Among my associates in Cyberland there are the few that revel when they see an atheist giving a believer [I prefer the term Faither] a good kicking. I have witnessed them yelp in gleeful delight as the revered Soldiers of Scientific Light strike yet another blow for common sense against the villainous Peddlers of Darkness - the deluded Minions of Religious Superstition. I’ve refrained from commenting on this for a long time but, as time passed, it had been proving more and more difficult to remain silent. Like Jeremiah, I found myself thinking: ‘The word of the Lord burn’s within me; like a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in. Indeed, I cannot!’ Eventually, I felt compelled to respond to these malodorous pieces of virtual flotsam and jetsam.
I was discussing this subject recently with a colleague at work and he related how a brother of his felt his faith was shaken following an exchange between some Celebrity Atheist and a well respected New Age Guru [it may well have been this exchange here]. My friend is spiritually accomplished and, to his credit, was able to allay his brother’s concerns. This got me thinking about how often this thunder among the gods [public debates between the luminaries of science and religion] sometimes strikes fear in the heart of the meek and compelled by the urge to offer comfort, reassurance, and guidance to the faithful I wrote a piece. You can read it here.
This article drew the interest of many. Some were thrilled, some not-so-thrilled. Questions were asked about how I approach debates/exchanges/conversations with those that contend for the merits of atheistic beliefs and out of these questions came a request that I collate my responses into a coherent whole for the benefit of interested parties. So, here we go.
My approach to friends and associates of an atheistic persuasion is, firstly, to LISTEN CAREFULLY to their assertions. I would usually follow this by acknowledging the nonsensical nature of the concept of God that they are examining, offer general agreement with their position and concede the validity of their claim. If I can, I endeavour to further illuminate the inadequacies of the concept they put forward but assert that such concepts do not represent the God of my faith. I invite them to reflect on the fact that a description of a flower is not the flower. A description of a dinner is not the same as eating a dinner. A description of a foreign land cannot be equated with the experience of living in it. A description of love is not the same as falling in love, being in love, and staying in love. A description of a person is not that same as meeting and knowing the person. I contend that the same holds true when we speak of God; a description of God is not God; that there’s a big difference between the IDEAS about God and the personal EXPERIENCE of knowing God.
Generally[i] [but not always], ideas are to experience what effect is to cause – they are correlated but they are not the same. Individuals that contend for the atheist interpretation of the data of existence can only speak about God second hand as they have never experienced God, they do not know God, they must therefore rely on the accounts of others [flawed though these may be]. They are acquainted with various theories about God but they are not acquainted with the source of these theories. It is easy dissect a theory but it is impossible contend with an experience. One cannot know God and argue against His existence. However, without the personal experience of knowing God every other account, or claim to such knowledge, is mere hearsay which has not been confirmed by the disputant’s personal experience. An individual might assert in truth that they have ‘not found God’ but, to be consistent, they must add ‘YET’, and as anyone that has ever found God knows – God can be found; however, in this enterprise of finding God there is one essential without which He cannot be found, the seeker must first sincerely, and with a whole heart, want to find Him, and that was one of the key points of my original article. You cannot claim that there is no God if you have never truly searched for it and you can never find God unless you search with all your might, in the end your journey will never exceed your faith.
The various ideas, conceptions, and notions of God that are to be found among the world’s religious traditions are known to be erroneous to one degree or another even by the respective traditions that seek to preserve such concepts. This teaching is a cornerstone of most of the Abrahamic traditions: that all images of God are distortions of truth and should be zealously avoided. Every image of God create by us is, to one degree or another, largely: flawed, false, a distortion, a misrepresentation, a lie, an error, an illusion, a mistake: an imperfect material, temporal, and finite construct attempting to reflect the flawless grandeur and indivisible unity of the Spiritual, Eternal, and Infinite Source from whence all realities are derived; as the Buddhist teach, such creations are merely ‘fingers pointing to the Moon’ but they are not the Moon. Such constructs may be useful but should never be taken too seriously. Our concepts of that which we call God will be ever improving, evolving, and ever enlarging but never can they be wholly adequate – only the personal experience of knowing God can gratify the spiritual needs of the individual.
