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"Faith is not a good reason to believe in any one thing. It's a bad reason to believe in everything. Faith is not synonymous with any one idea; it is synonymous with any strongly held idea, true or not. But one thing faith is not synonymous with is a logically justified idea."

May 8, 2010

Theologians are Atheists in Theistic Clothing

There's a huge difference between a theologian and an apologist. An apologist is someone who believes in a specific God and tries to argue for the existence of their God by giving reasons for belief. They fail because there is no justified reason to believe. Where as the theologian is a former apologist who figured out that there is no justified reason to believe, so they stray into this obscure language so that their belief cannot be properly singled out.

A theologian dismisses all arguments against theism as "too simple" and they profess that they are so much more intelligent than both the atheists and the apologists. To them, God is a concept that is transcendent and mysterious. They dismiss the counter apologetics and claims made by Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris because they say that the atheists aren't arguing against any God people really believe in. They're dead wrong. I've been in the pews, I've been in the debates, I've talked to the average theist. The average theist does believe in a real God. They do not believe in a vague transcendent concept. The God atheists argue against is the God that the majority of the world believes in. Just because the theologians know that God can't exist doesn't mean that God isn't the one people believe in.

The theologian argues for a possibility of a concept of a possible vague transcendent mysterious higher power. And depending on how you define those terms and how you word the argument, I too might believe in the possibility of a possibility of a concept of a vague higher power. But the point is that there's no reason to believe it. It defies logic, reason and everything we know about the universe. Theologians still hold the burden of proof, even thought they deny it. They cannot meet that standard of evidence, and they don't even try. They just sit on their soap box and point condescending fingers at both atheists and apologists alike, all the while pretending to be so much more intelligent than everyone else. At least the apologist believes in a God that might be testable. The theologian professes belief in a higher power concept that is purely impossible.

Theologians refer to themselves as Christians, speak about God like they're agnostic theists, and then live their lives like they're Fraiser Crane from TV. Listen, if you're a theologian and you're reading this, then this is for you...

You're an atheist. You know that the God people believe in is impossible. You know enough about those religions to know they're false. That's why you ditched them and made up this vague obscure transcendent being. But you don't believe in him either. You can't. You know you made this crap up and you know it's ridiculous and illogical. You know you can't ever meet the burden of proof and that you'll never be able to accurately define this concept. You don't believe in the God you profess to believe in. No one believes in that God. That God is a cop out for people who have given up trying. You're atheists who can't admit it because you like to pretend to be smart and you enjoy maintaining your theistic support groups. Give up. I see through your guise of smart-assed theism.


Anonymous said...

This is close but still pretty confused.

You are actually distinguishing between theologically liberal or progressive Christian theologians (who you call theologians) and theologically traditional Christians theologians (who you call apologists).

The more famous theologians tend to be liberal. The reason is probably because they tend to be more novel but, as you point out, their novel theories tend to portray a God that is quite out of step with traditional western theism and the vast majority of Christians now or throughout history.

The difference in approach is actually a very longstanding one. David Hume drew out this difference in the debate between Demea and Cleanthes in his Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion.

Demea represented the more liberal perspective: God cannot be properly defined, God is not a being but something greater, God is unfathomable, etc. This approach tends to reject arguments for and against God.

Cleanthes represented the traditional perspective. God is the creator and orderer of the world and all that's in it. As such, he can be known through cosmology, in the telos of the world, in it's moral order, through direct spiritual experience, etc.

It's understandable that atheists would be frustrated with the Demeans. Traditional Christians are also frustrated with such people. The seem to be playing around the issues and being less than fully serious about rationality and belief in God.

Demeans are represented by people like Paul Tillich and most modern theologians. Cleanthians are represented by people like Aristotle and Anselm. Thomas Aquinas plays the middle ground between both groups.

In any case, the liberal theologians can be safely ignored. Traditional Christians have recognized their death wish for some time and will not miss them after their demise.

Nonetheless, your post claims that all theologians are of the Demean sort. Not even close. I'm a theologian of the Cleanthes sort. I don't know if we are in the majority or not, but we represent the vast tradition of Christian theology and will always be the best representatives for atheists to engage with.

Anonymous said...

By the way, by "most modern theologians" I don't mean "most contemporary theologians."

In the humanities "modernity" has a special connotation. More or less I mean most famous theologians of the 19th and 20th centuries.

In any case, Tillich can be pegged as a closet atheist, I think. Not really in the strictest sense, but he didn't really believe in anything like the personal God that most Christians believe in. There are a number of people like him today.

But they aren't the end of the story. There are a number of theologians who express views that you would recognize as historically Christian.

SgtHaile said...

Without going into too many subcategories, a theologian is one who deals mostly in the history and social philosophy behind religion. Where as an apologist needs no such knowledge. An apologist can be just about anyone willing to give reasons for their faith. I would not count Ray Comfort as a theologian, because he's been shown to be utterly incompetent on the facts. He's merely an apologist, and not a very good one.

So, with this rough distinction between the two, I conclude that those who are on the theologian side of the argument, for the most part, are liars.

If we were to get into specifics of character and creed, we'd find a few exceptions to the rule, as we would in just about any situation. But those exceptions don't bother me. I don't have time to trace a line through the entire theological community to separate the pompous liars from the pompous fools. So I had to generalize. It's an area where an unabsolute is described as an absolute simply for the purposes of getting the point across without being too convoluted.

