Definitions of Theism and Atheism tend to be one-dimensional and are generally depicted as polar opposites on a continuum of belief and non-belief.
Theism involves the dimension of God and a personal belief in the ontological existence of a God, with God being defined as a supernatural Supreme Being or dynamic Cosmic Power.
Atheism involves the non-existence of such a God, supernatural Supreme Being or Power and entails the personal belief that such a theological entity does not ontologically and scientifically exist in the Universe.
What about Semi-theism and Semi-atheism? Can these concepts better express our known and experienced reality? My answer is “yes”. Such a view of God is multi-dimensional and takes into account at least three levels of God-analysis, namely God-theology, God-talk and God-truths. We can start with God-theology, the traditional “Queen of the Sciences” in the context and thinking of the West’s intellectual history.
(1) God-theology has been the traditional study of God in its various expressions, such as El, Yahweh, Jesus, Holy Spirit, Allah and Brahma and accepted by their believing followers as having actual existence and as having influence within the Universe and on Planet Earth. Dogmatic confessions and the apologetics of churches provide the believers with support for this belief and the dogmatic formulations are accepted as signs pointing to the corresponding reality of God and other supernatural beings and places in the universe or on our earth. The Bible and the Koran are each examples of such a theologically-based and theistically-expressed world-view or ideology.
In contrast to this apologetical theology, atheists and some agnostics prefer to deny the truth in such theological doctrines about God and view them as scientifically false. Inevitably, mutual attacks on each other’s position by both the atheists and the theists result from this one-dimensional theistic-atheistic polarity.
(2) Multi-dimensional analysis goes beyond this with God-talk, which makes no claim to the ontological existence of God. It creates human concepts and constructs, which relate variously to a God, a Devil, a God-Man, a realm of supernatural miracles and a celestial realm of spirit-like beings and ideal places. The scientific existence of such entities is not debated but the constructs are adopted symbolically as representations of inner or mental and outer or cosmic realities. What are such realities or God-truths behind these symbols?
(3a) God-truths are evident up in the astronomers’ sky above and here within human beings on earth. On the supra-terrestrial and transcendent level, a very important and influential reality being symbolically expressed in the Bible is the sun in the sky. Its daily impact on earth is very real. It is a vital giver of life, through its growth-enhancing heat. It is also a provider of bright light, which daily dispels the darkness of night and annually bestows its summer heat and light onto our earth, following the winter of increased darkness, longer nights, rain and the cold. Many books and articles have explored this theistic solar connection and have pointed in particular to the ability of Joshua, which means “Yahweh Saves”, to stop the sun for a whole day in Joshua 10:13. Also referred to is the apparent physical appearance of Jesus, which also means “Yahweh Saves,” whose face shone like the sun during the Transfiguration, as depicted in Matthew 17:2. This was experienced and witnessed by Peter, James and John and some consider that this sun-related epiphany is really a misplaced solar resurrection appearance or viewing, which was possibly handed on by Peter to Mark for inclusion in his Gospel as a resurrection viewing but was omitted by Mark.
Paul’s conversion and his solar epiphany near Damascus is a similar tradition. Paul recalls in Acts 22:6 that at “about noon,” which is midday, when the sun is at its peak up in the sky, “suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me”, which Paul understood to be an encounter with “Jesus of Nazareth” as the Cosmic Christ or Metaphysical Messiah. He also noted in Acts 22:8 that this solar epiphany was not unique just to him but that “my companions saw the light”. Such a naturalistic analysis of these ontological realities is placed within the context of scientific astronomy, archaeology, anthropology and critical textual studies and is concerned with the actual source of the biblical symbols or constructs.
(3b) God-truths are also evident on the inner, immanental level, where the scientific, humanistic and psychological source is the reality of the human mind or conscious soul. The traditional five levels of human experience and being-ness have included the physical, instinctual, mental, spiritual and celestial levels. The mental abilities, mind or conscious soul therefore hold the central place  between the two lower levels of the  physical body and  the instinctual body, with its natural and autonomic functions below it. Above or ahead of it are the two upper levels of the  spiritual experiences and the  celestial aims and goals of human and cosmic wholeness and integration.
Psychology and Psychiatry have explored such inner, mental, psychical or soul levels in terms of id, ego and super-ego; of sensation, thinking, feeling and intuition; of the mind’s conscious, preconscious, unconscious and even collective unconscious functions and the journey through life of the human soul or psyche from its original state of unconscious wholeness, into and through its dualistic state of conscious un-wholeness and conflicts to its goal of conscious wholeness, healing and integration with the whole of our experienced reality.
