After reading the description of my recently published book, Abdication: God Steps Down for Good, people occasionally inquire whether I’m an atheist. I tell them that I’m basically agnostic and a hopeful theist. It would be wonderful, to my way of thinking, if a convivial, non-dictatorial God existed. It’s a lonely world out there in the universe if we’re all alone. Yet, I haven’t found evidence that any god actually does exist. So to my knowledge, we’re alone with other living things. I also admit that I’m willing to be strategically atheistic when that helps in making a case, as it does in the book. My larger ambition is to get the hellish dictator and martial god other people worship out of the war business and bedroom, and attract folks toward an appreciation of science and love of nature. So I’m supportive of atheists when I share their goals, which is often, but I don’t identify myself as an atheist.
While rarely a real problem for anyone, it’s interesting to realize that people who identify themselves as atheists day in and night out face a possible identity problem. Consider the following thought experiment. Imagine you are an atheist plunked into a world where no one believes or has ever believed in God, a place where deities never existed. Who would you be in this world? How would you identify yourself? “I’m an atheist” would immediately turn into a meaningless, ridiculous answer. You would be forced by circumstances to retire the atheist identity altogether and select some other statuses to identify yourself by in public. That’s the atheist’s existential dilemma. The identity is meaningless without deists and theists to contrast oneself against and push around. The identity is fundamentally negative and basically confrontational. You are against another’s belief. You bother yourself and others with what doesn’t exist.
Surely the disappearance of atheist identity wouldn’t be a big deal to all or even most atheists. But it would affect people who have made atheism part of their essential core, their personal identity. They would have built their history and life story around their atheism. The potential for identity disappearance might be a concern to them, and cause, do I dare suggest it, actual soul-searching.
Attention. Listen up! Serious, dedicated, confirmed atheists, arise! Prepare for the future. Ready yourself for the day no one believes in God and you will be free to rejoin your brethren as something else! Until that day, use your atheism wisely and sympathetically to introduce believers to a better, more hopeful world. And, to you personally, good luck!
Will Callender, Jr. ©
August 18, 2015
Author of Abdication: God Steps Down for Good