In my second session in this series I outlined the Ancient Near Eastern context for what it meant to use the language of gods and idols. I began with the question, Can we assume that the people of the Old Testament were not complete idiots? I asked this question because I always wondered why the people of the Old Testament seemed unable to stop worshipping idols. Didn’t they know those little figures were idols? What was so special about them? What was wrong with these people? Idols were not simply objects of personal value, they were integrated into the legal, political, and economic fabric of life.
I can’t remember a time when I was interested in the debate about the existence of God. I was first exposed to what was commonly called ‘apologetics’ which typically took the form of debates or ‘reasoned’ arguments regarding the existence of God. I suppose I found some of the conversations interesting but lacked any traction for how I experienced life. Later I resonated with Dostoevsky’s fictional account in The Idiot of an encounter with an atheist saying “it was as if that was not at all what he was talking about all the while, and it struck me precisely because before, too . . . however many books I’ve read on the subject, it has always seemed to me that they were talking or writing books that were not all about that, though it looked as if it was about that.”
I sensed that in these debates and declarations people were more interested in defending Reason or attacking an enemy then considering the mess of the biblical tradition and the way we experience faith and life. In the last few years I have begun to more fully articulate what I only sensed years ago. And this last January we spent three Sundays in Adult Education to reflect on our experience and understanding of atheism. What follows is a summary of the first session I shared.