A Pastor (Seriously) Thanks the New Atheists

On August 1st in Oklahoma City, Pastor Michael Dowd — the author of Thank God for Evolution — delivered a sermon thanking the New Atheists… and he wasn’t being sarcastic about it.

Hell, check out the scripture readings for the day:

You don’t see that everyday…

You can read the full sermon here (PDF):

The New Atheists, by speaking boldly on behalf of our best collective intelligence about the nature of reality, and in condemning superstitious, otherworldly religiosity, are, paradoxically, fulfilling the traditional role of prophets. Historically, religious prophets were those on the leading edge — those who saw what was real, sensed what was emerging, and then spoke their truth — usually a word of warning. Their message typically went something like this: “Align with reality — or perish.” Prophets in this way facilitate cultural evolution. To use religious language, they do God’s work.

Thus my central point: Few things are more important at this time in history than for religious peoples of all backgrounds and orientations to heed what the New Atheists are saying. To be clear: I thank God for the New Atheists not because I want everyone to be like them or think like them, nor because I consider them perfect vessels of divine wisdom. Rather, I am grateful because of how they are prodding religion and humanity to mature and because of how they are goading religious people (like me!) to get real about God, guidance, and good news.

So let today’s collective wisdom revitalize our faith traditions! Let us rejoice in the discovery that the atoms of our bodies were forged inside supernovas, and let us celebrate this natural process as divine. Let the story of evolution be told in ways that engender familial love and gratitude that we are related to everything — not just monkeys, but jellyfish and flatworms too. Let us marvel at how rapidly our species has learned to care and cooperate in ever-widening circles: from family groups and tribes all the way to nation-states, and now globally.

I foresee a time when religious leaders get their guidance and inspiration from humanity’s common creation story and teach and preach the discoveries of science as God’s word. When that day comes, our faith traditions will thrive and many of us will look back and exclaim, “Thank God for the New Atheists!”

Ok, so Dowd is still religious, and his beliefs are foreign to most other Christians today. I think it’s intellectually dishonest what he’s doing, to combine science and religion like he does.

That said, isn’t this better than the alternatives?

(Side note: Albert Mohler, President of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, is not happy at all with Dowd.)

(Thanks to Alex for the link!)

  • http://yetanotheratheist.net Yet Another Atheist

    Sure, it’s better than the alternative (we’re all wrong and going to hell, so we can be ignored), but it’s still just not good enough, dammit.

    And it’s unclear whether he’s saying the Bible is still true or not, if it’s still a good moral guidebook or not, if it’s still the basis of his faith and religion or not. Why so vague?

  • Nerdette

    From his book (as quoted from the bottom link): “In his book, Dowd makes clear his rejection of biblical Christianity. He rejects the notion of a personal God. To the contrary, his concept of God is more metaphorical than metaphysical. “When I say ‘God,’ I’m not talking about something or someone that can be believed in or not believed in,” he explains. “I’m talking about the Ultimate Wholeness of Reality, seen and unseen — the whole shebang — which is infinitely more than anything we can know, think, or imagine.”

    I’m okay with it. He’s essentially a deist, which is considerably better than those that think their god is whispering in to their ear at every waking moment and that it can be appealed to by talking to themselves hours on end.

  • http://miketheinfidel.blogspot.com/ MikeTheInfidel

    Ehh… I think the universe is fantastic enough without having to imagine divinity behind it. If you can’t revel in the awesome nature of reality and the degree to which we’re constantly learning how much we have left to learn without tacking on religious-inspired mysticism, there’s something a bit off about you, I think.

  • http://vancityskeptic.com/ VanCity Skeptic

    I’m not going to downplay the fact that it is better than the -alternative- obviously.. alternatives being the extremists and fundamentalists and general crack-pots.

    Maybe one junkfood is better for you than another junkfood but it’s all -junk-. Maybe a curable poison is better than an incurable one, but they are both poison and I’d prefer to avoid them both.

