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akimel
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« on: October 25, 2011, 12:14:03 PM »

I wasn't sure quite where to post this, but this forum seemed the safest place for it: Denys Turner and Atheism.  This is an interview between the Catholic theologian Denys Turner, presently teaching at Yale University, and Jonathan Miller, whom I can only describe as a remarkable Renaissance man.

This is one of the most thoughtful video discussions I have come across on the subject of atheism.  Both men avoid polemics and shallow ideology. 

Turner grasps the decisive point is too often missed when asking the question, Does God exist?  As formulated, the question seems to assume that "God" is an entity, albeit a supernatural entity, whose existence can somehow be verified and proven.  It assumes, that is to say, that God is a being within the continuum of existence.

But that, of course, is not how either Eastern Christianity or Latin Christianity (at its best) understands "God."  The creatio ex nihilo was formulated in the 2nd century precisely to make starkly clear that the divine Creator is radically distinct from the universe he has made.  This is one reason (at least so I have somewhere read) why pagans sometimes accused Christians of being atheists.   

Turner has been deeply influenced by the works of Pseudo-Dionysius--hence his preference for negative theology.  Perhaps we can have a constructive discussion on this topic. 
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minasoliman
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« Reply #1 on: October 25, 2011, 01:02:57 PM »

I wasn't sure quite where to post this, but this forum seemed the safest place for it: Denys Turner and Atheism.  This is an interview between the Catholic theologian Denys Turner, presently teaching at Yale University, and Jonathan Miller, whom I can only describe as a remarkable Renaissance man.

This is one of the most thoughtful video discussions I have come across on the subject of atheism.  Both men avoid polemics and shallow ideology.  

Turner grasps the decisive point is too often missed when asking the question, Does God exist?  As formulated, the question seems to assume that "God" is an entity, albeit a supernatural entity, whose existence can somehow be verified and proven.  It assumes, that is to say, that God is a being within the continuum of existence.

But that, of course, is not how either Eastern Christianity or Latin Christianity (at its best) understands "God."  The creatio ex nihilo was formulated in the 2nd century precisely to make starkly clear that the divine Creator is radically distinct from the universe he has made.  This is one reason (at least so I have somewhere read) why pagans sometimes accused Christians of being atheists.    

Turner has been deeply influenced by the works of Pseudo-Dionysius--hence his preference for negative theology.  Perhaps we can have a constructive discussion on this topic.  


I've noticed in repeated discussions between TV atheists and TV ministers that they say the same thing, over and over again.  They talk about unicorns, Santa Claus, a teapot in Earth's orbit, but never do they ever think that their minds much like their debate is so narrow-minded, fixated on all that is material, and not able to understand the Christian concept of God.

It is important to note that what sets Christianity apart from other religions is the fact that we can still have a direct relationship with the transcendent beyond Infinite God.  And while we were accused for being atheistic, from our vantage point, other religions can be considered atheistic.  

In Islam, God is so transcendant, God has to send angels to portray His message.  He is never engaging directly to His followers.  In Islam, God virtually doesn't exist at all.  A medium must be given.  It is in a sense, a form of practical atheism.  He "exists" but we never will get to know Him personally.

In Hinduism, God is a manifestation of all that is, and many will become higher gods through accumulating good Karma.  It is somewhat a preservation of ancient gnosticism and paganism might have been like.  That higher forms of creation are gods, and that the highest form of material existence is "the One."  This is in a sense, a form of ontological atheism, where there is no such thing as a Transcendant God from all that materially exists.

The world itself through other religions and through no religion, through ideologies and through practical lifestyles, all tend to be atheistic, or materialistic.  As St. Athanasius taught, the world which was created from nothing tends to move back towards nothing.  What our beliefs entail is something very precious and deep.  That we can be both cataphatic and apophatic with our belief in God, and how this transcendant God also believes in us despite our limitations and failings, and how to transcend the materialistic societies we live in.  Unfortunately, as Scriptures say, narrow is the road.  How very true when we find most of us as Christians living the same materialistic lives as everyone else and not standing out as the first and second century Christians once did.  It is why I come to believe that a life of practice is more important than a life of intellectual discussions, no matter how enlightening and engaging they may be.  I don't mean this to lessen the value of your post (in fact, if anything, Fr. Denys seems to move the discussion towards the idea of faith and practice, and not the same old same old we see with other debates), but over the years, it seems that even in intellect, without practice, the intellect too would tend towards nothing, and find itself thinking like Richard Dawkins, rather than like the author of the Pseudo-Dionysian writings (or Fr. Denys).  Practice (Christian practice) is mysteriously to eyes of atheists (whether real, practical, or ontological) is the materialistic way to transcend their materialistic thoughts.  It is the performing what seems to be practically impossible and irrational into the thinking that the practice comes not from mere humanity, but from beyond anything in creation, in the cosmos.  It turns to what they see in their eyes as this thing done by Christians to what they can conceive in their spirits as something divine working in them.  People have such a hard time believing when they don't diligently practice or see practiced what has been preached.

Modified post:  Added comments about Fr. Denys
« Last Edit: October 25, 2011, 01:27:29 PM by minasoliman » Logged

Vain existence can never exist, for "unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain." (Psalm 127)

If the faith is unchanged and rock solid, then the gates of Hades never prevailed in the end.
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