I live in a strange, interstitial space between atheism and theism. While I no longer consider myself a Christian, I refuse to cut ties with the Christian world and my progressive Christian community. At the same time, I feel a great deal of kinship with the pagan and witchcraft communities, as well as the atheist and skeptical communities. My own religious home is The Satanic Temple, and I consider myself a practicing Satanist. I call myself a nontheist and reject unverified claims of the supernatural.
To many people, the question of God’s existence is simple: either there is a magical sky daddy or there isn’t. For me, however, this question is getting increasingly complicated. God is about more than just existence or nonexistence: it is also about definitions, worldview, and culture.
I hoped that I was done commenting on David Bentley Hart’s tiresome book The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, but as I’m nearing the end of the book I think I have one more complaint that I need to put to writing. It’s a complaint that I’m starting to have with a great number of more “progressive” or “sophisticated” theologians. While I do generally think that their vision of God, humanity, and the cosmos is better than most of what’s out there, I find this particular trend aggravating.
In The Experience of God: Being, Consciousness, Bliss, Eastern Orthodox Theologian David Bentley Hart writes that he believes true atheism must be “nurtured by an infantile wish to live in a world proportionate to one’s own hopes or conceptual limitations.”
Ever since coming out as an atheist, I’ve noticed a few recurring questions about my unbelief. I thought I would offer a few clarifications so I can refer people to this article when the questions come up again.
I’ve been reading Chris Kratzer’s book Leatherbound Terrorism — a heartfelt diatribe about how thoroughly Evangelical fundamentalism has destroyed his — and everyone else’s — life. He writes with the fervor of an end-times prophet, except his message is an inversion of the usual religious pessimism: Evangelicalism is killing the vulnerable, oppressing minorities, destroying hearts and minds, and imperiling the whole world with their blunt denial of human diversity and scientific truth.
Last week, I had the pleasure of appearing on the podcast Church and Other Drugs. What I expected to be a conversation about Satanism turned into an enjoyable back and forth over the existence of God. Jed, who hosts Church and Other Drugs, is a theist, while I am a nontheist. Jed finally brought up a question he says he has yet to hear a satisfying answer to, and it’s one I hear perpetually:
If there is no afterlife, how can this life have any meaning?
Last night before going to bed, I found myself praying the Evening Office from the Book of Common Prayer. I love the book of Common Prayer — I love the poetry and the guiding, inner choreography of the liturgy. As I prayed last night I felt that warmth, presence, and silent awe I’ve felt my whole life when I enter sacred spaces — many would call it the presence of God. Sometime, when praying, I find myself speaking in tongues, a torrent of syllables pouring from me unbidden. It feels warm in my mouth, and it feels like something outside of myself speaking through me. I also still attend church (when I can), and I experience the love and presence of an external, invisible force.
Nothing sends off fireworks in the brain for religious people quite like an admission of atheism. It’s scary, in my beloved religious community, to admit that I don’t believe in God. I’ve had some unexpectedly unpleasant conversations with friends — conversations that suddenly dipped into ferocious defensiveness, in which they assumed a lot about what I believe and don’t believe.
So, allow me to explain what I mean when I say I don’t believe in God.
There are two primary accusations brought against Christians today: hatred and hypocrisy. Over the past year, though, I’ve come to see the apparent hypocrisy and hatred (or bigotry, as many people put it) as occasional symptoms of a much deeper problem, a disease that is rotting out the heart of modern Christianity: codependency.
I am at the Abbey of Gethsemeni as I write this: home of Thomas Merton, and one of the great mystical and ecumenical centers of the world. The Abbey has a plain, simple beauty about it, and is transfixed in a perpetual silence – a silence so deep it feels like a physical substance. I am taking this time to rest and reflect, to process the past year and prepare myself for the new, and to open myself up to the presence of God.