Post-Atheist: Moving Beyond Belief

Moses was asking the wrong questions

Summary

Asking whether one believes in God is a nonsensical, and ultimately, meaningless question. One would not ask “Do you believe in King?” God, like King, is a title, a political office. What matters is not belief in the existence of a being who claims the title, but rather, agreement with the political philosophy of any being who would assert power over us.

What is Post-Atheism?

I’ve coined the term Post-Atheist to convey moving beyond our current understanding of the title of god and our relationship to it. The common questions about god are nonsensical (do you believe) and impossible for finite beings to rationally consider (e.g. debating the attributes of god). Further, belief in a being is a simplistic calculation; more important is agreement with that being on fundamental governing principles.

Would the existence of an all-powerful creator automatically bestow a right to authoritarian rule? Of course not, just as my power to create a child does not bestow upon me a moral right to authoritarian rule.

Rather than our being defined by a best-guess at the existence of a powerful being (atheist, agnostic, believer), it is more important to define what is and is not acceptable behavior from any being who would seek our participation in their community.

Do you believe in God?

This question is nonsensical.

“God” is a title. Titles are descriptive appellations which convey rank, office, or status. For example, “king” is the title of a person holding a political office. A king may also have a personal name; e.g, King George.

Like king, god is a title. Defined generally as “the one supreme being, the creator and ruler of the universe,”1 the title of god conveys rank, office and status.

Can You Believe in God?

If a being claims the title of king, you’d rightly seek to understand their claim: where is their kingdom? Who are their subjects? By what authority do they hold the title?

To verify a king, you could test the claim. For example, you could gather testimonial evidence from others. A finite claim of a human King is within the realm of our understanding.

By contrast, it’s simply impossible for a finite being (e.g. you) to verify an infinite being (god). You can never know whether a being claiming such title really is “the one supreme being.”

René Descartes, a 17th century philosopher, theorized the problem of the evil genius: a being who, being smarter and more powerful than humans, could trick them into believing they are god.

Imagine a being who is 10 percent smarter and 10 percent more powerful than humans, with an ability to perform magic tricks that make people feel and see things. This being could claim to be god, and humans would have no ability to dispute the claim.

Imagine a being who is 10 percent smarter and 10 percent more powerful than humans, with an ability to perform magic tricks that make people feel and see things. This being could claim to be god, and humans would have no ability to dispute the claim.

This problem is inescapable. The only way to verify a god-claim is to be god; to have an infinite, gods-eye view, equal or greater than god.

There is no miracle, no show of power, no expression of wisdom that can verify the infinite to the finite. Understanding a claim of godhood is simply beyond the ability of humans.

Faith does not bridge this gap. Again, there’s no possible way for you to know whether the object of your faith is the being you imagine them to be. Praying for confirmation would only provide additional opportunity for an impostor to deceive you.

Should You Place Faith In God?

Understanding, then, our inability to verify god, the question of god becomes one of relationship to the being. Just as the question of king is not one of belief but rather, of relationship.

Are they your king? Do you recognize and accept their authority? Do you consider their authority justly obtained or maintained? Do you accept the style of communal governance they impose?

Likewise, imagine you meet a being and they assert “I am God.” Do they claim to be your god? Do you recognize and accept their authority? Do you consider their authority justly obtained and maintained?

Perhaps the most important question: what is their proposed communal governing structure? Do they claim authority merely by their superior power? Do they hold that the act of creation bestows upon them absolute authority?

If so, this equates to authoritarian rule; a simple formulation of might makes right.

Most Western political philosophy rejects as immoral authoritarian rule. We in the United States came to understand that Monarchial rule is a lesser form of government, not capable of providing communal rule in a just manner.

Would it be different for a being who claims to be god? Should it be different? Are we allowed to question god?

The Title God Implies Authoritarian Rule

Given the definition of god as the one supreme ruler of the universe, this implies an authoritarian ruling structure, where all power rests with god. Imbuing all power into a single source will necessarily create an authoritarian ruling structure.

…if all rule rests upon the singular desire of one being (god), without an accounting for the differing desires of other beings, that is authoritarian rule; it is immoral.

In a previous essay (Science As A Human Right) I argued that morality is a concern for the well-being of others. By definition, if all rule rests upon the singular desire of one being (god), without an accounting for the differing desires of other beings, that is authoritarian rule; it is immoral.

Many believe god to be a benevolent king. Benevolent kings are kind to those they love, and cruel to those they don’t. The bible is full of examples of god doing exactly this.

Heaven, commonly understood, is a place where all believe alike; zion. God achieves this unity by casting out those who disagree with him.

God and the Values of Democratic Pluralism

Do you believe in the power and value of democratic pluralism? If so, why would you worship a god who rejects that model? Do you believe in equality of women? That all races should share equally in the blessings of community? Do you value human rights? The god of Western religion rejects most of these ideas.

