It occurs to me that the “new atheists” are rejecting the wrong God (or gods, if you like). They are famous for saying that they don’t believe in the Christian God any more than they believe in Zeus or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, but does that make any sense?
Does anyone believe that a flying spaghetti monster or Zeus are possible competitors for the category, God of the universe? It seems to me that, if someone is going to reject God, they ought to be rejecting the right One (or ones). There aren’t that many contenders
Not all gods are “created equal”. Zeus or a “flying spaghetti monster” are not on a par the Christian concept of God, to say the very least. The same can be said of the Islamic view of God or any other major world religion view. The concept and “proofs” of God are much more sophisticated than the weak understanding displayed in a comment that likens them to flying spaghetti monsters and Roman mythology.
The ignorance of the new atheists about these things is rather shocking, though it shouldn’t be altogether surprising. They admit they find no use for such things as gods. Most of them have spent no time studying or considering a robust concept of the divine. The ignorance is, therefore, willful and inexcusable.
Anyone can knock a flying spaghetti monster out of the air. Try taking on the transcendent of God who created the universe. That’s a more noble task.
I can’t do justice to the subject in a short blog, but I will try to summarize my thoughts. The only serious contenders for consideration as God are the gods of the major world religions. They can’t all be true, of course, because they are incompatible with each other, so which one, if any of them, is the most likely candidate?
I will weigh in, for what is worth, but I would like first to address the modern, western concern over the idea of an exclusive God. Some people with western sensibilities seem to believe modern people should not be so exclusive in our conceptions of God and religion. They say there are many religions, and “Why can’t they all be true?“
Having studied world religions in college, I can say that there are many similarities in world religions, but there are some significant differences also. For instance, it’s hard to reconcile the way different religions deal with suffering.
On the various conceptions of God, the various religions are fundamentally different and mutually exclusive. They may have some appearance of sameness on the surface, but they are fundamentally different.
Those differences ultimately mean something. We don’t brush incongruities aside in scientific endeavors just to be polite. We take them seriously in the pursuit of truth. If the various religions have opposing truth claims where does that leave us?
We should not be surprised to find that truth is exclusive. An accurate view of gravity, for instance, is exclusive of an inaccurate view of gravity. Not that we can know truth about God in the same way, exactly, as we can know truth about gravity, but conceptually the same principle applies.
Just because people differ on the conception of God is not any evidence against the existence of God. People differ on explanations of the origin of the universe, even scientists who do not believe in God. Competing theories of reality do not negate reality. It just means we are still trying to figure reality out.
The Eastern religions, like Buddhism, Hinduism, and Daoism are similar in that they conceive of God or gods as a force or forces of nature or as one with or extensions of nature. To that extent, we will review them together for the purposes of this article.
The two main Eastern religions are Hinduism and Buddhism. Hinduism has many gods, and those gods are “persons”. The “personal” gods of Hinduism are like personalities given to the forces of nature. Thus, Hindus see the divine in everything.
This, in essence, is like saying that God and the universe are the same thing. Hindus have gods for various aspects of the universe with a supreme god, Vishnu, at the top of a hierarchy of gods. Thus, there are literally millions of gods in Hinduism, with a God of gods (Vishnu) at the top of the pecking order.
The real essence of Hinduism is karma – the moral law of cause and effect. “Life carries its moral bills, and they are paid in the cyclical pattern of death and rebirth until all dues are paid in full. Hinduism … conveys an inherited sense of wrong, which is lived out in the next life, in vegetable, animal, or human form.”
Hinduism is fatalistic, and “although karma is seen as a way of paying back, this payback is never complete….” The Hindu gods do not rescue human beings from this Karmic cycle. They can only provide guidance.
In Buddhism, the historical proof of the person of Buddha or the authenticity of Buddha is not a concern. The important thing is not whether Buddha lived, but the story. The story is about obtaining enlightenment and becoming one with all things.
There is no God in Buddhism in a personal sense; rather “God” is conceived as the elemental substance of nature that is in all and through all. In Buddhism, like Hinduism, God and nature are one and the same thing in essence, but the personalities of the many gods who, together, comprise the forces of nature are absent. .
Buddhism is an outgrowth of Hinduism, leaving behind the unending karmic cycles and personal gods. Buddhism replaces the personal gods with an impersonal life force and replaces the never ending cycle of karma with the hope of obtaining enlightenment and oneness with the universe.
These descriptions are gross oversimplifications, but they are accurate in essence as I understand them. I have studied world religions, but not recently enough to be able to go into as much detail as I previously could have.
Standing against the “Eastern religions” are the monotheistic religions of the “west”. In truth, however, all of the major world religions are eastern if we consider that they all arose east of Asia Minor. At best, they are Middle Eastern, though even Buddhism has taken on western forms.
In Judaism is the concept of a monotheistic, personal God. That God is unapproachable by common people and can only be known from a safe distance by people who God chooses. Ancient Hebrews would not even say the name of God, which was symbolized by the letters, Y H W H. They would only pronounce the letters to convey the idea of the wholly “otherness” of God.
