Saturday, October 25, 2014

Calling Myself a Negative Theologian

            Over the summer, I got sick of using the term “atheist” for describing myself. Since Spring 2010, it felt like the most accurate term I could use to describe my theological position, but it never felt right, and it always gave people the wrong impression regarding my relationship with the divine.
            I’d prefer to call myself a negative theologian, although I still think I’ll probably avoid this term too, since it’s so damn obscure. But here it is anyhow—see if you can tell the difference between this and atheism:
  • I’m not saying that there isn’t a God.
  • I am saying that, if there is God, then God is not the kind of being/phenomena that human terms can capture. I think God is mysterious / transcendent in a manner beyond language, such that any language, even your precious metaphors, only serves to obscure God further.
  • I especially think that it is presumptuous to ascribe any kind of human will onto God—thoughts, emotion, agency, etc. To me, any person making claims about the will of God is just telling me what they want God to will.

            In other words, it’s not that I don’t believe in God, I just don’t believe in your God. Or again—I’m not saying there isn’t a God, I’m just saying that every positive statement (meaning, one which adds content to our understanding) about God is inaccurate and misled. This is called negative theology.

            I can claim some religious backing for this move, although every person I’m about to name would likely be insulted by my use of them. This is because, unlike these folks, I don’t yet believe in a specific revelation/incarnation, which allows them to talk about God’s actions (though still not God’s essence) and to have a sense of liturgical legitimacy:
  •  Maimonides
  • Pseudo-Dionysius
  • Meister Eckhart

 There are plenty more negative theologians, but the three above are my particular atheological role models.

            In practice, negative theology is indistinguishable from atheism. To me, the prayer book is full of people’s projections about God. It’s full of idolatrous images of what they want God to be. I sometimes daydream about what negative theological spirituality (and even liturgy) would look like, but so far there’s just “Silence is praise to Thee.” (Ps. 65:2)

This post doesn’t feel like my most systematic or careful, but it’s been awhile since this change occurred, and it’s also been awhile since I posted anything. I hope to write more on this topic soon, and also to write something about some positive beliefs I do hold.

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