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Saturday, July 23, 2011

Christian Atheism - It's Not What You Think

by Conrad Archer

Theism, as a Christian Concept.

Atheism is a term which generally denies the existence of deity. It can be used in a variety of ways. It could focus on pantheism, panentheism, deism, etc. In this essay it will refer to a denial of a "theistic" concept of God: a-theistic, not theistic. In this sense, the denial of God's existence is not disavowed. But the mysterious nature of the Spirit (God) is not limited to a theistic view.

Theism is the popular concept for God as presented, in a general way, in the Judeo-Christian scriptures. A definition of "theism" is that it:

"refers to a system of thought in which is postulated the existence of one perfect unified being that is the source of the cosmos and continues to sustain and maintain it."*

More particularly a biblical image of God, which I grew up with, is that of an anthropomorphic being who lived in heaven, who became a divine, human being (Jesus), and finally came to be perceived (believed) as the Holy Spirit.

Until I was in my late teens I mostly believed those assertions with little question. But
college religious courses, and seminary lessons introduced me to historical/critical issues in studying the scriptures. And, the cultural issues highlighted from the Enlightenment to the present time gave me information which led me to modify those understandings from my
childhood.

Interpretation

A word about how we have come to internally construct our own religious knowledge. "Interpretation" is the most abused aspect involved in the formation of one's understanding of "God" and spiritual matters.

A manifestation of the "transcendent/immanent" God occurs, in what may be called
a mystical or revelatory event. Like witnesses at a automobile accident, reports may witness the event differently.

In scripture, we find individual interpretations of events which may have happened. Varying
interpretations. Some Christians accept all reported scriptural events as literally true. I am more skeptical. That does not mean that I consider their beliefs to be wrong. Just that I have a different interpretation. (I hope you do not insist that everyone believe like you).

For the most part, the events recorded in scripture reflect (interpret) something that actually happened. But the report we have in scripture is surely a layer, or two, or several interpretations removed from the actual event. At another time I will say more about that.

A Few Words About "God" 
In general, I affirm that "God" is both transcendent and immanent (present beyond, yet within the cosmos). God is manifested in both physical and spiritual form (material and energy). Above all, God is a mystery. Far beyond human understanding.

I describe myself as a Christian (Xn) Atheist. I do believe in God, but I do not understand God as a "being" with a body.  Those who believe that way are "theists.  Those who do not are atheists, or some other non-theistic believer.  I believe in God but not in a theistic way I approach the Xn scriptures with a reverent historical/critical eye. Some of scripture is historical; some is metaphorical. All of it is culturally conditioned.

I claim to be a Christian. Some gatekeepers of the faith have told me I am not; but, Jesus has told me not to believe them. I will talk about Jesus, a mystical companion, in my next piece.

Grace, Peace, Love

Conrad Archer
@AncientArcher

70 yo. San Antonio Tx. Retired United Methodist minister (20 yrs).  Mental Health counselor, TXMHMR (Texas mental health - 19 yrs).  Celebrate Recovery (7 yrs).  SMU, 65, Perkins, 75.  M 46 yrs,  Fan: SA Spurs, TX Rangers, Dallas Cowboys.

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*Van A. Harvey, A Handbook of Theological Terms (New York: Touchstone, 1997) p. 32-33.

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