still alive between theism and atheism

still alive between theism and atheism cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
πŸ˜€ SHOP πŸ˜€

I wrote this meditation for The Lasting Supper, and it’s been stuck in my craw ever since. So I felt I should share it with you.

While I was walking my dog this morning in the warm sunlit air along the river I was thinking about how what I call the z-theory is basically trinitarian in structure. I’m trying to articulate this theory because it helps me understand why I can be a Christian and an Atheist at the same time. I get an email or message or tweet at least daily from someone urging me to make a decision and come out as a real Christian or a real Atheist. I don’t feel the need. Let me try to write it out as simply as possible.

As a Christian, I could impute supernatural meaning to it:

  1. There is the Mystery (That which we call “God”).
  2. There is the Revelation of the Mystery (Jesus).
  3. There is the Assimilation of the Revelation of the Mystery into the human collective (Spirit).

As an Atheist, I could completely strip this theory of the supernatural:

  1. The Unknown.
  2. Our Discovery of the Unknown.
  3. The Assimilation of our Discovery of the Unknown into the human collective.

These two are no different to me. I feel no anxiety about it, nor intend to.

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  • We are all unbelievers at heart. It is our default position.

    But I do believe. The Lord has made me a believer, and is endeavoring to keep me in faith. In spite of my trying to wriggle away from Him.

    “Lord I believe. Help me in my unbelief.”

  • reasonable one

    Calling the mystery “God” is not the same as believing in a deity. Most people, whether theistic or atheistic, experience what Hitchens liked to refer to as the numinous. I saw a poll recently that suggested that about 1/3 of churchgoers do not believe in a theistic god. However, the term “atheist” has been so demonized that most of these folks would never refer to themselves as atheists, even though they are. Related:

  • I believe in two truths.

    1. A person has their whole life to think about such things. Take your time and think about them. Enjoy the journey.

    2. Feel no compulsion to declare a decision about metaphysical or religious matters. Often, declaring a decision is merely for the benefit of **other** people so they can feel better about the decisions they have made.

  • I like that Jeff P.

  • Andrew Hackman

    I appreciate your rejection of joining a team…. I finally gave in to the term Atheist, but I still see jersey-wearing as inherently problematic.

  • I like to think of myself as a perpetual seeker. I expect to be one till the day I die. Many churches view seeking as merely a stage on the way to being a believer – and therefore seeking is seen as something less worthy than believing. I view it the other way around.

  • Seamus King

    Keep on in the whatever it is you’re doing, David. It sure seems to be annoying the categorizers πŸ˜‰

  • thanks seamus. i will.

  • Steelwheels

    If you were thinking about anything on your walk then Alex Rosenberg would say you’re not an atheist.

  • HAHA yes that’s true. πŸ™‚

  • hugoestr

    You speak my mind.

    The obsession on belief is a Christian one since a big component of salvation is believing the right narrative. I find it one of the weaknesses of Christianity. It distracts from what really matters, which is how we treat each other.

  • Jordan Dallas

    I can’t see how there isn’t a difference in the two. If we think of the source of life as personal and loving, that seems be different than seeing it as the unknown. Maybe my question is in the atheist version, what is the substitute for Jesus? What constitutes our discovery of the unknown as atheists? Is it science and everything that has taught us? Is it our own experience of being alive as thinking, feeling creatures and all that has taught us?

    Anyway, interesting the parallels you draw between the two ways of seeing reality.

  • Aoc Crow

    The set of X and not-X are mutually exclusive. No one has to share what set they are in but there is no denying they are in one and only one of them.

  • Matt Dillahunty

    There is no middle ground between “I believe X” and “I do not believe X”.

  • klhayes

    I like the analogy….I have very recently come to a place in my life where I really like my job, I am feeling healthy physically and mentally and am just happy. And included in that is no need to identify by a specific faith. I love all people and want to do my part to make the world better. Labels do not help and often can hurt those who choose not to be labeled and those who wear the label but are accepting of those outside their circle.

  • Donna Hoover Olsen

    I don’t see how calling the Mystery the Unknown makes one an atheist. It’s simply saying that the Mystery is greater than anything we can comprehend. I certainly hope it is.

  • Donna Hoover Olsen

    Why not?

  • Matt Dillahunty

    Because they’re direct logical negations. A and !A. (Note that “I do not believe X” is NOT the same as “I believe X is false”).

  • Donna Hoover Olsen

    I’m not sure it’s always that clear-cut. What we love matters more than what we believe anyway. Rilke said God is a direction, not a destination. That leaves it wide open.

  • With a contradiction in the system, everything is possible. Everything is better than something in that it encompasses something and more! Hence the nakedpastor’s position is self-evidently superior to non-contradictory logic.

  • Jayson

    It seems if you are going to seek truth you have to start from the a-theistic position. By that I don’t mean you have to take on any of the perceived baggage of the name, just that you are starting from a point of neutrality on the god-issue like we hopefully start from neutrality any time we don’t know something and want to learn about it.

    I would just like to note that in your 2 examples you use the word “supernatural” as the foundational premise. Nowhere do you mention the “natural” world. One example is “supernatural” and the other is “stripped of the supernatural”. Shouldn’t it be the natural, observable option as the first, then hang supernatural on the second? Wouldn’t that be more…natural?

    1. There is the unknown. (certainly)
    2. Discovery of the unknown. We do this by observing, making predictions, and testing until we have reliable theories on how the world works. The wonderful thing about this is that the unknown keeps always just beyond our reach, leading on a never ending journey of discovery.
    3. The assimilation of things that were previously unknown but are now known is knowledge. We will (or should) trust that these things are true until there is evidence to think that they are not.

    1.There is the mystery (which I guess you are equating to unknown knowledge) that you call God. But why have you anthropomorphized the unknown? Why have you given it a name that starts with a capital letter? Any why God? Why not Hank or Sally? By calling the unknown God (especially in the Judeo-Christian tradition) you are making some great leaps of logic that I don’t think are justified. Can you tell me why you call the unknown, God?
    2. What has Jesus revealed about the unknown? Certainly the concept of being kind, not being materialistic, sharing what you have and even self sacrifice is not a discovery or revelation of the unknown.
    3. Assimilating the revelation into the collective? Anything widely revealed will be somewhat assimilated widely.

    I’m just not sure why we should take the natural, observable world, and hang something supernatural on it. How can this be justified?

    Thanks for the opportunity for discussion! πŸ™‚

  • Caryn LeMur

    Matt: In part of his letter to the Roman believers, Paul the Apostle explores the ‘middle ground’ of self-conscience and others-conscience. Someone whose faith is strong ‘eats meat that was offered to idols’ while another one whose faith is weak ‘eats only vegetables’ [Romans Chapter 14]. There is therefore not only a ‘middle ground’, but an entire continuum from ‘weak faith’ to ‘strong faith’. The Bible therefore does not always support speaking in the binary logical system, but also supports a continuum system of logic, as well.
    What do you think belongs within the binary system of which you propose? What do you think belongs within the continuum system of which I propose?

    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • Caryn LeMur

    Andrew: I truly like your last statement. As someone that thinks highly of some alternative lifestyles (that helped me through a rough time long ago), I love those people. And, I follow Christ.

    When I wear the jersey that says “Alt Society”, the a number of my fellow Christians are offended… When I bring up, perhaps in a bar with alt society friends, that I also follow Christ… they are not offended (though they are perplexed… lol).

    I like that Jesus did not wear a jersey when He visited with the Samaritans – a group of people that a good Jew would not even touch… even avoiding their county.
    Much love in Christ always and unconditionally; Caryn

  • At the risk of creating straw men, I view it as the following:

    The Christian sees a person as a broken empty vessel that can be externally repaired and filled by Jesus. Jesus would then be the conduit of all knowledge, goodness, and love. Jesus, because He is such a great guy, even allows knowledge, goodness, and love to enter people that don’t believe in His divinity. Presumably then the Holy Spirit whispers in the hearts of all mankind about this knowledge, goodness, and love. Otherwise, we would all just be animals grunting and rooting around in the dirt.

    From the atheistic perspective, there is no external agent responsible for the filling of knowledge, goodness, and love nor is there the concept of being born broken. The human animal has simply evolved to be able to figure things out about the external world and there has been a selective advantage for our species to show love and generally be good. Good may or may not be an absolute but it is something that humans must negotiate and refine with the human collective. It is an on-going effort to create a society with more justice and goodness.

    Of course Christians also engage in activities to figure out the external world and they participate in negotiations within the human collective. They just attribute an external agent for a lot of what atheists consider an intrinsic human quality.

  • klhayes

    I think that the cartoon depicts that people move between the two throughout their lives…some more frequently than others. They can see both sides of an issue and think both have validity. My mother used to tell me she sometimes believed and sometimes didn’t. I think many of us carry contradictory ideas in our heads (like wanting government out of Medicare, wanting to defund programs we may have benefited from at one time.) and

  • Ryan Tiffany

    Unless you’re Mitt Romney.

  • Kevin Daugherty

    “Every concept of God is a mere simulacrum, a false likeness, an idol: it could not reveal God himself.” — St. Gregory of Nyssa

    “God does not exist. He is being itself beyond essence and existence. Therefore to argue that God exists is to deny him.” — Paul Tillich

  • Steven Waling

    I’m thinking Schrodinger’s Cat.

  • Donna Hoover Olsen

    Do you mean that when I try to look carefully at my opinion, it disappears?

  • Matt Dillahunty

    Sigh. I never said you couldn’t believe or disbelieve to varying degrees.

    “…an entire continuum from ‘weak faith’ to ‘strong faith'”

    That’s ALL belief. Weakly believing and strongly believing are both within the category of “I believe” and NOT within the category of “I do not believe”.

  • bob ingersoll

    I don’t know, I have been one of those who, in the past, encouraged David to pick one team or the other. When David says “…I can be a Christian and an Atheist at the same time…” it just seems to me to be, for lack of a better word, dishonest. Or – perhaps Davids definition of “Christian” and “atheist” are just different than mine (and just about everybody elses πŸ™‚ So, perhaps David could just write a blog post laying out his thoughts on what he means when he uses the word “Christian”, or “Christianity”, “atheist” and “atheism”. Kind of explain his views on God(s) and Jesus, the bible. Not the kind of commentary that he has been doing for years now (that we all have come to love and enjoy) , but an honest, serious expo-see revealing exactly what he “believes” right now, at this moment, concerning Christianity and atheism. I am not saying that it is NECESSARY for him to reveal exactly what he believes in plain and simple words, but from my perspective, before an honest dialogue can take place, the participating parties should make sure that each other understands what they mean when they use certain words, and make sure each other understands what they believe concerning those words. So when David claims that he can be a hammer and a nail at the same time, either he is dishonest, he is nuts, or I just don’t know what he means by “hammer” and “nail”.

  • stan Stephens

    If you value seeking over finding, then you will never find.

  • stan Stephens

    You have not gotten to the basics: the theist claim is that there is a cause for the existence of the universe, a cause which is not comprised of mass/energy or space/time since those did not exist before the expansion; the cause had the agency to implement the universe, and therefore is a non-physical, non-temporal, agent which could and did create the universe.

  • If by finding you mean being condescending and feeling superior to seekers, I hope I never find.

  • It is possible to have a contextual belief where one can switch viewpoints throughout the day depending on context and believe different things at different times. Then one can gain a meta knowledge that the momentary belief is somewhat irrelevant (or at least not all important). It is certainly not something that will get you burning in Hell for all eternity if you end up with the wrong one at the time of your death.

  • You just described the Deist stance. Theists believe that and also that the causing agent is currently interacting with its creation and can possibly be influenced by activities like prayer, worship, obeying certain laws, and believing certain things. It is these other things beyond Deism that the atheist doesn’t believe in. I personally don’t see any functional difference that matters between Deism and atheism.

  • jim dorey

    my thinking is that someone can take lessons from any teacher or from observation of someone they consider worth following, it doesn’t mean they believe they’re really magical(though there are exceptions). was gandhi magical? no, but someone could call themselves a follower of gandhi. when they want to choose a name for their personal beliefs, it just matters who they choose to model themselves after. throw a modifier in front to show other people that require you have a label, to show which particular parts of the teachings you strongly adhere to or reject.

  • quickshot

    Honest question for Dave: If you sit between, then why is your blog hosted on the Progressive Christian channel? Why not the atheist channel? There is no “gotcha” here, I am genuinely curious.