Timothy Radcliffe’s follow-up to his book What is the Point of Being a Christian? (see previous post) is called Why Go To Church?, a question which Fr Radcliffe chooses to answer by focusing on the question: “Why go to the Eucharist?”. The book is then a broad presentation of the Christian faith, structured around the order of service for the Eucharist: the liturgy of the Word (faith), the presentation of the gifts and Eucharistic prayer (hope) and the distribution of the Supper and dismissal of the congregation (love).
In the section on the Creed, Fr Radcliffe argues that our declaration of belief in “one God, the Father almighty” is not an assertion of “the existence of a very powerful and invisible person, someone who runs the universe, the CEO of everything”. He writes:
God is not a powerful invisible person or three persons. We are not saying that besides all the important visible people in the world whose existence is evident, like the President of the United States of America and the Secretary General of the United Nations, there are three extra ones whom we cannot see who are even more important.
Fr Radcliffe continues with a surprising statement that inspired the title of this post:
If you made a list of all the things that exist, God would not be on it. God is the reason why there is anything rather than nothing; the source of all that exists but not another existing thing.
It’s not that God isn’t there: it’s that he is on a completely different level of reality, rather than being just another member of the set of “things that exist”.
Fr Radcliffe observes that the traditional view of God is what is being parodied in this scene from Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life:
But the Christian God is not this suffocating “Heavenly Boss”, and atheists are quite right to reject the existence of this “absolutely huge Celestial Daddy”:
Most atheism is getting out of the shadow of this oppressive figure in which no orthodox Christian believes anyway.
This is why dialogue between Christians and atheists is important, even if some atheists are dismissive of engaging in dialogue with anyone who believes in “talking to ‘an imaginary friend'”. On the one hand, it means that:
[atheists] can be freed from wasting their time disbelieving in a God whom no traditional Christian accepts anyway.
And I would add that, for Christians, such dialogue helps us remember that the Celestial Daddy isn’t our God: something we are otherwise prone to forget, slipping back into an attitude not so different from that on display in the above video. As Fr Radcliffe continues:
We can cry out, like Meister Eckhart in the middle of a sermon, “I pray that God will rid me of God”.
Or as I’ve put it before: I still don’t believe in the God I didn’t believe in when I was an atheist.