Anonymous said...

Actually, I'm pretty sure you're wrong.

I'm a professional theologian with a ph.d. in theology and what you're describing doesn't sound remotely familiar to me.

A Christian theologian attempts systematize 4 things: the Bible, rational arguments for and about God, personal experience, and church history. And in systematizing his aim is to develop and explain Christian doctrines.

You don't have to like it or think it makes sense or anything like that; that's just what theology is.

The history and social philosophy of religion typically falls under the purview of "religious studies" not theology. In the West most schools separate their theology and religious studies departments.

Apologetics is a branch of theology. It's goal is to develop the rational grounds for Christian doctrines. As such, it's sometimes indistinguishable from theology. Where it goes beyond systematic theology is in developing arguments against other worldviews, which is not typically what theologians do, but rather what Christian philosopher have done. In any case, apologetics tends to unite those things.

It's perfect fine for you to attack both theology and apologetics as disciplines, but your understanding of what they are is not really remotely close. If you want to be effective for atheism you might do well to learn a little more first and denounce second. I don't mean that to be purely snide. Hopefully you can take it in a somewhat constructive way.

SgtHaile said...

Are you a Christian? Or were a Christian?

Anonymous said...

I am a Christian, yes.

SgtHaile said...

Well like I said before with the possibility of exceptions to the rule, but that I wasn't willing to note them, I'm sure you know the type of theologian that I speak of. The ones who sound less like Christians and more like Agnostic Theists. To them, God is a transcendent force of nature, unlike the Christian belief that God is a conscious being with his own will. To them God is indistinguishable from gravity. They play around in this so called "middle ground" of liberal Christianity and use their education on Christian history to back up the things they say they believe, which they clearly didn't get from anywhere but they're own imagination. There's nothing within in Christian dogma or history that supports a new-age view of God as a force of nature, but they like to play in this metaphysical area so their concepts are indistinct and cannot be properly dissected. They come off almost as the educated agnostic who thinks they're smarter than both sides whom they think claim things they cannot know. Pompous and egotistical. Not so much the Indiana Jones of theology, but more like the Alister McGrath of theology. (A man who claims to have at one time been an atheist, but when you ask him to describe his atheism he simply defines atheism as socialism)

Anonymous said...

That sort of "Christian" theologian--the one for whom God is more like a principle or a ground of being rather than the personal creator of the world of the traditional Christian message--is in the minority. Maybe their influence is artificially inflated because their views and claims are so unexpected. I studied under many of those sorts at one of the most theologically liberal schools of theology in the US. It still makes no sense to me and I don't find it plausibly "Christian" in any reasonable sense.

In any case, there's not too much sense in getting worried about them. As I said, they are really in the minority and their sort of theology doesn't really do anything. It doesn't inspire people, it doesn't start churches or spur evangelists to spread the Christian message. It just sits there. You're right to call them out as pretenders, but they're really no concern. Liberal Christian theology has been in a death spiral since the beginning of the 20th century and they won't survive the 21st.

It's funny that you mention Alister McGrath, however. He's a very conservative, traditional Christian theologian. He believes that God is actually a triune being who created and sustains the world, can be known as such, and so on. He believes in the sort of God that theists and atheists actually debate about. I don't know if he's pompous or not, but he's certainly not part of the problem that you're pointing out here.

SgtHaile said...

I totally agree with your first paragraph. It is in a minority, they do exist, and it's totally "un-Christian"... What is "Christian" is a debate for another time.

But I'm not suprised that they're in the minority and they're un-Christian. Like I said, I think they're liars. I think they're pulling this agnostic theist BS God out of their asses and calling it liberal/modern Christianity/Spiritualism because they like the theistic point of view. But I don't think they believe it. They just like acting smart.

The debate between theists and atheists is never ending. Both sides think they're right (I would say that the side using proper logic wins) but there is no place for two faced smart asses. The wolves in sheep's clothing.

SgtHaile said...

About Alister McGrath... I've seen that man dance between fundamental/conservative Christianity and new-age agnostic theist concepts like he's a ballerina! Granted, he always claims he's talking about the God of the Bible and that somehow his new-age concepts are supported by Biblical text (of which I've seen no evidence) but he's just a convoluted as the one's I'm talking about. One reason I'm pointing out Alister McGrath is because I believe Alister is a liar. I think he might believe (might) but in the long run he's got no problem lying about his new-age spiritualism/conservative Christianity and obviously has no problem lying about having been an atheist. He has so problem misrepresenting atheism in every way. He's either lying about having been an atheist, or he's lying about being a Christian, in the meaningful sense.

Anonymous said...

I doubt you're right about McGrath. I don't know about his life as a former atheist but I do know his theology and it would be a very, very hard case to make that he's some sort of agnostic or that he's got some sort of crypto-new age view.

Frankly he just doesn't. The more probable reason for your mystification about his view is that you don't understand them. Being an academic, I've found that in most cases when someone else seems to make absolutely no sense or seems to be caught in a stupidly obvious contradiction, the problem was my misunderstanding.

In any case, if you can point to a clear example of where McGrath does something like what you're saying I'd be eager to look at it.

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