God does not exist

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.

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9 Responses to God does not exist

  1. Rick Ritchie says:

    Interesting discussion.

    I covered some of this while I was doing a readings course in Analytic Philosophy. One problem you can run into if you try to go too far into abstraction is you run the risk of using language in a nonsensical fashion. There was almost more room in philosophy for overly crude and anthropomorphic conceptions of God than overly abstract and enlightened ones.

    There is an idea of creation being created for the sake of revelation. This means that there is an analogy of being.

    C.S. Lewis also deals with some of these questions well in “God in the Dock” and “Letters to Malcolm…” We should rid ourselves of crude conceptions when we discover we’ve been guilty in this area. If we realize we’ve been praying to a spot on the ceiling, then maybe it’s time to cut that out. But not every move towards abstraction is an improvement. Sometimes we just end up with a more modernistic-looking idol in our heads.

    I would affirm most of Fr. Radcliffe’s statements, but I see danger in affirming some of them in a bad way. There are ditches on both sides of this road.

  2. John H says:

    Rick: thanks for this. Agree there are ditches on both sides of the road. What I appreciated about Fr Radcliffe’s argument was the glimpse it provided into the abyss of God’s mystery. He makes a similar point in a later chapter, when he says that the affirmation that there is “one God” is not saying that there is only one God rather than two, “just as one day there may be only one surviving panda”, but of the fundamental unity of God.

    You’re right that this can lead to just another form of idol (like Lewis’ point about people who reject the concept of a “personal God” end up thinking of God as a sort of impersonal force or gas), but the answer to that is precisely the one which Fr Radcliffe’s book gives: to seek God as he reveals himself in the concrete life of the church and its worship.

    So to put it another way: that peek into the abyss should make us theologians of the cross, driving us back to the word and sacraments, rather than theologians of glory trying to make our own way into the depths.

  3. Pingback: Confessing Evangelical » Belief in God – friendship with the Trinity

  4. I’m confused..are you guys beleiving or disbeleiving in God..

  5. John H says:

    Preston: yes. 😉

    The point is this: most of the time when we talk about “God”, we’re talking about something that is largely a construct of our own imaginations: an idol, in other words, rather than the living and true God.

    Hence the title to this post: that idolatrous, imaginary God does not exist, and the God who is there, the living and true God, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, is not simply another “existing thing” that could be added to the list of all other “existing things” (“…New York, apples, jazz, the Andromeda Galaxy… and God”).

  6. Rick Ritchie says:

    If John H’s answer is still confusing (and it may not be), then I’ll just go on the list as just believing. The key point is that all the things we experience are created things. God is not a created thing. So he is not to be thought of as a thing. If we deny “existence,” it’s thing-like existence we’re trying to get rid of. But how to conceive of this is hard, and probably always involves some kind of idolatry or inappropriate mental image making. C.S. Lewis is a great writer on this kind of subject. I like his advice to pray to God addressing him as “That which Thou knowest Thyself to be.” Not that we have to use the formula for our prayers to be heard. But it’s a reminder to us that only God can fully understand what God is.

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  8. Monty Magpie says:

    Both God and energy have the properties that can neither be created nor destroyed. Energy can change from one state to another, another state includes matter that we see so energy created the universe as we see it. We know also that God created the universe but scientifically we know energy cannot be created so it must have existed in the beginning with God.

    So either we have 2 Gods which is somthing I don’t believe or both energy and God are one and the same.

  9. Rick Ritchie says:

    When it is said that energy cannot be created or destroyed, this is based upon an understanding of how things go in our universe. There are arguments from reason alone as to whether the universe must have been created or whether it could have existed from eternity. Such arguments are very different from the kinds of arguments that gave rise to the laws of thermodynamics, which are in part dependent upon empirical observations. The laws of thermodynamics as we know them are part of the structure of the universe as we find it. We could conceive of universes that had different laws. We can also conceive of there having been earlier states of the present universe when such laws were not in effect.

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