The “New Theists”: Re-Defining Everything!

I never use the A word,
Though I don’t believe in God;
Which leads to conversations
Which can get a little odd:

The God I do believe in
Is Reality, of course,
And not some bearded superman
Or disembodied force

It’s not the Christian deity—
We don’t believe; we know
There is no faith; there’s evidence,
Where God’s (non) face will show.

Believers think we’re crazy
Non-believers think we’re nuts
We worship only factual truth—
No ifs, no ands, no buts.

We’ve re-defined “religion”—
We say the word’s evolved;
The problems that religion brings?
We call those problems “solved”.

The pathway to the future!
Religion two point oh!
Why not admit we’re atheists?
…I frankly do not know.

Ok, I really don’t get it. This guy should be on my good list. Why is the “New Theism” so annoying?

I suspect that part of it is, as a verse-monger I try to choose my words carefully. Words mean more than just their definitions; words have baggage, and change comes achingly slowly. “Religion” has a definition that has evolved, certainly, but which retains the structures of its ancestors (its “inner fish”, if you will); Michael Dowd, apparently, wants to perform a bit of engineering such that the only thing remaining of the original “religion” is the vocabulary, each word suffering a sea-change into something rich and strange.

New Theists are not believers; we’re evidentialists. We value scientific, historic and cross-cultural evidence over ancient texts, religious dogma or ecclesiastical authority. We also value how an evidential worldview enriches and deepens our communion with God-Reality-Life-Universe-Mystery-Wholeness.

New Theists are not supernaturalists; we’re naturalists. We are inspired and motivated far more by this world and this life than by promises of a future otherworld or afterlife. This does not, however, mean that we diss uplifting or transcendent experiences, or disvalue mystery. We don’t. But neither do we see the mystical as divorced from the natural.

Some might call them… atheists. But they, it seems, would not.

New Theists are legion; we are diverse. Many of us continue to call ourselves Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu or Unitarian. We may also self-identify as emergentist, evidentialist, freethinker, neo-humanist, pantheist, panentheist or some other label.

A long list, with atheism conspicuous in its absence.

New Theists don’t believe in God. We know that throughout human history the word “God” has always and everywhere been a meaning-filled interpretation, a mythic and inspiring personification of forces and realities incomprehensible in pre-scientific times.

New Theists view religion and religious language through an empirical, evidential, evolutionary lens, rather than through a theological or philosophical one. Indeed, an ability to distinguish subjective and objective reality — practical truth (that which reliably produces personal wholeness and social coherence) from factual truth (that which is measurably real) — is one of the defining characteristics of New Theists.

There’s more at the link. If you look, pay close attention to the “reality is our God” bit. See, I know where they are coming from, and this is where I disagree with them most strongly.

The vocabulary of religion is a pre-scientific vocabulary. It is a vocabulary that arose to explain things before we had any notion of how the world worked. It is a vocabulary that believed “the heavens and the earth” were a fairly small neighborhood, that measuring things in the hundreds was pretty impressive, that wouldn’t have a clue what a light-year means, what DNA is, no notion of the concepts of natural selection, plate tectonics, the big bang… Take any area of science, and in that tiny corner there are more wonders in reality than in all the holy books ever inspired, revealed, or dictated by a god.

The vocabulary of religion, for most of the history of humanity, was the vocabulary of the immense, the awesome, the transcendent. It was the vocabulary of gods and angels, of love and beauty beyond imagining.

How small imagination is, when compared to reality.

The vocabulary of religion is inadequate to describe that tiny corner of scientific knowledge–whether it is a new species of ant, the chemistry of seawater, a human brain pathway, a fragment of the Hubble deep field, a month at the Large Hadron Collider–the vocabulary of religion has been surpassed by the vocabulary of science. The vocabulary of the immense has been overtaken by a factor of billions. The vocabulary of the awesome is utterly inadequate to describe the real world. The vocabulary of the transcendent is a futile attempt at answering questions from a position of breathtaking ignorance.

Whatever our differences, New Theists are evidentialists who honor the evolutionary significance of religion, value traditional inspirational language, and are committed to living upstanding moral lives in service of a thriving future for humanity and the larger body of life.

We view this as Religion 2.0

I do not want Religion 2.0. Religion is much too small for today’s reality. “Traditional inspirational language” is the language of ignorance, of a world described by people who knew only the smallest fraction of it, and who invented stories to make up for their inadequate knowledge.

Reality is not God.

Reality is so much more than God ever was.

Religion 2.0 is a step backward.


  1. ibelieveindog says

    Apparently, New Theists “honor the evolutionary significance of religion.”

    What does that even mean?

    It sounds like they want to be atheists but not give up their comfy woo-blanket.

    Also, I love your poetry.

  2. Randomfactor says

    I’ve been stuck halfway through his book for over a year, and I almost NEVER fail to finish a book.

    What bugged me the most, I think, is the way he wants to keep Christian terms as referents for scientific ones. Original Sin, for example, is recast as the “lizard brain.”

    Reminded me of how the creation story in Genesis was supposed to be JUST like the scientific version–as Obi-Wan said, “from a certain point of view.” Sure, maybe they weren’t ACTUAL days, but you could divide them into six equal parts if you wanted to.

  3. F says

    Relentlessly beating old metaphors which were treated as fact into new and badly mangled metaphors just because we happen to be used to them.

  4. Tyrant of Skepsis says

    I love baking cakes, and I think that religion, rather than being made obsolete, should be seen as a collection of recipes. We are New Theists, and we don’t believe in God. But if God is flour, Jesus is Butter, faith is pre-heating your oven and the holy virgin Mary is a cup of sugar, it all makes perfect sense!

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