Mitchell Stephens has a blog…

…called Without Gods:

“The blog I am writing here, with the connivance of The Institute for the Future of the Book, is an experiment. Our thought is that my book on the history of atheism (eventually to be published by Carroll and Graf) will benefit from an online discussion as the book is being written. Our hope is that the conversation will be joined: ideas challenged, facts corrected, queries answered; that lively and intelligent discussion will ensue.”

Along the way, he has a few instances of “Jesuses” – which I’m guessing are striking accounts/descriptions/considerations of Our Lord. And bless his heart, he brings Flannery in on the project:

“‘His black eyes, glassy and still, reflected depth on depth his own stricken image of himself, trudging into the distance in the bleeding stinking mad shadow of Jesus.’

That’s one heck of a Jesus (or at least one that casts one heck of a shadow), from Flannery O’Connor.

And then O’Connor writes (I was led to these quotes by Garry Wills) that Jesus moves:

‘from tree to tree in the back of his mind, a wild ragged figure motioning him to turn around and come off into the dark…”

Got to understand, I guess, if you’re in the religion-eradication business, that a lot of the attraction — beyond the charity, the community and the meaning, beyond even the rapture and the rupture of physical laws, the rupture of history — is in the ‘wild ragged,’ ‘bleeding stinking’ madness of it all.

Where is the atheist who jumps ‘from tree to tree in back of’ the “mind”? Do nonbelievers — Shelleyans, most of them — spend too much energy switching on lights? Who whispers — Sade?, Ivan K.? — ‘come off into the dark’?

Is the point that you become — inevitably — the opposite of what you are falsely accused of being? Are nonbelievers so concerned with not being seen as dissolute that they seem dull?”

Not an uninteresting query, that. And give the man credit for looking at what Team Believer has to offer, including this from Benedict:

“The latest to join our dialogue on the nature of disbelief is Pope Benedict XVI. Unfortunately, his comments are a bit obscure:

‘Today, when we have learned to recognize the pathologies and life-threatening diseases associated with religion and reason, and the ways that God’s image can be destroyed by hatred and fanaticism, it is important to state clearly the God in whom we believe….

Only this can free us from being afraid of God which is ultimately at the root of modern atheism… Only this God saves us from being afraid of the world and from anxiety before the emptiness of life.’

His Holyness — at least as interpreted by the New York Times — seems to be aiming for something here beyond mere lucidity. I guess the point is that our fear of God keeps us from accepting His assistance in overcoming our anxious fear of the world and of the emptiness of life.

It’s hard to argue with the Pope on this ‘anxiety before the emptiness of life’ thing. God knows we’ve all had days when stuff seems more than a little random. No doubt a bit of supernaturally imposed good/bad, right/wrong believe that the Son and the Father are consubstantial/don’t belief the Son and the Father are consubstantial might help. Problem is — and maybe this is part of the reason Benedict seems to be having difficulty making himself clear — God Himself often seems more mysterious, shall we say, than clear on matters such as the proper relationship between religion and reason and what we should be doing about Darfur. ‘Who can straighten what He has twisted?’ Koheleth wonders in Ecclesiastes.

And Benedict must be hanging out with a weird bunch of atheists. I can imagine a some haunted sinner running from God and his alleged judgement. But, rather than being afraid of God, the atheists I know are just unimpressed with Him as a concept (or Concept).”

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