“The Temperature Test”

(The) sovereign object of devotion is not always readily discernible, but it can sometimes be detected by what we might call the “temperature test.” When the temperature of a person’s mind or spirit rises to defend something to the very last ditch, then generally that person’s sacred devotion is at stake. The test is as revealing when applied to the believer in God as when applied to the unbeliever. It may show that the God avowed by the believer is not really sacred to him or her. It can show also that a serious rejection of belief in God may be a form of the love of God in the sense that it is a giving of oneself to, an identification with, something cherished above all else.

The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

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Sacred, sovereign, reliable.

Just these are the qualities that have always been associated with deity. It would appear that even when belief in God ostensibly disappears, the attributes of deity remain and are attached to something that is not called, “God.” Religion therefore might say to the unbeliever, “When me you fly, I am the wings.”

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

The atheist rejects what appears to be sacred and sovereign for the theist;

but in doing so recognizes something else that is sovereign and even holy for him or her. This recognition of something as sovereign, in practice if not in theory, appears in both the serious atheist and the serious theist. The one rejects the word “God,” and the other accepts it. But both believe something is sovereign and reliable.

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

To equate the devotion one lives by with the love of God may seem at first blush to be questionable.

Is this not a mere playing with words? Does not this imply, for example, that an atheist who is utterly devoted to his atheism is thereby expressing his love for God? And is this not absurd?

The absurdity lies only on the surface. It is no mere word play to assert that the convinced atheist loves God, particularly if the atheism grows out of a toal attitude toward life. Whoever with seriousness rejects belief in God (as that word is understood) expresses loyalty to a standard of truth or of goodness on which he judgment is made. The rejection implies that this truth or goodness is valid and reliable. For that person this truth or goodness is sacred; it may not be violated.

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

We live by our devotions.

We live by our love for our god. All alike place their confidence in something, whether it be in human nature, reason, scientific method, church, nation, Bible, or God. This confidence finds explicit or implicit expression in belief and disbelief.

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

If we understand the word “religion” to refer to …

the concern with the inescapable issues regarding the meaning and the fulfillment of life, we may say that there is no such thing as a completely irreligious person. Both the “non-religious” and the “religious” person are concerned with these issues, and they are both somehow believers; they are people of faith, whether they use the word “God” or not.

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

This concern with the meaning of life and with the resources available is no merely optional luxury.

It is a universal concern. It is the essential concern of religion. In its characteristic intention religion has to do with these inescapable issues and realities, and unless we are coming to terms with these issues, our concern is not essentially religious. To be sure, what calls itself religion can be a means for attempting to evade these issues. Irreligion is often a protest against trivial or perverted religion; it may be a way of comng to terms with the serious and inescapable issues.

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

Actually, the nonreligious are not themselves without faith,

even though they reject what they call speculation. There are many kinds of faith that may be dispensed with. But there remains one kind which no one can live without. We do not need to use the word “faith” to refer to it. The word “confidence” will serve just as well. No one and no culture can for long maintain a dynamic and creative attitude toward life without the confidence that human life has some important meaning either actual or potential, and that this meaning may in some tolerable fashion be maintained or achieved, in other words, that resources are available for the fulfillment of this meaning.

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams

In some instances, the rejection of belief in God…

issues from the false notion that theology and religious faith are possible only because people indulge in speculation on questions for which no dependable answers are available. This view can often find cogent justification. But this rejection of so-called speculation is itself a spurious speculation. It may be tied up with an illusion, the illusion that religious faith as such may be dispensed with.

“The Love of God,” from on being human religiously, James Luther Adams