How Does an Atheist Come to Believe in God?

This post’s title might seem an unusual one for a blog oriented toward Buddhism, but being a “lamp unto myself,” I celebrate light and love wherever they appear, and there’s a lot of both in this interview with philosopher Jacob Needleman.

The article I’m referring you to comes from Religion Dispatches, one of my very favorite websites. I believe the mission of this website is one anyone from any religious belief—or non-belief!—could support:

Religion Dispatches is a daily online magazine dedicated to the analysis and understanding of religious forces in the world today, highlighting a diversity of progressive voices and aimed at broadening and advancing the public conversation.

David Needleman – Author of “What is God?”

This article by Lisa Webster is entitled: How Does an Atheist Come to Believe in God?: An Interview with Jacob Needleman. As the introduction to the article says:

RD’s senior editor sits down with philosopher Jacob Needleman, whose autobiography What is God? describes his journey from young Ivy-educated professor and atheist, to talk about fundamentalism, atheism, separating the sacred from religion and why listening is the first step of every ethics.

The interview is fascinating, moving, thought-provoking, and it made me want to read Needleman’s book, which prompted this interview. His book is called What is God?

So, take a look at How Does an Atheist Come to Believe in God?: An Interview with Jacob Needleman. I think it gives a glimpse of a great mind whose heart awakened to a greater light.

Below is the description What is God? from Penguin Books:

“In this new book, philosopher Jacob Needleman— whose voice and ideas have done so much to open the West to esoteric and Eastern religious ideas in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries—intimately considers humanity’s most vital question: What is God?

Needleman begins by taking us more than a half century into the past, to his own experience as a brilliant, promising, Ivy-league educated student of philosophy—atheistic, existential, and unwilling to blindly accept childish religiosity. But an unsettling meeting with the venerated Zen teacher D. T. Suzuki, combined with the sudden need to accept a dreary position teaching the philosophy of religion, forced the young academician to look more closely at the religious ideas he had once thought dead. Within traditional religious texts the scholar discovered a core of esoteric and philosophical ideas, more mature and challenging than anything he had ever associated with Judaism, Christianity, and the religions of the East.

At the same time, Needleman came to realize—as he shares with the reader—that ideas and words are not enough. Ideas and words, no matter how profound, cannot prevent hatred, arrogance, and ultimate despair, and cannot prevent our individual lives from descending into violence and illusion. And with this insight, Needleman begins to open the reader to a new kind of understanding: The inner realization that in order to lead the lives we were intended for, the very nature of human experience must change, including the very structure of our perception and indeed the very structure of our minds.

In What Is God?, Needleman draws us closer to the meaning and nature of this needed change—and shows how our present confusion about the purpose of religion and the concept of God reflects a widespread psychological starvation for this specific quality of thought and experience. In rich and varied detail, the book describes this inner experience—and how almost all of us, atheists and “believers” alike, actually have been visited by it, but without understanding what it means and why the intentional cultivation of this quality of experience is necessary for the fullness of our existence.”


About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

5 Responses to “How Does an Atheist Come to Believe in God?”

  1. It’s coming Nancy, I just need to make time this week to write it. ^_^

  2. I loved the interview with Needleman, Steve, especially the “Ah, that’s what God is” passage (that, and “debate as a blood sport”–something I’ve found so disturbing lately). I’d like to read the book, when I can get it.

    Funny, Eli–when I first came across this post a few days ago, I immediately thought of you! (You did promise that post… 🙂 ).


  3. you’ve whet my appetite to see what he has to say, certainly I’m interested. thanks for referring me back to this post.

    I’ll be sure to pick up the book.

    I’m always curious to see what people are saying about god and religion, especially if they’re not fundamentalist jerks, of any sort.

    Along the path of mindfulness, one meets many unlikely allies.

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