Today, more and more, God and religion are seen as either a naiveté or a compost.
For a good number of persons, belief in God and religious practice are seen as a naiveté, a pre-scientific, pre-modern, and pre-critical attitude, tantamount to believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, nice, but not something that holds up under the demands of reality. For others, many of whom are still connected to their churches, belief in God and religion is, in the end, a compost – a rich cultural, ethnic, and mythological ferment that one can delve into and from which one can draw out all kinds of valuable things.
Sincere as these views are, both are wrong. At the end of the day, God and religion are viewed as a naiveté and are seen as mediating something else, namely, a helpful mythology, a valuable connection to your roots, a link up to archetypal energy, or something else of this nature. They are not seen, however, for what they are, a vital connection to an existing and life-giving Person. But belief in God and the practice of religion are not a naiveté, nor are they simply a rich mythological, archetypal, and ethnic compost. They are the water of life, the deepest raw truth there is. They are our connection to the source of all reality.
But that is precisely what contemporary agnosticism, of both the benign and belligerent variety, denies. For it, irrespective of whether it sees religion as a dangerous naiveté or a valuable compost, belief in God is ultimately a childish thing, something that one eventually outgrows. How so?
Implicit in virtually every type of contemporary atheism and agnosticism is the concept that history can be compared to a child growing up and that child eventually outgrows the naive belief that there really is a God. In this view, we have today outgrown our need to believe in God and we can never return to the childish security of that belief, no more than we can turn back the clock and believe that the world is flat. Science is science. Facts are facts. Once the modern, critical mind has been established no one can return to that naive, safe haven of pre-modern beliefs -God and religion. To believe that there is an actual God who is somehow beyond and above and Lord of time and space is unimaginable. Anything of this nature, beyond an ideology for justice, is considered pre-modern, pre-critical, unsustainable in the light of hard evidence, naive.
To the modern mind, religion, at least in so far as it actually believes in the reality it espouses, is, besides being somewhat infantile, the source of false intellectual security in that it offers clear cut, simplistic answers which are unable to stand up to the scrutiny of science, technology, the existence of pain and evil, and actual life as we experience it today. Some of the intellectual giants of our century explicitly espoused this. You see such a theory in Marx, Freud, and Weber, among others. Your average person on the street does not word it all that sophisticatedly, but he or she has the hunch, conscious or unconscious, that religion is unable to stand up to the test of modern life, that it is a thing of the past.
What’s to be said about this? Is belief in God possible only in a pre-modern, pre-critical mind? Yes, if one does not postulate the possibility of a post-modern and post-critical mind.
There is, indeed, something in the modern mind and modern world that renders real belief in God almost impossible. But the reason is not because the modern mind asks questions which are too hard for religion to answer. It is not that we are so open-minded that agnosticism and atheism are the only option. It is rather that we have fixated at a certain level of agnosticism. We haven’t asked too many questions. We asked too few. We haven’t, for example, asked:
Could it be that we have trouble believing in God because of the limited scope and poverty of our own imaginations, given that God is not in our image and likeness? Might it be that we have trouble imagining the existence of God because we cannot imagine a God who does not make human happiness, right here and now, the be all and the end all of creation? And might it be that this incapacity to be open to something beyond our imaginings and our own will is not a sign of maturity but rather of infantile grandiosity? And, yes, might it be that the most open-minded, critical posture of all is post-modern and post-critical and, like Isaiah, stares at the wonder of it all and is only able to say: “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God of Hosts!”?