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Getting REAL About God, Guidance, & Good News
I've been asked a number of times lately, by friends and reporters alike, what exactly I mean when I exclaim "Thank God for the New Atheists!" Here's my quickie response...
I thank God for the New Atheists not because I want everyone to be like them, or to think like them, nor because I consider them perfect vessels of divine wisdom. Rather, I'm grateful to them because of how they are prodding religion and humanity to mature in several essential ways—ways I discuss briefly on this 3 minute YouTube clip, and more thoroughly in this 20 minute sermon.)
But I am also profoundly grateful to the New Atheists for forcing religious people (like me!) to get real about God, guidance, and good news. For example, here's something few church leaders have even begun to confront:
Young people are leaving the church by the millions (see here, here, and here). I believe this is happening in large part because the Internet is exposing literalist interpretations of the Bible and traditional views of Christianity as promoting a terrorist view of God, a pitiful sense of guidance, and good news that borders on sadistic.
Fortunately, none of this is true. But, paradoxically, it's the New Atheists who, by their attacks on superstitious religiosity, are helping all of us realize this.
Young people are right to reject a terrorist view of God!
The main moral lesson one gets from a straightforward reading of the Old Testament is “Obey the Lord or die.” In the New Testament, it’s “Believe in Jesus or fry.” Yet both of those would count as “terrorism” according to our own government’s definition of term. The US Department of Defense defines terrorism as: “Violence or the threat of violence to inculcate fear, intended to coerce or intimidate others in the pursuit of goals that are generally political, religious, or ideological.”
Now we all know that God can’t possible be a terrorist. Yet that’s precisely what a literal reading of the Bible forces us to conclude. If you doubt this is true, listen to Parts 1 and 2 (Old Testament & New Testament) of Mike Earl's acclaimed "Bible Stories Your Parents Never Taught You." I promise you'll never think about "holy scripture" in the same way again! You will also understand why outspoken atheist science blogger PZ Myers (whose blog Pharyngula is read by 50,000+ people a day) says, “There’s no surer way to make an atheist than to get them to actually read scripture.”
In contrast, an evolutionary God can be as vast, as real, and as all embracing as our creative Cosmos and no more inclined than the Universe to take sides in matters of war, weather, or geological turmoil.
Young people are right to reject a pitiful view of guidance!
Imagining that God’s best, most dependable, and most inspiring guidance would have come through the dreams and intuitions of shepherds and fisherman a couple of thousand years ago is dissing the divine in the most horrific of ways. Ours is a time of space telescopes, electron microscopes, supercomputers, and the worldwide web. It is also a time of smart bombs, collapsing economies, and exploding oil platforms. This is not a time for parsing the lessons given to a few goatherds, tentmakers, and camel drivers.
Imagine a teenage girl with serious psychological, social, and addiction problems—and then you discovered that her father, who still lives with her, hadn’t spoken to her since she was a toddler. You’d blame the father for how screwed up the girl's life is, right? Of course, we all would!
What kind of God would offer His best guidance back when people believed the world was flat and word processing meant recording your insights on animal skins and preserving them in clay pots? Is it really any wonder that young people view this as a pitiful view of guidance?
Young people are right to reject "good news" that borders on sadistic!
I have never yet met a Christian, Muslim, or Jew who can look me in the eyes and honestly say that they believe an eternity with no challenges or difficulties yet with conscious awareness of the everlasting torment of others, including some they knew and loved, would be heavenly. We all know that would be hell. "Good news" cannot be the promise of fire insurance that comes with a balcony seat to witness the eternal torture of others.
The New Atheists, I believe, are forcing Christians to realize that:
- A. God is a personification, not a person—and supernatural is unnatural is uninspiring.
- B. Facts are God's native tongue—and historical, scientific, and cross-cultural evidence are the main ways God is speaking to humanity today.
- C. The only individual or collective "good news" that merits the label "gospel" today is good news for humanity as a whole and, indeed, for the larger body of life of which we are part and upon which we depend (see here, here, and below).
MY TOP 25 MOST HIGHLY RECOMMENDED RESOURCES (in addition to TGFE), in no particular order:
Green Space Green Time: The Way of Science: Connie Barlow
Religion Is Not About God, and Everybody's Story: Wising Up to the Epic of Evolution: Loyal Rue
The Empathic Civilization: Jeremy Rifkin
The Rational Optimist: Matt Ridley
Reflections on Evolutionary Activism, and The Tao of Democracy: Tom Atlee
The View from the Center of the Universe: Joel Primack and Nancy Abrams
The Universe Story: From the Primordial Flaring Forth to the Ecozoic Era: Brian Swimme and Thomas Berry
The Dream of the Earth, The Great Work, and Evening Thoughts: Thomas Berry
The Universe is a Green Dragon, and Canticle to the Cosmos DVDs: Brian Swimme
Evolution for Everyone: How Darwin's Theory Can Change the Way We Think About Our Lives: David Sloan Wilson
The Symbiotic Man: A New Understanding of the Organization of Life and a Vision of the Future: Joel de Rosnay
Humanity: The Chimpanzees Who Would Be Ants: Russell Genet
The Sacred Depths of Nature: Ursula Goodenough
Religious Naturalism Today: The Rebirth of a Forgotten Alternative: Jerome Stone
This Fleeting World: A Short History of Humanity, and Maps of Time: An Introduction to Big History: David Christian
Big History: The Big Bang, Life on Earth, and the Rise of Humanity: Teaching Company course taught by David Christian
Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny: Robert Wright
Evolution’s Arrow: The Direction of Evolution and The Future of Humanity: John Stewart
The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society: Frans de Waal
The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures: Nicholas Wade
The Science of Good and Evil: Why People Cheat, Gossip, Care, Share, and Follow the Golden Rule: Michael Shermer
The Moral Animal: Why We Are the Way We Are: The New Science of Evolutionary Psychology: Robert Wright
The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom: Jonathan Haidt
The Female Brain, and The Male Brain: Louann Brizendine
Supernormal Stimuli: How Primal Urges Overran Their Evolutionary Purpose: Deirdre Barrett
- 1. How factual knowledge gained through the full range of evolutionary sciences can legitimately and easily be interpreted as religiously inspiring—and why, at this time in history, it is so urgent and fruitful to do so;
- 2. How the arrow of cosmic complexity upon which the vast majority of the world's scientists agree can be viewed in spiritually nourishing and deeply empowering ways (teleologically or non-teleologically);
- 3. Why it is wildly erroneous to believe that ancient mythic texts, an unnatural (so-called 'supernatural') judge, or otherworldly carrots and sticks are necessary (or even helpful) for superior moral development and healthy societies.