not accept evolution. So: that would mean only half of Australia’s atheists accept evolution!

I agree with atheist, Guy Rundle, former editor of Arena magazine. He states the antitheist Dawkins-Hitchens version of atheism is ”the most shatteringly empty creed to come along for many a year”. It misses the point, he says, goes out of its way to hurl insults, misunderstands how belief systems work, uses straw man arguments and is boring because it ”takes the least sophisticated form of theism and beats it around the head”. It also fails to grapple with sophisticated theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth; and it is blind to the fact that, when science (quantum physics and cosmology) try to explain the origins of the universe, its materialist, atheist account is as mysterious and improbable as that of any religion. New atheism also, he says, refuses to concede that many people have feelings of transcendence that must be expressed.

From 12-14 March there is The 2010 Global Atheist Convention being held in Melbourne. I conclude by quoting from the Age article:

”All that Dawkins can offer is a revival of old-fashioned secular humanism, whose hopes and aspirations are summarised in John Lennon’s insipid 1971 composition Imagine,” theology professor Tom Frame wrote last year. Melbourne Catholic auxiliary archbishop Peter J. Elliott says the new atheism should be respected, and welcomed into dialogue, and could even play an important role in ”correcting religious fanaticism”, on which score ”many religious people would agree with them”. But he echoed the concerns of a number of religious people that this movement was in danger of becoming a faith in its own right. ”It’s when they slide into a kind of fundamentalism themselves, and become dogmatic, that’s when we have a problem with them.”

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12 Responses to antitheist

  1. I agree that the Dawkins-Hitchens version of atheism veers toward the creedal. A kind of creed that is empty and ignores the mystery of the universe that is awe inspiring to many scientists and non-scientists alike. Many of the atheists I know are fun to talk to about faith and, as you say, have taught me much about compassion and generosity. But then they are willing to have a dialog and Dawkins-Hitchens seem to want to hurl insults and dogmatism at you just like the religious right.

  2. Agree with so much of this!

    I really like atheists and find myself so often agreeing with what they dislike about religion. I am also suspicious of fundamentalists of any belief system. I don’t like aridity of thought and feeling. I think it lessens us as humans when we can’t see the beauty in other’s personal belief systems and understandings of all this complexity we live with.

  3. Well done!

    Evolution-accepting, panentheist here.

    Dr. Carl G. Jung had this phrase inscribed on the lintel of his home’s threshold, and on his tombstone:

    Vocatus atque non vocatus Deus aderit

    (Called even not called God is present, or perhaps more to the point, Bidden or not God is here).

    As ever, a great job of exposition and critique that remains charitable and constructive.

    Blessing on you Fr. Bosco.

  4. Hi. I find myself liking atheists, as opposed to anti-theists, a lot too. They are often the great detectors of inconsistency, hypocrisy in the institutional church. Often, the atheists are people who have thought deeply about religion, spirituality, and values. They are often people who care deeply about other people, about the world at large–and often, they are innately spiritually focused people who are disillusioned in some way by their experiences with religion. I actually find them much more of a kindred spirit than people who have never questioned or even closely examined the faith they were raised in.

    I also agree that the “new atheism” is not merely atheist, but anti-theist and anti-spiritual, and in their ridiculing those of us who find value in our faiths, their creed of anti-faith is similar to the people who are fundamentalists.

    I actually don’t understand this new crop of anti-theists. I can understand a lack of faith, certainly. I have gone through my own disillusionments with God and Christianity in my youth–and belong to a vastly different denomination than the one of my origins. And I have experienced the fervor of belief personally. But the active passion with which they are anti-faith is beyond my understanding. Why put so much energy into dissuading people from belief, with evangelical zeal? Why does it matter whether others believe? That–I just don’t get.

  5. http://firetex.multiply.com/
    I find this so refreshing. I come from a very small community in Canada. Many of the folks that I love dearly are elderly. There is an old saying, I am unsure who coined it, “What you live with you learn, what you learn you practice, what you practice you become.” And the dear folks fit into this catagory so very well. The elderly some times find it hard to change, especially if it is all they have ever known. This does not make them bad.
    It is a sad day when I can not learn from anyone. I think it is wonderful that you are able to have so many friends that are non belivers. I too have many friends of the same type.
    They say they do not believe in God, yet, most of them have the most wonderful hearts. I truly believe the most of these folks after talking with them, do not believe in Religion, rather than God, for many of them are closer to what Jesus wants for us than they realize.
    I am a Christian first and foremost, and I tell them it all boils down to this. Do not make it any more complicated. Love the Lord with all your heart mind and soul and love others as you would have them love you. The two great laws that Jesus gave us. If we do these two things, all the rest falls in place. It is perfect, just as Jesus is.
    I will be returning often, and I look forward to following your blog.
    In the love of Christ
    Tex

  6. I am one who is proud to be called an “anti-theist”.
    I used to refer to myself as an atheist, even though that accurately describes me, it is too vague: I am against the negatyive behaviour that is engendered by theism.
    That especially includes the more moderate type, which ignores or cheryy-picks from the fundamentals of their texts, yet by it’s flaccidness, camoflagues the more immediately destructive fundamentalists.
    You can believe what you wish to, but as soon as that manifests into negative behaviour, it becomes my business.
    Especially as most churches obtain automatic tax exemption for their rituals.
    Question: Do you advocate ritual infant genital mutilation?
    Yes or No?
    Do any of your Christian commenters advocate such a funcumentally depraved and evil practise?
    I can only hope for an honest response to this very simple enquiry, for I have not yet received one from a follower of any Abrahamic faith.