Individuals that advocate the Atheistic interpretation of the data of existence often claim great mileage out of picking apart the flaws in and tearing up images of God and exult that they’ve killed God. This is an illusion. Tearing up a photograph, portrait, or description of me cannot destroy me. The representation is NOT the thing represented. Frankly, it requires no great talent to pick at the flaws in any man made concept; and when it comes to the objects of religious devotion all finite concepts eventually collapse under the weight of the infinite. Such images may be organically linked to their source but they are not the same. The Creation REFLECTS the mind of the Creator; it is a revelation of ITS Will, Purpose, and Technique but it is not the Creator. The Creation is an EFFECT conditioned by an antecedent Cause, the Creator [The Primal Source CAUSE]; the Effect is DEPENDENT and CONDITIONED but the Source is the INDEPENDENT CONDITIONER.
Paul spoke of our experience of knowing the Divine as ‘perceiving through a glass – darkly’. He meant that our understanding of the divine is, at best, a terrible muddle but that our lack of understanding should in no way impede the expression of our love, devotion, worship, and service. The fact that we perceive things divine as ‘through a glass – darkly’ should inform the philosophy of all religious thinkers. Religious thinkers have no right to be arrogant about things we perceive ‘darkly’ and it is arrogance on the part of religious thinkers [falsely so-called] that has so irked the intellectual classes that they have risen up to put such characters in their place and they are right to. Arrogance is a spiritual poison that is toxic to the soul and fatal to any religious system it infects. One cannot be both arrogant and sincerely spiritual – they are mutually exclusive attitudes of being. Arrogance has its roots in our biology, humility in our pneumatology. The only true attitude of the sincere religionist is one of Humility. Religion without humility is an illusion. It is this sinful attitude on the part of many so-called religious that has drawn the ire of our intellectual brethren and has led them, and the flocks under their influence, to forsake the treasures of their spiritual heritage and thereby have spawned the great spiritual tragedy of the post-modern age.
Images of Deity are useful because they help us envision that which is invisible but it is the failure to distinguish the materially derived concept from the living spirit that inspired it that has bedevilled the exchanges between atheistic philosopher-scientists and philosopher-faithers. When faithers fail to distinguish between the Source reality re-presented in the image they are understandably disconcerted when atheists come along and perform a vivisection on their long cherished, albeit materialistic, notions of God but the faithful should take comfort in the fact that the creature cannot use the Creation, or even parts of the Creation, to disprove, much less destroy, the Creator. Nimble minded so-called atheists may give an impressive display but, in the end, it is all smoke and mirrors. God is Truth and you cannot use truth to disprove Truth. Faithers need not fear the rumblings of the men in their White Coats anymore than they needed to fear the rumblings of the men in their White Collars; as the Master said: ‘Fear not, believe only.’
It is the very inadequacy of our conceptualisations that summons our faith; the daring hope that the beauty, majesty, truth, and love that our spirit reveals to our souls not only has a substance but is alive, is rooted in a reality that far exceeds our greatest imagination; that the conceptualisations that we have envisioned are animated by and have their roots in the very substance of life and love we call the Spirit, Law, Divinity, God, the Source.
The indwelling spirit whispers to our souls of truth, beauty, goodness, hope, majesty, love, mercy, forgiveness, justice, righteousness, perfection; it somehow communicates to the hungry soul the sublime spiritual assurance that faltering though our image of the divine may be, dimly though we perceive these glorious spiritual realities, that there is a substance to them, that the truth behind these concepts is rooted in a majestic reality that far exceeds our greatest imagination – even our fondest hope and that we are empowered to make immediate contact with this reality through faith. This reality has many names according to race, custom, and culture: Spirit, Law, Divinity, God, the Source, all of which – one way or another – endeavours to relate a reality of unequalled intelligence and benevolence, the knowing of whom inspires hope, banishes fear, and illuminates destiny.
Scientists have failed to distinguish between the two key realms of Universal Reality. Broadly stated, we can say that there is the dimension of matter: the inanimate, non-volitional, passive realities; marked by such things as mass, speed, direction, the sum of which we call momentum. Then there is the dimension of Spirit, which is comprised of the animate/animating, volitional, active/reactive/proactive, and is marked by such things as awareness, insight, and will – the sum of which we call Life. Between these two there ever intervenes the dimension of mind but as mind transcends matter I have [for convenience] categorised it with the realm of spirit.
Atheistic scientists impute to inanimate and non-volitional realities the attributes of the animating and volitional. These domains are correlated but they are not the same. The failure to distinguish between these two fundamental dimensions of being is at the root of much of the disagreements between science and religion. Different logic applies to each realm, with realities apparent to reason that are not apparent to the senses and truths apparent to faith that are not apparent to reason – each supervening one over the other.
