Monday 15 July 2013

The Giftedness of Atheology

Tim Bulkeley has posted a response to the piece here on Lloyd Geering's new book, From the Big Bang to God. I'm not entirely sure I understand his use of a snatch of dialogue from the movie The Titanic. The giftedness of life and the grace that undergirds our every breath seems to be a bit irrelevant to the concerns Geering is trying to address. For what it's worth, I believe in this kind of grace very much, what with being raised Lutheran and since having read Don Cupitt...

(Slight clearing of the throat after mentioning Don Cupitt...)

The only bit in Tim's explanation I disagree with is the idea that "I get what I don't deserve." You could read that two ways of course, just think of child soldiers, the hapless passengers on Titanic, or patients undergoing chemo. That isn't what Tim means though, which leads me to ask: what do we deserve then, pray tell?

No, don't tell me, I can guess. It involves intense heat, existential angst and/or an angry ancient Palestinian thunder god, right? Yes, we've all been very naughty and deserve to be cuffed around the ears and sent to bed without dinner. Unpack that and it's a slippery slope into the snake-pit of human oppression, and the ranting rhetoric of right-wing nut jobs.

What did arouse my curiosity was Tim's use of the term 'Atheology'. At first I thought that it might be an original coinage, but on reflection it seemed more likely that some crab-minded Reformed dogmatician had dreamed it up first, as persons emeshed in that tradition tend to do.

So, to the dictionaries. Not in the Merriam-Webster, and not in the Oxford (perhaps it's in their unabridged editions). When all others fall by the wayside, however, there's always the Chambers, which is a joy to any word lover. And lo, there it was, with a small 'a', and defined as "opposition to theology." Hmm, shouldn't that be anti-theology?

Regardless, even though I'm unsure whether the term really describes Geering's perspective - even at a whisker's distance - I'm certainly delighted to add the word to my repertoire. Though I might be more inclined to plaster it over certain wooden-minded, tithe-farming fundamentalist preacher-types than Sir Lloyd Geering.


  1. "Atheology" = "not theology" and I can think of thousands of things that are not theology. But, anti-theology? That would be an entirely different thing. Just like saying atheist means anti-theist when it doesn't mean that but actually means "not theist". There's a big difference between "not" and "anti".

  2. As I understand it someone who self-identifies as "an Atheist" is saying that the non-existence of God and/or gods is an important (perhaps a central) conviction for me. If so, and if Theology is faith seeking understanding, then Atheology would be seeking understanding in the absence of such faith.

    "I get what I don't deserve" (if I may emphasise the 'I', I was not writing as a child-soldier (though I cry for them) I just meant that I have done nothing to 'deserve' a sunset, or a dandelion flower, as simple as that.