  7. Thank you Michael for your honesty in publicly declaring yourself an “antitheist”. Thank you also for your question which highlights how little effort appears to have gone into getting to your position. Circumcision (your “infant genital mutilation”) is a central issue in the New Testament – it is not possible to read through this primary Christian text without realising the importance of the debate that led to the abandonment of the requirement of circumcision. A good example of the intensity of the debate is demonstrated in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 3:12, “Why don’t these agitators, obsessive as they are about circumcision, go all the way and castrate themselves!”

    My post highlights, Michael, my friendship with atheists who humbly, intelligently, and in dialogue arrive at a position I respect. Nothing in your comment sways me to alter my understanding that antitheists are working to a quite different agenda.

  8. Returning to your initial post, if I may – and thanks for a great site that I came across when googling the phrase “love the liturgy hate God” which outs me, paradoxically, as an antitheist with aesthetic sensibilities and a deep love of ritual…wishing there was a form of Christianity which dispensed with God…( modern-day Anglicanism perhaps! I jest)
    You say “But there is, increasingly, a new style of atheist.” This is true. But there always have been! Natural philosophers from a deist Christian heritage have contributed heavily to this ongoing renewal as philosophies influence what we are now – secular rationalists – and what we will be (perhaps Geno-Liberals or some other such development…..). Even Dawkins doesn’t discount the possibility of a God – he just ascribes a rather low probability of it being true!
    Many atheists and anti-theists, have an avowed love of the King James Bible, the Common Prayer Book, Church architecture, liturgy, language – and lore.
    Our belief system is seen as axiomatic – not “given” – by the 1st world educated, liberal types that we are. We’ve got here without dogma, without faith, without a creed or even without the benefits of political structures such as a Church (but might be argued to have our own in the form of schools and the such-like). The majority of atheists have simply evolved– to use a deliberately hot term – to an “understanding”.
    I would ask that you not forget that it is possible to define things by “what they are not” – red is not green, dead is not alive, angry isn’t peaceful….and there is no requirement for “atheism” to define itself positively.
    Anti-theism perhaps is an attempt to do so and has only really taken off, it seems to me, in the geo-political situation where faith seems to hold such a disconcerting influence (from Zionists in the US through to Wahabism).
    You make the point “They do not want to work in partnership with good people of faith – they proclaim faith itself as evil and the source of most of the world’s evils. These are not simply atheists – they are antitheists.” On the first charge can I remind you that the Doctor recently murdered in Afghanistan was not only a humanist and atheist but was working with Christians (equally selflessly)and despite the risk of being associated with apostasy (a false charge on all the poor victims) showed that “good” people can work together.
    I shouldn’t have to remind you that Matthew is explicit on the evaluation of “deeds” and in this comment you go too far. It is just that there are too many people of faith who are not good. It’s been said that an evil man can do a good thing but it takes religion to make a good man do an evil thing! In this sense I equate quasi-supernatural political ideologies as religions….
    You also say “Their mindset is most comparable to the fundamentalists they constantly berate – not surprisingly: our enemy is a mirror to ourselves was an insight from Jesus.” Lovely point you make here and something that exposes what must surely be your own constant dilemma – have you yourself created “middle, moderate, thinking, caring Christianity” simply because the literal alternative (the Bible) does not fit with your own commendable and doubtless liberal new-theology?
    Is it nicer perhaps to be a 21st century Christian who dispenses with the central tenets of earlier believers in order to be moderate and thinking?
    I don’t blame you – and am looking now at around 100 or more highly despicable and frankly revolting commands from God (with which I know you wouldn’t agree……).
    Oops – perhaps simply Metaphor again?
    Re: Your comments about metaphor. Slightly ironic since most atheists probably take the pantheon of western “literature” and literary forms as the very roots of their eventual ascendancy from ignorance! Please take it from me that a certain form of atheism is very fond of metaphor. It’s just that metaphors need (a little artistic freedom aside!) to have some connection to the human experience.
    Most atheists (God I hate the term – preferring rationalists) are only anti-theists when religious ignorance leaves personal space and enters the public realm. There are no similarities with what’s commonly called fundamentalism. I’ve never met an atheist, for example, who didn’t accept that their belief structures can – should – change.
    Perhaps anti-theism might go away if the more enlightened wings of the Church would address their internal fundamentalism first…….just an idea!
    All the best from the UK!A little late here so sorry for any spelling errors or obvious errors….

