A Catholic atheist?

On public radio I called myself a Catholic atheist, or did I say I’m an atheist Catholic? I can’t remember. In any case, people ask me, “How does that work?”

Culturally I am Catholic. Every school I graduated from—grade school to grad school—was Catholic. From the beginning of my life to the present, Catholicism informs me, shapes me, inspires me, piques my interest, and suffuses the air I breathe.

I am an a-theist or a non-theist because I do not have belief in a god or gods, which is theism. If you’re a religious person, you may protest,
I don’t believe in idols; I believe in God!
But I think you believe in a being outside of yourself, external and superior to nature. I don’t. I believe in a Source not superior to nature, but in nature, enlivening nature—“God” in all and all in “God.” I imagine you protesting,
That’s what we believe in!
If you agree with me that “God” is not outside of us but within us (the Catholic hierarchy doesn’t like this), I may accept that you don’t believe in an idol. But I know my idea of what we call “God” differs from you if you never refer to this Transcendent Reality as “she” or “it.” If you worship “Him,” you worship a particular image—an idol.

I notice that atheists who argue against religious belief consistently refer to the “God” they argue does not exist as “He” or “Him.” Dead giveaway. They’re talking about an idol I don’t believe in either. HeHimHis dominate God-talk not only among religious persons—it infests the God-talk of all people. I do not believe in someone, in a personality or individual outside of and superior to us, as most of our Bible and religious literature endorses.

So this is how I differ from most Catholics. I also differ from atheists, those who deny the existence of any spiritual reality. An atheist mystic—yes, I believe he’s a mystic—whom I respect for his honesty and deep spirituality writes,
Spirit is not the cause of nature.
I believe the reverse. Spiritual reality and physical reality are two sides of the same All That Is (“God”), but spirit or consciousness is prior to its physical manifestation.
What we call “God” surpasses any language, but the words of my friend David Steeves come closer to my experience than most religious language does:
I tried to be an atheist, but it goes against my personal experience of reality. Like you, I have core beliefs about the existence of something which is universal in all things in the universe. I can feel it, in meditation I have experienced it, but it is not something that can be described. I believe it to be the source of all religious expression, all religions.
Each person, each culture filters experience and creates belief according to their understanding. How we form our belief says more about us than it does about anything else.
Religious myth presents a huge problem for non-believers. I know many religious people who are perfectly aware that religious myth is myth. They distinguish between fact and myth. They distinguish between religious myth and “myth” in popular parlance where myths are simply foolish beliefs. Religious myths, however, are stories that convey messages impossible to spell out in rationalistic prose.

Conversely, I know atheists who demonstrate a high level of ethical integrity and a yearning for spiritual communication. I believe they deny spiritual reality because they conflate the term “religious” with “spiritual.” When I hear atheists interviewed, it’s obvious to me that they haven’t “lost faith” as I understand faith—trust in spiritual power (also the definition I heard at the School of Theology in the 1980s). What these atheists have lost is religious belief; they figured out that the religious myths they were told to believe lack factual truth. This does not render the symbolic stories useless; it does make believing them inappropriate. Atheists are right to reject literal belief in religious myths.

Here I say more to explain my claim to be a Catholic atheist. If this subject fascinates you, as it does me, you’ll like the book, The Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by André Comte-Sponville.

A Catholic atheist 2, July 6, 2012
Mary Lou asked a great question.
I am wanting to know how you come to the understanding that God is not superior to creation [in previous post]. I am open to hearing your explanation. I have always thought of God as superior to us creatures.
Thank you. I await hearing from you to help me evolve in my understanding.
I happen to know that her humble manner belies surpassing spiritual intelligence.
I do relate to God as “superior to us creatures,” and when I wrote the post, a little niggle in me said it required an explanation. So here goes.

The God-image of a superior personality is used to justify hierarchy and power-over, and I chafe at this. That is what was working in me when I objected to the word “superior.” Transcendence is way beyond us and in that sense superior, but for the sake of correcting a troublesome concept of church authority, it’s more useful to think of God as Source than as superior being.

To elaborate, divinity is within all creation—God in all and all in God. With that understanding, I believe we creatures all are
Begotten offspring of God,
Born of Source before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light,
True God from true God,
Begotten not made,
One in being with Source.

Jesus Christ symbolizes and personifies this reality within us, so deeply recessed that our ego personalities frequently have no inkling of it. Another way of conceiving and expressing the mystery is to say that physical creation manifests The Within or Divinity; it’s the outer form of an inner reality we call “God.”

I encase “God” in quotation marks to remind us that our images of this Source are only images; our words always are inadequate, always miss the mark. But words are important because they shape us, guide us and inform us.

I should add that, in difficulty of any kind, yielding to Spirit/Source and trusting it utterly brings peace. It’s a sure-fire prescription, a silver bullet for every ill—trust guidance from Within. Would that world powers knew this.
If trusting God utterly means God is superior, so be it. But I do not accept the statement, “God is a superior being.” The little article "a" conjures up an individual, an idol.

While I’m commenting on my previous blog, I’ll continue. I implied that our religious literature endorses the idea of God as a personality or individual. Christian God-talk personifies God, as do all religions—that’s how we get idols. If the personifications were treated correctly by, for instance, mixing female with male images, the God-talk would not generate idolatry. But Christian religious leaders not only fail to educate in this manner, they actively campaign against it.

Priests do not dare change “Father” to “Mother” in the Mass. They do not dare replace “Lord” with non-hierarchical terms. Thus, imposed liturgical language contributes to ignorance and to idolatry.


Ron Howes said…
Excellent, Jeanette. I'm a firm believer that most church going Christians practice their faith "just in case", i.e. Pascal's Wager.

Brenda Asterino said…
I love what you are saying and believe that what you are saying is intrinsically known to a large number of us but squashed or surpressed by our religious teachings.

Added: We cannot know ourselves if the Divine is only outside of us. Most Christian religions (all that i know) would say that we were born bad and we have to take in what is good (God, Jesus) to fix this. As long as we don't know ourselves, we are more easily controlled by an elite minority. This is the patriarchal system which is at the basis of all of our systems and so, we cannot grow spiritually or know who we really are until we look outside this system. There are few role models, only reminents (sp) of other systems. Some would disagree and I hope they post that.

Intrinsically, we can know. And if we act on what we know that way, we will grow to know more. The glitch is, we have to work on our own healing to do this. We cannot approach knowing with childish thinking about being taken care of. As we dis-embedd from this system, light of understanding comes in. When we know we are strong, and we find ourselves, we will find God/Goddess. Another stage of unity and integration is achieved through healing with the help of others when needed. This is also called community. And we grow through taking care to work on working on ourselves with self awarenessand and with gaining in our own awareness while practicing boundaries.

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