Wednesday, April 13, 2011

I missed church because I got caught up in Killing the Buddha

I freaking love this website! This last Sunday morning, my boys were with their dad. I had a quiet morning to myself, having a little coffee, eating my steel cut oats and writing up a quick blog post, catching up on other people's blogs. Hopped over to Killing the Buddha, and the rest of the day was history.

They describe themselves in their Manifesto as "God for the godless," a place "for people who somehow want to be religious, who want to know what it means to know the divine, but for good reasons are not and do not." Hallelujah!

Anyway, I love them so much, I think I'm gonna share an article every week (or try to anyway).

"Faithful Apostasy" by Daniel Silliman hit the nail on so many things that have been in my head recently. It's a criticism of a study done by Daniel Dennett and Linda LaScola of "Preachers Who Are Not Believers." I'm tempted to just copy and paste the whole article because I think it's so great, but I don't think that would be very Golden Rule-ish of me, so please head on over to KtB for the full article. It's worth your time.

In a nutshell, Silliman chastises Dennett and LaScola for dismissing the nuance in the way the participants in their study believe, and instead, just claiming that they just don't actually believe at all. He calls out the narrowness of the study's spectrum of what it's possible to believe about God and the arrogance of claiming to know what another person believes better than the person him/herself. A few excerpts:
[They] quote Karen Armstrong’s statement that, “God is not a being at all.” But instead of understanding that to mean God is more than a being among beings, or that God is Being itself, they take it as a veiled declaration of atheism. They react as if Armstrong is trying to disguise her true unbelief behind tricky language.
Dennett and LaScola are mono(a)theists: they claim to know exactly what God is and they call it hooey. For them God is ridiculous, and they insist on their simple definitions even if that means dismissing the accounts of more reasonable beliefs offered by those who hold them.
Even if all the theists are really mugs playing a mad game of absurdism and obscurantism, rationally engaging with them requires responding to the most sophisticated among them. Rejecting a mischaracterized God that isn’t worth taking seriously isn’t much of a feat.

I grew up with a very narrow, and frankly absurd, definition of what God was. I've rejected that definition, but I've come across many more ideas of what God could be, and I'm not done exploring that.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.


  1. I can't stand Dennett, but that's another topic entirely.

    Something I read recently on Killing thet Buddha was Eric Scott's "Valhal-mart", about his experiences with encountering merchandise for the upcoming Marvel film Thor at Walmart ( This line:

    "It’s impossible to think of a story about Jesus like this, not written to pander to or irritate Christians, but simply not considering them at all."

    really hit me hard. It is the narrow definition of god that you talk about here, Leah--the idea, subscribed to by Western Christians and atheists alike, that there is only one kind of god and that god is the Christian god and, depending on where you stand, he's either a savior-father or a sociopath. He cannot be a goddess and he cannot be a "heathen" or "pagan" figure like Zeus or Thor.

    I have such frustration with and so little respect for this kind of atheist writing.

  2. Hi Leah, long time reader, first time commenter.

    Up front, I'll point out I consider myself atheist, though I have no interest in swaying you one way or the other regarding your own beliefs. I don't really have anything to gain or lose either way (I'm like thousands of deconversions away from winning a free lunch with Richard Dawkins).

    That said, I advise against flimsy definitions of gods. I've heard arguments made by very intelligent people who want to redefine what gods are for one reason or another (Einstein comes to mind). The problem is... the universe isn't a god, nor are the basic underlying princples which govern the universe gods. The only thing which are gods are gods, and gods have a pretty clear definition in every religion (usually human-like, sometimes living in the sky or underground... that sort of thing). For all that you're changing the definition of gods, you might as well worship faeries and say "Well, they aren't those fairy tale faeries that flutter around gardens with wands."

    I sometimes joke that my god is Truth and my religion is Justice, but I don't really see it as this. I merely use this as a metaphor to explain my philosophy. Maybe it's the English tutor in me, but I really can't stand it when people conflate words to be things they aren't. I know language is a living and changing construct, but are there no other words besides "god" for ideals or principles?

    God just screams anthropomorphic being, and not only in Western culture. I assume you don't believe in such a thing. You believe in a more abstract view of what "gods" are. Except... as long as the word "god" is used, there will always be some kind of connection to the old. If I formed a new club, I wouldn't call it "The Nazis" and use the swastika as my symbol, then spend most of my time defending my use of it, claiming I'm going to redefine it.

    I guess my actual question is... why is there such a lack of creativity among the spiritually non-religious who actually want religion, but lack one which represents them? By now, there has got to be enough people and the means (via the internet) to organize such a thing. I say this not because I want in or that I'm annoyed by what you're doing (I'm not, not that it should matter to you what I think), but because I think the religious landscape has become too homogenous for it's own good. Diversity is an important hallmark of a healthy society.

  3. Wow, that is a great blog. I gave it a quick look, but will go back as time allows. Thanks for sharing!

  4. I LOVED the article you sent me, looks like a great thought-provoking sight.

  5. I've read a few articles over there and it's well done. I love your approach, Leah, and I'm excited to see where your journey takes you. The best part of being free from the Mo cult is the freedom to be completely honest and keep and open mind.

    (P.S. I tried to leave a comment here a couple of times but my browser seems to have issues with some blogspot blogs. I don't know why. Arg.)

  6. Diana, I read that article too. I heard Seane Corne say that we all create our own "iconic energy" surrounding God, whether that's Jesus Christ or a Higher Self or a Great Mother. A lot of the "heathen" understandings of god(ess)(es) are more interesting, and also, frankly, more useful. There's a reason for polytheism: The Something that humans are trying to understand is too complex to be represented by one narrowly-defined and generic god.

  7. Hi Ginx, thanks for reading. I can say up front that I have no desire to convert any atheists any more than you desire to de-convert theists.

    ... I started to reply and it got really long. I'm gonna write you a post, special you! :-)

  8. Thanks, Donna! I've had a great time reading over there. Looks like a good place to submit, too.

  9. Thanks, CD! I'm excited about my journey too.

    I've had a few people complain about comment problems. Just switched to Disqus, been meaning to do that for a while. Hopefully this will work better, makes it easier to follow conversation threads within comments, at any rate.

  10. Here you go:

  11. I'm a big fan of Dennett, but in that particular study it sounds like he's trying to prove his point more than create an open investigation. Such is the way of academics...

    I'm actually kind of glad the 'New Atheists' are (very slowly) getting away from their fixation on the 'god' word and instead starting to contribute something more meaningful... like actually trying to produce new information.

    The real demon is the idea of authority -- ideas like inerrancy and unchanging, permanent truths.

    The problem isn't having a god. The word isn't necessarily anthropomorphic and has lots of deep roots. Reality was very different in the ancient past. We've since changed how we see the world but we haven't necessarily updated all the old software, in a sense.

    The real problem is thinking your god gives you the power of authority.

  12. "The real demon is the idea of authority -- ideas like inerrancy and
    unchanging, permanent truths."



Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism