A mystic, an evangelical pastor, and a fundamentalist preacher all die and go to heaven on the same day. Peter greets them at heaven’s gates and informs them that before they can enter, Jesus must interview them about what they believe. The mystic enters the interview room first. After five hours he comes out smiling and saying, ‘I thought I had got it all wrong.’ Then the evangelical pastor enters. After a full day, he comes out crying, ‘How could I have been so foolish!’ Finally, the fundamentalist picks up his well-used Bible and enters for his interview. After days with no word from the room, Jesus finally stumbles out saying, ‘How could I have got it all so wrong!’ (Adapted from Peter Rollins, How (Not) to Speak of God, p.21)
How we respond to such stories often reveals what we think about God. But whatever we may believe, our ideas about God are not God. They are simply attempts to understand what is beyond understanding and to know what is unknowable.
MORE THAN ONE WAY TO BELIEVE
In an article at Progressive Christianity Rev. Dr. Jeffrey Frantz tells of Marcus Borg, who taught religion at Oregon State University. At the beginning of term students would often tell Borg they liked his subject matter but didn’t believe in God. Borg would ask them about the God they didn’t believe in. Usually they would describe a Supreme Being who lived in heaven and sporadically intervened in the world, sometimes in response to prayer. They were usually surprised when Borg replied that he didn’t believe in this God either.
Theism is the common belief in a ‘God in the sky’ (as Frantz calls it), but it is not the only way to believe. Technically, if you don’t believe in theism you are an a-theist even if you believe in God in another way. The early Christians were called atheists because they did not believe in the Roman pantheon.
Peter Rollins reminds us:
We ought to affirm our view of God while at the same time realising that that view is inadequate. Hence we act both as theist and atheist.
What this means is that healthy faith involves:
- Holding our ideas about God lightly;
- Constantly questioning and reworking them;
- Always remembering that God is infinitely greater and more mysterious than anything we might believe.
Karen Armstrong was right:
…there is no objective view of “God”: each generation has to create the image of God that works for it.
LIVING AN ATHEIST FAITH
Last week we explored how God evolves (for us) as our ideas evolve. Now I invite you to consider that the evolution of (our) God should be a constant, intentional spiritual practice.
Here are some practical ways to be more intentionally evolutionary:
- Deliberately engage with ideas about God that are different from our own;
- Develop a regular practice of questioning our ideas about God;
- Read widely across a range of different disciplines, voices, and perspectives;
- Take note of how our beliefs impact how we live, and especially how we treat others;
- Willingly and regularly release any ideas about God that no longer make sense or that lead us to harm others.
Healthy faith is atheistic. It rejects the theistic God in the sky. It constantly questions, searches, explores, and evolves. Our ideas about God are always hopelessly inadequate. That’s why faith without a healthy dose of skepticism is essentially dead.
What would it mean for you to embrace atheism in this sense? How could you be more intentional about evolving in your spirituality? Let’s chat in the comments below.
Over to you!
Don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter, or follow us on social media so you don’t miss out on any of the new happenings here at EvoFaith.
Discussion, robust debate, and respectful disagreement are encouraged. However, shaming, attacking, and trolling are not. Please keep the comments on topic, and kind. Any comments that violate this ethos will be removed.