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God by Monty Python

Intelligent Theism

God by Monty Python

OK – people talk about there being “Catholic Twitter” (generally a part of Twitter that is pro-Pope Benedict, anti-contraception, pro-Latin, etc., etc.,…); I don’t know if there’s really “Anglican Twitter”. And, there’s certainly “Atheist Twitter”. That’s a part of Twitter that is actually virulently anti-theist.

Some of them follow me on Twitter. Occasionally, I, naively, answer a question, not realising the questioner is an anti-theist and isn’t asking a question seriously or seeking an answer – it’s intended as rhetorical – and a swarm of anti-theists descends on me, demanding that I answer complex questions (it is God we are talking about!!!) in 280 characters. And when I don’t answer a question with a simple “Yes” or “No”, “Black” or “White”, they get irritated. Very.

Do I believe in God? Well, it depends on what one means by “God”. Tell me about this “god” you don’t believe in – and, generally, I don’t believe in the “god” they don’t believe in either!

The “god” they mock is generally an invisible magic sky fairy, a sort of Super-Tooth-Fairy that they have grown out of (or, proudly, never grew into) and I (and others) clearly haven’t. The believers they mock don’t accept Science, think the universe is 6,000 years old, hold to the earth having been completely flooded with only 8 humans surviving that flood, clearly have never seen the obvious contradictions in the Bible (which is some sort of magic unified book), think that all those who have never even heard the name of Jesus will be sent by God to eternal suffering, and so on, and on.

The Bible is only taken to be one genre and can have no errors. This anti-theism is the shadow side (or the light side?) of Christian fundamentalism. Unsurprisingly, this anti-theism has a strong English-speaking, and USA focus.

There appears not a moment of humility that people more intelligent than they, currently (not just in the clearly uneducated past!), with more knowledge than they, believe firmly in God. There appears no recognition that highly intelligent scholars grapple intelligently with theodicy, biblical and historical study, and that some of the best Science has been and is being done by Theists. Atheist Twitter is all self-congratulatory, self-affirming, patting each other on the back, sharing Testimonies of their conversion, and hints about how best to raise Atheist children. It all so, so mirrors the very style of Theism that they reject – the style of Theism that doesn’t ever hear uncomfortable questions, the style that never doubts.

Some of my best friends are atheists. Some of my best friends are agnostics (both of the “I don’t know” and the “I believe it cannot be known” varieties). I am a theist. And we all accept and respect each other, and our conversations, even when about religion, have none of the put downs of antitheists. We tend to approach such discussions with humour, and a degree of self-deprecation which is a sign of humility.

It’s not so popular in the West, but I tend to start from an apophatic direction (good luck using that word in an Atheist Twitter storm), focusing on what God is not. Maybe, a good contemporary starting point is Herbert McCabe.

God is whatever answers our question ‘How come everything?’ …For one thing, whatever would answer our question could not itself be subject to the question – otherwise we are left as we were, with the same question still to answer.  Whatever we mean by ‘God’ cannot be whatever it is that makes us ask the question in the first place.

The McCabe Reader p10-12

There is a lovely blog post which continues this, if you seek to pursue it, here.

I want to conclude with three points:
* our “experience” of God is not God – it is a creature, like all other creations of God
* some people would like God provable beyond reasonable doubt, so that we have no choice but to have a relationship with God – but, the very choice we have is the heart of love, the essence of a relationship
* whatever your position, can we please all have the humility to accept that different positions may be intelligently held?

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