I suggest that the same principles which cause us to want equality and representation matter no matter the setting, whether in heaven or on earth.

The title of Atheist does not convey the simple notion that what matters is not belief in existence, but rather agreement in philosophy. Any being could claim to be god, but not every being will share our values of equitable communal rule.

Footnotes

  1. My definition of god is taken from dictionary.com. I’m aware that the definition of god is endlessly definable. I’ve chosen a simple, common usage. I’m confident, however, that the principles I discuss here are applicable no matter the definition of god we use.

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  • http://lincoln.metacannon.net Lincoln Cannon

    I really like this post, and agree with much of it, except your conclusion that God must be authoritarian. I agree that many persons worship an authoritarian God, but that is not essential to what it means to be God. In fact, the essence of Jesus’ teachings is precisely the rejection of such worship, replacing it with emulation of a creative and benevolent God, inclusive of our potential.

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothyk Timothy

    Thanks for the comment Lincoln.

    While many who claim political power begin with a view toward benevolence, the mere act of centralizing power and authority will reliably produce authoritarian results. Even Christ, who you cite, primarily promoted an authoritarian view of god.

  • Beechbum

    I mostly agree with your postulations and variously agree, within this context, with your conclusions because I see the construct of any deity as a political device for manipulation of the masses. That is, every god has been the construct of a politically elemental populace; kings, emperors, or some other dictatorial structure was seen as the only successful governmental structure with few exceptions, most notably Greece’s democracy and pluralistic pantheon of deities. This is why Theodosius I Emperor of Rome had to obliterate the Hellenic temples during the forced conversion to Christianity of Europe in the late fourth century.

    All but the best and the brightest assumed that their governmental authority and our morality came from some supernatural dictate based solely on ignorance when, in fact, any governmental authority and all morality comes from the consensus of an educated populace (“We the People” of our Constitution) or the acquiescence of an uneducated populace (servility of, even serfdom of, subjects of a kingdom, a church, or theocracy, i.e. tyranny).

    This, as a logical consequence, leads one to imagine the scenario of an extraterrestrial super intelligence (I cannot bring myself to imagine some supernatural entity; where would I begin?) either claiming to be our Ruler or our partner and a welcome addition to the consensus. In the former, it is our enemy through charlatanry, but in the latter, it would be the partnership that would gain from the cooperation. This is why, I, for one, reject all supernatural claims to authority, morality, even divine inspiration, i.e. revelation or what have you; divine authority takes from the human race while an addition to a consensual memetic is a function of growth and intellectual prosperity.

    And finally, even though I wear the theologically imposed moniker of atheist like a badge of honor, a title of achievement, or nom de plume, if you will, I, and I gather you do as well, see the ethical and political implications as far more important to myself and far more revealing of the theologically bent mentality.

    Thank you.

  • Tim

    Tim:

    The church has been busy re-framing God for centuries to influence others or to meet up with their own agendas. Many of those definitions have done more harm than good. My best definition is to say that god is “Jesus-like”. If that definition is too small, so be it.

    The issue really ought not be belief/understanding but trust/faith. We ALL trust in something or someone. Something or someone holds the place of ultimate significance in all our lives. Why not call that “god?” We are all people of faith—every one of us. It’s unavoidable. The ultimate question/quest is to discover/determine what deserves our faith…

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothyk Timothy

    Tim, the choice then should be to place one’s faith in principles of equality and morality. By placing one’s faith in a being, rather than in principles, you lead inevitably to authoritarian rule. All beings, even really powerful beings, will have desires that exalt some things and exclude others.

    Principles, on the other hand, exalt only their defined nature. Place your faith there, and build systems that sustain good principles, taking into account the nature of desire contained within beings.

  • http://www.facebook.com/timothyk Timothy

    There have been some interesting questions and discussion at Project Reason regarding my essay:

    http://www.project-reason.org/forum/viewthread/21996/

  • http://www.utcsense.com/forums/index.php Raven Walter

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  • http://joecascio.net Joe Cascio

    I agree with moving beyond atheism. I want to stop defining ourselves as being NOT something else and thereby giving implicit recognition to the other side. No, I don’t want to continue to play the game on the other guy’s ball field.

    So why keep carrying on this silly argument about gods with theists? Can’t we get on with our lives withOUT having to deal with superstition and the supernatural? Would you be having this discussion with an Elvis believer or a Tooth Fairy apologist? I don’t think so.

    Can we start having the right discussions about what a rationally and scientifically based morality would be? Can we start talking sense and stop wasting our breath and passion arguing ridiculous assertions by theists? We need to put some stakes in the ground, to give people an attractive alternative instead of simply saying the other side is wrong, which by the way is what creationists do when arguing against evolution.