August 11, 2005

Is Atheism the Answer?

Definitions of atheism vary, but most of us who use the label to describe ourselves would agree that it involves the rejection of belief in god. For some, it involves the belief that god does not exist (i.e., "strong atheism") which is a somewhat stronger position against the concept of theism. For many of us, it has acquired a broader meaning, including the rejection of anything supernatural (i.e., angels, demons, ghosts, miracles, etc.). This more expansive meaning is probably better described as "naturalism," "materialism," or a related term, but this can be debated another time. My focus for this post is on whether atheism (i.e., the rejection of belief in god) is really where most of us are (or should be).

Suppose for a minute that there is a god. Further suppose that this god bears no resemblance whatsoever to the god of Christians, Jews, Muslims, etc. This god is an inexplicable force of energy, moving through the vast universe at random. This god does not have anything similar to human intellect, purpose, intent, emotion, etc. In fact, this god is a force in the way that gravity is a force (i.e., intent/mind/personality are irrelevant). This god sets creation in motion (e.g., big bang, etc.) and then moves on to the next galaxy in a random fashion. This god sets the process in motion but has nothing at all to do with the created life forms. This god never communicated with Jesus, Abraham, Mohammed, etc. Lacking consciousness, awareness, and purpose, this god is no more aware of us than sunshine is aware of us. (As I understand it, this is what deists believe).

Could you accept the possibility that this sort of god might exist? Regardless of whether you believe that such a force is necessary or even plausible, could you accept the possibility? If you answer "yes," is it still accurate to call yourself an atheist?

Personally, I would have a much easier time accepting the possibility of this deistic god than the Christian god with all the absurd dogma attached. But if I accepted such a god, I would clearly not be an atheist. The more I reflect on this puzzle, the more convinced I become that it is not the idea of god per se that I find so disturbing; it is the idea of the Christian/Jewish/Muslim/etc. god which I find both absurd and destructive.

Of course, the true absurdity may simply be linguistic. Why bother to call this random energy force god at all? Does that resolve the puzzle? Maybe this explains why many people can accept spirituality while rejecting religion. In any case, I don't believe that the notion of a deistic god is necessary.

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