    Poison is still poison in my book, I’m afraid. I’m also highly cynical when it comes to non-Biblical-Christianity, or your general Liberal and Progressive Christians, because Progressive Christianity (where you will find a lot of the non-Biblical people) is a very dangerous game in my book.

    This is because it is a poison that -looks- an awful lot like a nice tasty piece of candy.. and that is where I found myself trapped for many years. Stuck in “Progressive Christianity” trying to have my cake (delusional ideals of grand creators and other supernatural things that don’t exist) while eating it too (being able to reject the crack-pot side of scripture).

    But it is all still bad at the end of the day for me, I’m afraid.

  • Bryan

    Hey, if this guy is examining his own religion for it’s flaws, preaching love and tolerance for everyone, as well as accepting current scientific theories. I think it’s a step towards a better future.

    You cannot convince everyone to be a hardcore atheist. There will always be people who will believe in a higher power, but if those people are not trying to kill other people in the name of their god, subjugate homosexuals and women, and deny medicine to children. I honestly have no problem with whatever sky fairy they believe in.

    In other words: No harm, no foul.

  • Canadian Atheist, Eh

    Well, really, if I was one of those “New Atheists” (why do we have to categorize everything?), I’d be saying, “Thanks but no thanks, buddy — at least, not until you drop the need to keep ‘updating’ what God means. Tell you what — drop God and we can talk.”

    Seriously, why bother? This guy just seems like yet another person trying to eat his cake without having to give it back later (to the toilet). . . Or whatever the cliche about eating cake is . . . ;^)

    It’s all just so damned onanistic. (Heh — there’s a biblical reference for you.)

  • Canadian Atheist, Eh

    Ok, Bryan may have answered my question (“Why bother?”) before I could finish asking it. If that’s where it goes, great. His critic, though, with his “great battle of ideas,” isn’t buying. I’m sure he’s not alone. Any surprises here?

  • mouse

    I think I see why others find this intellectually dishonest but I don’t find it so. On the off chance that it turns out I’m wrong about this whole “there’s probably no gods” thing it makes a certain sense to me that the scientific laws of the universe would still be consistent because said possible deity made them that way, if you see what I mean. It’s people thinking magical things things happen contrary to the science that bother me. People thinking science is what it is because some god made it such; meh I can work with that.

  • L.Long

    He’s doomed to failure in the long run.
    People in general are not interested is some nebulous something. They want some form of daddy like their own-mean & psychotic- that will tell them what to do and that everything is OK and I will keep you save and happy for eternity forever…my poor pretty thing….
    They are children too afraid to grow up and smell the reality of their eventual corpse.
    Until an individual is ready to accept adulthood and its responsibility they will never accept atheism or his deism.

  • http://www.frommormontoatheist.blogspot.com Leilani

    I’ll take it. Any movement towards people skeptically looking at their holy books is fine by me.

    Baby steps. If they want to think that science = god. Perfect. I find that my friends who think god is nature are bunch easier to talk to than my friends who think god is this ancient man with a beard in a white robe who is all loving and all hating.

    All religion is intellectual dishonesty. None of my religious friends can explain their beliefs without whipping out the word ‘faith’.

  • Canadian Atheist, Eh

    I agree with L.Long that people don’t want nebulousness but I’m not sure “they” want a “mean & psychotic” “daddy.” I’d say “we” just want logical consistency, even if that logic is based on a faulty premise.

    It’s a whole ‘nother thing also to want premises that are fault-free.

  • Roxane

    So, Hemant. . . how does it feel to be a prophet???

  • http://www.redheadedskeptic.com Laura

    Honestly, I see it this way (and I know I am about to lose good atheist points, haha) : we get one life to live. That’s it. If you’re happy as a Christian, be a Christian. I don’t care if it’s delusional–we all have our own irrational beliefs I’m sure. As long as they aren’t harming other people, through emotionally abusing them into believing what they do, trying to fit everyone else into their one size fits all formula, or are trying to take others’ rights away, I don’t care. Maybe because I came out of Christianity, a system I wound up being supremely unhappy in, I don’t want to do the opposite to others. Just because atheism makes me happy doesn’t mean it will make everyone else happy.

