Atheism for Lent (AfL) 2016
There are three ways we can engage with atheism. Firstly, we can see it as something totally other that is trying to undermine and destroy that which we hold dear. It is the enemy that we need to fight to ensure that our truth, our way of life, our power, is not lost to those who are against us.
Secondly, we can see it at something totally other that is useful as a tool to help us see ourselves through someone else’s eyes. We find in the other a value of an opinion that shows us the truth of our own beliefs and practices that we are too close to see ourselves. They remain other, but we humbly thank them for their insight.
In the third way, we recognise the other who is different from us but who is not seen as the one who is either attacking or informing us, instead they are one who is our travel companion.
This third way is the one we see and affirm in Jesus’s cry of dereliction on the cross, and so ‘is something we bear witness too at the very heart of Christianity itself. For on the cross when Christ cries out, “My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?” We see that the absence of God, the felt absence of the divine, is brought into the very heart of the faith. Instead of seeing it as some kind of test that we have to endure, or the result of our sin and our finitude, what we see is God experiencing the absence of God.
‘Therefore the absence of God is seen to be a part of the life of faith. If a Christian is to participate in the crucifixion, to stand with Christ, then part of the Christian experience is that absence itself…perhaps we should not see [atheism] as an enemy we need to fight, or as a stranger we need to listen to, but rather we should hear it as a friend or a comrade that we must embrace and welcome as our own…We do not protect ourselves from these “infidels”, but we listen to them to expose something in ourselves.’ (Peter Rollins)
This page will serve as the access point for each week’s materials and links for any media that may be relevant as well. Each week you will find links to writings, audio/video links – if at any point you have difficulty accessing any of the materials please contact me at email@example.com. You should be able to simply click the day with listed ‘author’ (eg. Day-1-Epicurus)
The calendar begins on Ash Wednesday, 10th February. Each week there will be a combination of readings, talks and videos and will simply be laid out in chronological order. There will be a talk from Peter Rollins and Jack Caputo that will only be made available on the Thursday of every week, so the link for it will be added after the week as already begun.
If you are anything like me, you will find yourself (hopefully, pleasantly), surprised with the variety of people we will engage with over Lent. Some of the days have a single reading spread across multiple days, so I will try and indicate in the material where each day starts and stops. If there doesn’t seem to be any clear delineation of where to start and stop please break up the text as seems best for you.
Finally, everyday the length of the material varies, and so I would encourage you to take extra time ‘listening’ on the shorter days, or use them to circle back onto other things that are niggling in your mind.
Week 1: Problematising God talk (God as a Being)
To begin with Rollins suggests we’d spend a week delving into to some thinkers (past and present) who have problematised traditional notions God-talk. What we might call religious approaches to the question of God. The types of arguments you’ll encounter this week are what we are most familiar with because of the popularity of debates between theists and atheists. This week will help set up the future weeks, where we’ll delve into thinkers (both philosophical and theological) who move beyond these distinctions. Other thinkers you might want to look at include A.J. Ayer, Rudolf Carnap, J, Mackie and Anthony Kenny, as well as those thinkers grouped under the name “New Atheists.”
Day-2-David-Hume (Part II)
Day-3-David-Hume (Part V)
Day 4 – Talk – Click Here
Week 2: Advent of Modern Atheism 1 (God as Projection)
This week we look at the thinker who influenced the direction of religious critique in continental philosophy and theology. Today he is largely viewed as a minor philosophical figure, but his importance in developing a non-supernatural understanding of religion, is huge. We also look at Marx, who was deeply influenced by Feuerbach. These thinkers are working with (and against) Hegel, so you might also want to read something about his work (he is a difficult thinker to delve straight into). Another thinker you might be interested in is Max Stirner, who wrote an insightful and penetrating critique of Feuerbach that argues he doesn’t go far enough.
– Red lines, in this document and many others that follow, are only suggestions for how to break up the reading.
Day 12 – Talk – Click Here
– This text is only a single page but offers a lot to ‘sit-in’ for the two days.
Week 3: Advent of Modern Atheism 2 (God as Projection)
This week we continue to explore the famous Masters of Suspicion by looking at Freud and Nietzsche, both of whom offered interpretations of Christianity that made use of unconscious drives and desires. These thinkers both had a profound sensitivity to the unconscious realities that can cultivate, motivate and sustain religious belief. Their work marks an important milestone in approaches that pay close attention to the reasons operating beneath, behind and within our conscious reasons. I include the movie The Invention of Lying as it offers an entertaining reflection on how religion might have a psychological reason for coming into being (although, as a movie, it’s worth baring in mind that it isn’t as reflective as the philosophers we have considered).
Day 18 – Talk – Click Here
– if you do not have access to the Ricky Gervas film (or even if you do), The Invention of Lying, please have a look at these blog posts from Katherine Sarah Moody, who has collected a few interviews with Gervas that look at his personal beliefs and worldview.
Week 4: Towards Theological Atheism (God as Hyper-Being)
This week we turn our attention to theological atheism. Like more strictly philosophical atheism, theological atheism has a rich and deep tradition which we can only touch on here. While those in Radical theology chart their genealogy right back to the biblical text, through the mystics and into movements such as Existentialism and German Idealism, we’ll concentrate here on a few figures who were important in the development of its contemporary expression. While New Atheism attempts to distance itself from religion, seeing religion as inextricable linked to the idea of God as a being, here we explore a theological approach that sees this critique as a step on the way to a different notion of God. God as more than being or hyper-being. This leads to a more theological type of atheism or a/theism.
DAy 26 – Talk – Click Here
Week 5: Theological Atheism (God as Ground of Being)
This week we will delve into the classic 20th century expression of Radical Theology. In the 1960’s Radical Theology achieved a certain fame and popular interest. In many ways this was a point in which the movement matured and gained its distinctive voice, primarily through the work of Altizer, who is widely taken to be the main figure in this movement. Here we go beyond the idea of God as hyper-being, to the notion of God as the ground of being. This more existential approach can be seen as a type of bridge between more classical metaphysical or realist notions of God, toward approaches to God that don’t use the term “being” at all. Altizer marks the threshold of this approach.
Day 32 – Talk – Click Here
Week 6: Contemporary Theological Atheism (God as Event)
Radical Theology could be said to be entering into a new golden age with a number of academics, activists and popular writers bringing it back to the fore. There is a whole world of interesting material being produced at the moment. This week we touch on some ways of approaching the subject of God that don’t operate around the term being at all. In this type of theology atheism is no longer an enemy of faith, a sparring partner with faith, or a friend of faith, but rather a part of faiths very outworking. This week will give you an introduction to it.
Day 39 – Talk – Click Here
Day-42-John-Caputo – the first lines of the document were a typo, please begin under the first heading, ‘Religion is for lovers’.