Last week I posted on an interesting article (I’m not Sure most Christians know that) where Terry Eagelton reviewed Richard Dawkins’ book the God Delusion.  One of the concerns that showed up in responses to both that post and to Eagelton was whether, if one has dismissed the idea of God as some sort of cosmic leprechaun, does one even needs bother to look into the matter at all as there is an a priori assumption in place.

The comments section of the Eagelton review is the truly fascinating part. The first response asks if one is convinced that the stars don’t determine one’s fate, is one obliged to look into the nuances of astrology. The next points out that if one is going to write a book on it, then yes.  It is an enjoyable (though contentious) and intelligent exchange.

 So the question is “Does one need to understand theology before one can not believe in God? “

It may not come as a surprise that I am going to say ‘Yes!’

Let me place two caveats in place :

  1. I respect the ‘death of God’ theologian greatly. What they are doing philosophically makes more sense to me than almost anything else.  What many fail to understand is the huge gulf between saying that ‘there is no god’ and ‘God died’. That is for another post.
  2. One is free to simply not believe in a god if one were to so desire. Although I believe that that humans are homo-religiosus  (to follow Paul Knitter and others),  I don’t presume to impose that upon others.

With that being said – I need to be clear: I am not addressing Dawkins specifically. You have to be careful with that because he has such passionate defenders who are aggressive apologists.

The New Atheists (and their followers), it seems to me,  have simply proven that they don’t  believe in the fundamentalist’s God. Which is fine – neither do we.

As interesting as Aquinas and his 5 proofs can be, if you have not engaged Tillich &  Cobb, or Altizer (for example) then you are not engaging the idea of ‘God’ that we are engaging.

  • So you don’t believe in the construct they had in the 14th century. Neither do we.
  • You think the fundamentalist are full of hot air. So do we.

 That is my only point. I have no other agenda. I just wanted to point out that if you have not engaged what is being engaged … then the God you don’t believe in is not the one we believe in either.

It would be like me not believing in Neuroscience or String Theory or Molecular Biology because they seemed to be a lot of speculation, abstraction, and I couldn’t see it in a microscope (whether or not I have looked through one).

Beat up people from the 14th – 17th  century all you want. Pick on wooden literalist and fundamentalists if you like. But things have changed, thoughts have evolved, and God is not what She used to be (thank you Elizabeth Johnson, Rosemary Radford-Ruther and Mary Daly). This is no longer the monolithic mega-idol  – the giant edifice of christendom – that was (in theory) centrally defined, tightly controlled, and purported to be universal.

If you want to say that you don’t believe in God, you are going to have to be much more specific.  



post-script: I have enjoyed reading all of the articles that I have been referred to including P.Z. Meyers Courtier’s Response  and the many a book reviews – including my favorite from H. Allen Orr  in the New York Times entitled “A Mission to Convert” which includes the following two quotes:


Gone, it seems, is the Dawkins of The Selfish Gene, a writer who could lead readers through dauntingly difficult arguments and who used anecdotes to illustrate those arguments, not to substitute for them.

One reason for the lack of extended argument in The God Delusion is clear: Dawkins doesn’t seem very good at it. Indeed he suffers from several problems when attempting to reason philosophically. The most obvious is that he has a preordained set of conclusions at which he’s determined to arrive. Consequently, Dawkins uses any argument, however feeble, that seems to get him there and the merit of various arguments appears judged largely by where they lead.