Friday, June 27, 2008

Finding God Through Atheism

I’ve promised myself, and a few friends, to do a better job of writing posts for my blog. Especially, light-hearted, entertaining stuff like vegetarian barbeque, backyard nature watching, progress on our 20-year home remodeling project, my rampant bibliomania. Stuff like that. In case you haven’t already guessed from the title of this post, it does not fall into the light-hearted category. If you are uncomfortable reading unambiguous statements about religious concerns, this would be a good post to skip.

Still here? :-)

I got an email last night from a friend who had come across some of my pages about telescope making. He had noticed a statement from me on a previous website that I was an atheist, but could find no comment about it on my current site and wondered if I had changed my mind or simply avoided discussing the matter because it was a hassle. I responded with a longish answer to his question — probably a lot more than he wanted to know. After reflecting on my response, I decided to post it on my site. Why not be open about my thoughts on the subject, my progress even, for people like my friend who are curious, possibly following their own path and trying to decide what they believe?

So, here is how I answered his question whether I had changed my mind about atheism.

I gave up atheism. :-) You know, this is something that I have thought about a lot. One of the experiences that really put me off atheism was discussing Richard Dawkins’ book, The God Delusion, with a group of atheists on an Internet forum. They were all just so cocksure there is no God. They were the mirror image of fundamentalist Christians. Fundamentalist atheists, I guess. And they were so dismissive concerning the Bible. So contemptuous of it, even. While, for me, the Bible does not reveal God, it profoundly reveals the longing for God felt by many people in Western civilization. I was raised in the Christian church, so the Bible has more meaning for me than other religious texts like the Koran, Upanishads, etc., though I don’t for a moment believe it has any superior claim to legitimacy. Of course, it is also a cornerstone of Western civilization, much of which doesn’t make sense without it.

I’ve realized one of the things that kept me from believing in God for the longest time was Christianity, odd as that sounds. I simply can’t accept Christian concepts of God. I think some atheists, maybe a lot of atheists, reject God for the same reason. And, of course, in Western civilization, at least, Christian concepts of God are pretty much a monopoly. Perhaps I should say Abrahamic concepts of God, to include Hebrews.

After thinking of myself as an atheist for a few years (prior to that I described myself as an agnostic), I was startled one day to realize I believe, devoutly believe I have to say, in God. I came to this, I think, as a result of considering that life and the existence of the cosmos is miraculous — a mystery within which we exist and beyond which we can never perceive. Accepting the essential mystery of our very existence, an impenetrable mystery, freed me to accept the existence of God as our creator. I can offer no proof for the existence of God, but neither have I heard any convincing proof that God does not exist. I simply have no choice but to believe. I can’t not believe. I make no attempt to convince others of the existence of God, but for myself, I simply have no doubt. I guess that is faith. :-) I have to smile reading that statement. Did it really come from me?

The existence of God is a matter beyond proof because God is beyond human comprehension. I think this is where I started having problems with Christianity. I don’t believe it is possible for finite beings to understand the intentions of God, or to reach conclusions concerning God’s judgment. When I hear people speak of God’s love, their assertions are meaningless to me. Love is a human emotion. Does God love us? I don’t believe that is a coherent question, even. Maimonides said something to the effect that the highest knowledge concerning God is that God is beyond human comprehension. I accept that. I also accept, as Einstein asserted, that to know God, in whatever trivial capacity we are capable of doing so, we must study God’s creation, that is, the natural world. Of course, the natural world includes the human race. Not that we are the pinnacle of creation — that’s absurd. But we must, in some way, reflect the providence of our Creator.

A second irony in all this is that until I embraced atheism, I could not believe in God. It was only through becoming an atheist, that I found my faith.

The fact that I believe in God does not mean I believe in life after death (in the sense of our conscious awareness surviving our death), that humans have souls, or any of the other trappings of major religions. In that sense, my worldview is utterly naturalistic. Where I part with naturalism is the assertion that nothing exists beyond the natural world. That God, in fact, does not exist. You can see this sort of thing on the website. The simple truth is such assertions can have no rational basis because we have no way to support claims concerning anything beyond the cosmos in which we exist. The statement that God does not exist is a faith position in the same way that my earlier statement of belief in God is a faith position. We must each search our own hearts and decide for ourselves.