The Bottom Line on Atheism and The Totally Other
For the last few years I have been trying my best to understand the new atheist movement and all of its ranting and raving against God and religion. Then it dawned on me, that I could not understand them because we were not talking about the same things. The god and religion that they are ranting against is not the God I believe in or the religion I practice.
The majority of them talk about a god that I believed in at one time and a religion I was a part of when I was a young man. However, I no longer believe in that god nor do I practice that religion. It took a number of years on my journey to find The Wholly Other; or should I say for him to find me and to lead me out of the forest of religious idols I was lost and hiding in.
Looking back on my journey it is hard to understand why it took so long to be found by the Lord seeing that “We live and move and have are being in him”, though he, himself has no being, for He is being, i.e. He does not have existence rather he is existence. Therefore, there really is no way to argue for his existence for he does not exist in the way we think of existence. So, what are we arguing for, or against? I will get back to this later.
I found that not only do the new atheists have a different vision of The Totally Other, they (at least the majority) had a different vision of religion, which is as narrow as their vision of the God symbol. They seem to believe that all religion is the same, which in their minds means that all religion is bad. Of course, it does not take much thought to realize that the word religion is a word that points to a concept which is as deep and broad as the ocean. Therefore, when the new atheists start bashing all religion and lumping it all together it makes me wonder how much real thought they have put into their subject. I have found some so allergic to the word religion that they cannot even admit that religion can be good or bad. This strongly points to the level of maturity of so many in that movement. They take a thumb full of the ocean and believe that they have captured the ocean. I am not saying this in malice but I believe that many these people have some deep problems.
You may have noticed that I have tried to avoid using the word God, the reason being that the word has been so vulgarized and distorted that it has lost any value in helping us to understand the mystery that I refer to as The Wholly Other. The distortion of the God symbol is one of the real problems with religion and atheism.
Religion should help us in our journey to The Totally Other. However, instead of helping it often hinders by giving us false ideas of God, these false images in ancient times were called idols. The problem with idols is that there is no image or thing in reality or in the mind of humanity that can picture The Totally Other. All images of God created by humanity whether in mind or in stone, are idols because they are too small and distort the symbol we use for The Totally Other, i.e. God. The false ideas of God in turn him and him I solicit a false responds e.g. the new atheists.
This means that the atheist that has a pure heart may be closer to having a correct view of God than many believers. That is, if he has no image of God in his mind. You see nothing is better than the something if the something is wrong. This is why I call the something that you cannot image or speak about, The Wholly Other, the uncreated one, I Am or maybe nothingness? I do it to keep people from creating a false image of God that is too small.
Of course, the problem is that for both believer and atheist, religion stands as a mediator between them and The Wholly Other. You see, for the atheist to argue against God he must have an image of that God in his mind. Whatever image he has in his mind is simply an idol. This is the only reason why they can form an argument against it, for no argument can be formed against the Wholly Other for he lies beyond all argument. The majority of men will never get beyond the idols of this world whether they claim to be atheist or theist, i.e. their God is too small. I often wonder how humans could become so corrupt that the scripture would tell us that every imagination of their heart was corrupt, I now know; their God was too small, they were idolaters.
The theist often creates a God in their own image and then projects that image into heaven. The atheist then comes along and says that is not God and they are right. It is an idol that can be manipulated and controlled by man. It is the god of the religious man and the atheist. A god that is created for the opium of the people; or as a tool to control the herd. On the other hand, the deist created an aloof impersonal God that is somewhere out there beyond everything, located in some distant heaven, too aloof to be involved with his creation. Of course, any god that can be herded into some small corner of space and time is just too small to be The Totally Other. It also is an idol.
The high theists of the world know The Wholly Other, since they know, that they know little or nothing of being. They confess that they are quite ignorant of The Total Other. They understand, as Isaiah the prophet also understood; “His ways are not our ways and His thoughts are not our thoughts.” To them the word God is a symbol which stands for the limits of their knowledge. This knowledge calls for humility and they are careful not to over speak on the subject of the deity.
You may ask, “Are you saying we can know nothing of being?” No, I am saying that you can only know what He has revealed to you. How does He reveal Himself? One way is through nature and the study of it, that is science. The study of nature has reviewed how great and powerful the Wholly Other is and how different he is from humanity. This knowledge should create awe and wonder in ones spirit, which is true spiritual worship. Unfortunately, many that study nature end up worshipping nature, failing to see that she is an arrow pointing to that which is beyond her. As the seer says when the prophet points at the moon the majority look at his thumb. For many science and religion has become the study of the thumb.
Some may say that this Wholly Other dwells in a cloud of darkness and mystery. Why does he hide Himself? Why does He not reveal Himself? Well, I do not think He is the problem, I think the trouble lays elsewhere. Could it be that He is so awesome and so glorious that in our present form we cannot approach Him without melting into nothingness. This unapproachableness is pointed out in the bible when God tells Moses, “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20).
