On Limitless Wonder

Gray is equally interested in, and especially drawn to, those who practice what he calls ‘the atheism of silence.’ These atheists, like those who reject the notion of human progress, don’t often attract large followings. Instead of seeking surrogates for God, they try to acquiesce in something that transcends human understanding. Gray admires the mystical atheist Arthur Schopenhauer, who didn’t believe in God and didn’t particularly believe in reality, either. Gray also includes in this category thinkers who were clearly devout, such as Spinoza, who rejected a creator God but saw God as an eternal substance in all creation, and the Russian philosopher Lev Shestov, who wrote that reason had to be overcome in order for us to know God, and that revelation ‘carries us beyond the limits of all human comprehension and of the possibilities that comprehension admits.’ This kind of apophatic theology has a lot in common with godless mysticism, Gray argues, because saying that God does not exist is not so different from saying that we cannot comprehend God’s existence. In both cases, the material world may be characterized by limited understanding and limitless wonder. That is the charity so seldom extended to atheists in America: the notion that they, too, may be awed by and struggling to make sense of the human and the cosmic. ‘A godless world is as mysterious as one suffused with divinity, and the difference between the two may be less than you think,’ Gray writes.

Casey Cep, “Why Are Americans Still Uncomfortable with Atheism?” - newyorker.com/magazine/2018/10/29/why-are-americans-still-uncomfortable-with-atheism. This is a review of two recent books, Moore and Kramnick’s Godless Citizens in a Godly Republic: Atheists in American Public Life, and John Gray’s Seven Types of Atheism. The latter provides a much needed contextualization of contemporary debates. It builds bridges between intellectual traditions of atheism and wider theological debate about the application of the category of existence or being to God.