In this context, God-talk of a God-Man, such as the biblically-depicted, mythological divine or divinised and human or humanised Jesus/Yehoshua, can be a very appropriate symbol for the human Higher Self. It is connected to the physical and instinctual body but is capable of spiritual and celestial thought and experience. This spiritual aspect finds fulfilling expression in the exalted and heavenly life of the Cosmic Christ or Metaphysical Messiah. The physical and bodily aspect find its fulfilling expression in the earthly and terrestrial life of Jesus the Nazarene, who is depicted as the humanised Incarnation of Yahweh and as the Crucified Christ, located and active mainly in Galilee and in Jerusalem within Palestine. The Gospel of Mark presents in chapter 1 this discoursed-story as the” Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” and this mythic-discourse is presented by an implied author to its implied audience, as viewed within the context of the text, in contrast to factual and historically-reliable literature from the pen of a real, known and scientifically-trained author.
God-Theology referred to above and including the Gospel of Mark, is apologetically accepted and defended by implied Gospel readers who are expected to accept uncritically the described Gospel message. However, it is often antagonistically rejected and opposed by real and critical readers of the Gospels and of Christian apologetics. Both views offer very limited outlooks on the soul-sustaining symbols and meaningful myths of religion and on their contribution to a richer and fuller real and symbol-enhanced life and living. Symbols may not be true to fact but they can be true to life.
Such semi-theism and semi-atheism allows for present-day scientific and multi-dimensional analysis and applications of theology in terms of 21st century scientific terms and methodology within astronomy, geology, anthropology, psychology, the humanities and other relevant scientific disciplines. It also allows for the use of traditional theological and religious language, concepts, constructs, symbols and myths to be analysed and personally appropriated metaphorically and symbolically as spiritually soul-sustaining and enriching. Theology may well be metaphorical, but the sources and inspiration for theological and biblical concepts have mostly grown out of its very real and ontologically-existing sources, such as the celestial solar disk of the sun up in the sky, which pre-dates humans by billions of years and which many now affirm to be behind such constructs as “Yahweh”, “Yahweh Saves” or Jesus and humanity’s monotheistic Deities. In the inner realm, the actual source is the human mind’s conscious psyche or soul, which is always ready to express its needs and processes symbolically and mythologically in many different visual images and verbal constructs.
Biblical and Religion-related Studies would benefit greatly from this multi-dimensional view of God and God-analysis. It is comprehensive and takes into account both the ontological and rational, as well as the mythological and metaphorical aspects of God-theology, God-talk and God-truths. This approach is much needed in the context of our present-day, 21st century quest for both an up-to-date and scientifically-based world-view, as well as a non-superstitious and a rich, soul-sustaining spirituality.
Proverbially speaking, today’s bath-water which is stagnant and which needs to be let out of the bath, sometimes takes the baby with it. It is my view that this honest and multi-dimensional Semi-theism and Semi-atheism can recognize within this broader view, the real value of the baby and its important role. It can and must help to foster, through both intellectual honesty and through soul-openness, an authentic way for spirituality, and even for the world’s much maligned religions and their extensive theological formulations and human constructs, to continue to be scientifically, symbolically and spiritually relevant for today.
John Noack, June 2012. Email address: <firstname.lastname@example.org>
John Noack has been a Lutheran Clergyman at Rainbow in Victoria, a Tutor in Middle Eastern Studies at Melbourne University and a Teacher of History and World Religions at Trinity Grammar School in Kew. He has conducted research at the Australian Institute of Archaeology at Bundoora and is engaged in a quest to resolve the enigmas in the Gospel according to St Mark.
Some Relevant Literature:
Bauckham, Richard Jesus and the God of Israel: ‘God Crucified’ and Other Studies on the New Testament’s Christology of Divine Identity Paternoster, Milton Keynes UK 2008.
Casey, Maurice Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian’s Account of His Life and Teaching London and New York, T&T Clark International, A Continuum Imprint, 2010.
Darlison, Bill The Gospel and the Zodiac: The Secret Truth about Jesus , Duckworth Overlook London, 2007.
Fullmer, Paul Resurrection in Mark’s Literary-Historical Perspective , T&T Clark, London, 2007.
Leaves, Nigel Religion Under Attack: Getting Theology Right! Polebridge Press, Salem, Oregon, 2011.
Leaves, Nigel The God Problem: Alternatives to Fundamentalism, Polebridge Press, Santa Rosa, California, 2006.
Taylor, J. Glen Yahweh and the Sun: Biblical and Archaeological Evidence for Sun Worship in Ancient Israel JSOT (Journal for the Study of the Old Testament) Press Sheffield 1993.
Winn, Adam The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel: An Early Christian Response to Roman Imperial Propaganda Mohr Siebeck 2009.