    Albert Mohler. There’s just not much to say. The name is its own insult.

  • Iason Ouabache

    Dowd has always confused me. I agree with him about 99% of the time. It’s that other 1% that is so weird. To steal a line from one of my fellow Discordians, it seems like he knows that he shouldn’t eat the menu but does it anyways. It’s like he is an atheist but can’t give up the language of Christianity. I’ll never understand the man but I do appreciate that someone like him exists.

  • Canadian Atheist, Eh

    Laura — I sympathize, but in response I can only think to say that “live and let live” is fine and dandy . . . until they kick your doors in. Then what?

    I think you’ve left room for that in your comment, so the question is ‘To what extent do you think “they’re” getting ready to kick in your door?’

    Mohler is using the language of forceful confrontation, and he’s aiming for logical consistency (faulty premises be damned!). My wager is that he mobilizes more people than Dowd does (and, yeah, it’s a wager I’d be happy to lose).

  • Lauren

    In his book, Dowd makes clear his rejection of biblical Christianity. He rejects the notion of a personal God. To the contrary, his concept of God is more metaphorical than metaphysical. “When I say ‘God,’ I’m not talking about something or someone that can be believed in or not believed in,” he explains. “I’m talking about the Ultimate Wholeness of Reality, seen and unseen — the whole shebang — which is infinitely more than anything we can know, think, or imagine.”

    Furthermore, the God of the Bible is immoral, he declares. Dowd describes the God of the Bible as “brutal, cruel, vindictive, and genocidal.” But, he claims, the New Atheists have now come to rescue us from such beliefs. “Few things are more important at this time in history than for religious peoples of all backgrounds and orientations to heed what the New Atheists are saying,” he chided.

    He appears like a deist/bordering atheist to me as well. The New Atheists know that science and religion are nonconcurrent, and perhaps Dowd realizes this as well. If anyone is capable of making the religious feel sheepish for their beliefs it would certainly be The Four Horsemen. Dowd seems to be promoting skepticism, and I feel that is often neglected in religion. Maybe by encouraging people to search for a deeper understanding of science, people will become more skeptical and leave faith behind them. Naturalistic views are on the rise and with it comes atheism. But since religion is not going away anytime in the foreseeable future, this type of sermon is in our favor. The glass might be half full.

  • Alex

    Well I can see from Albert Mohler comments, that you don’t take the bowl away from a dog while he is eating. Thankfully he is just growling instead of biting.

  • evilspud500

    It’s perfectly fine to wear a life jacket if it’s your first time in the pool. Kudos to this guy. I have no problem with a deistic belief, and honestly, it’s hardly the kind of belief that is harmful to skepticism, let alone science.

    And don’t forget, he pissed off a baptist. That means he’s doing something right. =D

  • Richard Wade

    I’ve always resisted fulfilling Godwin’s Law, but this time I just can’t help it, so please forgive me:

    When Joseph Goebbels, principle propagandist for the Third Reich learned of the D-Day invasion in Normandy, nowhere near where the Germans expected it, he said “Thank God!” for the invasion, attempting to kid himself and his boss into thinking this was a good thing.

    But to be fair to Dowd, I’m happy for small steps in the right direction. I’m hopeful that gradually moving Christianity away from mindless and mechanical dependence on an old book and toward actually THINKING will help humanize the religion. It won’t disappear for many generations, but maybe it can be less toxic in its last stages.

    Of course, I might be kidding myself like Goebbels did, in effect saying “Thank God for Dowd!”

