What Would a Secular God Look Like? An Atheist Searches for a Realistic Higher Power in This New Book March 10, 2015

What Would a Secular God Look Like? An Atheist Searches for a Realistic Higher Power in This New Book

Is there any way atheists could believe in a god?

Not the one in the Bible, of course. Not one that answers prayers or created the universe. But what about one that gives us comfort and empowers us?

That’s the premise behind Nancy Abrams‘ new book A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet (Beacon Press, 2015).

When Abrams, a philosopher of science and “lifelong atheist,” dealt with a personal struggle, she saw several others in her recovery group (one similar to Alcoholics Anonymous) improve because the steps they took involved giving themselves over to God, something that she couldn’t do as an atheist. She even asks: “… why should survival benefits go preferentially to those who don’t face reality?” That led her on a search for a secular version of that Higher Power.

In the excerpt below, Abrams talks about what that secular “Higher Power” could look like:

During the many years I spent searching for some coherent way to think about God, I came across several alternatives that scientifically responsible people, with the best of intentions, had proposed as consistent with science. Here are some of them: “God is the process of evolution”; “God is the endless creativity of the universe”; “God is the process of radical transformation”; “God is a personification of the universe.” Like the “everything is God” perspective, there is something wonderful about these outlooks. They reframe reality itself, whatever it may be, as sacred and our very existence here as miraculous. They are honest, conceptually grand, and highly respectful of believers. I hope they inspire many people to enlarge their thinking. If my life ran well and I had no need for anything but gratitude, these views of God would deepen my spirituality far more than the discounted views I discussed earlier. But the problem for me is that I’m an addict, and my life doesn’t run well on its own. I actually need a higher power.

So the problem for me is that nothing can be asked of such gods. Evolution is impersonal and pitiless. Creativity and transformation, wondrous and crucial though they are, are equally impersonal. Calling the universe itself God doesn’t really add anything to our understanding of God but diminishes the universe by wrapping such a human-shaped image around it.

One feature that unites these alternatives is that they allow people to hold on to the idea that God somehow created the universe and is bigger and more fundamental than the universe. If God is the process of evolution, then God was there in the beginning and has led to everything, even if He had no plan. If God is endless creativity or radical transformation or the universe itself — or all of them — God was there in the beginning and created everything. But preserving the impossible option that God was there in the beginning is going to hold us back from discovering a genuine and thrilling possibility of this universe.

If God is not to be lost in euphemisms or vagueness but is to be of service to those of us who need it, it must be something, something unique. The challenge is to identify what it might be, among the myriad possibilities of this brave new universe. This requires limiting God — it can’t be everything — but limiting God in no way belittles God.

In fact, it opens radically new directions.

The scientific revolution of today is bringing us closer than ever to the possibility of a coherent and meaningful big picture in which we can bring our full selves — our emotions, our growing scientific and historical knowledge, our spiritual values, our origin story, and our sense of place in the universe — into harmony. To succeed we need a way to think about God that supports, rather than thwarts, this harmony. We’re ready for a God that could be real.

It’s a book that’ll surely be controversial in atheist circles, but it’s an interesting approach to a very real concern for many.

A God That Could Be Real is in bookstores and online beginning today!

Excerpted from A God That Could Be Real: Spirituality, Science, and the Future of Our Planet by Nancy Ellen Abrams (Beacon Press, 2015). Reprinted with permission from Beacon Press.

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