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Atheists for God

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Democracy and elitism are always suspicious of each other, and for now the common belief in fundamentalism rides high while the educated elite keeps silent. The educated elite in my experience is not filled with the faithful. After a century of liberal arts education in America, agnosticism and atheism are the norm. People become educated to fill secular roles. Anyone who runs for office would have to piously deny and scorn this idea, but the fact is that our modern world is scientific and technocratic, not religious. The three most powerful forgers of modern thought--Freud, Darwin, and Marx--were notable atheists.

I think if God has a chance to come back seriously, it will take atheists to rehabilitate him (or her). One synonym for atheist is free thinker. God needs a lot more free thinking if he is to escape the clutches of fundamentalism. The basis for that rehabilitation exists already. We have profound religious thinking from Einstein and other great scientists. We have sharp, mindful challenges to the old God from Sartre and other existentialists. We have humane theology from Paul Tillich and other non-literal theologians. We have the entire New Age, which has re-enlivened spiritual experience for millions of people. And of course we have the great traditions of wisdom from the East, all but unknown a generation ago but now extremely well publicized thanks to figures like the Dalai Lama.

A great deal of this wealth of new thought is atheist or close to it. Buddhists do not worship God. Einstein conceived of a God who would conform to the laws of nature, not override or rule them. The New Age replaces God, quite often, with the sense of "I am" (a concept of the higher self that exists throughout Eastern spirituality). Some new thought, of course, remains within the bounds of religion and the Western tradition.

The point is that with the current theologically based violence at a feverish pitch, atheism may be God's best hope for making a positive difference in history once again. Right now God is making a difference, but given the baneful effect of fundamentalism in every society and the repugnance of an aggressive male deity who justifies war and intolerance, that difference is highly destructive to human happiness and progress. That's unfair to God, and if the secular elites believe that happiness and well-being can be established without a spiritual basis entirely, they are fooling themselves.

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