Atheism in contemporary Theology

For we have numberous instances in Western spiritualities of a life-denying rather than a life-affirming spirituality. And the fact is that these, more than the Jewish spirituality of life-affirmation (which we should recall Jesus came out of), have held dominance in Western civilization. Repression, not expression; guilt, not pleasure; heaven, not this life; sentimentality, not justice; mortification, not developing of talents; these are the earmarks of what Western spirituality has for the most part done with the thought of Plato and the neo-Platonists (who always preferred a different world to this one); ... xv

... a schema that summarizes clearly what options are available between the negative and the affirmative spiritualities. ... I will call them Yesterday's vs. Today's Spiritualities.

Spiritual means immaterial::Spiritual means what is life-giving
Matter is sinful or at most tolerated.::Matter too is God-made and holy
Limit pleasure, shun it.::Ecstasy is gift of Creator
Private (God and me)::Political (God and us)
... the Fall ...::... the creation ...

"Change the consciousness of one woman and you've changed the consciousness of one man," suggests Margaret Meade. xx-xxi
[likewise: Change the consciousness of one atheist and you've changed the consciousness of one theist. -tpk]

God as verb, not noun: What are the implications, what are the experiences? What are the implications of our seeing ourselves as verbs, as mystics and prophets in action and in a process of development, wherein holiness is not a kind of passive state or sacred vessel but is a decision, a choice, a movement, a living symbol, a process of coming alive. xxi

I am equally pleased that this book in its original form welcomes a feminist consciousness insofar as it equates the artistic quest with the spiritual quest, as it insists on a mystery-oriented, participatory relationship to creation, as it questions drastically the phallic definitions of prayer that most of us have inherited, and as it opts for the yes'es as well as the no's in life. xxii

We live, comments John Updike, in one of those periods "that visits mankind between millenia, between the death and rebirth of gods, when there is nothing to steer by but sex and stoicism and the stars."
- Couples (A.Knopf: NY 1968) p 372 / xxvii

Every cultural crisis produces a corresponding spiritual crisis. xxviii

The early Christians followed their Lord in his rejection of their culture's prayer. ... Their persecution as atheists is directly related to their refusal to worship as their Roman culture dictated, and when they acquiesce, only after three centuries, to building their own churches and buildings and thereby paralleling Roman worship, the persecutions ceased. 13

But God is not conceiveable as an object of our prayer, and such a situation leads directly to atheism, as both Marcel and Tillich suggest. 18

An enforced tactical mysticism has for so long been a pattern in religious circles that it is worth pausing to examine. One can read, for example, of the "good old woman" who tells her beads "on a winter evening, in the chimney corner," and how these "tactics" are "a first stage, a humble beginning, on the path of mystical union." n.13 The same author goes on to explain in his condescending way that this is "the only stage which most people are capable of reaching," yet he insists on continuing this mystical exercise, confident that nothing will come of it. This grotesque display of spiritual imperialism betrays the kind of paternalism that mysticism, so often constructed on a view of life and politics as hierarchical, is so often heir to. It plays into the hands of those who dismiss all mysticism as corrupt (cf. Feuerbach and the later Marx; for a discussion on nontactical mysticism, see Chapter 4). 25
n.13: Joseph Marechal, _Studies in the psychology of mystics_,
trans. Algar Thorrold (Magi: NY 1964) pp 157f

I define mysticism in a general way as our capacity for enjoyment. More precisely, as our search fo rthe beautiful (and its search for us). Our growing in authentic mysticism consists of our sinking our roots more and more surely into the beautiful. Any search for beauty in life is in some sense a mystical search. Given the vast subject that mysticism can be, its application here can be restricted to the following propositions: /93
1. I agree with William James that mysticism is part of certain persons' temperaments and psychological constitutions (he talks of "the mystical faculties" of human nature" and how some persons are better equipped than others for mystical experience [297]). Thus there _is no need for a mystique of mysticism_; it will assert itself in proper and healthy (ie, creative) channels if it is allowed the time and the encouragement to develop. Here I take a strong stand against those schools of "tactics" who intend to "teach" others in mysticism. Mysticism is not a learned reaction; it is a matter of life response. (Marcel insists that the teaching of prayer is "absurd.")
2. Mysticism itself has to be redeemed. The Christian ideal, ... is not one of pure mysticism but of channeling and using mysticism for purer ends of prayer and prophecy. ... Sick mysticism will be identifiable for its flight from history, an opiate substitute for justice just as Feuerbach and Marx claimed it was. /94

We conclude that drugs may be a stage in one's prayer life but no more. ... The depths of the human consciousness and unconsciousness are being explored by modern adventurers. (It is worth noting that William James, who confessed he was "constitutionally" shut out from mystical experience, still was opened up to an "entirely different form of consciousness" on taking drugs).
2. Drink.William James made an observation years ago that seems to have gone little explored: "The sway of alcohol over mankind is unquestionably due to its power to stimulate the mystical faculties of human nature, usually crushed to earth by the cold facts and dry criticisms of the sober hours. Sobriety diminishes, discriminates and says 'no'; drunkenness expands, unites, and says 'yes'. ... To the poor and the unlettered it stands in the place of symphony concerts and of literature; and it is part of the deeper mystery and tragedy of life." (James 297) In this passage James asserts that there existss such a psychical reality as "the mystical faculties" and that these faculties are the Yes and expansion-producing elements of man's psyche. More than that, he asserts that there is a correlation between material poverty and "spiritual" poverty, betwee the way a person seeks to assert his psychological response to life and the access his culture allows him to these means. One cannot be radical /127/ psychologically and not radical socially unless he is still _in via_. 128

- Matthew Fox, On becoming a musical, mystical bear: spirituality American style
(Paulist: NY 1972)

... the machine era ... was anti-mystical ...... the machine era birthed a uniquely European phenomenon called atheist, which is, by definition, a simple rejection of the theistic God. ...
The sense of the sacred was rare to come by even for those who claimed to believe, for anthropocentrism, adultism, and patriarchy all banish the sense of awe, wonder, and mystery that form the basis for a sense of the sacred. 84

The mystic in every one of us ... The universe is mystery again ...
Beauty is recovered as a proper name for God ... Atheism melts before the astonished minds of scientists, as they rediscover dignity of their vocation ... 87

Mysticism will replace Jesusolatry in religious circles, and it will be an age of Deep Ecumenism. 88

the Paradigm Shift at a Glance
Machine Era Green (Sheen) Era
Modern era Postmodern era
Industrial revolution Environmental revolution
Atoms are inert Atoms are patterns of relations
Earth is inert Earth (Gaia) lives
Things are soulless Things live by a principle of animation (soul)
Universe as machine Universe as mystery
God is out there (theism) God is in all things and all things are in God (panentheism)
God does not exist (atheism) God's presence is experienced by all (mysticism)

Pursuit of knowledge Pursuit of wisdom

- Matthew Fox, the Reinvention of work: a new vision of livelihood for our time
(Harper: San Francisco 1994)

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