A book came out last year by Chris Stedman called, Faitheist: How an Atheist Found Common Ground with the Religious. Another book, also out last year, by Alain de Botton is called, Religion for Atheists: A Non-believers Guide to the Uses of Religion. De Botton argues that atheists, instead of deriding religion should steal from it because
“the world’s religions are packed with good ideas on how we might live and arrange our societies.”A few years ago we saw a spate of books grouped together as “The New Atheism”:
Sam Harris, The End of Faith (2004).
Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (2006).
Daniel Dennett, Breaking the Spell (2006).
Christopher Hitchens, God is Not Great (2007).
These books derided belief in God and also despised faith, spirituality, religion, and religious institutions. What we’re now seeing is a New New Atheism that doesn’t want to deride anything. While still disbelieving in God, this New New Atheism values faith, spirituality, and religion.
“Faith,” as Karen Armstrong points out, in the New Testament, is the Greek word psistis, which means trust, loyalty, engagement, commitment. When Jesus calls for greater faith, he’s not calling for people to cling harder to a set of propositional beliefs. He’s calling for engagement and commitment.
“Spirituality,” as growing numbers of spiritual atheists are saying, isn’t about spirit-stuff as opposed to material stuff. It’s about claiming the depths of awe and wonder, serenity and compassion, abundance and acceptance, indissoluble union with the great All, and of belonging to the universal.
This idea of connecting with the religious impulse rather than denying it is just what the Humanist Manifesto called for 80 years ago.
The idea that there is no God is actually a staple of Christian Theology going back centuries. The 9th-century Christian theologian John Scotus Eriugena, for example, wrote:
“We do not know what God is. God himself doesn’t know what he is because he is not anything. Literally, God is not, because he transcends being.”Got that? This is a Christian theologian saying that God does not exist. Eriugena also says God isn't nonexistent in the way that, say, unicorns or Manti Te'o's girlfriend are nonexistent. Rather God transcends the categories of existence and nonexistence, being and nonbeing.
To understand this, let’s go back to that fifth source of the living tradition we Unitarian Universalists share:
“Humanist teachings which counsel us to heed the guidance of reason and the results of science, and warn us against idolatries of the mind and spirit.”This language of our six sources emerged from a couple General Assemblies in the mid-1980s.
It might seem a little strange that they would have put this reference to idolatry into our acknowledgement that humanism is a significant source of the living tradition we share. When you think of the repudiation of idolatry, your first thought probably wouldn't be humanism. Your first thought would more likely be the first of the Ten Commandment (or the first two Commandments, depending on which tradition is doing the counting):
"Thou shalt have no other gods before me. Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them:" (Exodus 20:3-5, KJV)What’s the big deal about graven images? you may wonder.
Next: Idolatry and the transcendence of being and nonbeing.
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This is part 2 of 3 of "There Is No God and She Is Always with You"
Part 1: Religious Humanism
Part 3: Idolatry