Rabbi Levi Yitzchak (1740-1810) told the town’s proud, self-proclaimed atheist:
“You know, the God you don’t believe in, I don’t believe in him either.”1
It seems to me that an atheist is a person who accepts other’s definitions of God, then disbelieves that. There are many different views of who/what/how God is. Many different people who have quite different definitions of God would still agree that they believe in the same God. In my work as a chaplain, I pray with people who most probably have a very different idea of God than I do. We both find meaning and spiritual sustenance in our God.
I think I understand why some people would call themselves atheist. And that’s okay as long as they can be okay with others who are trying to find a definition God that works for them. I do have a problem with people who are absolutely certain there is nothing of a God of any sort and then judge others who have some idea of God that works for them. I once struggled with this. Before I could bring myself to apply to attend seminary, I needed to have a concept of God that I was comfortable with. Or so I thought. In the end, I came up with some concept of God, and became comfortable with the remaining mystery.
I am fairly certain God is not an anthropomorphic transcendent “other,” and God is not simply a physics event also known as the “Big Bang.” My adviser in seminary, Rev. Dr. Noel L. Erskine, often asked us to consider, “where’s God in that?” I feel we are more likely to catch a glimpse of God if we are looking. I’m a big fan of serendipity. I am saddened that there are people so convinced there is not a God that it prevents a free and responsible search for truth and meaning. Fundamentalism of any variety is scary to me (unless one can be fundamentalistically open minded?!).
Please don’t let anyone else define God for you, especially if it is a definition that doesn’t work for you.
I invite everyone to come up with a concept of God that they can believe in… perhaps a God where everything is holy now.
1 Gendered reference to God in the original: https://www.ou.org/life/inspiration/i-dont-believe-in-that-god-either/