Apathetic Atheism vs New Atheism, Ctd

A reader objects to Thomas Wells:

I don’t know what kind of bubble he’s living in, but he’s completely dismissing (or outright missing) the social context of religion. Wells wrote:

I see no more reason to describe myself as an atheist, than as an afairieist, ahomeopathist, etc. To put it another way, my non-belief is apathetic: the nonexistence of God/Gods is a matter of great insignificance to me.

Well, I do see a reason: there are not billions of people who identify as members of “fairieist” or “homeopathist” institutions. Like the other examples in his list – UFOs, crop circles, ghosts – they are regarded by our society as the harmless delusions of an insignificant minority. Religion is categorically different.

I am an atheist, but religion is important to me because it is important to virtually everyone I interact with in my community; because it is important to the people who write my laws and run my country; because the faith-based method of forming beliefs and making decisions affects me and people I care about. There’s no corresponding phenomenon of astrologist families disowning their gay sons and daughters, or Santa Claus extremists flying planes into buildings. Come on.

Another adds:

The “So what?” from that Thomas Wells excerpt angered me, as the reason God’s nonexistence matters more than that of fairies or UFOs is quite clearly the fact that nobody’s trying to legislate based on the latter. But clicking through and reading Wells’ full essay reveals that he addresses that point by distinguishing secularism as a broader (and, to him, more laudable) category than atheism. So, anger abated.

But reading his piece got me thinking about when and why I moved from his casual brand of non-belief to feeling a need to call myself an atheist and to tell others (politely!). I can remember the moment clearly.

It was a December, early in the Clinton presidency, and I was watching some Xmas special broadcast from D.C. on television. Hillary Clinton was onstage, reciting from a prompter, saying something about her faith in Jesus. Her line reading was so stilted, and her “faith” so transparently part of a political as well as a literal script, I turned to my wife and said, “I’ve never believed in God, but now I’m an atheist.”

In that moment, the dispassionate silence Wells advocates and I’d always practiced struck me as deeply misguided – not because I thought it was my duty to change the mind of anyone who had beliefs I lacked, but because so many of those people took it for granted there was only one way one could or should think about God that expressing faith in Jesus had somehow become a requirement of running our country. For me, saying “I’m an atheist” is an important reminder that believing in God is not a requirement of citizenship.

But a third reader agrees with Wells’ criticism of the New Atheists and offers an analogy:

I deeply dislike soccer. I think it is boring. I think the culture is bizarre and unappealing. I don’t like it every four years when the World Cup gets everyone excited for a couple of weeks; I don’t like it when my friends play FIFA on Xbox; I don’t like it when I watch it with my Latina girlfriend and her family. I didn’t like it when I lived in Amsterdam and my friends would go out to watch Ajax matches. I have tried over and over to give it a chance.

And I just don’t care. I am “asoccer.” Maybe I will give soccer another chance. I mean, spectacle is exciting in general, and I like to think I take interest in my friends’ and family’s interests. And, getting to my point, I will definitely give theism many more chances. But I am without God. I am an atheist. I don’t care.

Mr. Wells’s article spoke to a lot of emotions I have felt about atheism/theism, and, even more so, about the New Atheists. Why do these people so intent on their own atheism spend so much time talking about God? They sound like jilted lovers dishing dirt on how they’re “better off anyway.” Get over it. Move on. These folks have chosen to define themselves in opposition to something, and in the process necessarily must legitimize the very thing they are disowning. It’s just loud madness, and it’s become the face of atheism.

I want to admit to my friends and family that I am an atheist, but the New Atheists are making it harder. They’re contrarians. They’re dickheads. Imagine if I brought up my dislike of soccer to my friends, not just every time soccer came up, but every time sports came up. After the Super Bowl. Every Wiffle ball game. Every time a coworker caught a falling pen.

I don’t know, maybe the analogy is breaking down, but I don’t understand why someone would force themselves to see the world through the very thing they detest. The great thing about not liking soccer is that I don’t have to think about soccer. The great thing about being an atheist is that I don’t have to think about God.

Another steps back:

You know, I’ve seen readers criticize the Dish with statements like “I never read your Sunday posts” because of all the God talk. They should maybe reconsider, because every Sunday you seem to have plenty of atheist talk as well. And I really appreciate both.