What Atheists Have in Common with Jesus
I'VE BEEN STRUCK, recently, by a very interesting point that atheists and Christians seem to share.
This is not the commonality that I refer to in the title of this post—I'll get to that a little later. It is, however, the point that got me thinking about that commonality.
I've noticed that both Christians and atheists tend to have various problems defining atheism. Here are a couple of recent examples—one taken from a Christian's comment to a post, and one taken from an atheist's comment:
"You atheists don't really disbelieve in God—you just disbelieve in our God. But you have to admit there's something you worship."
"Being an atheist doesn't just mean you don't believe in God—it means you don't believe in any of that religious or supernatural stuff."
I may have not got the quotes perfect: I didn't notice their importance until long after I had read them. But the gist is right.
The thing that strikes me about these two quotes is not just that they are both about the idea of atheism meaning something different than its usual, mundane, definition, but that they also agree that the point of atheism isn't really about non-belief in God.
And, on that point, I think they are right.
I don't think it gets us anywhere to question the rather obvious and simple meaning of the word "atheist". The first writer would be much clearer if he or she simply said, "I don't believe you really are an atheist." The second writer would be clearer if they simply adopted the term "bright", which has been coined to mean exactly what they are talking about.
But on a deeper level they both have a valid point, which is that while the word "atheist" is perfectly adequate for describing the actual form of the position, it neglects any reference to the motivation behind that decision.
And this is getting me closer to the point of the title.
Why is it that atheists exist, and bother to name themselves: to make atheism a part of their identity. Very few people call themselves aghostists (one who does not believe in ghosts). How many people bother to announce that they are amartianists?
There is something particularly important to us about not believing in God that is quite different from not believing in Donald Duck or flying pigs.
And this is where I disagree with both of the above quotes. I do not think that atheism is a name for worshiping something besides the God of Christianity or Islam or Judaism, or any other religion. And I do not think that it is just another name for a materialistic world-view.
But I do think that the first quote contains a definite clue to the real motivation.
I'll explain that next time...