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Since secularists have no immediate hope of a society-wide rejection of God belief, secularists should welcome a better idea of God. If people are going to have belief in God, then perhaps they can at least embrace a smart and humane idea of God.

From the theist perspective, might theists welcome secularist critiques of God and thereby build a better idea of God?

Consider this quote from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Experience,” circa 1844:

In liberated moments we know that a new picture of life and duty is already possible; the elements already exist in many minds around you of a doctrine of life that shall transcend any written record we have. The new statement will comprise the skepticism as well as the faiths of society, and out of unbeliefs a creed shall be formed. For skepticisms are not gratuitous or lawless, but are limitations of the affirmative statement, and the new philosophy must take them in and make affirmations out of them, just as much as it must include the oldest beliefs.

Secularist critiques of God are not gratuitous or lawless. They are not fictional criticisms made up to be annoying or contrary. Secularist critiques of God are genuine limitations on affirmative statements about God. Secularist critiques of God expose real flaws in the concept itself.

Why not encourage theists to do what Emerson suggests—to make a new theology by utilizing secularist critiques?

Here’s how the project might go:

Secularist critique: God is incredibly anthropomorphic, portrayed as a large male humanoid with a particular skin color and eye shape and amplifications of human abilities and human traits, even our bad traits.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. The anthropomorphic God is incredible. That’s just an image of God. God is not a humanoid or any kind of material being, male or female. God is a genderless spirit.

Secularist critique: God is immaterial and yet performs functions of material biological organisms like seeing, hearing, speaking, feeling. How does God see without material eyes? Hear without material ears? Speak without material tongue? Feel without brain chemistry? This is all contradictory.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. It is contradictory to say God is immaterial and then invest God with material activities. We will say God ‘sees’ and ‘hears’ and ‘speaks’ and ‘feels,’ but we do not know how God does this, since God does not have material eyes, ears, tongue, or brain.

Secularist critique: An all-powerful God who is also all-loving should not permit a high degree of animal and human suffering as has occurred on planet earth. Something is wrong here.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. God is not all-powerful and cannot stop suffering, though God would like to stop suffering, since God is all loving.

Secularist critique: If complex things like those found in nature require a cause in creative intelligence, why doesn’t the complex thing called God require a cause in creative intelligence? If God is an intelligent designer of nature, who is the intelligent designer of God?

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. God is not the designer of nature in all its particulars. God started a universe that creates itself and designs itself via natural selection.

Secularist critique: If the universe requires a cause, then why doesn’t God require a cause? Who caused God?

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. Something is an uncaused cause. Either matter and energy, or God, always existed without cause. Some radical theists will say God is not a cause of the universe but is an effect of the universe coming to be: God began when the universe began, and God is evolving along with the universe.

Secularist critique: If there is a God and God has spoken, wouldn’t the world be in convinced agreement about it? And yet everywhere throughout history, we hear nothing but a cacophony of discordant voices from the theistic camp: thousands of sects all disagree with each other about God.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. This is a human problem of the interpretation of God and not a problem with God, per se. Humans have misunderstood and misrepresented God.

Secularist critique: God belief has brought intolerance and violence.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. Some misrepresentations of God have portrayed God as violent and recommending violence. This is wrong. But remember that the vast majority of God believers in any epoch have never committed a violent act in the name of God.

Secularist critique: God is often the origin of ‘false crimes’ like homosexuality and gender fluidity, resulting in cruelty toward certain types of people.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. Theists wrongly imagined God hated people with atypical sexual and gender experiences. God does not hate these people and their choices are not sins.

Secularist critique: God is not funny. God possesses all human virtues to an infinite degree, except humor. Humans are smart, God infinitely smart. Humans are loving, God infinitely loving. Humans are strong, God infinitely strong. Humans are funny and witty. Why isn’t God funny or witty? Humor is an absolute human good and the fact that humor comes nowhere near the idea of God is a big strike against the probability that there’s a God.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. Humans have indeed portrayed God as overly serious. Maybe God is funny and witty, after all. Maybe there are hints of God’s humor in the sacred scriptures that we have overlooked. Maybe theists should not be so dour,

Secularist critique: Theistic arguments for God’s existence fail to convince all competent reasoners, and so God must remain doubtful. We cannot say that God is ‘certain’ if many many competent reasoners disagree.

Theistic admission: True. Thank you for helping better the idea of God. When many millions of competent reasoners doubt God, that should cause a pause in theists. But faith presumes doubt. Faith does not eliminate doubt. God is dubitable, which is why we need faith to believe in God.

And so on and so on.

Might secularists realize they can better the world by helping theists build a better idea of God? Might theists welcome secularist critiques of God and thereby build a better idea of God? 

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J. H. McKenna (Ph.D.) has taught the history of religion since 1999 at the University of California, where he has won teaching awards. He has published in academic journals and the LA Times, Huffington...