Will The Real Atheists Please Stop Kneeling

Will The Real Atheists Please Stop Kneeling September 18, 2009

Earlier this week I mentioned the rumor being spread that the New Atheists are the new prophets.  Well now we can add the following bold conjectures from friend of Camels With Hammers, Clergy Guy:

The church has deteriorated over the years to where we have a great number of thumbsucking, overindulged, lazy people who want somebody to pay for a professional to take care of the religious work.

You know, I have become friends with a few atheists recently, and I much prefer them to many of the “elect.” They often have a real passion for truth that I find lacking in many church members. They are often quite idealistic (even if they won’t admit it). I think Jesus probably prefers them, too—although don’t tell my new friends that because it will start a debate for sure.

If you ask me, the real atheists are often sitting in the pews. They don’t believe. They just want. They’re not racked with guilt; they’re soft with spoiled living. And they whine if things get too uncomfortable.

What do you think?  Is the grass just greener on the other side?  Or are the people in the pews the most cynical forms of atheists in their hearts?  Or is Clergy Guy an atheist in his heart and the only way he knows to express it is to identify us atheists as like him rather than himself as like us?

I can’t seem to find the passage in the books I have handy, but if I remember correctly it was Paul Tillich who noticed that all the great reformers get called atheists at some point—most famously possibly in the case of Socrates and possibly the most ironically in the case of Jesus.  This makes plenty of sense to me.  Each religion (or at least each monotheistic one) has a nasty, exclusionary, and arrogant habit of defining truth as the dogmas of its particular cult and morality as identical to its rules and dictate.  Anyone who challenges either the actual moral virtue of the institution or (worse) the rightness of its moral ideals or its theology rejects morality and god himself in the process.  And so, to deny the religion’s instantiation in practice and in teaching, identified with absolute truth itself and with God himself, is tantamount to evil and atheism.

The reformers of morality always look evil by the standards and custom practices of the reigning morality they seek to criticize.  How does one criticize a morality without sounding immoral, at least to the ears that accept that very morality?  How does one criticize a conception of God without sounding like an atheist to those for whom that conception of God is the necessary meaning of the word “God” itself?  And when actually is an atheist in a predominantly theistic world, how can one not be and be perceived as the enemy of the very traditionalism that most people take for morality and for which most people instinctively feel the most irrational tendency to veneration?

And, yet, as those willing to slaughter sacred cows on principle, standing for an anti-traditionalist standard of truth and ethical evaluation, the reformer, the atheist can cut a heroic figure for her willingness to sever all the safety nets of tradition and demand a new, untested future.  And for those who see the reinvigorating, reforming possibilities in such habit-denying feather ruffling and yet who also want to remain in the faith and in the tradition, as Clergy Guy has intimated he does, it is only logical to desire more of the atheist’s spirit amidst the faithful.  But, in my view, the spirit of atheism in our day demands real atheism.  In past ages, being a deist was radical enough for Voltaires and Jeffersons and being radical immanentists was radical enough for the Schleiermachers and Harnacks to be genuinely scandalous reformers.  Today though, we’re in an age where the equivalently bold and revisionary spirits must go beyond the deisms and liberalisms that have been reduced to wishy-washy, mealy mouthed, empty cliche propping, and rather accept full blooded atheism (or at least strongly skeptical agnosticism) in order to provoke, reform, and help progress Western culture.

Your Thoughts?

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