Friday, August 12, 2005

God is Dead But the Name Lives On

I'm an atheist. I haven't had a belief in any kind of deity for thirty years now. To me, there's no Father, Son, or Holy Ghost, no spirit of the river, Sun, or moon, no first cause, no Zeus, no Odin, No Idea or Form, no self-actualizing Hegelian Spirit, no Being with a big German "B", no Don Juan, no transcendental--No nothing. I'm not sure about the evolutionary concept of development, but I'm dead certain that Genesis and all its derivatives down to creation science are totally mistaken if not completely ludicrous.

I'm not sure that many other people believe there is a God either. Having lived in Bible-belt Kentucky for fifteen years, I've come close to thinking that people here don't believe in the Christian God. Little things make me think this. My Catholic relatives view the truth of the Da Vinci Code as too obvious for comment. Christian students can't grasp the Middle Ages because they are so repulsed by the idea of an always-present God miraculously intervening in the everyday. A Methodist minister sees the same problem with his parishioners and uses a Sunday sermon to argue for the existence of the miraculous. To no avail. A student decides not to write on the Sermon on the Mount because he doesn't want his disbelief to ruin church for him. All of these are stories of sincere Christians who don't particularly believe in the Christian god. But that doesn't mean that they don't care about religion. Many things connected with religion are crucially important to them--church, the Pope, preachers, songs, the Bible, sharing religion with immediate family, the fellowship with other church members, the good deeds associated with the church, and memories of growing up in the church. All of these things are powerfully sustaining. Even though I'm a long-time atheist who is repulsed by Jesus' doctrine, I still sing "Jesus loves me, Yes I know/ For the Bible tells me so" to myself every once in a while. Likewise, I often hear people talk about how they can't imagine living "without faith," how "comforting" religious observances are, and how important various dimensions of religion are in their lives. For my Catholic in-laws, Catholicism is extremely important for their understanding of their family histories, their Irish ethnicity, and their sense of who they are in the world. But I don't pick up on much God talk or much God sentiment in all the talk I hear about the importance of religion and religious faith.

What does this have to do with evolution? First evolutionary biology completely refutes the Genesis account of the creation of the world. Life wasn't created all at once in six days between six and ten thousand years ago. Life on earth evolved over billions of years while the Earth itself was created as part of a galactic process rather than the direct will of a deity. Anyone who believes that dinosaur dating is accurate--and who doesn't--has already rejected the whole story of Genesis. In refuting Genesis, however, evolutionary biology condemns the whole cultural architecture of Christianity. This is why most Americans say they reject evolutionary biology in surveys. It's not they believe in the Christian god, but that the Christian god is a powerful reference point for everything they value about church and religious experience. So, most Americans choose god over scientific truth even though they don't believe in God because they associate so many important and valuable things with the name of God. God was once alive in the United States. The Puritans saw and felt God and his sidekick Satan everywhere. For better or worse (I think better), God is dead for us but we do not abandon God because so many of the things we value are associated with God. So, we keep the name of God around as a reference point for everything we value about Christianity. Perhaps we Americans have killed God, but we maintain the reference to God, the corpse or mummy of God on the tips of our tongues and reject anything--evolutionary theory, the banning of religion from government property, etc.--that keeps us from referring to the God we don't believe in. People in the U. S. prefer Christianity over evolution, but not because they believe in God. What a country!


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