Reflections: Five Problems with Atheism

Belief in God, like so other divisive issues, is often perceived as an “either/or” situation –  a choice between the “official” God the Father and nothing (in the way of Deity). It may be in the nature of our human condition in the field of time to experience polarity.  It is also our job to heal polarity whenever possible by projecting an acceptance of a range of possibility.  The first act, so far as God is concerned, is to agree that Active Infinity is anything but simple; no one has complete ownership over definitions.

And believe me, there is no shortage of polarity.  For example, when I was more aware of the field of parapsychology, they seemed allied with the Noetic Sciences tradition of transpersonal psychology.  Apparently, things have changed in the last 25 years.  I was a bit surprised to read that only 25% of recently polled parapsychologists strongly believed in life after death.  Journalist Steve Volk reports that Charles Tart was addressing an annual conference of parapsychologists.  He joked: “We believe in God.  The skeptics have found out so we might as well admit it.”  Tart was the only one laughing at his own joke.  Tart believes in God.  One of the pioneers of parapsychology, he said he now feels “tolerated” amongst modern researchers in the field.  Apparently the field is trying to distance itself from spirituality in an attempt to gain academic acceptance.

I realize it is possible to accept psi and reject Spirit.  It’s also possible to accept spirits and remain agnostic over whether there is God.  The Dalai Lama states (with laughter) that “We are a godless religion.”  The emphasis in Buddhism is practice over cosmology. He has also said: “Stay with your religion, but practice Buddhism.” These are gestures of harmony within variance.

There are untold possibilities of genuine Potential worthy of exploration.  Polarity is not interested in exploration; it is interested in establishing opposing sides.  I’m not blaming atheism for polarity.  It just seemed easier to start there.

I’m in a book club where an atheist attends.  I understand there are reasons for her belief.  It appears to me that her atheism stands in resistance to authority, both cultural and familial.  I would never dream of trying to pull that rug from under her, she might fall and hurt herself.

In order to validate atheist perceptions, I’ll preface these comments with the observation that organized religions generally have many more than five basic problems.  Large organizations are so much more complex, often carrying the unintegrated shadows of their leaders, histories, and individual members.  The more organized atheists become, the more likely they will share in these more complex conditions of human nature.

But there are some fundamental problems with atheism.  I’m not nailing these five thesis to the door of a church, because there isn’t one.  That isn’t the problem.  There are problems with atheism a wider view could possibly bridge, or at least decrease the polarity between atheists and non-atheists.  These persuasions are intended to reach across the aisle of a doorless structure.

1. Scientists should not be atheists (hardcore atheist Richard Dawkins claims that 93% of scientists are atheist, although that number is likely biased and highly inflated).  They should be agnostic.  Science can neither prove nor disapprove the existence of God.  Any scientist who professionally says otherwise is operating under bias. When it comes to ultimate Mystery, the most science can say is: “There is an awful lot we just don’t know.”   (That’s a statement of shared experience.)

2. Atheism is sometimes less a belief than an opposition to a belief.  In other words, atheists are often in opposition to religious authority or fundamentalist views that appear controlling, maladaptive, uneducated, anti-science, or even dangerous.  I believe it is possible to put yourself in opposition to a fundamentalist belief without engaging polarity.

3. The history of religious tradition has tended to define atheists very strictly: our way or no way at all.  God the Father or nothing.  Our God or the godless (and, in fact, one historical method of governance was to reject local gods in favor of one “state” God).  With only two apparent choices, Atheists have tended to go along with the “nothing” side of the equation.  There are other ways to view the Divine, an incredibly rich and sometimes diverse range of views – none of which can define the undefinable with complete success.

4. A strictly materialist view limits the potentials of experience.  If one denies the potential of sacred experience, they also remove the possibility of experiencing the sacred.  Psychologist Abraham Maslow labeled this as the defense mechanism of desacralization (1967).  Desacralization means to divest or negate sacred significance.  Maslow states that one may be protecting their sense of self-worth by negating those reported experiences that seem grand or beyond their personal capability.  To do so also negates the potential of ever having those experiences.

5. But sometimes it may be a matter of language.  We shouldn’t let words confuse experience.  Some “materialists” may experience mystery, wonder, and grace as well as some “spiritualists.”  For example, I had a poetry instructor in college who described a peer as a self-defined atheist, but added that his peer had a deep reverence for poetry.  I asked if he meant a spiritual reverence.  My instructor stated: “Yes, I believe poetry is his religion, his god.”  I had no direct knowledge of the situation, but it was certainly possible.  Genuine experience of the arts could be labeled as Divine.  The transcendence of epiphany does not require religious language to acknowledge or appreciate the experience.

I think an honest effort to understand these five “problems” could close the gap between atheists and various beliefs in the Divine.  But I’m not trying to convert anyone.  I’m not threatened by personal beliefs that do not approximate my own.  I have no problem with civil disagreement.  I’m threatened by polarity on both ends of the spectrum, because polarity breeds fundamentalism.

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4 Responses to Reflections: Five Problems with Atheism

  1. lauren raine says:

    The issue of “belief in God” seems to me a uniquely western, Judeo-Christian idea. In some parts of the world the question “do you believe in God?” would be met with “Which one?” Also, I note that rarely does anyone include a female image, or an animal or even a numinous place (a sacred spring, a magic mountain) image when the idea of “God” comes up. But this is exactly what “God” was to human beings in the past, and in what remains of indigenous cultures today.

    I watched the wonderful documentary recently “Caves of Forgotten Dreams”, about the 30,000 year old cave paintings in France. Caves of being, full of beautiful animals that were also, like the Buffalo were to the Lakota, both food and sacred. The only human personification was a female torso, overlaid with a bison head. It seemed so clear to me that this cave was the belly, the womb from which the animals were to be honored and reborn. The earliest human carvings were female torsos, often without heads – as much as I loved this movie, it annoyed me that they kept talking about these “venus” images, as if they were some kind of ancient pornography, “fertility fetishes”. Stuck in the construct of today, I feel they couldn’t conceive of a world in which the “womb of the Earth” itself was sacred, a place of rebirth.

    • Jim says:

      I liked Cave of Forgotten Dreams as well. I agree with your comment on “fertility fetishes.” Some scholarship has been done on the fall of female deity with the rise of western civilization. Carl Jung believed the Holy Trinity was incomplete, and added the feminine to complete the Quaternity. As long as we’re on the Cave of Forgotten Dreams, I loved the sequence in which the French scientist has to take a break from being in the caves, because he is experiencing intense dreams of the animals. Herzog asks: “Dreams of the actual animals or the cave paintings.” The scientist answers: “Both.” If he were just replaying his experience in dreams, he would not have dreamed the actual animals. To me that suggests that the paintings were meant as a link to something alive.

  2. Joe Bill says:

    Polarity does seem like an epidemic. Your post raises some good points on how atheism contributes to that polarity.

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