Many of our conversations come back to this fundamental question concerning the very existence of God. Questions regarding evil and suffering, prayer, the afterlife and healing eventually lead to whether God actually exists.
In a cultural climate where there seems to be a greater hostility to religion (in particular Christianity and since 9/11 Islam) the ‘New Atheist’ criticism has captured popular imagination. Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion has remained in the top ten on Amazon since it was published in 2006.
What are we to make of this? How do we respond? What do we make of it when the very criticisms they present resonate so strongly with us.
Firstly, the New Atheism deals very effectively with a form of religious fundamentalism and literalism many of us have experienced. This fundamentalism, a literal understanding of Genesis (creationism) and scripture in general is a modern construction of Christianity with its roots in the 19th and early 20th Century. This modern understanding of ‘God’ has problems as pointed out by the New Atheists. However, what they fail to understand is theologians have embraced and been in dialogue with these views in some cases even presenting these views themselves for over a century and throughout the history of Christian thought. These criticisms are not a threat to religious belief or the idea of God but reveal our own idolatrous presentations of the Divine.
What the New Atheism fails to see is its own definition of God is also a fundamentalist view that the majority of religious believers fail to recognise. God in the New Atheist reading is a Being open to empirical (scientific) testing. When they look at the universe through the telescope and at cells through the microscope and discover ‘natural processes’ they declare ‘God is not here; He does not exist’. But why would the scientific tools of measurement, experiment and evidence be able to ascertain the existence of God who according to Christian tradition is Love.
Finally, I find the question ‘Does God Exist?’ to be a strange. Why? The concept of existence applies to objects and things within our universe. The notion of God at the heart of Christian tradition is transcendence: God surpasses both the physical universe and human thought. In this reading, which is deep within the history of our Christian tradition, God is not an object to be discovered or a thing in our universe to be measured.
Therefore God transcends existence. Does God Exist? is an irrelevant question as existence cannot be applied to God.
So what is God? Perhaps Moses’ encounter at the burning bush in Exodus can help us. Moses asks ‘Who shall I say sent me?’.
God replies ‘I AM WHO I AM’.