    (shrug)

  • Marjorie Ramos

    I’ve heard Dowd speak in person. He makes a compelling argument for reconciliing faith (not religiion) with our natural world. I am an atheist and found his words to be somewhat palatable and very welcomed given the religious extremists who have no thought behind their beliefs. I welcome that Dowd is bringing atheists into the discussion – and, in some respects, asking us to lead – rather than kicking us off to the curb and claiming we have no say. (On a side note, Dowd has a fascinating speech on day time language and night time language. It’s in his book, I believe.)

  • Michelle

    I like it. This is a useful attitude. The Oklahoma city location was the most surprising part for me. (Yes, I’m aware that it is prejudicial, and am glad he made me aware of it.)

  • Daniel

    “Isn’t this better than the alternatives”

    Not in my book. I see him as a half-ass sellout. I like a fundie better than someone who is bowing down to atheist pressure.

    He’s weak. I’m sorry, but I don’t like him.

  • Dan W

    …the fuck? This is just bizarre to read. I guess… well I’m glad this pastor is telling Christians to look more skeptically at their Bibles and get in line with reality, but this is still really weird.

    Pastor Dowd’s religious beliefs don’t sound like Christianity to me. This seems like some sort of pantheistic belief or something. The type of beliefs he’s supporting are still woo-ish, and I don’t like the mixing of science with religion, but at least they’re a great deal more reality-based than most.

    How’s it feel to be a prophet, Hemant? :P

  • http://secularshawshank.wordpress.com Andy

    Mark me down as being on the more cynical side here. MiketheInfidel took the words out of my mouth.

    One wonders whether Dowd has actually understood the work of the new atheists—particularly Dawkins and Hitchens, who have each written repeatedly that the universe is far more glorious (and more moral) without a “god” presiding over it. They’re right. As the NA’s have written, we can talk about things like ecstasy, the luminous, and the transcendent without believing in ancient fantasy. And in fact, such discussions are almost always more meaningful once we get rid of needless supernatural crap and begin to assess reality on reality’s terms.

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    dood, i can’t even read that whole passage. i just passed out and fell down. this is a preacher? /faints/ good on him.

  • http://zachvoch.blogspot.com Zach Voch

    Well, I didn’t focus on my objections to Dowd, namely his endorsement of some dubious areas of science and his misleading language on the subject, but I do think that a point is to be made about the value of anti-theism for the religious. I’ll cite my conclusion as to why this is: “Insofar as we do not believe that anti-theists are motivated by sheer hatred of the religious, we should not be surprised.”

  • http://www.correntewire.com chicago dyke

    ok, reading the comments…

    meh, i’ve heard worse from apologists.

    we have to be tolerant of these people, they are all the religious have, in terms of the right kind of thinking people. i had this conversation over and over again in divinity school, and the bottom line is, it rarely pays off to push a believer ally to the brink. let them have their security blanket. they are more useful to us, so long as religion remains a dominant force in things, if they can have the childish comfort of “jeebus likes physics! the bible tells me so!” we don’t have to make people like this our focus, it’s counterproductive. true haters are a far better target.

    i am a gardener, and when i’m having a nice day in my vegetable beds, i like to tell myself fairy stories about the little beings that make my plants grow. i don’t really believe any of that, but it’s fun. i can understand how concepts like the actual size of the universe or the utter finality of death are hard to accept, for some people. if they need Buddy Krist to help them with that, ok. i’m not mad. i’m an atheist, not a revolutionary firing squad member enforcing extreme rhetoric. that’s what religious people do, not me.

    types like this guy are far, far more important as political agents than they are as offensive ideologues. we need as many of him as we can muster, in the believer world. let’s encourage him. he’s worth what? 100? 10,000? new young atheists who come across his sermons. that is what he is creating, that is of value to us. i approve. it’s the one thing i’ll give the xtians. they realized over 2,000 years ago: it pays to be flexible. the xtian tradition has many, many pantheistic theological examples, and i’m actually glad for that. i’m a realistic atheist; i accept that it’s unlikely the world will ever be completely free of religion. but if “forward thinking” xtians want to point out the obvious, and help other people with their evolution into atheism, i’m not going to stand in their way or criticize them.

