Posted by: Gabriel | February 25, 2009

Pluralism: The Dialogue of Theism & Atheism: A Moment of Reflection

In trying to arrange how I can do the least amount of work possible, I hit upon the idea to combine the ‘Moment of Reflection’ assignment with my presentation blog entry by going a little more in depth on one of the topics I brought up (or meant to bring up at least; I kind of winged it there for a while and don’t quite recall if I actually covered this). Anyway, here is an excerpt from what I had prepared to say:


I would add a warning that taking this dialogue of theological exchange to the extreme of identifying multiple religious concepts as the same (i.e. Sunyata with God) is very undesirable. This dialogue of exchange should be an opportunity for radical exstasis for one’s conception of God, and cannot be allowed to solidify into dogma. Identification ends dialogue and the challenge of ecstasy is nullified. It should never be forgotten that to get a new perspective requires that one temporarily move to a new position.


So, I’m half-theist, half-agnostic, half-atheist and at times these three different worldviews have competed in me, while at other times they have informed each other and provided me with, I think, a richer insight than if I identified as solely a theist or agnostic or atheist. From this alternation between competition and harmony, I get the impression that merely having exposure & even embracing a plurality of views (while still holding them in tension) doesn’t give greater understanding necessarily; the richest understanding comes when a plurality of views interact with each other. These worldviews do not have to interact for the purpose of justifying themselves or creating a hybrid worldview which would be ‘more right’ than either is on their own.


Perhaps the ultimate purpose of this dialogue between worldviews should be to draw a person out of their current worldview; into a frustrated silence if need be. A silence of unknowing. In this silence where even Truth or a ‘right’ worldview/belief system is a nonsense, one could perhaps begin to see how both atheism and theism can work in dialogue within their mind. When the person then falls back out of this silence, they could take the lesson of coherence with them.


Maybe I’m wrong and this is actually as nonsensical as it probably sounds (and I can hardly say, since I am far from a point which is beyond the conflict of worldviews). If, however, there is some coherence here, I could see how this would be much more profitable of an experience than simply sitting down in self-assurance of one ‘right’ worldview which, if our past experiences of being wrong can tell us anything, is probably far from ‘right’.


I have to say that this class so far has been very rewarding for me (insofar as I am ‘right’ about what I have written above; if I am ‘wrong’, then probably this class has been a waste of time up until now and I should start looking for different benefits I should be getting from the seminar). I came into this class a little worried that reading the militant atheism of Dawkins & Harris would upset my delicate balance in favour of atheism. And after reading most of Dawkins, I had the opposite worry that my mental balance would be upset in favour of theism by much more readings from these weak atheists.


What I have found, however, is that I am becoming much more comfortable with my atheism. I’m no longer so concerned with putting strict restrictions on how religious or how irreligious I can be so as to keep the balance in place. Getting this theological exposure to atheism, I think, has helped me to understand my two views in concert, rather than in alternation. Probably previously I had look at any given situation either as a theist or as an atheist. Since this semester began, I have noticed that more than ever I can look at a situation as a theist and an atheist at the same time and gain a richer perspective from it.



  1. Gabe, I think it is interesting how this type of “alternation” between theism and atheism ceases to exist as strongly with time. I too find that the more I explore atheist arguments, they inform, shape and change my theism so that those very arguments are part of my over all position. I find that I do hold and in fact cherish many atheist views so as to be a critical, informed and seeking theist. It all becomes part of my belief and value system.

    But I think this is where we may differ, or I didn’t understand, or because I’m half asleep… My paradigm is more or a less a theist one. At my roots, I am a theist. Now, atheism has informed that, but I would never for example, switch it around and say how would theism shape my atheism because I’m not an atheist. I guess there is no dialogue the other way…

    So let me know what you think, if you agree or can challenge me because I’d like to know if it could be valuable to look at this relationship in a different way. Peace

  2. Yeah, I hear what you’re saying, Ryan. We haven’t really ever talked about this, and so I’ll just content myself with a sentence or two.

    I think probably for your experience, you’re completely correct, and there really is no good reason for atheism to inform your theism. It may just be that there would be no value for you to look at it like that. I can’t say that I don’t envy that a little.

    My experiences might be a little different and I think it’s probably just the fact that we’ve struggled with different things in different ways and and from that we are now standing in different places. And I think this is why it’s helpful for me to identify as an atheist while it might not be helpful for another person.

    There, I hope that was ambiguous enough. 😉

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