In a previous article, “On Faith, Atheism, and Beyond,” I argued for a movement that would take us beyond the faith versus atheism controversy. I explained that genuine faith necessarily leaves God out of the construction of the faith-diagram. God is believed in and called upon. But this only works insofar God is not defined or hemmed in by parameters within the system.
It is precisely because Christianity did not do this, that the entire construct was bound to collapse eventually. Christianity did so for two reasons, one following the other: authority and knowledge. The first reason followed from the absorption of Neoplatonic thought into Christian theology and the merger between the Roman empire and Christianity. It was about power; power to disseminate divine authority throughout the hierarchy of being and power to maintain control over the world and empire in the name of the highest God.
When the authority-scheme collapsed under its own weight and because of the subversive message of a monk in Wittenberg, Germany, in the early 16th century, a massive search for authority gained traction in Western civilization. Luther had subverted the hold on power by the church, but he had not subverted the quest for authority. In subsequent centuries, reason became a new source of authority all in itself. It was used both to destroy religious claims to authority and to defend them. So now, the obsession became cognitive: which reasoning proved to be watertight because irrefutable?
In this post, I give a few reasons why the move beyond the faith-atheism divide is both desirable and necessary if not urgent. If Christianity is not able to make this step, it is doomed. It’s that kind of urgent.
Reasons To Move Beyond The Faith vs Atheism Dialectic
Let bygones be bygones
First off, why would we remain stuck in discussions of the past and trump their cause when these causes have failed? Why would we identify Christianity with cultural paradigms of the past and then insist it is relevant? Christianity as power has failed. It has been exposed as a hoax in betraying its founder and falsely claiming to have delegated authority.
Christianity as knowledge has been exposed as a veiled attempt to power. It has resulted in privileging certain groups in society, marginalizing others, and, notably, in advancing backward ideas about the world. Why the hell would we in any way feel obliged to the Church of the past to keep on doing this?
The Religion Zone is a Bad Zone
Religion lost out in the standoff between reasons for and against the idea of God as the ultimate authority. As the Enlightenment fizzled out, religion was able to claim the religious domain for itself. But it was conned (or conned itself) into thinking that it now had the freedom to do what it needed to do. It mistakenly thought it still participated in the public debates.
The religious domain is essentially cordoned off from the secular realm and has no genuine role to play in the public square. The religious domain belongs to the upper story of the supernatural that is entirely superfluous to the actual machinations of the world, the lower story, where white businessmen and scientists reign. The only solution for Christianity is to step out of the religion zone into the secular and become a participant once again. How? By moving beyond the faith versus atheism discussion.
To Be Public Or Not, That’s The Question
If Christianity is not able to gain for itself a public voice again, it is doomed. It will become a cult and its imaginary, which already doesn’t inspire our culture anymore, will become utterly irrelevant. So the question is not: shall we defend the existence of our god (now a mere tribal god, back to where Yahweh originally came from), but: how shall we be public again? This implies that the public theocratic aspirations of evangelicalism are fatal for its chances at survival.
To be sure, with “publicness” I do not mean, to be in sync with the values of our secular states but to engage in conversations from a stance that is publicly available and meaningful. And this necessarily entails letting go of the trope of God. There simply is no other way. The more Christianity clings to God as the almighty and sovereign Creator of the world, the less public it will be. It is no longer a viable vantage point from which one can speak.
Holding On To The Highest God Is A Form Of Idolatry
If my above analysis about the obsession with authority and knowledge is correct, and I’m quite convinced that I am indeed right, then the logical thing to do – thank you postmodernity for opening our eyes to Christianity’s idolatry – is to let go of the god of power (theocracy, apostolic succession, inerrancy, or what have you) and to let go of the cognitive route to the absolute (cognitive understandings of revelation, like, once again, inerrancy and apostolic succession).
These disastrous drives in our culture that have played out in our Western civilization, both in the religious and secular realms to our shame and defeat, need to be discarded. Too sad that it is atheist philosophers that have to show Christianity how wrong it is in its conception of God. Too bad it is the “pagans” we tried to convert that show us how our colonization, our imperialism, our enslavement of black bodies, and our genocide of indigenous peoples is exactly the kind of thing you get from having the highest God on your side.