  • Canadian Atheist, Eh

    I’m really looking forward to reading Harris’s The Moral Landscape.

    For anyone who hasn’t heard of this one yet, here’s the pre-order page at Amazon. It’ll be available on Oct. 5.

    Hey, great site, by the way — I’ve been following the blog in an RSS feed for a few weeks, but hadn’t commented before today. Read Hemant’s book the other week and found it clear and insightful, if maybe sometimes a little too accommodating — a little of the kind of friendly that makes you question whether it’s wholly sincere. But, whatever — approachability is good, and in truth I have to commend the good folks among us who can keep their cool in the breathing face of some of that religious apologetic.

    Anyway, good to see you out there, folks. Be well.

  • Erp

    I strongly suspect Dowd is not alone in his denomination. He is an United Church of Christ minister (UCC) probably the most liberal of the strictly Christian denominations in the US (a joke is that UCC actually stands for Unitarians Considering Christ). He might be a panentheist.

  • http://zachvoch.blogspot.com Zach Voch

    There are some unusually poor comments on this post… I want to point out two types:

    1) Dowd is “bowing to atheist pressure” and therefore weak.
    2) Dowd’s ideas are “preferable to the alternative” and therefore should not be criticized.

    For (1), comments like “not a true Christian” are hardly viable criticisms of Dowd, particularly from atheists who should view this as a definitional matter. I do not think that Dowd is pretending to represent mainstream Christianity on this point, so he can hardly be accused of dishonesty on this matter. We should treat Dowd’s ideas on their own merits, bringing us to (2).

    No, “better than somebody else” is not grounds for “should not be criticized.” If Dowd uses poor reasoning, it should be criticized on the same grounds that “worse” variants of religion should be. Presumably, the crucial point is the truth of a religion, not the contingent factor of the corresponding appeal.

    Both (1) and (2) are wrong for the same reason: they are both arbitrarily separate from the truth of the matter. Why don’t we try commending what is good and condemning what is bad about Dowd’s ideas? Isn’t this our main strength as secular thinkers that we may freely do such a thing?

    Dowd is commendable for embracing science, but not commendable for abusing scientific language. Dowd is admirable for inclusiveness and tolerance of thought, but not admirable for relying on a fallacious basis for such conclusions. The point of free inquiry is that there is no barrier to making such balanced criticisms, and there is certainly no need to categorize authors along the lines of `rubbish bin’ and `outbox’.

    If Dowd is so close-minded and reactionary as to be marginalized by such balanced criticism, he does not really qualify for the status afforded him in (2). I think that if we are going to convince anybody, as Dowd was indeed convinced, it will be through consistency and honesty. We should not put on insincere airs and kid gloves for the slightly-pleasanters, not if we take the topic seriously. And given this, we should not be black-and-white in our dismissals. It isn’t all or nothing, people.

  • http://vancouvermoose.livejournal.com/ VancouverMoose

    damn, that guy can really orate!

  • locker51

    At least he is talking about the importance of the direct experience of reality. I can’t figure a better way for him to change the whole mindset.

  • AxeGrrl

    Marjorie Ramos wrote:

    I’ve heard Dowd speak in person. He makes a compelling argument for reconciliing faith (not religiion) with our natural world.

    He’s even gone further than that ~ one of his main objectives is to get Christians to accept evolution.

    Honestly, the more Ive heard from him (ive listened to several interviews) the more nuanced his position seems to me. I imagine that many (if not the majority) of mainstream Christians would deem his way of thinking to be very odd (and potentially blasphemous). Such as:

    “I don’t have any supernatural beliefs; I’m an evolutionary naturalist.”

    For those who haven’t heard him talk at all before, I highly recommend you giving this a listen:

    http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/533022

    I’d LOVE to hear what some of you have to think of his ideas after giving this a listen. His interview on Point of Inquiry didn’t really clarify much for me, but I found this much LONGER interview (on ‘The Infidel Guy’) to be a little more enlightening.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I thank God for the New Atheists not because I want everyone to be like them or think like them

    Are we all the same then? Do we all think alike and act alike? Bollocks, all we have in common is a lack of belief in gods. Thank us for that if you like but I didn’t choose it, it just seems obvious.

