The “G” word and the “F” Word in High Places: Signs of Our Times

Column by Rev. Dr. Matthew Fox on 21 September 2023 0 Comments

Along with climate change and the move from religion to spirituality, another sign of our times is the rise of the G word and the F word alive and well in high places.  I am speaking of course of Greed and Fascism.

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I read with interest your comments about afterworlds and their creation. When I read that you are a Pastor who describes herself as an atheist, I was startled and jarred into realizing that I have a very narrow definition of that term. Can you tell me what it means to you?


Dear Deb,

Thanks for this question. I’m not certain that I’d agree with you that you have a narrow interpretation of the term, however. My beliefs probably fall within that narrow definition: I simply don’t believe in a god called God.

My Christian upbringing and theological training didn’t teach me about a supernatural deity with the power to influence the world. I grew up during a time of intense and vibrant theological speculation, and a Sunday School curriculum that espoused the beliefs of the radical Bishop of Woolwich, John A. T. Robinson, author of a book many considered heretical.

During my heresy trial, I explained why I no longer used the term: “[W]hen I use the word “god”, most people would think that I meant a supernatural being who dwells somewhere else and was omnipotent, omni powerful and could intervene in human affairs, and when we prayed we were asking that god to do something or make things easier for us or give us strength. … I’m no longer comfortable with them assuming that that’s what I mean when it is not.”

I chose to identify as an atheist when those who shared my beliefs were being hacked to death on the streets of Dhaka. How could I allow that to happen while hiding behind the privilege and protection of a word like “non-theist” which pretty much describes the same beliefs I hold. If someone sharing my beliefs had a target on his back because of them, I wasn’t going to opt for a lexical protection. If you kill him for his beliefs, you can come for me, too. Indeed, you’ll have to come for all of us.

Some years ago, I defined the word “god” as I understood it, though now, of course, I no longer use the word:

When I use the word "god", I mean that which we create between us that is beautiful, worthy of us, and that raises up and honors our human dignity. When we create those kinds of relationships - with ourselves, others, the world around us, … we "create god" in the world. And what we create empowers and strengthens us, gives us courage in the face of challenges, offers us solace in times of sorrow and hurt, and convicts us when we fall beneath our own standards. It has a powerful impact on us. But we are its creators; it did not create us and, indeed, it cannot survive without us.

The privilege of being an atheist in the church is that it invites me to inspire myself and others to the work of lifting up the highest ideals we ever imagined and owning them as our creation, not something imposed upon us from somewhere else. Having created them, we must then call ourselves to live up to them more courageously and intentionally than ever before, because, recognizing we had the capacity to imagine them, we no longer have an excuse for not living them.

~ Rev. Gretta Vosper




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