Paul P. Mealing

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Sunday, 17 August 2008

Theism as a humanism

Yes, I know, it’s an oxymoron, but it’s appropriate to my worldview. For over 2 weeks I observed and participated in a discussion on Stephen Law’s blog (see side-bar) with a guy called Sye, who maintains he has a proof for the existence of God. Sye’s idea of an argument is to make an assertion, call it a proof ‘by the impossibility of the contrary’, then insist that you prove him wrong. His favourite ploy is to ask you to prove something that doesn’t exist, doesn’t exist, or something that has never happened, never happened. ‘Prove the Bible is not the Word of God.’ ‘Explain how God did not reveal Himself as an objective reality.’ When I say, ‘I can’t explain something that never happened’, he says, ‘It’s your assertion, you prove it.’ In this way, he deludes himself that he can beat the best ‘atheist’ minds at their own game. But his victory is so hollow that it’s not even hot air, more like a vacuum. Yes, I know, I shouldn’t mix my metaphors. (Sye’s web site, by the way, is www.proofthatgodexists.org)

Stephen was patient in the extreme, and kept coming up with new and original arguments, which was an education in itself, and refused to be drawn into the ‘intellectual black hole’ as someone aptly called it. But even arguing with someone who thinks an argument is an endless round of assertions and refutations, and whose most common response is ‘prove it’, can help you to better understand and appreciate your own beliefs – hence the subject of this post.

Ludwig Feuerbach was a 19th Century philosopher, whose most famous quote was, ‘God is the outward projection of man’s inner nature’, which I used in the introduction to my essay: Is there a God? (Jun.08). Feuerbach, by the way, claimed he wasn’t an atheist, but perhaps he would have been, if he had lived in an age when being an atheist didn’t make you an instant pariah and social outcast. As I’ve said before, I’m not an atheist, and I live in a different age, so I don’t have the same problem. He saw religion as a ‘consciousness of the infinite’ or as ‘the infinity of the consciousness’, but his attempts to elaborate on this conceptually are not very edifying; at least, not to me. But, more significantly, he saw that God, in whatever guise we perceive Him, Her or It (perhaps One is the best label) does not exist independently of humanity. And this was the particular approach I took in my arguments with Sye on Stephen’s blog. At the risk of offending some people, I have to say that I have ‘issues’ with the Bible, not least, because I believe it was a contributing factor to my neurosis as a child, and that’s all I care to say on the subject.

So how do I justify the statement: theism is a humanism? Well, firstly, I don’t believe God exists independently of humanity, or perhaps, even life, and it is only through human expression that God is given human traits – look no further than the Bible. I read somewhere, possibly in a magazine on Eastern philosophy, when I was studying it, a supposition that the collective karma of humanity creates God. If this is true, then we would not only get the One we believe in, but the One we deserve. So I would suggest, rather provocatively, that we are responsible for God rather than God being responsible for us, simply by living our lives. It's an 'existential' view of God, if you like. And it certainly overcomes the ‘problem of evil’ as philosophers like to call it (read Stephen Law’s satirical post on ‘The God of Eth’). In this worldview, even atheists contribute to the One just by being humanists. Which is why I don’t have a problem with atheists: it is not their beliefs that I judge them on, but their actions and attitudes towards the rest of humanity. And, likewise, I judge all theists as humanists.