There is the real possibility that the darkness that hides the Wholly Other is the darkness that is in the human heart. Jesus said, blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God”. Now by pure in heart I do not think Jesus is talking about not having impure thoughts e.g. lust, greed, etc. but rather having the right focus of one’s own being. He refers to this as the single eye. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! (Matt 6:22-23).This may be why children find it easy to see God until their parents or their culture (which includes religion) fill their eyes with darkness and forces them to see the world through dark-colored glasses. It is no wonder Jesus said “unless you convert and become like little children you will in no way, enter the kingdom of God.” So, let’s stop blaming God and the devil for our bad eyes and poor sight. For that matter let’s stop blaming our parents and culture and accept responsibility for the condition of our own heart. Our hearts are filled with darkness because we have made God too small and are about the business of building idols.
Then, there is the Bible. What is the Bible? The Bible is a collection of writings from men who were searching for The Totally Other. It is the history of their journey and their interaction with the Uncreated One. It records their successes and their failures. It shows them as groping, sometimes searching as a lost children would search for their parent and slowly, in due course growing into adolescence. The Bible also reminds us that the story is not over and that adulthood is still away off.
What about the contradictions and mistakes in it? Would you not expect to find a few anomalies and problems in any writings trying to explain The Total Other? It is a book of symbols that point to something that is on the border of human knowledge, known yet unknown. The Bible itself is a symbol which claimed to be both human and divine. The divine part is perfect in doing what it was created for, which is the building of souls as they journeyed towards the Totally Other.
However, there is a consistent theme and a trend that run though the whole of Scriptures, which connects all of its parts, though sometimes overshadowed, it is always there. It is the central symbol of Scriptures and God’s people throughout the ages. We could summarize that one central symbol with the word ‘someone’. Someone is coming, someone is here and someone is coming again.
The someone of Scripture is the Promised One, the Anointed one, the Messiah or Christ. The one who would save the people from their enemies. Their greatest enemies being sin and death. The Scriptures gave clues to help people recognize this someone. It said that he would be extraordinary and different from other men. His words would be different and his life would be different, he would be Other like the One who sent him.
One man has said that it takes extraordinary evidence to prove an extraordinary claim. the scriptures say that the someone in himself is the extraordinary evidence that the Total Other has given to man. This someone is the final and perfect symbol that points to The Total Other. He spoke like no other man and lived like no other man. When he spoke things happened, people were healed, water was changed into wine, storms were stilled and the dead were raised. No man has ever had so many people believe in him and at the same time has had so many hate him and despise his teachings. He truly is the extraordinary man, the someone sent from The Totally Other. This totally other man is still calling people “To come follow me”.
 Acts 17:28
 When I say He has no being it might be better to say he is super being. We live and move and have our being in Him, but we are not Him.
 Existence is beyond our comprehension though we apprehended it through our own existence and the existence of things around us.
 When humans argue for or against the idea of God they are arguing for or against a human construct that at best can only point to the One that stands behind it. Therefore we spend a great deal of time arguing about the idea of God. Now it is true that some ideas of God surely are better pointers than others but all fall short of the reality. This is true in science as well, for there is no theory of reality that is reality. The map is not the territory.
 It is unlikely that most atheists have no image of God in their minds, because if so, they would have nothing to argue against.
 Unfortunately, Carl Sagan did not define what extraordinary evidence would look like. For some skeptics, there would never be any evidence of any kind or enough to prove the existence of God.
This post is a response to Lyle Duell’s May 9th, 2018 blog “The end of Materialism” (https://lyleduell.me/2018/05/09/the-end-of-materialism/).
My son gave me a book called The Great Conversation, by Norman Melchert, a textbook reviewing philosophy from early Greek times to the present. In the textbook, the author really starts with philosophers from around 600 BC with group known as the Sophists. The Sophists view came out of investigations into truth and the deep meanings of life. The Sophists decided that there is no Truth, and therefore the only thing that matters is to get your opinion out to the world. The Sophists argue there was no “truth” that everything was relative. Their goal was to win the argument by presenting the best rhetorical defense of their position.
Sophists taught that there is no Truth, that truth is relative to each person. To get their truth heard, sophists needed to make the most persuasive argument. Sophists taught their students to argue both sides of a debate so they could practice their rhetorical skills and learn about relative truth. Sophists became big in politics and the life of Athens because of their ability to argue and present their ideas.
Socrates came along and showed the Sophists were wrong. Socrates showed that there was Truth and people could use reason to find that Truth. Socrates would ask questions about a subject, digging deeper and deeper, removing the facades until all that was left was the underlying truth. This technique would force people to confront their assumptions and show them the fallacies of their opinions. Society put Socrates to death because of they didn’t want to confront their assumptions. Society did not want to hear that their opinions were wrong.
The pursuit of Truth became the main focus of philosophers, and continues to this day. Plato, a student of Socrates thought that Truth was the basis of everything and that the physical world was just a shadow of that Truth. Aristotle, a student of Plato, believed that Truth was determined through logic and reason. With the use of the Socratic method of questioning everything, the search for truth behind the shadows, and application of logic and reason, philosophers have used these tools to continue the search for Truth.
