Thomas Aquinas Meets The Flying Spaghetti Monster
As the League’s resident theological student, I have been a bit loathe to enter the atheism/spaghetti monster/god or no god (non)debate. Perhaps the best comment (imo) came from James Williams in the original thread who said that the Flying Spaghetti Monster (delicious be his name forever and ever) grows out of the intelligent (or lack thereof) design versus darwinian, er food fight.
Which is too bad in my opinion since, though it may seem strange to some, I’m hugely in favor of atheist religion creation. Just done well and one that need not be anti-religious. I generally agree with Freddie’s original point that the so-called New Atheists are in many ways uncivil and worse at times illiberal. But so far as pastafarianism goes (Jah Pastafarai!!!) I think it’s too bad it doesn’t learn or rather practice a deeper atheist spirituality.
Atheism as such simply means not having the gods (theos) that everybody else worships at a certain time. When Christians first came on the scene, they were called atheists because they didn’t worship the Greco-Roman-Near Eastern polytheistic pantheon.
The real question is what god(s) those who are a-theos don’t have. What theos are they “a”-ing in other words?
And in that regard the “New” Atheists–who are at least in their thinking 300 years old…not exactly new–they mean the theistic/deistic god of classical Protestantism from the 17th century onwards. A God (or god) who is a being, a thing of some sort who either gets the whole universe-thing going and stays out (deism) or has super-powers to get involved at certain key points and do some super-magic: rise from graves, zap baddies, presto chango healings, etc.
If that is the God that one either has to believe in or not, then I’m an atheist. Of course that isn’t the only god around but don’t tell that to our (not so) new atheist friends. They will have none of that. This is why when I find myself sitting on the bus like last night reading an ad for ULTIMATE QUESTIONS—DOES GOD EXIST?, I become frustrated and just roll my eyes.
If you have ever read James Fowler’s work on the Stages of Faith, he shows (rather conclusively I think) that every person has a line of development that deals with the question What is Ultimate? What is of Ultimate Care and Concern? Theist, atheist or otherwise. That journey goes through general basic patterns–again regardless of whether one is theistic, atheistic or otherwise. There are degrees of depth to atheism as well as religious belief in other words. [Freddie’s being a classic deeper atheist path than the New Atheists who are quite superficial].
The upshot of which is that there is no such thing as a non-believer. Whether or not God exists is actually to me a secondary question–and one that is entirely dependent on what station of the journey one is at. Since the referent God changes dramatically through that journey as well as the understanding of what existing means–and whether or not it is properly applied to God (or neither applicable nor inapplicable as I will argue in a moment).
The Does God Exist Battle Royale being held a local university here in Vancouver will be like so many of these–fairly stupid and pointless. With each side coming in armed with the variations on the same arguments–I s–t you not–both sides have been making since the 1700s. Everyone will basically go home further convinced of the superiority of their various side, further entrenched in their own self-sense, looking down their nose at their opponents then when they entered.
I could put money down and guarantee that no one will ever approach the idea that faith is not a set of dogmas (atheist, religious or otherwise) but rather what one ultimately puts one’s trust in. Rather than the stupid inane question of whether God exists or not (easy answer: Who Cares?) why not people share what is of deepest value to them. What they ultimately put their trust and their hope in? What gives them strength in their darkest days, what gets them out of the bed in the morning? That would at least serve some function and could bring some spirit to the event.
Since faith=trust, then calling someone an unbeliever is saying they are un-trusting. I’ve never met a human who does not trust in something or someone, even if they be (imo) the idols of money, sex, food, their own ego, status, or whatever. Everybody trusts that something will bring them salvation of one kind or another. As a guy studying to be a priest, it’s just my general sense that msot of those ones we put our faith in ultimately let us down. This is related to but distinct from Scott’s (also valid) point that there is the question of transcendental/spiritual experience whether or not there is a god or not (also generally ignored by New Atheists with the possible exception on this point of Sam Harris who practices Buddhist meditation).
Which brings us back to ye Old Monster du Flying espagetti. Obviously no one is going to go this route, but it would be better to learn the analogic way of theology, even an atheist variety. Fowler shows that as one deepens in faith–again of whatever kind–there is an increasing “As if” sense that one takes to myths, religious dogmas, stories, ideologies, worldviews, assertions, dogmas and the like. They are both true and not true simultaneously. There is what Ricoeur called a “second naivete.” A naivete on the far side of suspicion and criticism. Where we become suspicious of our suspicions. Not like the original naivete of say a fundamentalism.
The Analogical Theological path works by taking classic attributions of the character of God and saying how they are true but not in a way we generally imagine and certainly not literally true. e.g. God is not actually a Fortress. God does not have ramparts and towers. Nor a moat (though the divine alligator would probably be pretty cool I imagine). To say that is to depict the Divine as unmoved, a place of safety against the arrows and the weapons (literal and metaphoric) of our world.
Entering the metaphor brings clarity and softness to the soul, again regardless of the ontological existence (or not) of God. [Again which God? But for now assume whichever variety you like].
To add one more beef then finally with The New Atheists is that they don’t get literature from my viewpoint. Certainly not the literature, the symbolism of religion, but literature of any kind.
Though this will seem like I’m being silly (and perhaps partly I am), in one way I’m being very serious when I say The Analogical Path should be applied to the Spaghetti Monster. Because this is a practice that leads to depth, whether or not God is real or whatever ontological argument is to be had.
It’s a little harder with The Monster, but I’ll give it a try. Again at least half-seriously. The Spaghetti Monster is one who feeds us. Upon whom we nourish. His (Her?) “noodles” extend out. They are al dente upon whom we can grasp and cling to. When we “throw” the meaning of his name to the unresponsive walls of our world, when he has been cooked to the right temperature in the soul of the believer, he sticks. He holds a place that can not be un-stuck to those upon whom he melds.
Like I said it’s kinda hard. [Insert you favorite joke about Flying Monsterish meat and balls here…]
For a more classic theological take on this subject re: why the question of whether God exists or not is the wrong question, here goes. God existing assumes a separate Be-ing called God, who would be something like a giant ego in the Sky. Or out there somewhere. The traditional (i.e. non-Intelligent Design, non-fundamentalist Protestant) view is that everything exists in God. There is a similar argument made in Christianity that only God is truly personal whereas we are less than persons–sin being understood as de-humanization. [This connects with Larison’s point on alternative meanings of dogma to ED].
To ex-ist is to stand out. God in the classic view (the one I hold) is that which can neither stand out nor be understood be absent from standing out. God is that from which and within which everything that arises and then expires (which comes into and then goes out of existence) comes to be.