In my mind, the most challenging question facing atheism is that of religious experience. If, as atheists contend, there is no “spiritual reality”at all beyond our physical world, then why do so many people claim to have experienced it? This question is taken up by Richard Dawkins in The God Delusion, the Reasonable Doubts podcasters, and a handful of the famous skeptical intellectuals who are covered in Atheism for Lent.
Tag: David Hume
As part of my God Project, I’m reading through the Bible in a year. As I follow my reading plan, I am daily confronted with stories of God’s action in the world. So far, God has obliterated two cities with sulfur and fire from heaven, appeared in a blazing bush that never burned up, parted the Red Sea, and controlled the motion of a star. Jesus has healed tons of sick people, restored a dead girl to life, fed five thousand men and their families, and walked on water. And those are only a few memorable highlights.
Below is a pretty exhaustive annotated list of the intellectual resources (mostly books with a few audio recordings) that I’ll be learning from over the course of my year-long “God project.” For more on what exactly this God project is, check out this post.
If this list seems interesting to you, but not quite interesting enough to tackle yourself, then you are in luck! Each week, I’ll share bite-sized reflections on what I learn. The best ways for you to join in is to share your thoughts in the comments and follow this blog via email (scroll down to the bottom of this page to sign up).
My own thoughts on God don’t emerge ex nihilo; I grew up in a particular tradition (American Evangelicalism) which is itself a part of the wider Christian tradition.
- On the Incarnation by Athanasius: Athanasius, a 4th Century Christian theologian and bishop, is venerated as a saint and Church Father in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, and even some Protestant denominations.
- The Reason for God by Timothy Keller: Most of my deepest experiences of God and community came to me within the context of Evangelical theology. Although I no longer have much interest in fitting inside the Evangelical world, my history requires me to consider the theology I grew up with, whether I like it or not.
Any contemporary American exploration of “God” with even minimal self-awareness must take seriously the many good reasons to not believe in God at all.
- The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins: Judging by this book’s enormous popularity, Dawkins seems to be writing down what so many people are thinking about God and why they don’t believe in “Him”.
- Atheism for Lent by Peter Rollins: This nine-hour-long recorded lecture series sympathetically discusses critiques of religion (especially belief in God), touching on intellectual giants like David Hume, Ludwig Feuerbach, Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
- Reasonable Doubts: Throughout this year-long adventure, I will be regularly listening to this fairly popular and long-running “skeptical guide to religion” that aired its 139th and final episode in September of 2015. It is conversational as well as informative. I expect to find food for thought, but also positive examples of what life can be like as an atheist.
My own “God-experiences” are enduring and central components of my faith, my theology, and my identity. God isn’t just a matter of communal identity or abstracted reflection; God also has to do with lived experience.
- When God Talks Back by T.M. Luhrmann: This is a functionally agnostic (but sympathetic) anthropologist’s take on contemporary Evangelical religious experience.
- The Experience of God by David Bentley Hart: In this book, an Eastern Orthodox philosopher and theologian seeks to clarify an understanding of “God”/”the divine”/”transcendence” that emerges from the experiences of being, consciousness, and bliss, and is roughly shared by Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Vedantic and Bhaktic Hinduism, Sikhism, and some forms of paganism.
- Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross: In this classic text, a 16th Century Catholic mystic reflects on his intense experiences of the presence and absence of God.
- Finding God in the Waves by Mike McHargue: “Science Mike” is a relatively popular podcaster, blogger, and author. This memoir-style book tells the story of how Science Mike grew up in fundamentalist Christianity, became an atheist in adulthood, and eventually returned to a new understanding of God.
To help me reflect on the mixed messages of tradition, skepticism, and religious experience, I will read books from Christian theologians of many different stripes, each of whom offers a unique take on God that differs from the others on this list.
- Quest for the Living God by Elizabeth Johnson: In this book, the incredible Catholic feminist theologian Elizabeth Johnson surveys recent insights in contemporary theology across the globe.
- The Humanity of God by Karl Barth: This is a short series of essays by one of the most influential theologians of the 20th century.
- Religion and Science by Phillip Clayton: This is another lengthy recorded lecture series. In these lectures, Clayton addresses critical topics of the atheist vs. theist debate, from divine action to “the problem of evil” to science to postmodernity to materialism to determinism.
- Systematic Theology, Volume One by Paul Tillich: Tillich is sometimes cast as a “liberal” and/or “radical” 20th Century theologian. This book develops Tillich’s conception of “God beyond God.”
- God and the World by John Cobb: Cobb is a process theologian. Word on the street is that process theologians are the best at taking science and human tragedy seriously without losing the ability to speak meaningfully about God.
- The Weakness of God by John Caputo: Caputo is a lover of postmodern philosophy, deconstruction, and Jacques Derrida. In this book, Caputo develops his theology of “God as event”.
- God of the Oppressed by James Cone: James Cone is an influential black liberation theologian. As a member of an oppressed community, Cone has access to questions and insights that I (and most authors on this list) cannot existentially encounter.
- God as the Mystery of the World by Eberhard Jungel: I love now-deceased German theologians, so I’m looking forward to reading Jungel. The subtitle of this book is “the dispute between Theism and Atheism”.
- Philosophy of Religion: Second Edition edited by George Abernethy and Thomas Langford: This one includes snippets form the work of diverse philosophers and theologians ranging from Kierkegaard to Schleiermacher, from Anselm to Kant, from Tillich to Barth, from Aquinas to Hartshorne, and so on. I will periodically read essays from this book throughout the year.
Within the past two years, I’ve read Frank Tupper’s A Scandalous Providence and Jurgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God, and odds are good that I will be returning to and referencing those books throughout this process.
For more on my “God project,” click here. To follow my journey as it unfolds, scroll down to “follow blog via email” near the bottom of this page.