Beyond Theism/Atheism

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Beyond Atheism/Theism

“I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare; my business is to create.” ~ William Blake

Some of this post will be written in response to Atheism – A Defense part 1.

The rest is otherwise a continuation of my thoughts in Atheism, and Atheism, Cont., and will reference quotes from Mahatma Gandhi On God, Truth, And Religion.

I’ll begin by saying that I target Atheism because I myself was and continue to consider myself an Atheist, although I also would label myself a Christian, they baptized me and all, and a Buddhist as well.  Coming from a pretty devout religious background – of the more moderate persuasion as far as religious backgrounds go – nobody from a secular household can claim to be a bigger atheist than I once was.  I took it personally. 

So I have walked a mile in the moccasins of both sides.

When I criticize Atheism, I do so because I feel it is relevant and fresh, as a loving brother, in the spirit of solidarity.  I refrain from overly criticizing religion not because I find no faults but because I feel that that ground has been sufficiently covered by others and have little to add except my support.

My co-bloggers response to my first post Atheism was that I sounded like a religious fundamentalist.  That helps in a way to illustrate the cautionary point I failed to convey the first time around – Atheism, in its own way, can become a crutch or raft just as any other. 

Nowhere did I say, “gays all go to hell,” or “we should kill all the Muslims because they hate God” or even “God bless America.”

I was trying to talk about God on the most rudimentary of levels, beyond abstraction – a definition of my own design.

If the mere mention of the word God leads one to immediately associate “religious fundamentalist” – it denotes a very narrow notion of God or religion.  It is reactionary and specifically anti-rightwing Christian.  This drive to be anti can lead to dualism. 

It is true that the associations behind God are history, religion, and perception – but the aforementioned association derives from a own personal interpretation of God modeled on the supposed conception of others.  God, the concept (and therefore the word in the same sense of love or honor) is much older than the Republican party or America or even Christianity.  The mere mention of it does not make otherwise sensible thoughts into mumbo-jumbo, unless the person reading is attached to one particular monolithic definition.  The fact that it derives from history, religion, and perception, in my mind renders it a useful rhetorical concept and absolutely unavoidable for a relevant active philosophy.  Existence is useful in a theorical sense, God is useful to describe the reverence and humility human beings have summoned when confronted with Truth.

Now I am not gonna let the ignorance of a loud branch of exploitative righteous hypocrites scare me away from using the word God.  As Gandhi alluded, I could care less about giving God another, not a new, name.  His names are legion.  Truth is the crown of them all. 

If it gets in the way of your understanding, by all means, substitute the word existence and move on.

As Gandhi said, we know that the appearances are deceptive.  And yet we treat trivialities as realities.  To see the trivialities as such is half the battle won.  It constitutes more than half the search after Truth or God.  Unless we disengage ourselves from these trivialities, we have not even the leisure for the great search, or is to be reserved for our leisure hours?

I have two prime concerns for Atheism – and one is that it gets too caught up in the trivialities.  Too much time and energy countering the modern American incarnation of Christianity, mistaking the faults of one dominant and prominent sect with all religion throughout history.  My co-blogger, for example, doesn’t distinguish between organized religion and religion, to him they must be effectively the same.  I worry that the obsession with trivialities (especially when talking to other atheists on the net/in person who are certainly not as well-read as our cartoon friend below) gets in the way of/supercedes the bigger goal – tolerance, compromise, justice, unity.

 *****

A theist argues to an atheist, “Well you must need as much faith as I do to not believe in god, therefore you are just a religious as the people you scorn for being religious.”

To which the (well-versed) atheist responds, “Yes, I will accept your notion, so long as you admit you have multiple faiths as well.”

The devout theist responds, “That is blasphemous, my god is jealous and I know this, there is one true God that I believe in.”

“Very well,” responds the atheist, “but you must realize that for each  religion you don’t believe in, is by your logic its own religion. You say me not believing in your religion is equivalent to being religious, then you not believing in any other religion must also be a religion in an of itself.”

*****

This strawman argument is a bit unfair as it pits the most idiotic theoretical devout theist (in my experience some are surprisingly more thoughful and aware of these seemingly-damning questions than one would expect) against an articulate atheist.  But the articulate atheist illustrates my most crucial point.  He refuses to accept that he is religious unless the theist accepts other religions.  He is reactionary, his notion of religion is passive.  He is not a creator himself, he instead prefers to reason and compare. 

It is almost as though the well-read atheist refuses to move on from a limited grasp of religion until the fundamentalist compromises first.  It seems childish.  Be the adult, I say.  Forget about arguing with a lesser mind and instead concentrate on being a good example.

Religion can even provide a model.  Prayer/contemplation/meditation, devotion, loyalty, patience, faith, tolerance, discipline, love and morality are all states-of-being that religion strives for, sometimes as a natural and logical consequence of accepting that which exists, sometimes as a method of control to disempower or divert that which would free.

