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I just started reading, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. Literally just started, I’ve read just a few pages, and already I’ve found quite a lot that is problematic, as might be expected. One thing that might not strike many as terribly problematic concerns the following sentence:

I (Frank) enrolled in that class [a university course on the Old Testament] because I was in the midst of a spiritual search. I didn’t want any religious party line. I just wanted to know if there was a God or not.

Well, the search for the answer to the question “Is there a God?” is one kind of spiritual search but it is hardly the only kind. In our culture, dominated as it is by monotheistic religious conceptions, it is naturally to assume that a spiritual search entails searching for God. (Some might even assume that these are the same quest.) You can find some such presupposition in the common view that to be an atheist is to be non-religious or non-spiritual. But these assumptions are misguided as any study of non-monotheistic religions will reveal.

In fact, if we read early buddhist texts, such as the Cala-Malunkya Sutta or the Tevijja Sutta, we find the Buddha claiming that excessive concern with speculative metaphysical issues (of which the question of the existence of a transcendent god is most certainly an example) is a hindrance to progress on any spiritual journey. For Buddhism, the spiritual quest is the search for a path to relieve the sense of dissatisfaction with life. Relieving this dissatisfaction, for a Buddhist, will have nothing to do with finding out whether God exists.

One of the problems with recent discourse about religion and atheism is that atheists have often been presented (and often present both themselves and atheists more broadly) as hostile to religion and spirituality more generally. This is wrong. Atheism is just the belief that there is no all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving creator. There have been many atheists, e.g., Camus, Sartre (and other existentialists), Nietzsche, Schopenhauer, and others who are very much interested in something that, while obviously very different than most mainstream religious thought, is still recognizably connected to what is called religion and/or spirituality.

Jason Thibodeau

thibodeau.jason@gmail.com
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