Saturday, August 24, 2013

I am (God): Certainty that God Does (Not) Exist

          Perhaps this post will have a bit more of a personal feel to it. No, scratch that thought. This post will most certainly have a personal touch to it. I write this in response to an issue that occurred within my life yesterday. If you're not aware of this, then believe me when I tell you, Arkansas is not a place where freethinking is exactly... encouraged. Half of Americans see unbelief, which they define as atheism, as something wholly detrimental to society (when it is in fact just the opposite, see: Denmark). Most of those Americans will not go far enough in their own thinking to determine a difference between atheism and unbelief, seeing them only as identical. Therefore, any form of unbelief has an above average chance of being greeted with hostility, even in an urban area where there is more of an abundance of education. My idea is that unbelief acknowledges that there was at one point something to believe in, or even that there potentially remains something to believe in. Atheism, as I define it, is the distinct absence of belief; a rejection of any idea of God. For Atheism, there is not anything to believe in at all. Now let us go to Arkansas, perhaps even the Bible Belt in general. This is a place where to be religious means to be Christian, in many cases; and to be Christian where I am from is to believe in Biblical inerrancy and that faith is not faith unless it is a certainty. And there is where I must begin.
          To be certain is to transcend faith and move on into knowledge. Because God requires faith for belief in him, to say, "I am certain that God exists" is to become an anathema of Christianity. While opposites certainly depend on each other to create the chaos that creates new, faith and knowledge can not interact in such a way that faith becomes an asset of knowledge and knowledge an asset of faith unless there is only doubt to be reflected upon. This is to say that doubt is the place where faith and knowledge meet to interact. Without opening up an entire new topic, I must posit that to approach this subject from the idea of God in the New Testament is to attempt to fathom God as a supernatural being. To approach God as supernatural is  to admit that God can not be found in the natural world. Because the natural world is all that we can measure and experience, it is therefore impossible to know that God either exists or does not exist. Thus to be Christian and believe in God is to have faith. Faith is to believe something in the absence of proof. Yet it is a fundamental misunderstanding of faith that fuels the burning desire of a fundamentalist's "faith." To be certain that God exists is to deny the key fundamental element of the God of Christianity, the idea that he is supernatural. Therefore to be certain of God's existence is to deny his existence. The certainty of God is a danger to the world because it falsely gives people the "authority" to say whatever they want and to condemn whoever they want. John Caputo writes on this problem in On Religion where, in summary form, he states that people who know the will of God only know the will of themselves. There is no chance that they are wrong because God can not be wrong. The phrase "I am certain that God exists" only builds upon itself until it is revealed to say, "The god independent of me does not exist, I am God."
          With the title of this post I am hinting squarely at Peter Rollins' wonderful book, How (Not) to Speak of God. It is upon this book that I found myself on a quest with Rollins for a new form of Christianity that bothers to think about its beliefs. I am met with very real opposition to this idea from the people I hold most dear, and that is what troubles me the most. An article Rollins wrote for the Huffington Post in February outlines the idea that Christianity very much must go beyond belief into unbelief if it wants to believe at all. This excerpt assesses the situation of people such as myself: 
"This is why the people who leave fundamentalist communities are often not the ones who don't take it seriously enough, but those who do (and who are thus confronted with the true horror of the communities beliefs). In my own experience I, along with a few friends, began to break free of religious belief precisely because we were naïve ones who took the teaching of the church more seriously than those in the church. The people who continued in a mode of disbelief were the ones that stayed because they were able to protect themselves from the trauma of actually believing their beliefs."
This is the inherent problem of a set of "beliefs" that allow for no middle ground. It is not a supernatural sort of belief if it is altogether certain. A thing that one is certain about is something that does not require any thought. It is this all or nothing, black or white, chocolate or vanilla attitude that creates animosity between people. There is only "us" and "them" when a belief with no middle ground is taken up. I am reminded of the example my friend Jon always brings up when speaking of fundamentalism and church: "Why is it that even when a community has hundreds upon hundreds of churches in the area that preach about Jesus, if there is not a certain kind of, say, baptist church there, that area is still considered 'unchurched?'" It is a question that should have never had to have been asked. This is a problem that goes beyond splits in religious communities and extends well into those who deride the religious communities. I would contend that a theologian such as Rollins writes what he writes for the good of Christianity, to advance it. I know that my ideas are bent towards what I consider the health of Christianity. Yet to believe what Christianity leads us to actually believe is to become "them" and be exercised from "us."
          Christianity needs a gray area. What I hope I have not done with this is in any way condemn atheism as wholly negative, which it is not. I believe Slavoj Zizek says something along the lines of "only an atheist can be a true Christian" in his book The Puppet and the Dwarf. I say unbelief admits to a God (even be it a dead God), while Atheism admits to none. What certainty in belief in God does is condemn both, but eliminate God and replace him with oneself, something more dangerous than any other belief.

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