It is certainly true that much contemporary discussion between (and about) atheists and religious believers suffers from the tendency to assume that “God” means (and can only mean) one thing, usually the classic theism of Christianity as reduced into the understanding of popular Christianity today.
Equally problematic, however, is a lack of clarity about what is meant by atheism and atheist. Does being an atheist mean one denies theism? If so, then one can be a deeply spiritual atheist, even a religious atheist. In fact, one can even be a Christian atheist. On the other hand, if atheism means one denies any notion of “god” whatsoever, any form of religious belief, anything other than reductionist materialism, then I know many “atheists” who will probably no longer be entirely comfortable bearing the label.
So what does “atheist” mean to you? And is the solution to the confusion simply to point out that just as “Christian” and “God” do not refer to single positions, concepts or definitions, so too there are different brands of atheism, and different understandings of what it means to be an atheist?
This post is largely a response to a post on EvolutionBlog entitled “Saving Religion from Religion Scholars” (see also The Bad Idea Blog and Unreasonable Faith, as well as Liberal Pastor and Threads from Henry’s Web). I’m not sure Jason Rosenhouse is concerned with saving religion from scholars so much as saving atheism from scholars like me who raise this issue about what it in fact means. Take a look!