The movement of lent is from penance to penitence to repentance. In Atheism for Lent we take seriously the religious critiques of Sigmund Freud, Karl Marx, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Slavoj Žižek, confronting ourselves with the images and idols we have made of God, exposing them for what they are and consequently exposing our belief for what it truly is. In what ways is our desire blinding us to ideological structures? How do our hoped for promises come to be mistaken as guarantees?
We must remember that giving up God, in the narrow sense, does not mean giving up the possibility of God (which is something religion is rarely content with). We desire certainty and absolutes; in short, we desire to be tapped into something powerful enough to guarantee the satisfaction of our desire. And when this desire becomes synonymous with “God,” we have done nothing more than fall into the rut of idolatry, worshiping the object of our desire and declaring it to be divine.
What is it within us that isn’t satisfied short of that certitude? Why does God often plug the hole of desire? Can this be done authentically?
What is important is for each individual to take stock of their beliefs about God and religion and ask why they are important to them, aside from the facile desire for “truth.” What is at stake in the existence of God, or the knowledge of God’s existence? Do we find that we feel empty if all we have are our fellow human beings and relationships? If so, what then is blocking our ability to realize the meaning of relationships apart from an eternal reference point? The underlying current in all of these questions might be, “why aren’t we enough for one another?”
The healthiest person to find love and relationship with a significant other is precisely not the person who is looking for it. It is the person who has accepted who they are, their life, the risk of not meeting someone, who, often, is in the best position to meet someone that changes their life. The former person is looking for someone, anyone, an X to fulfill need Y. This person needs their desired satisfied at any cost. Crassly put, they have a hole and they want it filled.
The truly meaningful relationship occurs when desire can be opened up like a wound, when it takes you rather than you take it, and retroactively, you can never imagine being without it. That is love, that is the difference berween desire and love If we are to get around to Augustine’s question of “What do I love when I love my God,” we must first ask what we desire when we desire God, what is the X that we need filled, what is the hole that we fit God into.
When we identify the need to always satisfy our desire–something that is impossible–and learn that desire is valuable precisely because it is desire, we might cease in our never-ending attempt to extinguish that which makes us truly human, a desire for the impossible. Otherwise all we have is a God of our own making, the object of desire, an idol declared divine.
Our belief in an innate God-shaped hole perpetuates our desire for a hole-shaped God.
Next >> Crack House Church
Today the ‘Good News’ of Christianity operates with much the same logic. It is sold to us as that which can fulfill our desire rather than as that which evokes a transformation in the very way that we desire. Like every other product that promises us fulfillment, Christ becomes yet another object in the world that is offered to us as a way of gaining insight and ultimate satisfaction.
Peter Rollins, The Idolatry of God, 2
Moral fictions are concepts whose use is ironical but is not known to be so by those who use them.
Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, 24
Religion can easily become a moral fiction—this thing that we convince ourselves is truly true but beyond the confines of our holy huddle remains empty, a wish fulfillment, a self-projection. We want so badly for it to be true, so much so that we become religious hypochondriacs, believing something (or at least convincing ourselves that we do) to our own detriment.
In the show How I Met Your Mother, Ted Mosby is telling his children the story of how he met their mother. But eight seasons in, we still have caught nothing but a glimpse of her ankle and the myth of a yellow umbrella. The show claims to be about one thing (meeting your mother) but remains a moral fiction. It is a show fueled by desire, overcoming mishaps with the character’s hope of finding love and the viewer’s hope that the title will someday come true.
In our religiosity we fuel ourselves in the same way, creating God out of our desires, projecting the divine onto the daily with the hopes of attaining certainty and satisfaction. When all the while, as Peter Rollins writes in The Idolatry of God, “This idea of God as the fulfillment of our desires is so all-pervasive today that most of us take it for granted. Whether people accept the idea of God or reject it, they seem to be talking about the same thing: a being who satisfies our soul by filling the gap in our existence. The only conflict is that some people reject this god-product as fiction while others accept it.”
God is the Love that satisfies our wishes, our emotional wants; he is himself the realized wish of the heart, the wish exalted to the certainty of its fulfillment, of its reality, to that undoubting certainty before which no contradiction of the understanding, no difficulty of experience or of the external world, maintains its ground. Certainty is the highest power for man; that which is certain to him is the essential, the divine.
Feuerbach, The Essence of Christianity, 121
I’ve been an atheist all my life, but I always knew that if my mum asked me when she was dying if there was a heaven I’d say yes. I’d lie. I think that’s how religion started – as a good lie.
And if you’re looking for a good set up or follow up to the movie, we recommend our friend Katherine Moody’s series of posts.
An excerpt from The Secular Magi by William Loyd Newell:
There are other shapes that God has taken of late. To the fundamentalist, God appears as Text and Certitude, endowing the Moral Majority with the knowledge that God is an ethic that may be held without an asterisk of doubt. To the Charismatics, God is Joy and spiritual gifts. To both there is an immediacy and accessibility to God. For both, though, God is not in the hurly-burly of life, but comes to where we live far away in our deepest, remotest self, far removed from the ego. This God is not a God of political movement involved with changing people’s lives through changing the people and the processes by which they live to better their lot and bring about the eschatological community. To these people, God is not communitarian or here as we are here. Transcendence brings us beyond all that, as if it’s not good enough for God or us. It’s the world as evil and a God not desirous of being tarnished by it or allowing us to be so that they see.
And to the social gospelers, God is Justice. As such, God is one who lives in but, more, among us. This God roots the more easily among liberal Protestants and those Catholics who hew to lines drawn by papal teachings on social justice. This God brings anger before the peace of justice. This God demands community by paradoxically splitting the unjust social compacts of the past. This is a God of the poor and demands that we give them preference over the rich. This makes Protestants of the classic Calvinist and Lutheran stripe nervous. God is not choosing the middle class, but prefers the poor. Upper-class Catholics, steeped in the noblesse oblige school of medieval spiritually see no God here at all. They see only meddlesome popes and do-gooder bishops manipulated by Jesuits who are too eager to “mullaize” their religion. This brings dis-ease and primes of future peace and justice.
To Catholic mystics, God appears as the Consoler–sometimes gentle and at others quite disruptive–amid their discernment of spirits. To those Christians bruised by their attempts to meet the demands of postmodernity, God is a refuge found in conservative liturgies and strict constructionism of the Decalogue.
To all God’s sectarian clients, God appears sovereign, but to a more casual observer God appears terribly fragmented, as if God hadn’t yet decided which mask God wants, or is God telling us that all of them are wanted, that that’s the point: that God loves each mask democratically?
Over all these Christian avatars there hovers a silence bespeaking an unquestionably benign Presence, possessed of the infinitely good breeding to change us only when we reject the amnesias of our darknesses and allow God to recall our truest names to us in the striations of our lives. Slowly, quietly, God is reappearing in us and our churches, gathering up the enragements of the epiphanies into the twelve baskets if our diverse apostleships.
God gives the divine in self many names, but the most telling on is The One We Long For.