Tuesday, November 12, 2019

On Medium: Do Theists and Atheists have the same Deepest Experience?

Here's an article of mine on Medium that compares the fear of God and the fear of nature, and looks at how the theistic fear degenerates into love of God and ultimately into the loss of an invigorating relation to the Other, as in the case of Christian idolatry. 


  1. The Christian imperative to love God goes all the way back to Jesus' greatest commandment (Matt 22:37) which, oddly, he took from the Pentateuch (Deut 6:5). I can attest that 'love of the Lord' is emphasized even in those sects of Christianity which come closest in their conception of God to Judaism & Islam; though I'm not sure how sincere that love is. I never loved that God & neither did any of the friends I grew up with. There was fear &, in my case, that fear matured into real hatred; but no love.

    But that paradox of loving the unlovable seems to be even more flagrant among the atheists. Richard Dawkins can get downright pangyric in his descriptions of nature, all the while insisting that it's all meaningless & driven by freak mutations combined with the merciless winnowing out of all that is unfit. The phony Christian 'love' is at least explicable, since calling the Lord out on his cruel shenanigans could be hazardous to your soul, but how to explain cases like Dawkins? Who are these nature lovers trying to flatter?

    Maybe it all depends upon how the atheist felt about God before they stopped believing. If an ex-Christian loved God before loosing her faith, then perhaps Nature (God's putative creation) can serve as a surrogate object for a love that persists in spite of her incredulity. But if, on the other hand, she feared God, then that fear might carry over into a horror of the natural world & a desire to either escape from it or replace it with an artificial one.

    The question of whether or not God exists is less important to me then how one would relate to God if he did exist - that's the test of authenticity. I'd gladly break bread with a Gnostic or Buddhist, but an evangelical Christian & some tree-hugging, isn't-life-beautiful atheist may as well be married to each other as far as I'm concerned.

    1. I suspect there's confusion in the notion of loving or hating God. At most we could have such specific emotional reactions to what we vaguely conceive of as the ultimate cause of everything and we could call that place-holder notion "God," but that's a far cry from saying we love or hate the known quantity of a particular person called God. There's no such known quantity, because God is at best hidden from the universe.

      I agree about the optimistic tone of new atheists, as in their praise of nature's beauty. I'd chalk that up to salesmanship: secular humanists like Dawkins and Neil deGrasse Tyson don't want to scare off potential consumers of their products; more importantly, they don't want to rock the boat of neoliberalism. Science is at the center of Western civilization and because these secular humanists love science, they have to stand up for the notion of secular progress. I've written several articles on that. It's the big difference between the new and old, more radical atheists.

      In some case it may be as you say: the ex-theist turns to nature as a surrogate for God. But lots of atheists (including me) grow up as nonbelievers.

      My next article on Medium might interest you. It will be on how Christian charity relates to the enlightenment of social outsiders. Hint: Christianity seems opposed to that enlightenment.