When God was an Atheist

This essay caught my eye during Holy Week.  As we are only a few days removed from Easter and Holy Week, I want to take a moment to focus on Saturday—the day in-between.  We most often focus on Friday, the crucifixion, or Sunday, the resurrection.  But what happened on Saturday and why is it important?
As the writer notes, God wasn’t in heaven but in hell. This seems very strange.  Things are out of place; things are not as they should be.  Up is down and down is up.  And why don’t we talk about this aspect to Holy Week?
“I’d argue that this relative silence reflects a discomfort with some of the frankly weird aspects of Christianity. As a faith Christianity has always been defined by its paradoxes: God can become a man, God can die, God can be one and three at the same time, the King of Heaven can spend a day in Hell. If anything the heresies of the patristic era—Arianism, Monophysitism, Nestorianism and so on—are attempts to make Christianity more rational. It’s a fascinating aspect of Christianity that often the heretics are the more sober and rational ones while orthodoxy embraces enigma. Broadly speaking, the Eastern Orthodox has been more comfortable with paradox and the irrational, but in the Latin West Catholics and their Protestant inheritors have attempted to tame the scandal of Christianity with the rational equations of systematic theology.”
I agree.  At its core, the Christian narrative and faith is mystical.  The moment one tries to capture it in a systematic equation, a logical construction we can grasp, it slips our fingers and is gone.  The modern rationalist will understand this to mean Christianity is false, or based on faith and not evidence, or an ethereal ‘touchy-feely’ psychological and emotional crutch.  They will assume because it cannot be “proven” in the same way we might show our work for an algebra equation, it must be false.  Of course all those who “hear” such in my assertion the Christian faith is mystical miss the point.  None of that means it cannot be true or that it’s irrational.  Rather, it means Truth is actually best understood as paradox, as something strange, as that which escapes our small-minded rationalities and calculations.
“In this way the positivist and the fundamentalist are strangely unified in their opposition to Tertullian’s infamous aphorism: credo quia absurdum (“I believe it because it is absurd”). The fundamentalist with his embarrassment over paradox denies the weirdness of his faith. The positivist can do no such thing and like Mr. Jefferson takes his razor to the Bible to excise the strangeness.”
Unlike the writer, I wouldn’t characterize this aspect to Christianity as a ‘weirdness’ but most certainly as a strangeness that haunts.  It is a peculiarity, one often acting as a sliver in our minds and hearts.  It haunts us like a beautiful poem, piece of literature, song, or woman (or man).  What is it?  Why does it strike us so?  When it does, we are brought up short.  We catch our breath.  But, we could no sooner reduce our reaction to a math equation, or rational system, as we could our love for our spouse or children.  When we encounter something like this, this haunting, strange, and paradoxical beauty, we have encountered Truth.
And nowhere is this strangeness and peculiarity more paradoxical and alive than when Christ cries out, “My God, my God, why…”  From the essay:
“But central to the Christian vision is a profound and undeniable weirdness, and one of its strangest accounts is passed over in many a Holy Week homily. The passion story is filled with puzzles and uncertainty, from the harrowing to Christ’s cry of “My God, why have you forsaken me?” when, as GK Chesterton noted, God Himself seemed to be an atheist.* It’s these moments that constitute what Slavoj Zizek names “the perverse core of Christianity,” the anti-Gospel as Gospel—a tradition that is too often silent during Holy Week.”
* “…let the atheists themselves choose a god. They will find only one divinity who ever uttered their isolation; only one religion in which God seemed for an instant to be an atheist.”

–GK Chesterton, Orthodoxy
This entry was posted in hell, Holy Week, Jesus, logical, mystical, Truth. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to When God was an Atheist

  1. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    This would not be weird or unusual at all, if you knew more about psychology. To Jungians, as to other anthropologists, the trip to the underworld is a very common motif (archetype). It happens in Greek mythology quite frequently, for instance, as in the Egyptian as well. Christianity is a Jewish-greek mishmash, ergo, you get dying and rising gods, plus a bonus trip to Hades. And the savior of the world, and attempts to rationlize it all, as being “true”, rather than a confected psychodrama. Time to grow up.

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  2. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    I’m not sure what psychology has to do with Greek mythology, but Rene Girard, among others, has shown the critical and unique differences between the Judeo-Christian narrative and other religions/myths/narratives, especially in the aspects of sacrifice and resurrection. It remains that the Judeo-Christian narrative is the break with, the turning over, the complete repudiation and undoing of the pagan myths of sacrifice and violence leading to re-birth. Nietzsche understood this very well.

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  3. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    What do you think about Greek mythology? Is it “true” in any scientific sense, describing reality? Or is it true as a projection of our psychological fixations, hopes, and fears, within one cultural context? A psychodrama, in short? Answer that question, and you have answered it for all religions.