    I am grateful because of how they are prodding religion and humanity to mature and because of how they are goading religious people (like me!) to get real about God, guidance, and good news

    “Get real”? What does that even mean? Prodding religion? Poke it is with a stick to see if its still breathing and wondering if the old beast has any teeth left more like.

  • AxeGrrl

    For anyone interested in the phenomenon of speaking in tongues, Dowd talks about it in the interview I posted above.(he strictly describes it as being nothing more than something akin to meditation)

    It’s quite a good interview (especially further in).

    “For me, no other-worldly ‘heaven’ could possibly match what I experience every day within this incredible universe we live in.”

    His philosophy seems very Sagan-esque; he echo’s Sagan’s ‘we are a way for the cosmos to know itself‘ when he says ‘we are the universe becoming self-conscious’.

  • Greg

    I think this is a fantastic thing. The hardest thing for many people is accepting that their Holy Book may not be 100% accurate. Often once you allow yourself to start questioning you create a runaway snowball of questions which lead you constantly onwards until you arrive at deism (or even better, atheism). If people listen to Dowd then it is a win – win to me. The worst that can happen is they get rid of some of their more obnoxious beliefs, and the best is that the introduction to scepticism leads them to apply scepticism to as many things as possible. (Incl. but not limited to: religion, homoeopathy, astrology, etc.)

    I wonder how many people here who were theists became an atheist at the drop of a hat? Personally, it took me many years, starting off (probably) with when I first came across an argument for the existence of god (Anselm’s), and the fact that there had to be an argument (and it sucked) first made me wonder if god existed. Until then I had just accepted that god existed because everyone else believed it.

    ::blushes::

    To be fair, I was still pretty young. :)

    The more people are encouraged to question things to do with gods – whether their scriptures, or philosophical arguments – the better imo. Questions and time are two of the most important things which lead to atheism.

  • Scott Turner

    Pastor Dowd’s theology is similar to that of Episcopal Bishop John Spong. These guys are valuable because they introduce reasonable ideas to faith-communities from within. That’s important because other believers, especially those who have know Dowd for years, cannot deny his “religious experience.” He’s not a voice coming from the outer, unsaved Darkness. Nope. He’s a man with a new perspective on his personal (formerly traditional Christian) experience. Good for him – and sham on President Mohler for wanting to condemn American children to ignorance and ultimately, therefore, poverty.

  • http://www.godtalkradio.com Jason

    And for those who may be interested, [HERE] is another pastor’s take on this whole mess.

  • Ben Zalisko

    Thanks for the link Jason.

    Apparently, he rejects biblical Christianity and even a personal God. He believes, like Tillich, in God only as a metaphor for reality. He’s an atheist as far as I’m concerned.

    He is simply one of the many pastors who doesn’t believe, but he is in a liberal enough church (UCC) to preach his nonbelief.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    …”teach and preach discoveries of science”…

    Don’t we already have people like that? They’re called scientists.

  • Physicalist

    Dowd interviews (and adulates) PZ Myers here, if anyone’s interested.

  • walkamungus

    Kudos to Dowd for linking the language of reason with the language of faith. That’s a baby step, but an important one; faith communities have to be exposed to new concepts before they can embrace them.

  • Edmond

    It’s nice that he’s reaching out, I guess, but he still doesn’t get it.

    “Align with reality — or perish” is NOT intended to “revitalize faith traditions”. It is meant to DISPEL them.

    People who “Let the story of evolution be told in ways that engender familial love and gratitude”, cannot ALSO “get their guidance and inspiration from humanity’s common creation story”.

    If you want to get “real” about god, then you ask him for some proof!

