I’m trying to maintain my atheism while also allowing for the true, subjective experiences of the prophets.
I want to start by saying some of the prophecy is obviously bullshit. There are whole chapters in Exodus where God spends more time describing the ornate requirements for the arc of the covenant and its tabernacle than He does discussing the rules, purpose, and meaning of that covenant. So much of the prophecy in Exodus is just the priestly class (Aaron and his sons) lifting themselves above the rest of the people. I’m not talking about that kind of bullshit.
I’m talking about the seeming integrity of Moses, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jesus, Muhammad, etc., but also the seeming integrity of Native American medicine men, Sufi mystics, Hindu rishis, African diviners, and more.
I may be an atheist, but I do not bow down to science either. I recognize its usefulness and appreciate the deeper understandings it provides us with, but I do not accept that rationality and reproducibility are the only ways to access the truth. There are unique events in spacetime that cannot be measured by a machine or replicated by an outside observer; these moments are transcendent, spiritual, and meaning-filled. The subjective experience of these events, while capable of being mistaken, is also very real and true, despite our inability to measure or replicate it.
I am willing to believe that (some) prophets have experienced a direct connection to something greater than the human consciousness, a consciousness capable of communicating with humans in as clear a way as possible without also sharing the biological characteristics of human language.
Some people call theses consciousnesses God. Many of the prophets surely do. But I don’t want to call them that. Thanks to science, mathematics, and poetry, I do not require God the Creator in my calculus of the universe. I would rather call them a consciousness.
The subjective experience of consciousness is something science will (perhaps) never be able to explain. The different kinds of consciousnesses that must be possible are as numerous as energetic fields in the universe. The difference between a slug’s consciousness and a dolphin’s consciousness is nigh on impossible to describe; can we imagine a consciousness whose “circumference” was the Internet? Or the solar system?
I’m willing to accept contemperaneous presence and direct, personal communication with these consciousnesses, but I am not willing to accept any of them as monotheism’s definition of an omnipotent and omnipresent God. As a radical democrat, I will spurn any attempt to reduce the multiplicity of the universe into an ultimate, supreme One.
Does this make me a polytheist rather than an atheist? Only if I’m willing to give these consciousnesses the status of gods, and while maybe it’s only semantic, I don’t really want to do that. I don’t think they are more powerful than us, in that there are definite limitations on their abilities, limitations that I believe a creative human mind would be capable of exploiting, and so in that way, I think they are less than gods.
I also don’t want to call them gods because I don’t think they’re worthy of worship. Worthy of respect, of friendship, of love even, but never worthy of worship.
And in that, perhaps, I best characterize my atheism. It’s an atheism that is willing to accept the true, subjective experiences of the prophets, that is willing to accept revelation, but it is not willing to accept any directive that requires me to kneel down and worship.
Is that the sin of pride? Perhaps.
But I like to think of it as Self Respect. It’s not that I believe myself to be worthy of anything and everything. It’s that I believe communication can only begin when both parties come from a standpoint of self-respect. If one of these different consciousnesses wants to communicate with me, I want it to know who it’s dealing with.
I’m not going to call it a god. I’ll only call it what it is: something different from me.