The study of knowledge and reason (epistemology) has evolved over time. By the late 16th century, philosophy was fragmenting into a lot of different directions. The 17th century philosopher Reneé Descartes, decided that he should not base his understanding of the universe and Truth on writings of the past. Instead, he thought he should start with a blank sheet of paper and prove morals, reason, knowledge, and truth. He use mathematics, logic, and deductive reasoning to dig out truth. He remove all assumptions but one, summed up in the seemingly simple statement: “I think, therefore I am.”
Since that time, scientists and philosophers have gotten the idea into their head that they know so much more than, say, Socrates or Descartes. They have come full circle and are back at the Sophists/relativist phase again. The problem is, they have dragged all of society along with them and society is now a bunch of relativists. Relativism and the scientific materialism it engendered makes people think that that their opinions and ideas are just as valid as anyone else’s opinions and ideas. That view is much better for the ego, allowing you to think that your ideas are valid. If relativism is not valid then the person has to do actual work, like thinking and research. It’s much easier to just assume your idea is valid instead of doing the actual work.
Relativism is a disease of the mind. Aristotle thought so little of them that he refused to even bother to refute a relativist. He claimed that the relativist view was so easy to prove wrong as to almost not be worth the effort. Consider the case of the brain surgeon. Are the opinions of all of the people equally valid? Would you want anyone who can formulate a good argument to grab a bone saw and start to work on your brain? Would you want just anyone who thought they knew to run a nuclear reactor, pilot a jet plane, or even cook your food?
Clearly there are people who have skills and expertise in the various subjects. These people are authorities on the subject. If there are authorities on things like rocket science and brain surgery, then why do people think that there is no authority on the investigation of truth or the understanding of morals?
How do we counter society’s dive into the relativist chasm? How do we show people that relativism and the nihilistic materialism that it spawns is wrong and hurtful? We can try to use reason, but using reason to study reason is like looking into a dark, dirty mirror – we only see distortions, grime, and do not see the entire picture. Logic can help clean the mirror a bit, and the scientific method can do some more cleaning, but we are limited by what we can hold in our brains.
I order to fight society’s intellectual decline, I decided to take up the challenge that Descartes once tried. I wanted to start with a clean sheet of paper and see where it got me. I needed to start with a basic assumption, and I did not want to start with the assumption of “I think, therefore I am.” I started with the base assumption, or axiom, that there is a universe and it exists.
From that one axiom, we can make an observation about that universe—there are objects in the universe. We can do things with the objects, such as put them in groups. We can count the objects and measure their height, width, or depth. We can take some objects out of a group. From this simple manipulation of objects, we can create addition and subtraction. From there, we can manipulate groups of groups and create multiplication and division. In fact, from this simple beginning of manipulating groups and measurements we can create all of mathematics, from the simplest addition table to the most complex abstract algebra and calculus.
Once we can perform mathematics on objects, we can observe that objects interact. Investigating that interaction leads to physics. All of physics is just the study of the interaction of objects, from the smallest atom to the largest galaxy, these are just objects interacting. We can investigate specific objects—chemicals—and create the science of chemistry. We can see that some chemicals have special properties and call these properties “organic” and create a specialized chemistry of organic chemistry. Investigating these chemicals further finds that some reproduce themselves and that investigation is known as biology. In fact, all of mathematics and physical sciences come from the simple initial axiom of “there is a universe and it exists.” Unfortunately, there is nothing in all of these studies and investigations that helps us refute relativism.
As I dug into the ramifications of this basic assumption, I came across two problems. First, why is there a universe? Second, why is there consciousness? Some would argue evolution would lead to consciousness, but there are both major problems with evolution and even more problems with the idea of consciousness being selected by evolution. This set of problems is not something that could be solved by the physical sciences. This set of problems requires going outside of the universe to solve. That means there is either some divine answer or not.
Using both logic and the scientific method I have found that the only possible answer to the second set of problems is God. I found that the only explanation for life, the universe, and everything (to quote Douglas Adams) is a divine Creator. Once you get rid of relativism and actually search for Truth the answers keep coming back to that one conclusion. People may not like that answer, but that does not make the answer any less valid.
Of course, once you have that answer, the next question is – what is the nature of God. Various religions have tried to answer that question. For me, God is the one of the Christian Bible. The problem with investigating the nature of God is that it is entirely subjective. Your relationship with the Creator is intimate and personal. No one has the same relationship or experience as anyone else. Therefore, the only way to answer this question is through personal search.
Since God is infinite, the search for the full answer to that question will take a lifetime and will never finish. The search entails learning about our relationship with God and therefore our relationship with each other. Each step brings new insight and even more questions. Unfortunately, society today is used to quick, sound-bite sized answers. Most people in our society are not equipped to deal with this search, so they either become shallow Christians or atheists.
Since the final search for truth is subjective, the only way to approach it is via reason. Which brings us full circle to your article—reason gets abused and distorted into supporting the desired outcome, not searching for Truth. Reason gets used as a means to support relativism, not to search for the Truth. Subversion of reason is how institutions, religious people, ceremony, and other trappings of “religion” can come between God and His people. Your book, “From Jesus to Religion: How Forms of Mediation have Subverted the Christian Faith,” is showing the world the results of letting ego direct reason and distort the search for Truth.
Your insightful comments and writings has helped me a lot, and I thank you deeply for that.