Dear Tired Conversation,
How are you? I thought perhaps you were dead, well I knew better but one can hope. In any event I came across you again in the Spectator Tribune of all places! Perhaps you have more energy than I have given you credit. While your birthdate may be a little ambiguous you must be nearing 2000 years as you are there already in 150 CE as Justin Martyr attempts to have conversations discussing the merits of Christianity to Rome and the supremacy of Christianity over Judaism. In any event, you are old. Perhaps I should give more deference to your age, but I am not convinced you have learned much. At least with Justin Martyr I could understand the motivation. I mean conversation was really in the hopes of ending the persecution experienced by some Christians. But even there, it just seemed like empty posturing at times. And so 2000 years on here in the Tribune the most noble goal you seem to be achieving is hey look we disagree about God but we are not killing each other, isn’t that great. To paraphrase the Jewish philosopher and cultural critic Jacob Taubes, “Look how wonderful, the two of them speaking together! That just completely misses the real powers at work here.” As I mentioned, at least in earlier times this argument addressed the ‘real powers’. Christians were being persecuted. We may want to pause here and ask why they were persecuted. There is not a simple or singular answer but one element of this situation that may be able to change or, better yet, put your current conversation to an end is the fact that many groups within Roman society charged Christians with being atheists. Your conversation through Justin was not about whether God existed but who worshipped or adhered to the true God.
Wait, wait, wait, I am not actually interested in having a conversation here so just let me finish. Yes, I know we are now in the modern age where the enlightened have shed antiquity’s shared veil of superstitious beliefs. Good. But that is not what I am talking about, that is not a conversation I am particularly interested in having at the moment. The charge of atheism was significant because you were addressing and rejecting the power or presence that backed a particular expression. ‘God’ (or ‘the gods’) was what you referred to as the power of a given nation, it was what ensured protection and flourishing. Everything was somehow connected to the name or names of particular gods. Today we would not lay the charge of atheist but the charge of treason or terrorism.
Again, listen carefully I do not care at the moment about whether God(s) exist(s). I am interested in making clear how we have received this term and concept. Because my guess is that the gods are quite happy that you, Tired Conversation, are still alive so they can go about their work.
Fine, I will lay my cards out on the table. The nations are still represented by gods. I mean a nation is an act of imagination and so long as enough people ascribe attention, value, and duty (worship?) to it then it will exist. But that is the only place it exists. People are still killing and dying for these gods. In many ways though this is still not the god I am thinking of, I want to draw attention to the real king of heaven and earth. Yes, I am talking about money. Where does money exist? What is it made of? Of course money is real but how and in what way? Omnipotent and Omnipresent, the creator of value, the jealous god who can bear no rival, the one who raises up and the one who casts down, infinite in reach; these are just a few of this god’s names and attributes.
So Tired Conversation, content yourself with another pint and rehash the glory days of when people cared about what you had to say. Raise your glass to tolerance of intellectual difference. You will always have a band of followers to be sure. They will come with differing opinions proclaiming various (and even interesting) views of the world but be assured, Tired Conversation, that their allegiances are elsewhere (and probably shared). Unless a frank and open acknowledgment of the gods that already rule in our world is also brought onto the table then you have already accepted your irrelevance, and the irrelevance of your theisms and atheisms.