    • Greetings Paul, thank you for visiting this site, and for your very gracious, irenic comment. I am sure you and I would happily enjoy each other’s company, work together, and have good discussions over a beer, coffee, or good wine.

      Hence, I think you are missing some of what I am saying if you are trying to convince me that “the Doctor recently murdered in Afghanistan” is an anti-theist. My post must be very poorly written if that is how you are reading my use of the term. Possibly my using “anti-theist” is inappropriate if you classify yourself as such – if you have a better term, or a neologism that expresses better what I’m attempting to describe here, please present it.

      I think at some points you press your comment too far. When you say “there always have been” “antitheists” – I am suspecting your “always” doesn’t go back very far. I also take strong issue with your contention that treating the scriptures as literature and taking care with what genre the author intended is a relatively new phenomenon. You can find such an attitude right throughout Christian and Jewish history. No one argued with Jesus when he told a story, “there was a man…” that he was merely making something up – and where was this man, what was his name, etc. The inability that some have to recognise and acknowledge the genre of a particular text is a relatively modern phenomenon. Further, that there is a process of gradual growth of understanding is certainly also not that new – and that we are (hopefully) continuing on the direction of this improving understanding, should not frighten us. As to your asking that “I would not forget that it is possible to define things by “what they are not”” – a little poking around this site will give evidence that my heart is in the apophatic tradition which is based essentially on this insight.

  9. Re Anti-Theism, you’re right of course (it was very late in the UK and I was rambling). I do understand what you’re saying about my over eager adoption of the “anti-theist” label – this whole area is a minefield!
    Re:the use of parables….of course this is a very human activity (mothers to their children as well as rabbis to their flock and applies to pre-judeo christian societies too).
    What interests me is the idea of belief systems that are able to use interpretation of text to support their own particular denominational “thrust” – in other words all disagreeing on quite how literally (or otherwise) to take the scriptures.
    A parable about talents, prodigal sons, samaritans etc is quite different from an exhortation to punish for one of any numbers of thought crimes or often highly arbtirary sins (I can’t exclude certain Saints from this in the New Testament either!)
    I visited a beautiful little chapel amnogst some Almshouses in the English Countryside with my children at the weekend. A plain Georgian Church of England piece of heaven!
    Some mid-18th Century panels had just been restored to their full glory – but it was my son who, whilst trying to read all those “f’s” that read as “s’s” pointed out that there were only four that he felt able to regard as universal….
    Me too obviously – and quite how we bridge the gap between those of faith and those without it remains a big problem for (I dare say ) both of us! We could indeed have a drink together and would probably share a common set of values. But there comes a point (even if its intellectual and unspoken) when you think I’m destined for sulphur and I think that you are delusional.
    I regard Belief in the Supernatural as, perhaps bizarrely, quite “natural”. But that doesn’t make it true.
    Shall we agree to disagree on some things – and I promise not to campaign against personal religious observance.
    This is all fascinating stuff and as I’m about to go on holiday into once deeply Catholic Spain – we’ll pick this up anon.
    Don’t worry I dont intend to sabotage blogs with comments…this is your site and many thanks for your generosity of spirit!
    All the best
    Paul

    • Paul,
      I do not at all see your comments as sabotaging. All I see is sincerity and respect.

      I don’t know how much drinking you would need to see me as delusional, but I assure you that my sluggishness to think of you as destined to sulphur will not alter significantly with time or drinks. If that (boringly?) became the focus of our drinking conversation, and destination-sulphur was solely determined by getting one’s mental ideas correctly aligned to a predetermined list where there was no allowance for any deviation – then I suspect we will have plenty of time, you and I, to continue this conversation there together.

      As to determining biblical genre: you and I pick up the newspaper and, without any thinking, immediately recognise when something is an advertisement, article, opinion, letter to the editor, joke, etc. 2-3,000 years from now, scholars may struggle to make those distinctions when they look back to our 21st century texts. Looking back that period to the Bible, the authors/listeners/readers IMO would have known their genre similarly intuitively. I and other scholars may make a punt at what that genre was – but let’s have the humility to acknowledge that we might be wrong. I happen to think, eg, that Gen 1 is a wonderful poem with 7 stanzas, and that Gen 2ff is by a completely different author and is more akin to a fable. I may be wrong.

      So, “shall we agree to disagree on some things”? Absolutely.
      Enjoy “once deeply Catholic Spain” – you won’t forget that it was also once deeply Muslim.

      Ps. In NZ we spell it “sulfur”. But we might be wrong.

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About This Site Welcome to this ecumenical website of resources and reflections on liturgy, spirituality, and worship for individuals and communities. It is run by Rev. Bosco Peters.

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