Paul P. Mealing

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Wednesday, 29 August 2007

God, theism, atheism

This is a letter I wrote to Phillip Adams in April 2005 - I don't think he would mind me posting it as it's not really a critique of anything he's written. It covers my views on a subject that often polarises people, and has a history of extreme violence (see my posting on Evil).

The essays I refer to herein may be the subject of a future blog or blogs.

Dear Mr. Adams,

I admit that I don’t always read your column but I was intrigued by your dissertation on life after death, and it prompted me to send you a couple of essays I wrote last year. I’ve believed ever since my adolescence, in complete opposition to my education, that a belief in God is perhaps the least important issue in living one’s life. Nothing I have experienced or read since has changed that point of view, but I give equal respect to theists and atheists preferring to judge them according to their actions, their attitudes and their words, as I hope they would judge me.

My philosophy has always had to allow for atheists, because, as your own article points out, they probably have the most uncluttered approach to death. I recently (the same day) read an editorial in American Scientist, and to quote out of context: ‘Whether there is an afterlife or not, we must live as if this is all there is. Our lives, our families, our friends... (and how we treat others) are more meaningful.. Rather than meaningless forms before an eternal tomorrow, these entities have value in the here-and-now...’

This captures my own philosophy pretty well because I argue interminably that it’s our interaction with our fellow humans that really matters rather than a belief in God, even though I do believe in God, albeit an unorthodox concept of one.

I am one of those heretics of my time that believes in a transcendental purpose but I don’t claim to be able to explain it or even claim that it is the ‘truth’. But what I do believe is that such a transcendental purpose is achieved in the way one lives one’s life rather than what one believes, so those who believe in nothing are arguably at an advantage because they are not prejudiced by preconceived ideas.

At the risk of sounding self-righteous, I don’t expect people to believe in God if they’ve never experienced it, and I know that for some reason, not everyone does. If I lived in another time I would have been a shaman because I have experienced some strange things that the modern world and the scientific community (that I admire) claim are illusions, and they may be right. But our only experience of God is in our minds and therefore I agree with Augustine that God, or a relationship with God, is an internal journey, which has more in common with Buddhism (and even Sufism) than Christianity. But if you read my accompanying essays, you will see that I see God as the projection of the ideal self and therefore is unique for every person.

As an addendum to this post, I would like to comment on the polarity that seems inevitable to a discussion on this subject. Some well known atheists (I don't include Adams), have a fundamentalist zeal about their atheism, which I suspect they see as a necessary response to religious fundamentalism; Dawkins and Dennett are amongst the best known. They exhibit an intellectual superiority towards theists in the same way that some theists exhibit a moral superiority towards atheists. It is my position that both these positions are as false as each other.

See also my later posting on Religion.

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