Thursday, 14 March 2013

What is an Atheist?

Reading Tom Frame has got me thinking again about the idea of atheism.  When someone says they are an atheist, what are they saying about themselves?  What do the words "I am an atheist" tell you about a person's world view?

If you were to ask me my worldview, I would say I am a Christian.  I might qualify that - I am a progressive Christian who has been strongly influenced by liberation theology. From this, you would be able to deduce a lot about my worldview. 

You would know that I believe there is a god, although I don't claim full knowledge by any means.  You would know I place a high value on the teachings of Jesus and try to follow them, that I am particularly driven by concern for social justice and for the elimination of poverty.  You would know that I value compassion and empathy, that I have a more or less traditional Chrisitan view about what is right or wrong.

The same would be true of someone who said they were a Buddhist, or a follower of Islam.  It would also be true of someone who told you, say, that they were a Marxist, or a liberal humanist.  Each of these labels tells you what the person stands for. 

Of course none of us is "pure" in following the worldview we espouse.  In reality I have a wide range of influences in my life, some of which I have adopted consciously, some I may not even be aware of.

However, if I was to ask you what your world view is and you told me you were an atheist, my response would be, "OK, now I know what your worldview is not, please tell me what it is."

The very word "atheism" tells us that this is a negation.  This person does not believe in God, the gods, the supernatural, life after death, an absolute given standard of morality, or any claims of special revelation.  The point of atheism is to deny these things, and to loosen their hold on humanity.  Atheism is a clearing of the decks.

So my question is, clearing them for what?  Just because you're an atheist, this doesn't mean you don't have a worldview.  Everybody has one.  Can you please tell me what yours is?  What values do you hold dear, and why?  What drives you to get up in the morning?  What can I expect from you if we become close, or work together?  What sort of society will you build?  Or are you merely motivated by the fun of tearing down the world views of other people?

2 comments:

Brian Westley said...

The very word "atheism" tells us that this is a negation. This person does not believe in God, the gods, the supernatural, life after death, an absolute given standard of morality, or any claims of special revelation.

Incorrect. While (for another example) you can assume that an atheist believes the world is round, this is not a requirement of atheism.

Likewise, atheists can believe in life after death or the supernatural (I've seen one or two atheists from India who believe in reincarnation, and ghosts), an absolute standard of morality (they just use something other than a god as an absolute standard, e.g. Objectivism), and while I don't know of any atheists that claim special revelation, there's nothing in atheism qua atheism to prevent it, so long as it doesn't come from god(s).

Yeah, I have a worldview. What I don't have is an interest in discussing it.

Jon Eastgate said...

Ha, you just did though!