Monday, February 02, 2009

Theological Atheism

If you haven't noticed, I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about religion. Why? Because for better or worse, religion is one of the most powerful phenomena in human existence so it deserves serious thought. One of the things I've noticed as I've listened to contemporary discourse about religion is what I think of as theological atheism or more precisely, anthrocentric theology. In its simplest form, anthrocentric theology views human beings as the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end of the human-God relationship. There are two basic assumptions of anthrocentric theology:

1. God is whatever people believe God to be.
2. Scripture is a product of the human mind, thus it does not mean anything in particular. Because it does not mean anything in particular human beings can make it mean whatever they want it to mean.

People who subscribe to the first assumption tend to use phrases such as "my God is a God of ____" or "the God I believe in is ______". This kind of God-talk is generally preceded by someone suggesting that God might disapprove of whatever the person making these statements, does or believes. Thus God is essentially the advocate of my particular likes, dislikes, political views, life-style choices etc. I decide what is right or wrong and God backs me up, kind of like a lawyer in the court of public opinion.

People who subscribe to the second assumption talk much like the first group of people (these are often the same people actually) except that they substitute scripture for God. So you hear things like "I think ____ Holy Book says this or that. Why? Because I say so." Again, scripture says whatever I want it to say, which usually is whatever supports my particular likes, dislikes, political agendas and so on.

A God whom is whatever I want God to be is not a God worth taking seriously. Likewise, scripture that simply says whatever I want it to say is no more meaningful than a phone book. People who engage in this kind of God-talk are unwittingly making the same basic argument that atheists make, namely that religion is simply a product of human imagination.

"Therefore, reflect that different peoples of the world are revolving around imaginations and are worshipers of the idols of thoughts and conjectures. They are not aware of this; they consider their imaginations to be the Reality which is withdrawn from all comprehension and purified from all descriptions... [material] idols at least have a mineral existence, while the idols of thoughts and the imaginations of man are but fancies; they have not even mineral existence. 'Take heed ye who are endued with discernment.' "[1][1 Qur'án 59:2.] (Abdu'l-Baha, Some Answered Questions, p. 149)

What do you think reader?