Minister friend, the Very Right Reverend Scott "I'm not Landry" Jones, Ph.D., has created a series of responses to the questions raised by Putnam and Campbell in their (sort of) new book, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. The book received a thorough and positive review in a recent issue of Books & Culture. Scott pulled the questions used to create the survey cited in the book, and he's answered them, some more thoroughly than others, but that has to do with definitions, which I completely understand. I've decided to answer them as well. I have no idea why, but it seems a good exercise. What follows is a conversation of sorts in my own brain. I'm happy to clarify points. Many of you will not be surprised by my answers, although I might be. I'm far better at being the questioner, it seems.
The first questions is:
Are you absolutely sure, somewhat sure, not quite sure, not at all sure, or are you sure you do not believe in God?With Scott, I insist on asking "What do you mean by God?" It's a fair clarification, as I learned at some point in grad school that God or god is a concept, and as such, requires definition. Many people use the word as if everyone clearly understands what it means. My mythology students will testify that I am as capable as anyone of making them wonder what the hell the word actually means. Do I believe in the omni, omni, omni Father God of Christianity? No. Jesus as God? No. God as person? No. Capricious YHWH of the Tanakh? No. I am unequivocally a nontheist. That's all the definition I have for my theological position vis-a-vis god at this point. I'm quite comfortable with that, as it allows the question to remain open but also directs my life to an ethic founded on nontheistic assumptions, which is to say, I need a good reason to say something is good or bad, not just a "thus sayeth the LORD."
As for the first part of the question, I have met those who are "absolutely sure" of their metaphysical claims. I tend not to like them, primarily because they seem too lazy or frightened to consider other possibilities. Certainty is the last refuge of the ignorant or intellectually lazy, a strong tower to buttress absurd, unverifiable claims against the siege of icky questions. Ignorance is no virtue, but you'll never convince them of that. At least twice during myth class I heard, "Why do you even care about this stuff?" as if questions of ultimacy don't impact the way we live and work and love (hate) together. The not quite sure part is fine, but I'm not quite sure how I ever get to absolutely sure, short of Jesus or Kali or YHWH or Ahura Mazda having a burger with me. For now, let's just say that I'm absolutely sure that I'm a nontheist, but I have zero certainty about the existence of a creature called, for lack of a better word, god. That troubles me not at all, because my life wouldn't be very much different if I had come to certainty in god's existence via epiphany.