Recently the Huffington Post online news site featured in their religion section a wonderful essay entitled "A God for Atheists." I was drawn to it immediately when I noticed that it was written by Dr. Stafford Betty, a longtime professor of religious studies at California State University Bakersfield. It's an honor to acknowledge that Dr. Betty (pictured below) has been a follower of this blog and his occasional comments have been welcome.
While definitions of God (or as I prefer, Divine Source) are not necessarily central to this blog's mission, I do want to share a few thoughts about Professor Betty's provocative article because his comments do run parallel with what we've considered here before. I think he is right on mark when he singles out present-day Christianity (especially its evangelical wing) and its 13th century theology for causing many to explore the more rational alternatives atheism offers. "...[T]he roots of atheism are often found in primitive, narrow views of the Divine picked up in preteen years," Dr. Betty writes. "Waking up to the absurdity of God condemning non-Christians to hell is enough to blow into smithereens the childhood faith of many a thoughtful adolescent. A God who created the universe a few thousand years ago by merely wishing it into existence out of nothing is almost as fatal. For others ‒ and this goes for older people too ‒ it's the belief that God will bless us with what we pray for if we pray hard enough, or that everything that happens to us is supposed to happen. Or that God inspired everything found in the Bible, or the Qur'an, or the Vedas, or the Book of Mormon. To believe in such a God is to fly in the face of reason and evidence."
|Dr. Stafford Betty|
Like many of you, I can personally relate to this. Entering college as a staunch evangelical I was suddenly exposed to numerous realities about my faith that had previously been hidden from me (hidden by my church intentionally in order to "protect" followers from being "led astray.") These realities, of course, are the many problems of Christianity that have been uncovered over the past 300 years by academic religious scholarship. Most atheists are well versed in this field and the findings of scholars give them much ammunition when they choose to attack the predominant religion of the West. Most Christians, however, are largely ignorant of what scholars have discovered about their religion.
Add to this the childish, superstitious and out of touch picture of God present in most churches and it's a wonder that in this day of increased education the pews are as full as they are. As an alternative, Dr. Betty offers a portrait of God that seems to reflect quite well what we as spiritualists have heard from the other side over and over again. Gone are the anthropomorphic qualities as are the vengeance, jealousy and desire to punish that so often tarnish Christian teachings. The essay is a good read and as of this writing it is still available online at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/stafford-betty/a-god-for-atheists_b_4870627.html.
I see, however, that at least one atheist has already tried online to shoot holes in Dr. Betty's argument which really doesn't surprise me. As an alternative to the antiquated world view offered by traditional orthodox Christianity, atheists buy into a materialistic world view that holds matter as we now know it as the full extent of reality. They dogmatically assert that what we see is all we get; there simply cannot be other worlds, other realities, other forces. But as we've pointed out here before, there is an abundance of evidence showing that other forces DO exist. We acknowledge that these discoveries do not prove the existence of God but I propose, "who really cares at this point in time?" Our Source, if he/she/it actually exists, is no doubt far beyond our comprehension so it is probably useless to argue either for or against its existence. Instead, let's proceed in a direction where we can make some discernible headway and in order to do that we will need to somehow release our researchers from their materialistic mindset so they can move on unencumbered.
This blog is primarily focused on after death communication and this has also been an area receiving a lot of attention by Dr. Betty over the years. He is on the board for the Academy of
and Paranormal Studies and his 2011 book The
Afterlife Unveiled is a superb collection of descriptions of the afterlife
revealed through mediumship. Professor Betty acknowledges that there is a "massive
amount of evidence that points to an afterlife" and this book presents
some of the most compelling accounts.
"The literature written by doctors and psychologists on the near-death experience, the books written by hospice personnel about the extraordinary visions that dying people who are not doped up with painkillers commonly report, and the reports of spirits speaking through mediums, such as we've examined here, points to a mysterious dimension that exists alongside ours" he writes in the book's conclusion. "One needs no faith to appreciate and weigh this evidence, only an open mind uncontaminated by materialist presuppositions."
My favorite descriptions of the afterlife came through the mediumship of Anthony Borgia who died in 1989 and the communicator who worked through Borgia was none other than the Catholic priest and later Monsignor Robert Hugh Benson (1871-1914). Fr. Benson's messages were published in several books during the 1950s and, thankfully, they are available free online. Dr. Betty's book, however, masterfully condenses Benson's descriptions. In summarizing his chapter on Benson's message, Betty says that "The spirit world according to Benson is a place of endless variety spread out in virtually infinite space ‒ with every individual spirit residing in a realm suitable to his or her spiritual maturity." This is the essential message of all afterlife communicators when they try to put into language their world that is so much more expansive than our own.
Harkening back to Betty's essay about A God for Atheists, we need to remember that 160 years of psychical research has amassed a ton of evidence that points toward life after death and the probable existence of an ultimate source for all that is. Ignorance and stubbornness have led people to shelve all this and consider it to be unimportant, irrelevant, unscientific or even evil. Thanks to Dr. Betty and a growing number of other leaders in education, research and science, information is slowly going out that shows the bigger picture. At some time the outcome of this expansion of awareness, I feel, will be an increased willingness to investigate our true spiritual nature in more depth. Then I'm sure we will be able to count on willing communicators from the "other side" who will be glad to help us advance our understanding.
Dr. Stafford Betty's book, The Afterlife Unveiled, is available through Amazon.com in both print and Kindle formats.