“Here lies an atheist; all dressed up and no place to go.” -Epitaph on tombstone
The Religious News Service reports that a poll on global religious identity shows that, while Christians and Muslims still make up the two largest religious groups, people saying they have no religious affiliation have now become the third largest category. The number of people worldwide who identify as atheist or agnostic is now roughly equivalent to those who identify as Catholic.
I personally find the division between theist and atheist to be silly. Religion is sacred poetry not scientific treatise. Plenty of orthodox Christians have believed human images of an actual God to be ludicrous. Thomas Aquinas wrote:
Now, because we cannot know what God is, but rather what God is not, we have no means for considering how God is, but rather how God is not.
Christian Mystic Meister Eckhart said:
“Some people want to see God with their eyes as they see a cow, and to love God as they love a cow – for the milk and cheese and profit it brings them. This is how it is with people who love God for the sake of outward wealth or inward comfort. They do not rightly love God, when they love God for their own advantage. ”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer, is embraced as Christian martyr, but how many have heard his words?
[Religious human beings] must therefore live in the godless world, without attempting
to gloss over or explain its ungodliness in some religious way or other. They must
live a “secular” life, and thereby share in God’s sufferings. They may live
a “secular” life (as one who has been freed from false religious obligations and
inhibitions). To be a Christian does not mean to be religious in a particular
way, to make something of oneself (a sinner, a penitent, or a saint) on the
basis of some method or other, but to be a human–not a type of human, but the human
that Christ creates in us. It is not the religious act that makes the Christian,
but participation in the sufferings of God in the secular life. (paraphrased to avoid sexism)
C.S. Lewis claimed that atheists express their rage against God although in their view that God does not exist, but atheists are not attacking believers by having different beliefs or by claiming to have none. I believe one of the most important bridges to be built in our world today is between theism and atheism, between our science and our poetry. What will be required from the church’s side of the bridge is the humility to remember that our human images are ridiculous caricatures of the mystery we are celebrating. All that is required from the non-theist side, is the humility not to assume that a theist’s use of religious poetry is necessarily superstition and the rejection of the scientific method.
If by “God” we mean an unprovable entity there is little hope of such a bridge, but if by “God” we mean a symbol of universal love, the bridge has been there all along.
And to get a little corny, this is the Judds singing “Love can build a bridge” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uw0VHJrnJNw