Atheism and Contemplation

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In this paper I should like to offer some reflections upon two religious movements which not only affect in some general way the character of the twentieth century, but have come to assume such monumental importance that they provide something of the context in which contemporary theology must be done. They pose or circumscribe directly many of the issues which lie at the heart of contemporary religious consciousness, even the ability to believe or not to believe, and they permeate the atmosphere in which theological inquiry is considered either critically valuable or culturally peripheral. These reflections, however, must limit themselves severely to a single aspect of these great concerns. Much that is crucial to their comprehensive description and evaluation—their profound social implications, their historical process, their economic and social bases, the varieties assumed in their modern embodiment—must be omitted. What I wish to argue is that these two movements are not simply juxtaposed, that they do more than constitute two divergent preoccupations and positions within contemporary theological commitments, that both of them treat, as they must treat, the phenomenon of religious experience and its conceptualizations, and that both of them intersect at a single hermeneutical issue: the problem of religious projection. Atheism and contemplation, either in their practice or in the critical theories by which they are described and defended, both raise the question: What is the focus of religious awareness and of its commitments?


Translated into Chinese for the Chinese bi-monthly, Tripod