Of Gods, God, And Men

Those following the work of the New Atheists have probably encountered the Richard Dawkins quip, “We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” Aidan Kimel responds by remarking that “God is not a god,” and turns to this passage from theologian Herbert McCabe’s God Matters to explain what he means – and why he finds that Dawkins statement missing the mark:

God must be incomprehensible to us precisely because he is creator of all that is and, as Aquinas puts it, outside the order of all beings. God therefore cannot be classified as any kind of being. God cannot be compared to or contrasted with other things in respect of what they are like as dogs can be compared and contrasted with cats and both of them with stones or stars. God is not an inhabitant of the universe; he is the reason why there is a universe at all. God is in everything holding it constantly in existence but he is not located anywhere, nor is what it is to be God located anywhere in logical space. When you have finished classifying and counting all the things in the universe you cannot add: ‘And also there is God.’ When you have finished classifying and counting everything in the universe you have finished, period. There is no God in the world.

Kimel’s commentary on the passage – with a surprising twist at the end:

If God is not a being but rather the ultimate source and cause of all that he has freely brought into existence, then he cannot be understood as a god. Deities are but “bits of the universe”; but the God and Father of Jesus Christ is the transcendent creator of the universe. He is the reason why there is a universe, whether it contains gods, fairies, sprites, centaurs or whatnot.

But if God is not a god, then what is he? McCabe is direct: we do not know. We do not know what God is. We cannot provide a definition of his nature. We cannot comprehend his essence. Hence we really do not know what we are talking about when we use the word “God.” All we know is that whatever God is, he is the transcendent Mystery of our existence…. Perhaps now we can understand why Christians were sometimes accused by pagans of being atheists.

Recent Dish on the topic here.