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  4. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    That is only the answer if one presupposes that all religions/myths can be reduced to psychology, which clearly you do, but that just begs the question of God's existence. I address this within the post—I anticipate the line of thought. To mount an argument, or even a conversation, you have to move beyond question begging rhetoric. It is always the last (or first) resort of those who don't know what they are talking about.

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  5. Burk says:

    Hi Darrell-

    I am not the one begging the question of god's existence or religion's reality. I look for it, it isn't there, and I have my answer. End of story. It is you who are convinced god is there, despite the universal evidence to the contrary, and continually assume the conclusion you are looking for, whose origin is not in reality, but in your individual and collective mind. Which is what begging the question means.

    There is no positive answer available out in reality, so… the best you can do is to redefine truth as “paradox” to wriggle out of the obvious answer that is staring you in the face: it does not exist, at all. But truth is not paradox- it has common meaning understood by everyone at all times … that which accords with reality. Unfortunately religion does not do so, thus all the tortured twisting and turning we read in your blog, to recover that positivist high ground of “truth”.

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  6. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    To follow up, you might wonder whether I am merely spouting my own predetermined conclusion, as an assertion vs your own. It is a question of evidence, naturally. And the fact of some idea's popularity is not evidence. Evidence carries a higher standard of logical rigor and demonstrable connection between (careful) observation and (explicit) theoretical model. Popularity will not do it. If you believe by faith, then own that faith and do not call it by a name it does not merit, just to curry favor with a value system you do not care about.

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  7. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    “…and attempts to rationlize it all, as being “true”, rather than a confected psychodrama…”

    “…Or is it true as a projection of our psychological fixations, hopes, and fears, within one cultural context? A psychodrama, in short? Answer that question, and you have answered it for all religions.”

    These comments are all question-begging, as are your most recent ones. I could simply reply that your atheism is the same, a psychological fixation and confected psychodrama, but such would be question-begging and it makes for a pointless conversation. We know what the other believes–simply noting that and saying 'end of story' is fairly simplistic and immature.

    To counter, you talk about ‘evidence’ but we've been through this countless times. My goodness. There is only interpreted evidence and all such evidence is interpreted through the narratives we inhabit. Both sides take in and consider the evidence.

    I spoke to your point in the post:

    “At its core, the Christian narrative and faith is mystical. The moment one tries to capture it in a systematic equation, a logical construction we can grasp, it slips our fingers and is gone. The modern rationalist will understand this to mean Christianity is false, or based on faith and not evidence, or an ethereal ‘touchy-feely’ psychological and emotional crutch. They will assume because it cannot be “proven” in the same way we might show our work for an algebra equation, it must be false. Of course all those who “hear” such in my assertion the Christian faith is mystical miss the point. None of that means it cannot be true or that it’s irrational. Rather, it means Truth is actually best understood as paradox, as something strange, as that which escapes our small-minded rationalities and calculations.”

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  8. Darrell says:

    By the way, I'm not sure where the “some idea's of popularity” comes from, as it is not mentioned at all in my post or comments, but it shows a certain caution or vulnerability on your part, which I assure you is unnecessary. I don't care one whit about popularity.

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  9. Burk says:

    Hi, Darrell-

    I was referring to past comments, where you have often justified the reasonableness of religious belief by its popularity. For example:

    “Plus, given that atheism is a relatively recent modern phenomenon, it would be much more susceptible to a psychological/historically-situated type analysis than religion, which is a constant throughout all ages and all people groups.”

    Ignoring that a psychologically-founded analysis would precisely predict its object to be present through all cultures and time, as one finds superstition, warfare, and other behaviors one can ascribe to psychological causes.

    It is a particularly poor form of argument in this case, if the question is one of philsophical / scientific validity / reality. Which you strenuously deny, but then deploy the word “truth” to describe your religious conception, without qualifying it to be a subjective truth, on the order of … religion is true for me in the same sense that game of thrones is true for me.. it is a rich representation of the human predicament in very dramatic and personal terms, without being veridically true.

    The nature of dramatic truth would be well worth reflecting on, I think.

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  10. Darrell says:

    Hi Burk,

    The bottom line is that any sort of a psychological origin as an explanation for religion cuts both ways. It could easily be deployed to explain atheism. It is a poor argument either way, because it is question-begging and could be used against anyone. I can see how comforting it would be to assume everyone else’s views were psychological projections except for one’s owns. So, you are left with your question-begging rhetoric, which is not an argument.

    “…if the question is one of philsophical / scientific validity / reality.”

    Well the question is certainly philosophical and such is what interprets science and reality.

    As to what is described as truth in my post, I stand by that understanding. You would actually have to address the post, the essay, the gist of what is being talked about. The writer himself notes how neither the fundamentalist nor positivist can deal with this aspect of the Christian faith. It is that very aspect, which I think points to its truthfulness. If you think the writer is being critical or dismissing Christianity because of its ‘weirdness’ you are mistaken.

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