This word “god” needs some serious redefining. I keep running into these intentionally obscurantist blitherings about “god” when the definition is clearly bouncing back and forth between multiple meanings. There are at least two categories of gods. Let’s give them different names so we stop confusing them.
Gods as working deities or GAWD. GAWD is an interventionist; it may have created the universe, it has power in the real world, it has a personal interest in human beings and planet Earth. GAWD can answer personal requests, GAWD can carry out miracles, GAWD must be propitiated by thoughts and rituals lest GAWD become wrathful…which is a bad thing that can have dire results in the real world. GAWD is what most religions are about, it’s what most people worship. GAWD is usually portrayed as an omnipotent, omniscient being who is greater than and beyond the universe, but he keeps a hand in and dabbles with virgins and foreskins and sends the occasional tornado and earthquake.
Gods who avoid reality, or GWAR. GWAR is an abstraction, an impersonal and remote being who exists completely outside space and time, who doesn’t actually interact with our world; alternatively, GWAR is simply the state of existence that permeates the entire universe. GWAR does not tinker; it does not modify the rules of existence to satisfy personal requests; it does nothing but be and watch and sometimes, love. GWAR is invisible and indetectable because GWAR does nothing. At best, one can aspire to die and become invisible and indetectable oneself, and then you’ll get to meet GWAR. No religion actually exists to support GWAR. GWAR doesn’t need them, and they don’t believe that GWAR will actually do anything for them anyway.
Now you see, GAWD is the deity everyone wishes were true, and it’s the one that everyone talks about and fiddles over with prayers and rituals and what not, but GAWD has a serious flaw: GAWD itself is postulated to be beyond mere mortal ken and is therefore untouchable by science, but it is supposed to do things in the real-world, making the consequences of GAWD-activity and GAWD-belief vulnerable to actual empirical and experimental evaluation…which they fail, every time.
This is where GWAR comes in. GWAR also has a serious failing: GWAR doesn’t matter. It doesn’t do things, it’s vast and omnipotent and godlike, but it really won’t lift a finger to get you that raise you’re praying for or to smite that icky gay man in the next apartment, and no one worships it. There is no church of GWAR, because it is so unsatisfying and philosophically absent. But GWAR has one essential function: whenever those annoying skeptics start exposing the absence of evidential support for GAWD, just slap a skyhook on it and temporarily winch GAWD out of this universe, and pretend you’re talking about GWAR.
God is like a yo-yo. In church, you do a sleeper and have god spinning in imaginary action as GAWD, and all the congregation is praising and begging and looking for salvation…then someone comes along who’s critical and asks for evidence that those prayer mats and seed donations actually bring prosperity, and woop, back flip, over-under, reverse fling — look, it’s GWAR! GWAR don’t need no evidence, GWAR just is, have faith and believe. And as soon as we leave the room, GAWD can leave the shelter of his transdimensional outside-the-known-universe hidey hole and his GWAR alias and take center stage again.
Of course, even GWAR isn’t safe. We can always attack his prophets with the epistemological question of “If he’s so removed from this universe, how do you know about him?” Unfortunately, I don’t see many skeptics taking that line of attack, but we should.
Yesterday, I talked about how even skeptics are willing co-conspirators in this shell game. But theologians are worse, much worse.
Over at the awful Huffington Post, Episcopalian Bishop Pierre Whalon has put up a post supposedly explaining why he isn’t an atheist. Surprise…he doesn’t actually say why. But he starts out with a dig at me, the “inflammatory” “freshman-class-atheist-prof”. I confess, it’s the only thing that perked me up to care enough to comment on his empty blather. Raising the ire of bishops is just one of those things that makes my whole day look happier and brighter.
Anyway, he tries to give arguments for why he isn’t an atheist, or why he believes in god, and he doesn’t do a very good job of it. It is, to be honest, a rambling mess where he fails to actually come to any clear point. He does say this, though, to my amusement:
Where is the evidence for God? Well, by definition, there isn’t any. If you could see God in a telescope or electron microscope, it wouldn’t be God. Couldn’t be. That would violate the theological ground rules that the 17th-century Christian developers of the scientific method set up: You cannot explain the universe by appealing to a creator. Or as the late Karl Rahner put it, “God is not a datum in the universe.”
But what about Thomas Aquinas’ proofs for the existence of God? Don’t Christians believe because of them? Simply put, no. As the Angelic Doctor himself makes clear, he is reiterating what others have said concerning “what everyone calls ‘god.’” Nothing can be proven from nature or scripture to those who do not have faith already — at best, all we can do is defend the reasonableness of what we believe.
It is therefore unreasonable to look for scientific evidence of God’s existence. Whether there is or is not a creator who subsists completely outside of the universe cannot be proven or disproven by any means, scientifically or otherwise.
Oh. So Episcopalians worship GWAR? That’s pure, undiluted GWAR defense, after all, and you didn’t actually “defend the reasonableness of what we believe.” You were so sneaky and cowardly you don’t even say what you believe. So I had to look it up. What do Episcopalians believe?
- Jesus Christ is fully human and fully God. He died and was resurrected from the dead.
- Jesus provides the way of eternal life for those who believe.
- God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit, are one God, and are called the Holy Trinity, “Three and yet one”
- The Old and New Testaments of the Bible were written by people “under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” The Apocrypha are additional books that are used in Christian worship, but not for the formation of doctrine.
- The two great and necessary sacraments are Holy Baptism and Holy Eucharist.
- Other sacramental rites are confirmation, ordination, marriage, reconciliation of a penitent, and unction.
- Belief in heaven, hell, and Jesus’ return in glory.
- Emphasis on living out the Greatest Commandment to love God and neighbor fully, as found in the Gospel of Matthew 22:36-40
I’m so sorry, Bishop Whalon, you don’t understand your own church’s doctrine. You worship GAWD, not GWAR. Telling us why atheist arguments can’t touch GWAR isn’t relevant in a personal testimonial about what you believe.
Go back to square one, Bishop. No one is really interested in why you don’t have some particular belief; I’d much rather hear about why you believe in a trinity, and why the eucharist is important, and why you think I’m going to hell. I’d love to hear about what you actually believe about your GAWD.
If it helps, picture me all cherub-cheeked and eager, sitting impatiently at my desk with my doe-eyes wide and anticipating, batting my lashes at you and doing my very best to hide my fangs behind a cheerful smile.
Let’s see you defend your faith, priest.