If it walks like a duck, sounds like a duck and looks like a duck…. it probably is a duck.
So, when we talk about people believing in a god, do they essentially believe in the same thing? This question has two aspects. On the one hand it can be seen as supporting pluralism and interfaith movements. “We all worship the same God.” On the other hand, it may support the atheist and the agnostic position – all your gods are equally ridiculous and without proof.
This links to our earlier posts about different gods. What we have seen is that the choice in the end comes down to two options. You either believe that this World is made by a sovereign, eternal, personal God would is transcendent and immanent, or you don’t.
The alternative to this God is to believe that ultimately, what is behind the Universe is impersonal and unknowable. This is most overtly seen in atheism which quite openly declares that there is no god. Atheism however must still give an account for infinity and eternity. It either argues that the Universe has always existed and goes on into infinity or that at some point it had a start. If the Universe is finite then the atheist must give an explanation for what lies behind and beyond it. That answer does not include a personal God so in some way must provide for eternal, impersonal matter.
Other belief systems have some form of deity but it is so distant and remote that we cannot know it. Indeed in some belief systems it will not or cannot know us either. Gnostic type beliefs see this deity as so distinct from both physical matter and personality that any connection with our word is through a series of intermediary demigods. Some forms of Hinduism suggest that the gods are similarly manifestations of the true divine nature behind the Universe. Pantheists believe that the Universe itself is divine – in other words, like atheists they look to the Universe and matter itself to give an account of eternity and infinity. Islam sees God as exalted and sovereign this is a God who was cannot know and love, the best we can hope for is to serve Him and that he might be merciful to us.
The point is that your belief system is going to come down on one side or other of the divide. If you believe that what is truly infinite and eternal is unknowable, impersonal and distant then you need to find some way of making sense of day to day life. The Bible talks about us making near gods and far gods. Far gods explain eternity and infinity but are remote and unknowable. Near gods are limited but also close and personal. Polytheism creates lots of idols that are approachable and knowable, even some distortions of Christianity need saints and guardian angels to fulfil this function. Atheism provides near gods through humanism. The power to make, health, answer needs comes from humans: each of us individually and equally, particularly powerful leaders and/or systems and coalitions.
This point helps us when we are thinking about apologetics. What type of God’s existence are we debating?
Let’s come back to the idea of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Remember that this concept is an attempt to mock and parody Christianity (particularly The Doctrine of Creation) and belief in a creator God. “You might as well believe that the Flying Spaghetti Monster made everything” they say in derision.
Let’s look a little more at the Spaghetti Monster. In the parody they have created, the monster is invisible and undetectable. He made the World after getting intoxicated. The flaws in the world are caused by his drunkenness. He offers the promise of a heaven where there is a beer volcano and which is full of strippers.
Now that’s a wonderful and amusing parody isn’t it? The only problem is that it is not a parody of the Biblical God. Rather, he is a flawed character and like the gods of ancient Canaan, Scandinavia, Mesopotania and Egypt he bungles along , exactly because he is flawed. We are caught up as human beings in the aftermath of his adventures as incidental by-products. As a pasta product he is made up of physical matter from the Universe. He is one of the near gods. The story fails to parody questions and beliefs about eternity and infinity and must still give account of them.
In other words, when the new atheist pulls out the Flying Spaghetti Monster card, he isn’t entering into debate with Christians and with the idea of a personal, eternal, sovereign and infinite God. This is just another example of civil war among those who have rejected the true and living God and are seeking to mock each other.
There’s a little practical lesson for us here too. Humour is fun, parody great but parody only works if it’s possible to recognise what it us the real thing in the parody. Be careful. You may be revealing more about yourself and your own prejudices and preconceptions than you are about the thing you are attacking. Often this form of debate plays just to the gallery.
But that’s a side point. My mail point is this. When comparing religious beliefs make sure you are comparing like for like.