I’ve been in an interesting e-mail conversation with Brad, who commented on one of my posts quite a few weeks ago. Brad is an atheist for whom the Church and Christianity stand for most of the things gone wrong in society. That’s in part because the Church is phony, a bunch of self serving or deluded hypocrites, and God is either a handy gimmick or a figment of their imagination. Those are not the words he used but the meaning he imparted to them. It has brought to mind my experience with atheists. Not the one’s writing popular books these days but real people I’ve known.
I’ve always been a bit suspicious that there are no genuine atheists because they all seem to fall into one camp or another that make quite a bit of religious sense. The most common are those who don’t believe in a god that I don’t believe in either. That god is branded by characteristics that range from bumbling incompetency to sadistic cruelty. I agree: that god does not exist.
Next on my list are those who disbelieve because it’s not a question they ever considered with any seriousness. If they ever did think much about God or religion, they do so no longer. God and religion are mere abstractions that may briefly intrude in their lives now and then through the news but are less important to them than the color of their next car. That’s not real atheism. It’s just spiritual laziness.
Of greater concern are those who acknowledge God but trivialize him by their words and deeds. Absent minded cursing, baptism as little more than a ritualized baby bath, using congregations as social clubs, and daily behavior that belies the way of Christ give Christianity a well deserved bad name. More than a little of that is another form of spiritual laziness, but the lazy have an evil twin. My friend Bruno uses the term Christianists, by which I think he means those who take on the name of Christian but use it for their own selfish ways and purposes. They are the ones who have truly created a god in their own image.
They have a less evil cousin who is spiritual but not religious. I have no idea what that means, but it seems to be associated with following whatever religiousy feeling breezes through, or the illusion that eighteen holes of golf is a form of worship.
Finally there are those who think of God all the time. They deny the existence of God, but that non-existence is one of greatest realities in their lives. They are fierce in their arguing with God that he does not exist or, if he does, he’s really botched the job. God consumes their thoughts. They will wade into the fight for any reason with anyone. I think God must have considerable respect for those who refuse to disregard God, trivialize God or excuse Godless human behavior. They would never want to admit it, but in many ways they are contemporaries of Job. I don’t think they will be surprised on that day when they come face-to-face with the one in whom they don’t believe. He’s been too close to them, too much an intimate part of their lives for them to be surprised.
If I am there on that day, I expect one of them, maybe Brad, to turn on me with a triumphant smirk exclaiming “I told you God is not a he.” To which I will respond, “Yep, but I needed a pronoun and that’s one I’m comfortable with.”
2 thoughts on “Atheists on Parade”
In reading your essay on atheists, I am constantly reminded of the novel, Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Doestoyevsky. Of the three brothers introduced at the first, Ivan is the serious, intellectual atheist (and the main character). He is more concerned with the problem of God than Mikhail (Mischa) the impulsive soldier, though the youngest brother, Alyosha seems more devout,in a mystical Russian Orthodox way. The servant, Smeryakov is a rough and unlettered peasant who prides himself as a smart atheist, constantly scoffing at the very idea of a god, and wishing to be taken seriously as an intellectual by Ivan, who just ignores him. When the brothers visit a monastery, the old monk who is revered as a saintly man suddely bows down and kisses the hands of Ivan! Because, he says, Ivan is destined to have \”great suffering\”, apparently because Ivan, like Jacob (Israel) wrestles with God. Old Father Zosima just ignores both the pious Alyosha and the shallow atheist Smerdyakov! DrB
Glad to hear other people love Dostoyevsky as much as I do. Finally I'm going back to re-read the Brothers and then I'm going to re-read The Idiot. This'll make for some good food for thought, since I was an atheist/Buddhist when I last read Dostoyevsky. Speaking of which, I remember when I was an atheist a lot of my energy was wrapped up with opposing the Mormon church. My identity became one of opposition, so I depended upon the presence of the \”enemy\”. But I eventually was able to work past that to find that the god I was rejecting wasn't the God of Jesus and Israel.