The atheist André Comte-Sponville in The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality rejects belief in “a God,” in a “subject,” “in something,” “in Someone,” and “in his existence.” And I don’t believe in that god either! Each of his phrases indicates an individual something, an object or subject, something alongside other individual things in the universe, and that’s not God.
One of the foremost theologians of the twentieth century, Karl Rahner, explains that,
the mysterious and the incomprehensible . . . can never be defined by being distinguished from something else. For that would be to objectify it, to understand it as one object among other objects, and to define it conceptually. . . . we do not know God by himself as one individual object alongside others, but only as the term of transcendence.Despite Rahner's unfortunate use of the male pronoun, he clarifies the mistake of believing in A certain humanlike God. It substitutes a particular God-image for the Divine Mystery beyond anything we can imagine. We must not fall into the idolatry of worshipping a particular God-image—father, mother, bear, sun, moon, turtle, or Jesus—for no image can adequately represent the Transcendent Mystery.
I sympathized with Dawkins this morning when he said it was hard to avoid contempt for people who deny evolution and think the planet is 6,000 years old. I confess I struggle with contempt for people who can’t see that there’s something wrong with always talking about God as if IT were a male individual.
Comte-Sponville gives beautiful and appropriate descriptions of what we call “God” but he calls IT “the All” or “nature”:
• the infinite, the eternal and the absolute.I’m sure he doesn’t know he is describing God as thoughtful Christians would describe IT, and as IT’s described in Exodus 3:14, “I am who I am.” In the original Hebrew this was rendered, YHWH, which derives from the Hebrew word for “being.” And from that we get Yahweh, who degenerates into a god of war and genocide. The atheist Comte-Sponville captures beautifully the true meaning.
• . . . what has traditionally been called the absolute or the unconditioned, that which depends on nothing but itself and exists independently of all relations, conditions and points of view.
• It is the silence of that which can be neither explained nor expressed . . . not meaning, but being.
• How can it not exist, given that, without it, nothing could exist?
• . . . the truth of the universe must indeed be mysterious. How can we expect to understand and explain everything, given the fact that the ‘everything’ was here long before we were, and formed us, and permeates our very being, and surpasses us in every direction?
Ironic that an atheist does a better job than most Christians would!