VATICAN’T (Catholicism Without All the Uplifting Parts): Week 9 — God’s Risky Atheism

As we wrap up our Vatican’t series I’d like to explore a bit further something I alluded to in my last post. Speaking of the effects of the Jesus story upon humankind, I wrote:

Or to put all this in (much) less orthodox terms, maybe there is no external divine Agent accomplishing any of this, and it’s just that the religious consciousness of humankind has simply evolved beyond the need for bullshit mythical ideas whose role was to threaten us into not being complete assholes?

In another post in this series I talked about Meister Eckhart’s prayer for “God to rid us of God.” This can be understood to mean that God, as illustrated by the Christ event, has abdicated his royal seat and has poured himself out as a sacrificial offering upon the surface of the world. The self-emptying of Christ as described by Paul has ramifications beyond Calvary. “God is Spirit,” says Jesus, and “in the last days, saith the Lord, I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh” (John 4:24; Acts 2:17).

What if that’s actually true?

What if, in keeping with the themes explored throughout this series, the whole point of the Gospel is not to get ourselves “up to heaven” where God lives, but instead is to get heaven to come down to earth, where we live? Indeed, what if the whole divine project has always been about this? What if the entirety of the evolution of humanity’s religious consciousness has been leading us to the point where we leave behind all idols, sacred objects, fears about hell, and hopes for heaven, embracing instead the flesh, bones, grit, and grime of this world?

And what if the main thing we must leave behind is God himself?

John Caputo writes that “to rid God of God is to simplify God down to the purity of an unconditional call that calls upon and disturbs the conditions of the world.” In the same way that there is no Christ without us (since a person cannot exist without a body) so with God: He does not exist, he insists.

To say God is insistent without existence is to say God calls, God solicits, God lures, God invites, but without the force of arms…. Of all the love for the world God shows, none is deeper than God not considering existence as a thing to be seized upon, and [instead] emptying the divine being into the world.

God dares not to be. God takes the extreme risk (and nothing could be more extreme) of leaving being and existence in our hands…. In daring not to be, in daring to be nothing more than a kind of may-being, we are called upon to fill up what is lacking in the insistence of God. God allows the weight of existence to weigh in on us. The burden of existence is on our shoulders.

This is not garden-variety atheism but a divine atheism. The only “might” of God of which we might speak is the might of might-be. God’s only being is may-being, which is what it means to say that God does not exist, God insists. 

To argue about theism versus atheism is a category mistake, Caputo says (like arguing about whether quarterbacks can steal third base). For all their self-perceived cleverness, the “new atheists” have failed to realize that God has beaten them to the punch.

The call of the Gospel, then, has little to do with adopting certain theological propositions and then convincing ourselves and others that they are true, all so we can have pie in the sky when we die. No, the Gospel calls us rather to be Christ to the world, bringing God’s insistence into existence by concrete acts of service, mercy, and love.

At the end of the day, whether it’s the case that God’s merciful care is only made manifest through human instruments, or that there is no God and we’re on our own, makes little practical difference.

What we do know is that there is no God without us, so if we humans don’t show mercy to one another, no one will.