It is a fundamental law of science that inanimate objects cannot initiate change, that if a force is applied to an object in a vacuum it will continue to move in the opposite direction to the applied force until another force acts upon it. Chairs do not move by themselves. Rocks don’t move by themselves. Guitars do not play themselves. Tables do not set themselves. Nor do inanimate things react when they are moved. They are utterly passive and non-reactive. They are NON-VOLITIONAL. This is a key distinguishing feature of that level of reality we designate as Matter.
LIFE, the reality of Living Energy, is a whole other kettle of fish. Living beings possess inherent powers of locomotion and move both themselves and other objects according to their own will in response to stimuli external or internal. Once an intelligent and creative being is placed in a position of dominance over matter that matter will act in accordance with the will, intelligence, understanding, and purpose of the Agent of Change. However, while the behaviour of the vehicle of life may reflect the will, purpose, and even insight of the dominant being – in and of itself it [the material life mechanism] does not reveal very much of the essence of the controlling being[ii]. In a sense, the being could be likened to the Black Hole: it cannot be observed directly but its presence can be inferred by how it affects the behaviour of objects within the range of its gravity. Similarly, the living being cannot be observed in matter only inferred from its behaviour. We can discern relatively instantly when the vivifying spark of life departs from the body; without the living being the body quickly resolves back into its constitutive elements – it returns to the dust from whence it was hewn. We know what happens the body upon the departure of the vivifying spark of life but only spiritual revelation and faith can reveal what happens to the Living Being that once dwelled in the Temple of the body.
Because the SOURCE OF LIFE is so much higher than the material effects [from whence its presence is inferred] it is not quite so easy pin down in a lab. Matter is, more or less, predictable[iii]; Life less so. The more the living being is governed by its material nature the more predictable it is; the more it yields to its spiritual nature the more spontaneous and creative it becomes – progressing towards ever higher logic, reason, and motives. As the living being matures spiritually it becomes personally responsive to and driven by progressively higher and higher spiritual values.
Just as gravity is fundamental in the material universe, so duty/justice is fundamental in the mind realm, even as love is fundamental to the universe of spirit. Gravity is both inescapable and indispensible in the organisation of the material universe, likewise is Justice both inescapable and indispensible in the organisation of the social/moral universe. No social system can long endure if injustice prevails: injustice, corruption, inequity, imbalances complex social systems causing them to collapse into simpler, more stable, forms, just as prevails in the material order of existence. Without due consideration of the dynamics and stresses created by gravity, mass, and density, buildings collapse into more stable forms [piles of rubble]. We can build with a certain amount of corruption/weakness in the system; we just can’t build very high – well, we can try but not without catastrophic consequences.
The indispensible function of social, economic, and political justice is soon to be impressed upon the planet as the disenfranchisement of the ordinary man has continued one apace as a result of the shameless foisting upon the world policies that promote inequality while at the same time seeking to undermine and thwart justice, and therefore continue to increase uncertainty and instability into a system with limited capacity therefore.
Terry Pratchett once pointed out that if you have simple tools you could make more sophisticated tools and with sophisticated tools you could do anything. Social systems are very similar. We start out simple and the simple makes more intelligent and effective groupings possible. Each step forward is dependent upon the integrity of the previous step. However, with the evolution of ever more powerful and sophisticated tools eventuates the need for greater individual restraint and necessitates the function of greater and greater wisdom. Power cannot be controlled without wisdom, power without wisdom carries the seeds of its own destructive dissipation and in its vanishing consumes the fool that unwisely sought to control it.
 I understand that there are a lot of subtleties associated with the word ‘Atheist’ so, for the sake of clarity, I will delineate the expression as meaning: those that do not subscribe to the idea of a personal God and who believe that religion is, by and large, superstitious hokum.
[i] All three dimensions of experience are correlated with primacy residing in the spiritual dimension and descending in order from there through the mind/psychic realm to the material order of existence. A certain form of feedback loop operates between these dimensions, e.g.: an idea/information may be instrumental in effecting a cause, while material momentum is always a factor in the forward motion of any plan.
[ii] Just as the ‘Creation REFLECTS the mind of the Creator, it is a revelation of his Will, Purpose, and Technique but it is not the Creator’ so our bodies reflect our minds, will, purpose, and even our level of insight but our bodies are not these things.
[iii] This scope of this paper is necessarily restricted, however, the relationship between Cosmic Matter and Cosmic Mind – that matter is always a substance that is acted upon, or held [however imperfectly] under the sway of some mind finite or Infinite.