Next month atheists are holding a big rally on the Washington mall. They want to celebrate the God-free lifestyle and advance the cause of secularism. I find this baffling. There are actually three things about atheists that I just do not understand. Evangelical atheism is the most confounding mystery.
Either there is a God (or gods) or there is not. You may believe in something, or you may believe in nothing. Believe what you will, but there is absolutely no definitive proof that your belief is correct. Personally, I do not care one iota what you believe.
I do believe in God, but I also acknowledge that it is very “unchristian” for me to lack an evangelical impulse. Christians, and many adherents of other faiths, are supposed to proselytize. I applaud those who spread the word. After all, if you believe that you know of some great treasure, some reward that exceeds mortal imagination, attempting to share the riches is remarkably generous. For the faithful, proselytizing is an act of love.
Some atheists seem to feel a need to preach their message. Whether Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, or some other, seeking converts is a hobby for some atheists that defies reason. Again, just as there is no proof of God, there is also no proof of no-god. It was the simplest computation in the career of mathematician Blaise Pascal. If everyone has a 50-50 chance of being wrong, and one option offers possible salvation while the other offers absolutely nothing, why choose the side in which being right has no reward? Furthermore, even if you choose the path of nothing, why would you ever attempt to coax someone away from the position of possibility?
Atheists claim that belief causes problems. Theologies lead to war and suffering. Though they tend to overstate their case, and ignore the many historic horrors attributable to godlessness, there is some truth in the atheistic claim. Yet, for most people, belief is not a tool of oppression but a comfort. Belief provides meaning and lends moral guidance to millions. If there is no god, and faith offers comfort, dissuading the believer is not an act of love but of cruelty. If you believe that God is akin to a fairy tale, and know that belief provides joy and serenity to others, why would you disparage their belief?
Not all atheists seek converts, but that any do so seems to me cynical and rude at best.
The second mystery of atheism is its seeming preoccupation with the Judeo-Christian God. I am not alone in this bemusement. The definitive Oxford Companion to Philosophy itself wonders why the arguments of atheists “are usually directed against the Christian concept of God, and are largely irrelevant to other possible gods.”
My theory is that Christians and Christian nations (i.e. Western Civilization) are largely tolerant. This tolerance permits dissention (and condescension) without punishment. Aggressive atheism in America sells lots of books, while in Arabia it can be a fatal opinion. But this alone is unsatisfactory in that it implies great cowardice among the militant atheists. Before you complain that Dawkins did have a few comments about Islam, note where he was when he made those remarks. As for attacks on Eastern theologies, I am unfamiliar with any prominent efforts.
The third inexplicable aspect of atheism is its close collaboration with agnosticism. Etymologically agnostics lack spiritual knowledge. Practically, an agnostic claims either uncertainty about existence of God or gods, or accepts existence but supposes that the deity is uninvolved, or even uninterested, in human life.
Agnosticism is very different from atheism, if anything it should be aligned more with theism. Atheism is a rejection of the spiritual world, not ambivalence. Atheists can muster a near religious fervor in their position, something impossible for an agnostic or theist.
My faith in God is quite firm. The arguments of Anselm and Aquinas persuade me. My own faculties to reason and understanding compel me. I do not condemn or mock non-believers. Arriving at a belief – almost any belief – and defending it is both difficult and courageous. I only question the impulse to promote non-belief, direct it towards the Judeo-Christian God, and willingness to make league with ideologically incompatible allies to do so.