Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

With a Little Help from my Atheist Friends

Written by: on June 26, 2014

Culture and the Death of God – Eagleton

There are billboards on our interstate highway leading to downtown Grand Rapids that say……”you can be good and be atheist.”  This is quite the shocker in my very religious Reformed area of the United States (the picture I’ve included is more akin to our area!).  Eagleton, in Culture and the Death of God, shares that religions is “essentially a desire to invest reality with a degree of meaning into life.” (45)  But my billboard suggests differently.

The culture of belief and faith in God has changed greatly from the Enlightenment period, when few were really atheists (many were more likely Deists, still believing in an Almighty but limiting God to few activities – primarily, getting creation rolling and then stepping back to watch) to modern environment in which religion – at least in the West – is on the chopping block.  In the past, breaking away completely from religion was difficult as it was wrapped up in all aspects of life and culture.

Later, during the idealist and romantics periods, the move to replace religion and God with other cultural activities such as art or philosophy took a broad leap forward but was unable to dislodge the majority from belief.  Nietzsche believed that there would never be a change for the masses as “beliefs are held without reason,” therefore being irrefutable.  He continued pointing out that as long as religion brings hope and comfort it is essential to the population at large and therefore important to political will – as leaders use religion to shape and promote their personal desires.

We still see this.  I see nationalism replacing Christianity in the US but calling it the same thing.  There is even an “American Patriots Bible” in the bookstores interlacing scripture with powerful quotes on the right to bear arms and capital punishment, located near scriptures that speak of the opposite.  In the bookstore, the Patriot’s bible is next to the Duck Dynasty Bible – but not-surprisingly – we don’t find an Oprah Bible or an Ellen Bible (two people whom, although might lean toward atheism, have helped more people live better lives than most public figures I know.)

Is it possible to separate religion and faith – a structured organization loosely based upon a doctrine compared to a personal relationship or adherence to what and who a faith stands for?  As it is harder and harder to do so, there is discontent within the walls of the church.  People instead are flocking to culture – theater, music television and cinema – replacing God with these new forms of “mythology.”

Toward the beginning of the book Eagleton writes regarding the trends toward secularization; tolerance, equality, democracy, individual freedom and liberty of expression.  These were part of the philosophy of the enlightenment.  Conversely, if the opposite would indicate what religion looks like, I would fall on the side of promoting secularism.  This is the conundrum many believers find themselves in.  We see that the values held by atheists are in many ways more “Christian” than those held by the church.

As the gospel is deconstructed in each generation by those without belief, certain strains of religion continue to hold the faithful masses together amidst the critiques and reevaluation.  Lately, it has been what the author considers “morality.”  The church becomes an organization that only provides culture with what it believes to be best guidelines and ways to live.  We see this currently with the moral condemnation of those with same-sex orientation.  However, if we want to see religion to be more than a cultural filler, more than a way to harness the masses, more than a morality policeman, we need a new configuration of faith.  One the author calls a “rebirth into just and compassionate communities.”

Maybe a little help from the atheists will help us get it right this time.

About the Author

Phil Smart

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