Letters - 20 April 2018

From 'God, words and us' to a 'serious undertaking'

God, words and us

Thanks to Hilary Johnson and Robin Bowman for their valuable report of a workshop on ‘God, words and us’ (6 April).

The general trend of the book God, words and us is underlined by a pressure to abandon the term ‘theism’ while retaining the term ‘nontheism’, a theme traceable in the theologies heard in the workshop itself. Two observations:

First, the workshop report suggests that debating transcendence may be an ‘error’ since transcendence cannot be logically proved. Friends, though, have never attempted to offer a logical proof of transcendence. We accept it, along with immanence, as a matter of Christian faith supported by personal experience and the testimony of others whom we can trust. These include our early Quaker forebears, the wonderful Thomas Kelly, and the great Christian mystics from Augustine to Merton, as well as the many ‘seasoned’ Friends whose spiritual wisdom and maturity we all recognise.

Second, the report further suggests that speaking of transcendence at all may be ‘the thin end of a credal wedge that has little place in our Religious Society’. That leaves us with immanence only. But it can be argued on the same basis that immanence, too, is ‘the thin end of a credal wedge’. We are then left with nothing. In the end, the overall effect of God, words and us may be to leave us lamenting our Christian and theist roots – and to move us closer to a Society attuned more to the traditions of humanism than liberal Quakerism.

Derek Guiton

The article ‘God, words and us’ talks about discussions over the difference between ‘atheism’ and ‘nontheism’. It is time someone pointed out that, linguistically speaking, as far I can see, they mean exactly the same thing.

The confusion has perhaps arisen through ignorance of the meaning of the Greek roots of the words. Theos is the Greek for ‘God’. The prefix ‘a’ means, quite simply, ‘not’ or ‘non’ –  exactly the same as in words such as ‘asymmetric’ or ‘aphasic’.

So, ‘nontheist’ is just a partial translation into English of ‘atheist’, nothing more or less. To pretend otherwise is simply evasion.

Peter Bolwell

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