Thursday, February 08, 2007

Prophetic Atheism

The latest UU Carnival has as its topic a quote from James Luther Adams: “A good deal of so-called atheism is itself, from my point of view, theologically significant. It is the working of God in history, and judgement upon the pious. An authentic prophet can be a radical critic of spurious piety, of sham spirituality.”

When I entered the UU ministry, I had already done a lot of thinking about atheism, agnosticism, and theism. There had been a long period of time when I wasn't too certain about what/who/how God could be; in fact, there are times now when I am not too certain.

It was my experience in AlAnon, needing to find a Higher Power in order to work the 12 step program, that pushed me to define my thoughts about God. And it was helpful to me to listen to the several nontheists I knew. I found that their perspective pushed me further, to examine my own assumptions, my prejudices, my uncertainties. But in order to work through the first few steps of AlAnon, I had to find a Higher Power.

My "old white guy on a throne" didn't work for me any more. In casting about for a power that was greater than my power, I settled on Gravity, one thing I knew for sure that was greater than my power. Gravity morphed into Natural Law as Higher Power and it was there that I found myself in agreement with my atheist friends.

I wrote the following short piece later as a result of my changing thinking, in an effort to broaden and not make captive my thinking about God.

What do I believe about God?
I am an atheist, if you ask me about the old white guy in the sky. I am a believer, if you ask me about nature or spirit or love. I am an agnostic, if you ask for proofs of God. I am a believer, if you ask for my experience of God.
To me, God is all----nature, spirit, love, cosmos, creation. God is in all----in me, in you, in my belongings, in my animals and the plants I tend, in all beings, animate and inanimate. God is in my relationships----with myself, with other beings, with the universe. God is beyond all----infinite, endless, limitless.
How can I know God? How can I not know God? God is all around me, God is within me, God is beyond me. God is in all my experience, yet beyond my experience.
God is mystery, yet I know God when I tend my garden, when I care for my pets, when I nurture my relationships.
God is invisible, yet I view God in the starry sky, in a mountain meadow, in a mighty storm.
God is infinite, yet I experience God in the limitless ocean, in an endless prairie of grass, in the wind which cools the hot day.
God is not human, yet I pray for God’s guidance; God is impersonal, yet I seek God’s blessing; God is detached, yet I feel God’s presence.
God is genderless, yet I sense God’s understanding of my womanhood.
God is changeless, yet I am aware of the continuous growth of creation.
What do you believe about God?


LinguistFriend said...

This appears to represent part of your thinking at a time which must have been terribly difficult. As I understand it, your passage implies two main aspects of God, one pantheistic, and the other very personal. This at first seems to be a problem, but in fact it is not unacceptable to observe aspects of a phenomenon which are mutually contradictory in terms of our present understanding. Such a contradiction tells us that we need to rethink our present understanding; it is a first step towards doing so.
My own present thinking overlaps your passage to some extent, in that it is partly pantheistic, and with a metaphorical component which is close to Einstein's comments about God, which often use traditional god-language but clearly refer to how the world works rather than to
someone who may respond to prayer.
I can respect and even envy your (at least then) more personal relationship to a deity indicated in the passage you quote, but I do not think that way.

ms. kitty said...

Thank you for your thoughts, LF. I would add "panentheistic" to your description. But I don't have a problem containing all these facets within my thinking about the power beyond human power (aka God).

I don't think I need to "re"think it; I think I need to continue to think about it, not in order to come up with a different definition but to add more clarity and substance to my understanding.

I am comfortable with all kinds of contradictions, at least in this area.

Oh well, what would you expect from a Gemini with a Myers-Briggs "J" rising?

Mile High Pixie said...

Ms. Kitty, what a glorious but brief way to discuss the wide and yet narrow understanding of the Divine! I can appreciate your insights while I toil through my own conflicted feelings about a Higher Power that simltaneously comforts me but "allows" horrible things to happen, both here with me and out there. I'm having a hard time coming back to Faith, and yet something still tells me that it's okay to simultaneously be pissed off and believe and challenge and accept all at the same time.

ms. kitty said...

MHP, I appreciate your kind words. Seems like life is sometimes one extended fitting together of contradictory and complementary ideas, isn't it? I wish you well in your journey. I can recommend the Unitarian Universalist congregations in the Denver area, having been a longtime member of Jefferson Unitarian in Golden. You might find companions on the path at one of them.

Joel said...

Me? I believe in one God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth... You can fill in the rest from memory, I expect.

But I guess you probably knew that. :)

Miss Kitty said...

I really enjoyed this post; it reminds me of some of my own thinking about God and wondering what he/she/it really is about. As I try to answer the "why?" questions in life, I keep walking down this path. And by the way: I'm an Al-Anon alumna, too. My experiences within that group helped shape and re-shape my experience of God.

Thanks for posting this, Ms. K.

Joel said...

Miss Kitty, anybody who uses "alumna" correctly is all right in my book. It (you should pardon the expression) drives me to drink to hear somebody refer to himself as an "alumni" of somewhere. It's more irritating if the offender is a woman; at least a man could claim multiple personalities or something. :)

ms. kitty said...

I completely agree, Joel! I was thrilled to see "alumna" used properly. You go, Miss Kitty.