Thursday, May 03, 2012

On Religion and Theoretical Atheism

In the following excerpt, Barth is talking about how much energy is potentially mis-spent debating the ambiguous statement that "There is a God." There is a lot that I appreciate about what he asks us to ponder:
That there is no God may perhaps apply to the deity of philosophy, or to a deity that might be regarded as the common denominator of the gods of the different religions, or to a deity that demonstrates its existence by having a place in a world-view of human construction, or even perhaps to the "God" who is in one way or another poorly proclaimed and understood in some Christian tradition or theology.... Theoretical atheism is, of course, a frightful profanation of the name of God. Yet we may quietly say that the particular way in which it profanes God's name is not the most frightful. Indeed, since it is the most easily explicable, compared to others that we shall mention later, it is relatively the most innocuous.... 
[A] worse form [is religion, for it] thinks it has sought and found a positive substitute for what is lacking.... Because they do this positively, they do it in a much more illuminating, tempting, and dangerous fashion than any denial of God. In atheism the world defends itself against the threatening self-giving and self-declaration of God. In religion it tries to deal with him by establishing itself behind a wall of self-invented and self-made images of God, so that it may really be left to itself. This is why the angry protest of the biblical prophets is not directed against atheism but against the idolatry that characterizes the world around Israel, which may be seen in the religions of other peoples, and which is absolutely intolerable for Israel as the people of the true and living God.
- Karl Barth, The Christian Life, p. 128-130.

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