Recently, there was a brief back and forth at Cif Belief between Michael McGhee and Stephen Clark. The former, a self-described secular humanist, is currently on the philosophy faculty at Liverpool University, where the latter, “a professing Christian,” is Professor Emeritus.

McGhee’s initial piece attempts to circumvent what he sees as the unhelpful terms of the New Atheism that are currently overtaking the debate on religion. What the New Atheists miss is that belief in the existence of God is, in McGee’s estimation, unimportant:

They are fixated on a confused notion of belief, assimilating “belief in God” to something like “belief in fairies”, not seeing that these are different notions of belief.

According to McGhee, the more significant issue for secularists like him is something else altogether.

We secularists should forget the tedious fixation on belief, forget about being “atheist”, and concentrate on a conversation about the spiritual strategies for overcoming the common human resistance to living well.

In response, Clark argues that “belief” is, on the contrary, quite central, suggesting that it acts as a something close to “collective will.” He writes:

…[T]o “believe in God” for the Abrahamic tradition is to believe in the possibility of Justice, of Freedom from oppression: “what does the Lord require of you”, said the prophet Micah, “but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?” Believing in God is believing that the orphan and the widow will be, must be vindicated. The first Abrahamic monotheists, like the first Christians, were in a real sense atheists: that is, they denied that the spirits evoked in most religious ceremonial deserved our worship, denied that kings and emperors were divine, and chose to remodel their personal and communal lives in the light of the demand for Justice.

If we are to trust in the possibility of Justice, must we not also believe that there really is such a thing, and that it will indeed prevail? Must we not, in fact, believe that God, the Spirit of Justice, does indeed exist, and that He will repay?

Read McGhee and Clark, as well as responses to both by Norman Geras and Andrew Sullivan.

[H/T: Andrew Sullivan.]