Atheism and Experiencing God

You must be wondering what happened to My Spiritual Journey, after more than a year! It hasn’t finished – I’ve just been rather busy doing it. More will come, I promise.

In the meantime, I’ve just begun reading Alister McGrath’s The Twilight of Atheism: The Rise and Fall of Disbelief in the Modern World.

What has atheism got to do with being a reasonable mystic, you might ask? Well, I discovered something interesting. For a long time I have heard atheists using the words of people like Voltaire and Descartes to bolster their cause. Now I discover that neither of them were atheists. In fact, they were deists. Not only that, but Descartes was actually trying to prove that God does exist, not the reverse!

Anyway, let’s go back one step so we can see what this has to do with this blog.

How many times have you heard someone say that Voltaire said God was an invention of man? They quote him as saying: “If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him.” On page 25 McGrath gives this line along with the other four lines it belongs in:

If the heavens, stripped of their noble imprint,
Could ever cease to reveal Him,
If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent Him,
Whom the sage proclaims, and whom kings adore.

In fact, Voltaire was as antagonistic to atheism as he was to the brand of Christianity exemplified by the corrupt hierarchy of the French Catholocism of his time. Far from wanting to remove Christianity, he actually wanted to remove this cancer that was forcing the loathed atheism to appear.

On pages 31 and 32 we meet Rene Descartes, famous for his “I think, therefore I am”. He was aware of the threat the new ideas of atheism were to Christianity, and with others set about trying to provide a philosophical proof that God did exist. Unfortunately, in order to make his “proofs” more palatible to his readers, who were more inclined towards science and natural reason than to religion, he decided to not make any appeal to experience of God. Of course, as this makes any such proof impossible, because God cannot be logically proved without being experienced in relationship, his efforts only succeeded in making the existence of such a hamstrung God seem even more unlikely.

The nail in the coffin came from the way other “Christians”, equally devoid of true experience of God, fought with each other in popular journals to demonstrate that their proof of God was better than anyone else’s proof. Atheism won by default, without hardly having to strike a blow.

So, it is clear that if they had realised the crucial need for experience of God as well as reason and understanding of his nature and ways – in other words, they had been prepared to be reasonable mystics – things could have turned out somewhat differently.

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