Dawkins, Dennett and Hitchens: The New Theists?
posted by Peter RollinsMarch 10, 2013
Today the word “sacred” is employed to name a certain realm of life that can be contrasted with the secular. The idea here is that some object, area of life or geographical location can act as a “thin place,” i.e. a site where the transcendent shines through.
This approach to the sacred is ubiquitous in the contemporary situation and is borne witness to in the phenomenon of religious music, books and art, in the New Age interest in ley lines, the notion of Christian universities and in the embrace of artefacts believed to contain supernatural power. Here the religious or sacred is taken to be a sphere that can be identified in some way, visited, held or touched.
In contrast to this the work of theologian Paul Tillich reveals a different approach. For rather than seeing the sacred as some distinct thing (even the greatest thing), one can see it as the name we give to the affirmation of a depth of dimension that can be found in all things.
In this way one does not attempt to place the sacred alongside reason, ethics or aesthetics, but rather sees the sacred affirmed in our heartfelt commitment to these. From this perspective, insofar as we affirm the world as wonderful, we express the sacred. It is as we show loving care and concern for existence, and as we participate fully in life, we proclaim the sacred even if we are not aware of it. This is somewhat similar to the way that everything we see proclaims the existence of light even though we likely have no direct cognisance of the light (for we are focused on what the light illuminates).
As such, Tillich argued that a serious rejection of God (rather than a mere lack of interest in the subject) is a deeply sacred act. For when someone rejects the notion of God because of the wars that have been fought over that name, as well as the abuse, the fundamentalism and the ecological destruction that is bound to so much religion, they are demonstrating a profound concern for both people and the planet. As such their attack is directly testifying to a depth dimension in existence. The stronger their attack the more care and concern they are showing. In this very assault they are thus asserting, in a direct and visceral way, a commitment to the protection and promotion of life. The result is a proclamation of the sacred that is birthed from the same mother as the message found on the lips of the various poets and prophets in the Biblical text. To take one example, consider the words of Amos who cries out, in the name of God,
I hate, I despise your religious feasts; I cannot stand your assembles. Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings, I will not accept them. Though you bring choice fellowship offerings, I will have no regard for them. Away with the noise of your songs! I will not listen to the music of your harps. But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!
It is because of this that both the theologian Tillich and the philosopher Heidegger each claimed that there is a form of atheism that is closer to the divine than the standard theism witnessed in the church. For wherever a concern of beauty [is found], [wherever] an embrace of life and a love of liberation are exhibited, the sacred is proclaimed. In this way the passionate critiques of God propounded by the New Atheists can be seen as potent defences of the sacred. Defences that, at their best, are worthy of being called divine.
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My take-away from Peter's essay is that we are to listen to a-l-l elements of humanity - not just are chosen favorites. Moreover, counter to the idea of atheism is arising an element of men and women committed to religion's deconstruction... who we would not normally deem a theist or theologian, but not necessarily an a/theist or a/theologian either. Rather, they are to be viewed as ones eschewing a Christianity become religious and not spiritually antithetic to its originating Creator and Author. But become more of an institutionalized faith emphasizing all the worst of humanity's passionate elements. As such, perhaps we should deem such men and women as anti-theists, or anti-theologians, sent amongst our midst to point out the illogic of our Christian faith become un-Godlike. Un-image like. Un-natural.
Who stand up to tell us that God created by evolution (Darwin). That God does not condone violence, abuse, biogtry, idolatry, injustice (Richard Dawkins). That God says to love, not hate; to serve others, not ourselves (Rob Bell). That Jesus is not religion but a Person; not an institution but a relationship; not what we do but who we are and can become (Peter Rollins). To each person there is an element of truth that they vibrate passionately for. And rather than seeing such passionates as anti-God or anti-Christianity, we should accept their passion, allow it to sink in, and then become redirected in our hearts and minds to the more subtle things of God we have missed in our religious zeal and fervor.
For does not sin even corrupt our faith making of it a religion, a platform, a belief, a life model? To these things God has brought to us contradictory ideas and epistemologies that need sorting out, deconstructing, and reconstructing. Which can give to us, God's people, His light and life into a human faith sped upwards and outwards, inwards and downwards. That illumines and breaks us down, helping to see our Creator God-Redeemer more truly for who He is, and wants, and does. This is the wonderful promise of God to never leave us nor forsake us. But to give to His children at all times the sustaining manna they need from heaven, and His reviving waters from the arid deserts surrounding us. Restoring us. Keeping us. Holding us to Himself, eternally, for all our days.
March 12, 2013