Christianity Tends To Be an Antichrist
If we care at all about the message of Jesus, the Church must let go of any aspiration of culture and/or political power and any claims of having original and/or absolute knowledge about any alleged oracles from the deity. It is not atheists or secularists who have destroyed Christianity. It is the Christian church that did so by getting sucked up by and becoming the heralds of the major cultural trends in our culture.
The West is tired of itself and desperately seeks a new narrative to find meaning for a world beyond neoliberalism. But no, Christians want to drag the world back into a fight Western civilization has already lost a long time ago. It is no wonder that the Christ presented by Western Christianity is seen as an oppressor instead of a savior, or a weasel who has been exposed as a fraud. The Western Church embodies, in many ways, the very opposite of what Christ lived out.
Helping with the paradigm shift
Let me offer two insights to help think through the need for Christianity to make the change to a post-religion position (which, incidentally is not post-religious).
Two Cultural Containers
The previous cultural imaginary (from before the Enlightenment) was religious. In the premodern period, there was only one realm and it was religious. We have now moved to an entirely secular imaginary. This shift has nothing to do with the abandonment of or rebellion against God even though it implies letting go of god. It is simply another stage in the development of Western culture, whether positive or negative. It has been caused by Christianity’s obsession with power and knowledge. So, any responsibility falls on the side of Christianity’s erroneous handling of the god trope.
The Christian task, if there is any, is simply to take Christ and Christ’s message out of the religion container and place it in the secular container that we all live in. It’s as simple as that. The old container only exists outside of the West. It is not that the secular container is better; it is where we are. That’s all that matters. Today is the kairos, the opportune time, for salvation, as the apostle says. Not yesteryear. Now if switching containers requires us to jettison the god-constructs or even the idea of god, so be it. What matters is Christ and Christ’s movement into the world as the word that became flesh.
Religiosity A and B
Secondly, the secular is not without its religious dimension. Why? Because human beings are, as per their humanity, beings with a religious orientation. Even when the gods have died. All we do by taking Christ out of the religious container, the imaginary of a religious world, is to allow Christ’s message to address the religious situation of today.
Secularity is characterized by two religious dimensions: Religiosity A and B. Religiosity A is the religious obsession with the idol, an obsession performed by the longing for power and wealth. It is characteristic of the flight from death. Neoliberalism and consumerism are the most significant exponents of this type of religiosity.
(And yes, I’m playing off Kierkegaard’s use of the terms “Religiousness A and B” though my use is in no way identical to his. I’m merely trying to help the reader parse the religious dimension of secularity and Christ in relation to it).
Religiosity B is characterized by the dedication of one’s life to the wellbeing of the other. Christ’s message falls into this category. Note that both types of religiosity are the ordering of one’s life and one’s context toward the achievement of a goal that is passionately pursued. Both don’t necessarily need the context of religion though both are essentially religious.
They differ in goal and mode. Religiosity A is coercive and abusive and has a denial of mortality as its goal. Religiosity B has as its mode the embracing of its mortality through self-abandonment on behalf of the other (I DO NOT mean consent to abuse!!!) with love as its objective. Please note that not only are the objectives and mode reversed with these two types; what is the goal in one becomes the mode in the other. Religiosity A and B are not merely antithetical to each other; they represent two different planes of existence.
Why can’t we as Christians see this? That’s my main question at the end of this article. I believe it has to do with the fact that we think it is our task to defend the God of our making while deluding ourselves that this god is the real God. We still want to collapse our thinking into the divine and then tell everyone to come and follow our version of reality.
The mere fact that our culture at large has abandoned this imaginary and embraced a completely different way of thinking first beyond religion and now also back to spirituality is an indication that Christianity really might be wrong. The gospel we preach didn’t work and it still isn’t working.
Perhaps we should let the Gospel come to us anew, not on our religious terms but its own radical terms. It would immediately help us get past our religion into the lived reality of flesh and blood where this message wants to make a difference.