I didn’t intend to start posting on atheism/nontheism as much as I have lately, but I just wanted to highlight a post on the (relatively unnoticed, it seems) Nontheist Friends blog by James Riemermann, which I think is insightful.
To try to paraphrase it, James is saying he finds it hard to (at least without disclaimer) use the word “God” even as a metaphor, because he finds there to be two distinct – and not clearly related – entites that the word “God” refers to. “Both gods speak to me as metaphors, but I have difficulty calling them by the same name.”
The first entity (”God One“) is the awesome, omnipotent Creator of Genesis and Job; the second (”God Two“) is the God of love and peace of the New Testament (my association). Both of these Gods are powerful metaphors: God One “serves magnificently as a metaphor for the natural world,” which is so much more powerful than us and so ultimately mysterious. God Two serves as a metaphor for our ethical condition. But both of them are only metaphors: the brutally awesome God One simply represents the natural world, and the ethical-relational God Two is “entirely dependent on the existence of conscious and self-aware beings in relationship with each other and the world around us” (from the comments).
This last bit reminded me of something Pam wrote last month – the feeling in meeting as perhaps simply “the joy of community for me, a member of a social species.”
To borrow these concepts, what surprised me about the theist messages I heard at the sessions of New England Yearly Meeting last weekend (as I wrote in the last post) was not the God Two-style theism – that I’m very used to hearing from Quaker mouths – but the God One-style theism. (On that subject, there’s a discussion on Quaker Pagan about the ethics of talking about messages from a meeting for worship. I think perhaps I should try to contact one of the Friends whose message I recorded and express my concerns to them directly.)
I am also highlighting this post because I posted a long comment on it in response to a comment by Liz Opp of The Good Raised Up. I responded to it because it seemed to be a variation on an objection to nontheism by liberal theists that I’ve come across several times – that the God that atheists don’t believe in is a false god in the first place, and that the real God is different, more a God of love than of control, and so on. (Sarah, your comment on the first post, about the God I don’t believe in sounding a lot like the God you don’t believe in, I read as being along these lines.)
I think this is unsatisfactory because I don’t think we can change the meaning of “God” so easily to suit our own purposes, any more than we can recast Napoleon as a man of peace (or rename Gandhi “Napoleon”). But I won’t repeat the whole comment here.