We should use Fromm’s definition: “Any man who listens to this question posed to him, and who makes it a matter of ‘ultimate concern’ to answer this question, and to answer it as a whole man and not only by thoughts, is a ‘religious’ man; and all systems that try to give, teach, and transmit such answers are ‘religions.'”

In this sense active philosophy is indeed religious, as is atheism.

My co-blogger wrote that “atheism, on the other hand, has less of a sense of ‘ownership’ or ‘belonging to’ a particular ‘brand’ like religion. The reason for this is that atheism is not written in scripture and has no clear definition. The only thing atheist have to go on is the human experience, which is why some of the key tenets of atheism, at least with respect to not believing in god and heaven as physical places, (I think) should be included in a successful active philosophy.”

But one must keep in mind that the conventional definition (copied from dictionary.com) of Atheism is:

1. the doctrine or belief that there is no God.
2. disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings.

The words doctrine and belief appear several times.  These two definitions are kinda implicit for any atheist. 

Is sat, the Sanskrit word for “truth, or that which exists” – not a supreme being?  Is truth/that which exists not God?  Does an atheist disbelieve existence?

Of course not.  After all, “no search is possible without workable assumptions.” 

Deep down, the primary rationale for atheism is to counter theism.  And here we see the utility of atheism.  It is a return to an ego-driven religion, one that focuses not on churches and the “same old dried up notion of old-white-bearded men ruling over us, we are tired of the same book telling us how to live our lives, we are tired of praying and we’re ready to work.”

Many believers in God would do well to do away with the uppercase G, or discard the word altogether, if it impedes understanding. 

That said, I consider Atheism’s especially anti elements outdated.  Only within my internalized intellectual realm, but I hope it could be liberating to all.  There is no more need for division between atheist and believer, between religion and existential inquiry, this sunder is now as damaging as it once was necessary for progress: “Once the new way of thinking has been established, the old problems vanish; indeed they become hard to recapture.  For they go with our way of expressing ourselves and, if we clothe ourselves in a new form of expression, the old problems are discarded along with the garment.”

Creating an applicable active philosophy indeed distills energy from the New.  But the New is a return to a focus on our natures and essence, beyond a “logical” world that is justified by insensate politics and media.  This focus on our true natures turn the political into the religious,  albeit a very humble, spiritual, and personal religion.  It concentrates on the awesome power of the liberated individual and encourages an environment where this liberated individual can thrive, the sort envisaged by the founders of this country – In God we trust.  Not the God as enforced by the church, but God in relation to self-knowledge and discovery by plumbing the soul of each and every human being.

It is again a Hegelian process – theism (thesis), atheism (antithesis), beyond theism/atheism (synthesis).

It may be true that as you suggested, perhaps God “very rarely (by people in general) is conceived to be the deep and wonderful concept you understand it to be.”  But, in reading Pascal, Leibniz, Gandhi, Descartes, Nietzsche, Spinoza, Wittgenstein, Buddha, Suzuki, Jesus from the Gospel of Thomas, and King, the greatest of us all seem to understand what Gandhi called “that religion which underlies all religions” – the Truth beneath all truth, the life behind all life, call it God, call it existence – what you will: “Religions are different roads converging to the same point.  What does it matter that we take different roads, so long as we reach the same goal?”

Martin Luther King also spoke of God, but many pastors abhored him and instructed theirs flock to avoid him, because he doubted at times the orthodoxy and rationale of religion.  To this day many Christians denounce him – even black ones.  But King understood that the notion of God and Christianity was not far off from where he wished to go, the seeking itself was of highest importance.  King persisted to speak the most beautiful and powerful words ever recorded:

Let freedom ring. And when this happens, and when we allow freedom ring—when we let it ring from every village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that day when all of God’s children—black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants and Catholics—will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual: “Free at last! Free at last! Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

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One Response to Beyond Theism/Atheism

  1. Cheryl says:

    This round of posts reminded me of something… The below is copied from: http://www.urj.org/torah/ten/eilu/.

    This kind of intellectual debate is at the center of [Jewish]tradition. The term eilu v’eilu comes from the following Talmudic text:

    For three years there was a dispute between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai, the former asserting, “The law is in agreement with our views,” and the latter contending, “The law is in agreement with our views.” Then a bat kol, a voice from heaven, announced, Eilu v’eilu divrei Elohim Chayim, “These and those are the words of the living God, but the law is in agreement with the rulings of Beit Hillel.”

    Since, however, “Eilu V’eilu, both are the words of the living God,” what was it that entitled Beit Hillel to have the law fixed according to their rulings? Because they were kindly and modest, they studied their own rulings and those of Beit Shammai, and were even so humble to mention the words of Beit Shammai before their own. (Eruvin 13b)

    “These and those.” Two conflicting opinions can both be valid. Furthermore, there are conflicting points of view which cannot exist without the other. The phrase Eilu V’eilu emphasizes the incompleteness of any single opinion. The v’, which means “and”, is essential, uniting and complementing the two opinions without choosing one or compromising the integrity of either. Both “are the words of the living God;” the debate between Hillel and Shammai is a machloket l’shem shamayim—an enduring dispute in the name of heaven.

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