Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Atheist spirituality

I was delighted to receive an email from an atheist who found my blog, espouses atheist spirituality, and disagrees with atheists who vilify everything religious. You can read his own words at The Case for 'Spiritual Atheism I recommend Asylum for Broken Rabble if you like to examine ideas in depth, whether you agree or disagree.

For ddjango's site, I wrote a guest post On Enlightenment reflecting on common ground between enlightened Christians and enlightened atheists—how we agree, how we differ.
I quoted the statement, “He is a spirit,” to show how exclusively male language not only distorts gender relationships, it distorts our ideas of what we call God. And the word “a” disturbs me even more than “he.” As the little word "a" indicates, this deity is an object, something out there, an individual separate from the other individual things and persons in the universe. Worshipping such an object is a form of idolatry. If Christian leaders would add God-She and God-Her language to the exclusively male pronouns, the resulting variety would dethrone the male idols and force awareness that what we call God cannot be defined.

I’m also reading The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville, identified on the book jacket as one of France’s preeminent contemporary philosophers. This book and dialogues with atheist friends help me to clarify my thoughts about spiritual matters.

Comte-Sponville observes that theistic religions propagate “belief in one or several deities.” So true. My atheist friends are disgusted by naïve Christian belief in a sky god and a dying-and-rising redeemer god, who obviously parallels pagan gods.

A year ago I wrote a post entitled,Buddhist Christian about an ordained minister who described himself that way as a result of living in Thailand. He echoed my title when he repudiated “the big guy in the sky.” Significantly, he gave his talk at St. John’s University. When my book came out last year, I was surprised by the response it got from monastic religious persons. They are among those who best understand the Christian myth as myth. They understand because they delve deeper into religious meaning than people immersed in the secular world.

So why do they remain faithful to our religion? Why do they identify as Christians when Christian language encourages naïve belief? And why do I stay in this theistic religion? I wrote answers to this question in my first chapter, but Comte-Sponville offers another good one in a joke he tells.

Two rabbis discuss the existence of God long into the night and conclude that God does not exist. The next morning one rabbi catches the other one absorbed in ritual morning prayers. He asks, “What are you doing? We decided God does not exist!” The other replies, “What does God have to do with it?”
Elsewhere in his book Comte-Sponville provides the sequitur to this story:
There has never been a great civilization without sacred myths and rituals, beliefs in certain invisible or supernatural forces.
This evinces a basic human need. Enlightenment science shows that the particular forces imagined by past (and present) civilizations do not exist, but it has not destroyed the human need for relating to Transcendence.

I rarely use the term “supernatural” anymore because I think Transcendence lives right within Nature and is part of everything in Nature. Readers can learn more about my thinking on that in the miracles part of my chapter, “The Man Jesus.”

So I am still Catholic, culturally Catholic. Those of us who have these understandings could also be called Buddhist Christians or Christian Buddhists, depending on which emphasis we prefer. More possibilities—we are Christian atheists or atheist Christians.

1 comment:

ddjango said...

It is a pleasure and an honor that you guested at P!. I'm excited about the possibility that it may happen again.

To you and your readers, be at peace in the new year.