God and Atheism

In Karen Armstrong’s A History of God, I finished reading her long chapter on the Enlightenment. I learned that the scientists and philosophers of that era were not really atheists as I have heard some people say. They rejected the image presented by the theologians and religious leaders in favor of God as Primary Mover and Sustainer of the Universe.

But there was this one guy, Baron of Holbach who in my mind was a true atheist. He wrote a book The System of Nature: or Laws of the Moral and Physical Word (1770). Holback said that there is not supernatural alternative to nature, “but an immense chain of causes and effects which unceasingly flow from one another.” I guess you might say that Holbach shifted his faith away from one idea (of a supreme being) to another (the physical world).

But there was a flaw to Holbach’s thinking, not so much in what he believed but the fact that he believed that his conclusion was IT, Truth with a capital “T”, and whatever all those deists maintained was simply “dishonest and a denial of our true experience.” I think Holbach was failing to take ownership of his own experience and thinking. Note that he uses the words “our true experience”. Had he had a little honesty and humility, he might have said, “What you say about God just doesn’t fit what I am experiencing in my life. It doesn’t make sense to me. For now I am going to have to reject it but I perhaps I will change my thinking as I continue to live my life.” Who knows? Maybe he did change his thinking. That is the danger in writing a book about your beliefs…what if your beliefs change?

People might think I am a relativist, when I use phrases like, “what is true for me”. But I am not. I am only aware of the changes that I have gone through in my understanding of the divine. Earlier on, I would think, “At last! I finally figured God out!” Then something would happen that would blow to pieces what I had been believing and I would go on to believing something else. Finally, I came to the conclusion that I really have to be careful when I start thinking I have a handle on God. So now I have this kind of tentative belief system. I hold on to what makes sense to me while remaining open to more. There is a book, author unknown, called “Cloud of Unknowing”. The title sort of sums up where I am at. I find this place far less stressful than the one where I had to know everything and everything I knew had to be right. I don’t get all bent out of shape when people disagree with me. I am a better listener and observer. I have discovered the meaning of the word “awe”. In fact, as I have grown in to this unknowing place, it feels awesome.