  • http://religiouscomics.net Jeff P

    For a pastor, I think his ideas are refreshing. I agree, though, with others who say that why can’t we be sufficiently impresses and in awe of nature without needing to grasp the “divine” concept.

    On a side note, I guess God made atheists to help save Christianity. ;) The new “chosen people”. Feel proud.

  • ckitching

    I have to wonder… If most pastors were like Mr Dowd here, would the so-called “New Atheists” even exist? I’m guessing the most anyone would be able to muster would be a rather patronizing, “That’s nice.”

  • muggle

    I must be missing something. That reads to me that he’s promoting those first two buybull verses. Which has scary implications.

    WTF? Where is everyone seeing kindness and good? Does all it take to pull the wool over our eyes is to quote some Atheists (I resent this new crap more and more when there’s been nonbelievers as long as there’s been believers) and not think about the context.

    This reads more to me like he’s promoting violence, honor killings in the name of Christ even, not tolerance. And quoting Atheist writings to promote that attitude.

    It really comes off to me more like we must follow these buybull verses because look what’s being said.

  • http://MichaelDowd.org Michael Dowd

    Thanks for all the comments. If you read my sermon you’ll discover we’re on the same team, working for the same ends.

    FYI…Here’s everything I’ve written, preached, and recorded on the subject: Thank God for the New Atheists!

    I especially recommend listening to my interview on The Infidel Guy podcast (scroll to bottom of page), or go here: http://www.podfeed.net/episode/The+New+Atheists+as+Divine+Prophets+with+Rev.+Michael+Dowd/2544065

    Co-evolutionarily,

    ~ Michael

    (I don’t have access to the internet for the next few weeks, so I have to drive 20 minutes to get online. So I’ll not be able to reply to comments for a few days.)

  • http://MichaelDowd.org Michael Dowd

    FYI, in case anyone is interested, here’s my interview on The Infidel Guy podcast…

    The New Atheists as Divine Prophets

  • http://MichaelDowd.org Michael Dowd

    To be clear: I have no beliefs about God one way or the other. I am neither a theist, nor an atheist, nor a deist; I’m an emergentist — a religious naturalist. The concepts of theism and atheism came into use long before we had an evidential understanding of how the world, in fact, came into being, and before we learned that the Universe itself is creative. Given what we now know about Big History, the 14-billion-year Epic of Evolution, the theist-atheist dichotomy no longer makes any sense. Both presuppose a trivial, unnatural God and a Cosmos that is not itself divinely creative.

    Reality is my God and integrity is my religion. By this, I mean that what is real is my ultimate commitment and being in right relationship with reality, and assisting humanity in this process, is my calling and deepest inspiration.

  • muggle

    “Infidel Guy” that jackass! (Muggle rolls her eyes.) Him I’m supposed to take seriously?

    Please explain here how that excerpt isn’t promoting honor killings because it sure does read that way. No, I’m not reading your whole tedious website. And I’m sure not suffering through an Infidel Guy broadcast. Been there, done that and found him pretty much an ass.

    I must say that I find calling the “new” Atheists prophets quite offensive.

  • AxeGrrl

    Muggles wrote:

    “Infidel Guy” that jackass! (Muggle rolls her eyes.) Him I’m supposed to take seriously?

    Please explain here how that excerpt isn’t promoting honor killings because it sure does read that way. No, I’m not reading your whole tedious website. And I’m sure not suffering through an Infidel Guy broadcast. Been there, done that and found him pretty much an ass.

    I must say that I find calling the “new” Atheists prophets quite offensive

    I think you’re offering a very premature judgment there Muggles; and given what I’ve read/heard, I think you’re waaaaay off-base with your conclusions on what Dowd is saying. Hey, I was resistent/confused when I’d only read snippets too, but that changed quite a bit when I read more deeply.

    And I’m not particularly a fan of the Infidel Guy either, but that doesn’t mean that that interview is without merit. It’s quite interesting, mainly due to Dowd’s explanations and clarifications of his position.

