Tuesday, July 20, 2010

I'm a non-theist

... or, why I don't call myself an atheist even though I am one.

  • Atheists are pretty strident about how much they dislike religion. And they have a pretty narrow definition of what religion is (usually, "belief in the supernatural"). I find religion fascinating and frequently inspiring (that is the liberal and mystical varieties of religion)
  • I consider myself a spiritual person - in other words, I get feelings of peace and joy from feeling connected to nature and other people, and I get those feelings in places where people have practised religion (possibly because of the beautiful architecture)
  • I like doing spiritual practices in the company of other people with similar values. That's what I call religion
  • There are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in your philosophy, atheists
  • I am open-minded as well as sceptical
  • I am not a reductionist, and certainly not a logical positivist
  • I like Paul Tillich's definition of God as the Ground of All Being
  • I pray (into the Void, the Silence, the darkness, the Tao) and meditate, and find this to be a helpful spiritual practice
  • I love stories and symbolism and mythology and Jungian archetypes
  • I think fundamentalist atheists are just as bad as religious fundamentalists
  • The main difference between me and a liberal theist is that they think God is a person and I don't. Otherwise our conclusions about the world are pretty similar.


Steve Hayes said...

The strident atheists might more accurately be called antitheists.

Yewtree said...

Yes, indeed. They just dismiss all religion and spirituality as equally irrational and label it all "woo".

When there are many people of religion who have gone to considerable effort to reconcile their faith with science, and many non-realists, I think it is just downright rude to dismiss an entire discourse as irrelevant.

In my view, the fact that people have experiences that transcend their individuality and make them feel connected to everything cannot be dismissed, even if it has no supernatural or occult (in the sense of hidden) cause. Clearly people derive satisfaction and meaning from these experiences and it's better that they share them in a liberal and supportive context.

Angela said...

I'm probably one those strident atheists you dislike.

I don't think that anything supernatural is likely to be exist. I don't think there's anything special about religion, it's just something humans make up (not usually deliberately) to try to make their lives easier/better. So is art. They can both be helpful.

Kay said...

I've been perusing the atheist blogosphere lately and they've inspired a couple of blog posts over the past few days. :)

Your list above fits me perfectly. Thanks for articulating this.


Yewtree said...

Hello Angela - if you are the Angela from Live Unitarianly, then I do not find your atheism to be of the strident variety.

Not believing in the supernatural or thinking that religion is nothing special are not in themselves strident (I agree on both those points - art does it for me, too). It's the atheists who see nothing whatever of value in any religion whatever that I object to.

Hello Kay - I look forward to reading your blogposts.

Louise said...

I agree and have argued many times on the Guradian's Comment is Free discussion forum that the atheists are having a go at a god that I don't believe in.

I often think that god is a human creation but that doesn't make it unreal - as Angela has said we make up art and it is very real.

There are all sorts of things that we don't know which doesn't mean they don't exist - mathmaticians and physicists tell us there are 10+ dimensions - wow! What does this mean?

Religions are created in times and places and reflect the thinking of that time. I think that as we become more sophisticated in our intellectual capacity so we move towards a more sophisticated view of the divine (created or given) which does not involve a bearded man sitting in the clouds telling us off when we've made a cod of things.

God as is often conceived in the older religions does not reflect my experience of the sublime.

Yewtree said...

Hi Louise

Yes, I think a lot of people (both atheists and fundamentalists) get hung-up on the idea of God as an actual person. I do not think she is a person, I think that the personality is something we project onto the experience of the sublime, the ineffable, the Void.

Personally, if one has to project personality onto it, I prefer polytheism, as that offers a selection of choices, but that has a whole different set of pitfalls attached to it (not least the gendered nature of most of the deities).

What I like about mystical and apophatic theology is the emphasis on the mystery of the Void.

Louise said...

Yes, polytheism has its attractions - but as you say the gender issue gets taken literally rather than metaphorically seeing them as female rather than feminine and male rather than masculine.

I talked about this in a service I led for 2009's International Women's Day - querying why we needed to ascribe deities/the divine any kind of gender because gender is only of use for procreation in a biological sense. Although we may talk of feminine qualities and masculine qualities and look at how we create a balance of these within ourselves and within the wider world.

I have been musing on the Void overnight - but I think that is a bit too abstract for me. But interesting nonetheless. Louise xx

Yewtree said...

I've been reading Karen Armstrong's A History of God, and she says that there is the ineffable Divine source, which no-one can understand (that's the bit that is the Void or the Tao), and our personal apprehension of it, which can and does get projected onto a specific divine figure (Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, an Imam, a Sufi saint, a Pagan deity, etc). This personal image of the Divine should not be mistaken for the ultimate Divine source, however; it is an emanation or a projection. It is in this recognition that the personal image can only ever be personal that mysticism triumphs over other forms of religion; and fundamentalists routinely mistake their personal version of God for the real think, and thereby block access to the numinous and ineffable mystery.

Louise said...

Thank you so much for this. We have a monthly Monday evening gathering and have had two so far. The first focused on the longing for sacred connection and the second on searching for our sacred pathways. Our August gathering, which I will be leading, is about the metaphors that we use for the divine. I will use this Karen Armstrong bit near the beginning. I think that I have the book (unread!) so will hunt it down. Thanks again. Louise xx

Yewtree said...

I thin it's in the "God of the Mystics" chapter.