Archive for God

Atheist, liberal and fundamentalist conspire together to misrepresent the faith

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , on 11 April 2011 by Michael Hampson

Atheist and fundamentalist conspire together to misrepresent the faith, insisting that Christianity demands a God who is a wrathful king, and a bible that is an infallible oracle.

The atheist rightly mocks, and the fundamentalist defends the indefensible.

Most liberals commit the same offence, maintaining the fundamentalists’ notion of an angry God. God is just angry (and you are required to feel guilty) about different things, like global warming and poverty.

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Official catholic doctrine: everybody goes to heaven, nobody goes to hell (universalism, purgatory, and the Rob Bell ‘Love Wins’ controversy)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on 29 March 2011 by Michael Hampson

Rob Bell has caused a huge flurry of controversy amongst his fellow evangelicals with his suggestion that hell may be empty.

What he is presenting is universalism, a respectable Christian theological position for centuries, and the official doctrine of the catholic church, as set out in detail in the catechism.

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Silence and awe as the beginning of wisdom

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 16 February 2011 by Michael Hampson

In this recent post, I quoted Jason Derr suggesting that the word ‘God’ can validly be seen as a reference not to “a creature or being that sits outside of time and space” but to actions and experiences that express our highest ideals: love, mercy, justice, passion, joy, goodness. He then singles out awe as the experience by which we become aware of this God: awe at life itself, at living, at the growing world and the universe – and presumably at love, mercy, justice, passion, joy and goodness.

To stand in awe is often to stand in silence. In the BBC’s The Big Silence (discussed here), it was through silence that the participants each found a spirituality which, on reflection, sounds a lot like awe: awe at the natural beauty of life and the universe, discovered and experienced in the stillness.

There is genuine awe at the wonder of the universe expressed in Richard Dawkins’ poem It is raining DNA outside, posted here a few days ago. In his wonderment he even creates a theology: that the process he observes has a purpose, namely the spreading of DNA. (The spreading of DNA is a feature of the process; to call it the purpose of the process is to go beyond observation into personification, and thence theology. If there really is no God, there is no purpose, which is the point of Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead” speech, in this recent post.)

Proverbs 1:7 is often unhappily translated “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Any dictionary or thesaurus will show that the words awe and fear are closely related, even though awe may contain not fear but its complete opposite: a sense of being embraced and cherished by a wonderful universe. Fear never led to wisdom. Awe certainly does. So let awe be the beginning of wisdom. This section in God without God even shows that Yahweh, in the Old Testament, here translated as “the Lord”, means something like “the ground of all being” – so it is awe at the wonder of existence itself that is the beginning of all wisdom.

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The Top Mistakes Atheists Make – Atheist on Atheist critique

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on 15 February 2011 by Michael Hampson

Phil Zuckerman – atheist – lists the top mistakes atheists make. These are the top four.

1. Insisting that science can, or will, answer everything.
2. Condemning all religion, rather than just the bad aspects.
3. Condemning the Bible as a wretched, silly book, rather than seeing it as a work full of good and insightful things as well.
4. Failing to understand and appreciate cultural religion.

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No line between theist and atheist

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on 14 February 2011 by Michael Hampson

Jason Derr writes:

My last post articulated a vision of God beyond theism, a concept of God that sees the word “God” as a word used to describe love. Other words sometimes used are mercy, justice, passion, joy, goodness. This suggested that we have a conception of religion that is less about religious beliefs and more about a passion for the religious life: an awe of life, living, and the growing world and universe, that can only be called religious. You hear this sort of religious awe in, say, Richard Dawkins when he speaks on the beauty of evolution. This model suggests that there is no line between theism on the one hand and atheism on the other.

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Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead” speech, far from supporting atheism, was aimed at its failings

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , , on 14 February 2011 by Michael Hampson

According to this review, Nietzsche’s famous “God is dead” speech, far from supporting atheism, was aimed at its failings.

