I always thought atheism was the last and final barrier that I would not cross or that, when cross, would seal me as a non-Christian. And then I realized there is something beyond it. In our Western culture atheism functions as the cultural and intellectual antithesis to the encultured god of Christendom.
In many ways, atheism, when carried out wisely (yes, like a verb, a praxis,) is the most Christian thing to do because it slashes the idol that presents itself as the Father God who sent his Son to reign over the earth which he did through the colonialist-imperialist apparatus of the Western powers, now carried out through big-corporatism and neoliberalism.
Think I’m a lefty? Why, yes, of course. Conservatism is the systematic attempt to uphold the power structures that are unseeing the marginalized and soil the earth. So why would I be conservative?
Since atheism is in a state of adolescent rebellion when it comes to breaking free from the various versions of the state religion of Christendom, something more is needed. The antithesis begs for a sublation or a new synthesis. And I’m not trying to portray atheists either as secret Christians, on the one hand, or immature thinkers, on the other. Far from it. But from the perspective of culture, there is a lot to say for this analysis.
God Is A Human Construct
The next step, then, is to see that all gods are human constructs and that all these constructs become more idolatrous in two ways. They become more idolatrous, first, to the extent that their ontological status or the description of their being is made absolute. Think of the urge toward epistemological certainty by way of papal infallibility, episcopal authority, or the inerrancy of Scripture.
Second, such descriptions of God become more idolatrous to the extent that this God, or these versions of god, become enthroned on the cultural and political seat of power. Instances here are medieval papal authority, the sovereign God of Calvinism, or the God is a white-racist asshole of Trumpianity.
God-Constructs Ought To Let God Be God
As long as the God-constructs are proper constructs, i.e. seen as provisional god-constructs, these gods can help us to think about God properly. For instance, naming Jesus as the Son of God is engaging in a metaphorical statement to stir the imagination instead of claiming something factual, making an ontological claim about Jesus’s genes and the sex-act that produced him.
One of the most effective ways of thinking about God, therefore, is to leave God outside our system of thought, outside of our theology, outside of our circle of knowledge. Conceiving of God as the unnamable other preserves God as a metaphor, God as the ground of being, God as the depth-dimension of our searching, God as the one who calls us into being and invites us toward transformation.
Leaving God Out Of The Construct
But what about Jesus? Didn’t he make God known? Indeed! What about Jesus! As the self-revelation of God, whatever exactly that may mean, Jesus is consistently the antithesis of everything people think, say, or hope. God’s self-revelation in Christ is subversive to the core: his life, his words, his death, his resurrection. That too is a construct. Initially based on the Christ- event itself as his followers realized and tried to express the strange and subversive otherness of Jesus that seemed to emanate truth (whatever that exactly may be) at every turn.
The brilliance of the construct is that it keeps the signifier for God outside of the construct. It allows the otherness of what is to remain other than us, something we can’t domesticate. As such it is an act of justice but also an act of opening up reality to us as something that brings novelty, that speaks to the truth to us about ourselves.
Sadly, Christianity has mostly been the history of the domestication of Christ. The gospel preached by evangelicalism is one of the most brilliant subversions in the way it has disconnected justification by faith from justice, salvation from economic and ecological wellbeing. Its subtle but radical diversion from truth and justice promises heaven without a personal investment in the destitute in the world.
Atheism As A Necessary God-Construct
Atheism, in its rejection of the culture god of Christendom in which a distinction can no longer be made between God the Father and White Colonialist God, Christ the Savior and Christ the Settler Colonialism, has made a brilliant move in the God-construct. It has said no to all such constructs; it has crossed out the gods that are part of such constructs. It has done the right thing.
From my analysis, though, it is not enough. We are now stuck in a confusing debate in which people who do not make the distinction between god as ground and god as construct keep fighting each other over some alleged “existence” of something that is defined in human terms. Of course, all gods of all God-constructs exist in the sense that they exist as constructs in a mental space of the mind. That’s why this God has wreaked such havoc in the non-western world. It’s all real.
To cut a long story short: the best thing one can do, I deeply believe, is moving beyond the theist-atheist dialectic. Saying no to the God-constructs and saying no to the no against the God-constructs. Or better, ignore them. Of course, it will not be understood. Christians call me an atheist and atheists unfollow me on Instagram.
I want to embody a position where a certain agnosticism inspires me to follow Christ into the world so that God may become manifest. We can know absolutely nothing about God. All we can confirm is that God cannot possibly exist; not exist in the way we apply the word to things in the world and the world itself. Where God’s existence is argued for you can be sure those who do so worship and idol.
God becomes a verb in the person of Christ. That is where we should direct our focus. The Word became flesh! But what does Christianity do? All it wants is to un-flesh it again as a word on a pedestal; all it wants is to flee the world and true embodiment to go to heaven. And as long as we can’t, we want Christ on our side to rule the world with a gospel that is untethered from justice.
For those who want healing from this kind of Christianity, atheism isn’t so bad. To be honest, it’s great. It is often an authentic decision to be done with all the nonsense, all the war- mongering in the name of a war God who has a sword coming out of his mouth. The atheist stance is often morally motivated.
Gods are always constructs. Jesus as God is a construct too, but a particular one; one that subverts our notions about ourselves and the world, about power and justice. So, I’m not yet done lingering with my thought about Jesus the Christ. I believe, this subversive nature is the hidden truth embedded within and obscured by the Christian religion and I’ll gladly think together with both believers and atheists about how we can construct a better world that honors and preserves otherness.
I’d gladly labor together with believers and unbelievers alike to fight for a world in which a little more of the love of Christ becomes visible. I shall refrain from calling it the kingdom of God, because that would be a theocracy of my making and in my image. There’s always a remainder, because that’s the nature of otherness. Such is the kingdom of God and because it is a metaphor you don’t have to be a believer to participate in it.