Why Atheism May Be the Best Way to Understand God
Editor’s note: Religion is among the most volatile and divisive issues in the world today. Yet there’s little serious investigation into why people believe, or why some will kill and die for their faith. Larry Beinhart, in his new novel, Salvation Boulevard -- and this series of articles -- is hoping to start a conversation about these issues. This is the second in the series, the introduction can be read here.
Religion -- at least on the face of things -- is the primary source of violent conflict in the world today. It is also the point of division in much of the world's politics.
Obviously, there have been conflicts over ideology, class, race, between tribes and nations, for territory, property and plunder. However, at the moment, religion leads the pack. At least as a way to rally the troops.
It is, therefore, important to understand what religion is and why it is so vital.
As a rough, utilitarian generalization, there are four classes of religion: nontheistic, deism, polytheism and monotheism.
Nontheistic religions include some forms of Buddhism, Confucianism, Taoism, Shinto, animism, Wicca and the like.
They have ethical systems, support social and family networks, have spiritual practices, but do not claim, for the most part, divine revelations -- instructions from external entities who watch to see if they are carried out.
Classical deism believes in God, the Button Pusher, aka, the First Cause. He pushed the universe's "Go" button, then walked off, never to be heard from again.
Nowadays, it is common to hear things like "God is Energy," or the Universe, or Love, or That Which Quarks Come From (heard that one last night, with great conviction and certainty).
Such gods are essentially meaningless, at least in the moral and political sense. They do not, and in most cases cannot, dictate their memoirs, instructions and judgments to people. Whatever their concerns might be, they can go on their merry way without us.
Polytheism was the dominant religious form until the invention of monotheism with conversion, proselytizing and forced conversion. Although certain forms of nontheistic religions blend over into polytheism, and elements of polytheism can be found in some monotheistic sects, the last, remaining, significant polytheistic religion is Hinduism. Although it's different theologically, the political nature of Hinduism is similar to Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the big three in monotheism.
The monotheistic religions claim there is one God. He has revealed himself to prophets, who spoke his words to various other people who wrote them down, perfectly, and that is the ultimate guide to how we should live our lives.
This a God who created us, cares about us, watches, communicates, interferes, cares, judges, rewards and punishes.
Therefore, to understand these religions, we have to ask about God.
Looking at God -- the Positions
We are speaking primarily of a meaningful, monotheistic, beneficent God. One who is aware of and cares about human beings, transmits messages to us, is capable of interfering with human existence and does so.
There are three basic positions from which to view God:
- Belief (the Missionary Position)
- Agnosticism (a No-Position Position)
- Atheism (Downward-Facing Dog)
Each position forces certain questions and does not permit others.
If we start with belief, this is the root question: Why won't God make himself clear?
I'm a writer. If I had divine powers, believe me, I would get it right the first time and never need a rewrite. So why is there an Old Testament and then a New? Why is there the Quran, the Book of Mormon, the Vedas, Guru Granth Sahib, Zhuan Falun, the Avesta, the Tattvartha Sutra?