The speech challenges an audience of atheists to realise that if God is dead, there is nothing left on which to base any system or even concept of ethics or values other than an infinite diversity of individual opinions.

Any system or concept of values or ethics created in this way is a new, equally-false, god, created by the atheist himself.

Once these false Gods are also rejected, the only available conclusion is nihilism: the acknowledgement that all values are ultimately baseless, and that nothing meaningful can be known or communicated.

Far from supporting atheism, Nietzsche is challenging an audience of atheists to realise that they still have a long way to go before their philosophical system becomes coherent.

God without God does not argue that therefore there must be a God. Rather, it defines God as the sum of the best human ideals. After atheism, this is all there is, for both the believer and the non-nihilistic atheist alike. The only decision to be made is which human ideals to believe in, and what to do as a consequence.

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JD Salinger anniversary: Success is phony – failure is Christlike (The Catcher in the Rye)

Posted in Uncategorized with tags , , on 29 January 2011 by Michael Hampson

For Salinger’s Holden Caulfield, success is phony, those who make it their goal and purpose are phony, and those who try to make it your goal and purpose are phony.

Discussion around Salinger’s anniversary this weekend reminded me of this passage from God without God, which celebrates not success but failure as the truly Christlike virtue.

One final factor remains in the human experience of nagging guilt and low self-esteem: not the committing of sin, but the failure to do sufficient good.

Once again Jesus and the cross are our redemption, for Jesus also failed. The cross in particular represents spectacular public failure.

Jesus began his public ministry in the synagogue– a reformer within the established tradition – but he failed in this attempt at internal reform. He was driven out of the synagogue in Nazareth, and he took instead to preaching in private homes and public spaces. Eventually he identified the established religious order as an enemy, making him a revolutionary rather than a reformer. Public support for his radical agenda was at its politically most significant on Palm Sunday, when he was welcomed into Jerusalem by the crowds. Just five days later he was dead, executed by the cooperation of the political and religious authorities. His mission had failed.

If our human god was an achiever of any kind – a Ghandi or a Mandela, a warrior or a king, a rags to riches entrepreneur or Cinderella – every one of us would be judged to be a failure in comparison. But our human god is not an achiever. Our human god is a spectacular failure: a failed reformer, and a failed revolutionary. To be truly and literally Christlike is not to succeed, but to fail spectacularly.

To have your heart in the wrong place is to sin, and there is forgiveness. To have your heart in the right place and to succeed is good – though the way is strewn with temptations, to pride and self-importance and self-righteousness. To have your heart in the right place and to fail spectacularly is to be truly, literally, Christlike: it is a vision of human divinity, a paradoxical human perfection, to which we can all aspire.

To fail as a parent, to fail as a spouse, to fail in a career or a ministry or a charity, to fail as a reformer or a leader or a mediator, to fail as a teacher or a carer or a social worker, to fail as an artist or an academic or a church volunteer: all of these achieve true Christlikeness, if only the heart is in the right place.

On the day that marks his definitive failure, the day of the crucifixion, Jesus is betrayed, denied and abandoned by his closest followers. If the existence of a church organised in his name today – in various forms two billion strong – is to be regarded as any kind of success, it was achieved not by Jesus himself but by the ordinary human beings who took it on and made it work in the days and weeks and months and years and centuries following. For the rest of us, to have failed spectacularly, but to have inspired just one other person in the effort – perhaps without even knowing it – is enough.

And the final guilty fear is that we could have done more of the less spectacular good: fed more of the hungry, tended more of the sick, as Jesus commends in the parable of the final judgement. And once again Jesus is our example, for sometimes even he would walk away. In the very first chapter of Saint Mark, they lay out the sick in the streets for him, but he has already gone into the hills alone to pray. They call him back, to attend to the sick, but he refuses, and presses on to the next town instead. Sometimes we have other responsibilities, sometimes we just need to be alone; our finite, failing Jesus is our example, our salvation, and our God.

Full text with footnotes here

Salinger died 27 January 2010 aged 91

More on the Salinger anniversary here