Thursday, May 5, 2016

An Atheist Theological Perspective

I was recently invited/honored to contribute to a project collecting Jewish perspectives on God. Each section below (after the disclaimer) is based on a prompt from the organizer of the project.

Disclaimer on Sources
It seemed simpler to write something myself rather than cobble together a sheet of primary sources from more public (and scholarly) atheists, but my thoughts are definitely not original. Here are my major intellectual influences on this subject, in chronological order: Pseudo-Dionysius, Maimonides, Meister Eckhart, Rabbi Sherwin Wine, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Rabbi Adam Chalom, Rabbi Greg Epstein, and John Figdor, MDiv.

How do you understand God?
Some answers that atheists give:
  • As an anachronism of pre-scientific society
  • As a projection of childish fantasy on the universe
  • As a human concept that people use for dubious moral purposes
  • As a human concept that people use because they need meaning to be absolute, and they need the universe to have a Face
  • I don’t know and I don’t care (“apatheism”)
  • God cannot be understood; all attempts to understand God are idolatrous (“atheology”)

What is the nature of your relationship with God?
Some answers...:
  • Similar to my relationship with unicorns and other fictional things
  • No relationship with God; angry at believers for their intellectual/moral failings
  • I don’t really think about it
  • I used to believe in God but now I don’t; it’s been a major loss in my life, but that’s no reason to return to belief

Why isn't God a part of your Jewish experience?
  • My relationship with Judaism is focused on the Jewish people, history, culture
  • My relationship with Judaism is my relationship to the Jewish state, etc.
  • I care about Jewish values of social justice and activism; God part is unnecessary
  • Because I don’t believe in God and, fortunately, Judaism can be engaged meaningfully from SO many other points of contact. To take one example: for Shavuot, I stay up all night learning, socializing, eating cheesecake, and then I leave before services.

If I were to ask you about God, what would you talk about instead?

Let’s talk about what we really want to talk about when we talk about God. Instead of talking about “Our Father” let’s talk about family. Instead of talking about “the true Judge,” let’s talk about justice. Instead of saying “God is love,” let’s talk about love. Instead of “Messiah” let’s talk about a better world; instead of “heaven”, death and legacy. Instead of assuming that only God can provide a sense of good and/or meaning, let’s take the risk of seeking/making those things for ourselves, and braving the fragility and fallibility of their human origins.

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