  • http://MichaelDowd.org Michael Dowd

    Muggle, I’m hardly advocating honor killings. What I AM doing is claiming how absurd it is to take such grotesque and immoral passages as “scripture” or “divine guidance.”

    Historically, prophets were those who spoke boldly and unflinchingly a word of warning to the people: “Get right with Reality—or perish!” I see the New Atheists as playing precisely that role with respect to superstitious, otherworldly religion.

    How this helps.

    In service of a healthy future for us all,

    ~ Michael

  • http://zachvoch.blogspot.com Zach Voch

    Michael Dowd,

    First, I would like to thank you for responding to comments on this thread and involving yourself in the discussion.

    Next, I’d like clarification on this point: “Muggle, I’m hardly advocating honor killings. What I AM doing is claiming how absurd it is to take such grotesque and immoral passages as “scripture” or “divine guidance.””

    It might be absurd from a secular perspective, but if one views a given text and/or set of texts as divinely inspired, then we run into problems, bringing us to this: “Historically, prophets were those who spoke boldly and unflinchingly a word of warning to the people: “Get right with Reality—or perish!””

    Historically, “Get right with reality or perish” would correspond to “get right with God’s Will and Law”, not with “get right with the results of scientific processes and free inquiry”, the latter of which being the item advocated by New Atheists. From a secular point of view, the prophets were, if as a group anything, reactionaries, advocating a purity of doctrine and nationalism quite opposed to the accommodation of other ideas. The prophets spoke against intermarriage and mixing of cultures. The prophets – or more generally, those placing the words in their mouths – wrote polemically against the contemporaneous modernity.

    I agree that items like honor killing are absurd and can hardly be considered moral guidance, but to cite prophets as advocates of some free inquiry analogous to that propounded by New Atheists is at best misleading. The perishing of which they warned was at the hand of a retributive God, the circumvention of which would be through adherence to the law, not the perishing at the hand of a blind nature to be circumvented through naturalistic understanding. If anything, understanding of the Law in orthodox Judaism (and later in orthodox Christianity) is secondary to following the Law. Even if you do not fully understand it, you are supposed to believe it. The Bible, like the Qu’ran, enjoins us to submission and obedience to God, whether or not we understand Him. And of what understanding we are supposed to have, it is of doctrine and right-living. If anything, such teaching is the opposite of free inquiry; authority, faith, sacred nationalism, theocracy, and traditionalism can hardly be described as part of the Gospel of New Atheism.

    “Reality is my God and integrity is my religion. By this, I mean that what is real is my ultimate commitment and being in right relationship with reality, and assisting humanity in this process, is my calling and deepest inspiration.”

    Within this view, reading prophets as you have done can be consistent and coherent within your outlook, but it is another thing entirely to claim, or appear to be claiming, that the prophets of old advocated this naturalistic-understanding-as-normative which you attribute to them. As I noted before, they emphasize the opposite. Perhaps they can be read as naturalistic theologians by an unconventional treatment of language, but “Get right with Reality” in your sense or the sense advocated by New Atheists is not even approximate to a normal reading of the text, particularly not from a religious perspective assigning to the prophets special authority through revealed wisdom.

    I think that we would agree that things like honor killing are not divinely-inspired, but we seem to disagree in how we agree, so to speak. Such passages suggest to me the obvious and unpleasantly human nature of the prophets, not that the prophets can be consistently or persuasively remade as modern humanists and naturalists. I feel that such attempts fail and will continue to fail, the approach being convincing and agreeable only to those who have a prior, extra-scriptural commitment to humanistic principles taking precedence to doctrine. This is fine and preferable to me, but presenting the prophets as agreeing with me is something else entirely.

    The prophets were all about some `superstitious, otherworldly religion’.

  • http://MichaelDowd.org Michael Dowd

    Zach, fabulous points. Really.
    Thank you!

    In case anyone is interested, here’s the latest in my public debate with Albert Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary:

    “Biblical Christianity Is Bankrupt”