For the Jews, there is no mediator between God and man. Man is left to his own devices to try to eke out a ritualistic existence in relation to God.
In Islam, the “otherness” of God is even more austere. God makes demands, and those demands must be met. All unbelievers are infidels worthy of nothing other than cursing, death or the payment of a ransom to be allowed to live. Allah, the Islamic name for God, is distant, unapproachable by all people and does not stoop down to the level of mere men.
God, in the Christian conception, is different than all other gods. Unlike the Eastern conception, God is not only personal; God is separate, distinct, and transcendent from the universe He created. He isn’t just a personality; He is a Person, the Supreme Person.
Like other monotheist conceptions of God, He is “the” maximal Being, the creator of everything, but God in the Christian conception did not remain distant and unapproachable. He shed that “otherness” and took on the form of humanity. God can relate to us because He experienced what you and I experience.
In Jesus, we find God entering into the history of His own creation, encountering His own creation on its own level, and fully living out the character of God within His creation for us to see. “In Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form….” Jesus modeled God, the creator of the universe, for us.
The Christian conception is a God we can trust, a God who can relate to us because He not only made us and understands us; He experienced life as one of us. He came to us and demonstrated His love for us by becoming one of us.
Not that God is on the same level as us. He is still “Other” and holy! Holy means utterly set apart.
In Jesus, however, God provided a mediator, one who could span the gap between man and God, creature and Creator. In Jesus, God stooped down to our level to lift us up to His level and make Himself accessible to us, giving us opportunity to be raised to His level.
As one recent speaker put it, all the world religions claim Jesus and attempt to co-opt Him as their own. Jesus is the universal religious figure. To that extent, this speaker posited to a class on world religions, a person ought to start with Jesus.
The problem with the new atheists is their starting place. They start with a definition of God that includes the mythical Zeus and absurd flying spaghetti monsters. They don’t take the issue seriously, and we can hardly, therefore, take them seriously.
If they took the effort to understand the top contenders for the God position, we could (at least) acknowledge them for rejecting the right God (or gods). They don’t do that, though, and they don’t even seem to appreciate their own ignorance on the subject with the mocking statement, for instance, that Christians are atheists to all gods but one.
Would we say that atheists are deniers of the law of gravity because they reject all laws of gravity but for one?
I contend, of course, the the monotheistic view is the more robust view of God, and the one that atheists should tackle if they are going to do anything but fling spaghetti monsters out of the air. God, by monotheistic definition, is the uncaused Cause, the maximally great Being.
God created the universe and is, therefore, transcendent. Any other definition of God is not God in the monotheistic sense. Any conception of God as a created being or as a “being” that is indistinguishable from the universe, is a conception of something other than God.
Scientists once thought the universe was eternal and uncaused. They now know that the universe had a beginning and, therefore, had a cause (though even great scientists still try to find a way around this conclusion). What does that leave us for an uncaused Cause, but God?
From the beginning of Scripture, almost 3500 years ago, we read that God created the universe out of nothing. Before the universe was, God is.
The universe – all of space, time and matter – arose from the mind of God who spoke all of space time into being. Intelligent, volitional, personal – we are created in God’s image. This is the Christian conception:
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”
Until Jesus, God appeared distant to us. Everything changed when “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us”.
If one wants to reject the right God, the most robust conception of God, I believe one must contend with Jesus. Not what others say about Him. Read the Gospels for yourself.
Many will reject Jesus out of hand because they have predetermined that miracles don’t happen. If God created the world, however, anything can happen.
A naturalistic view of the world is a provincial view of the world. It is a myopic view of the world. It still assumes the world caused itself to exist, which doesn’t match up to science, logic, or common sense.
For the new atheist, it’s easy to knock down a flying spaghetti monster or to wrestle Zeus from his perch. They are not maximally great beings. They are not uncaused causes.
The Eastern conception of divine reality does not recognize and respect the difference between creator and creation. It equates the natural world with the divine and the divine with the natural world. Even the Eastern conception of the divine, however, is a more worthy contender for divine reality than Zeus or a spaghetti monster.
The Jewish and Islamic conceptions of God are views from an unapproachable distance. They leave man stranded to struggle on his own, subject to an unrelenting God who has no intimate relation (or no relation at all) with us.
The Christian God is a God who stands outside the natural world, but reveals Himself intimately and personally in the natural world. Unlike the other religions, the Christian conception of God is testable by logic, by science, and by personal experience.
So, if anyone is going to reject God, they should at least be sure to reject the right God – the more robust concept of God (or gods). If they are going to reject Him with any honesty, integrity and authenticity, they should stop rejecting a myth, caricature, or fairy tale, and try to understand the real thing.
Read the Gospels for what they say, not for what others say about them or to find fuel for preconceived assumptions. Read them as you would read any text to understand what it is saying on its own terms. Consider the evidence for the resurrection without assuming it could never have happened from the start. Let the evidence take you where it leads.
 Speaking of Jesus, “though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:6-11)
 Colossians 2:9
 John 1:1-2
 John 1:14