Paul Wallace’s essay on negative theology and atheism offers much to ponder. He takes apart the immature atheism of Richard Dawkins by making use of negative, or apophatic theology, which begins with the notion that the only true statements one can make about God, are negative, saying what God is not. Negative theology has a long history in the Christian tradition, going back to Pseudo-Dionysus the Areopagite.
Wallace’s starting point is a statement by Denys Turner: “Atheists reject too little,” Turner writes, “This is why their atheisms lack theological interest. The routine principled atheist has but tinkered with religion.”
His essay put me in mind of a job candidate for a position in a department of religion some years ago, who when asked about his own religious commitments, said boldly, “I’m an atheist.” I thought at the time, and still do, that it seemed strange and immature coming out of a scholar of religion–not that I expect scholars of religion to be believers by any means, but I expect them to have developed an understanding of the complexity of religious ideas and practices which would preclude such simple, black and white statements.