Apathetic Atheism vs New Atheism, Ctd

Readers continue the thread with many wonderful emails:

I also relate to the brother-in-law who wanted to support his wife but did not stand in church because he doesn’t believe in God. I also attend church with my family during holidays, or Mass when I’m visiting my boyfriend’s family. But I don’t take communion or say anything that indicates I am a believer. Why? It’s not to be contrary; it’s out of respect. These are very real beliefs for these people, and participating to the point of lying is disrespectful to their traditions and faith (not to mention confusing for my family, who have been told and must continue to be told that I do not share their beliefs). Isn’t Revelations 3:15-16 applicable here? “‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.”

Another broadens the discussion:

I think there’s something missing in these posts: an accurate label. Personal atheism is an apathetic stance, since it only describes one’s absence of beliefs compared to others’. But what is always referred to as New Atheism can better be described as anti-theism. It’s not just a statement of personal beliefs, but a political stance against religion as the basis for legal or political policy. Of course, being “anti” something carries a stigma (so that anti-abortion becomes pro-life, or anti-gay becomes pro-“religious freedom”). So perhaps New Atheists – or in my term, anti-theists – can call ourselves pro-secular. But somehow, that doesn’t have the same ring. My main point is that it’s a branding issue. How do you oppose conflating religion and politics without denigrating others’ beliefs?

Another notes, “Regarding Thomas Wells’ article, there’s already this term: Apatheism.” Another reader, less concerned about labeling, sees the value in being a gadfly:

I’m probably one of the “New Atheists” Thomas Wells dislikes or one of the dickheads your reader described. The reason why I’m a dickhead atheist relates to when I realized I was an atheist.

Recently my brother entered into the seminary to become a Catholic priest. After a year, he decided he wanted to have a family and kids, quit the seminary, and got a degree in theology. After he graduated, we began to have discussions about religion and politics. We would get into heated debates while discussing topics like gay marriage and the contraception mandate (I support both; he is against). Every one of his arguments boiled down to “because the Bible says so.” As the arguments continued, I would attempt to use logic, facts, and scientific studies to argue my point. He just became condescending and argued I couldn’t understand his argument because I never studied religion and philosophy. To counter that “argument”, I began to study religion from both points of view (from Aquinas to Dawkins). After doing so, I realized two things:

1) I don’t buy into religion at all
2) I’ll never convince my brother his views are wrong.

I realize I’ll never be able to convince people like my brother there is no God, but I might be able to convince people who were like me. I think it’s important to express my point of view to make others think about their beliefs. Hopefully this can stem the tide of religion forcing its way into public policy.


When I was a New Atheist I was so angry at believers for needing God to explain the Universe and say what is right. And it’s easy to see the worst in religious people to confirm my views (See Westboro Baptist). Then one day, and I don’t exactly know why, I realized a lot of very good people found meaning in life from the Bible, the Torah, and the Koran. They pray to God and find warmth in their hearts. Who am I to tell them that is wrong? From then on it was just as easy to find the good believers as the bad ones. It only depended on what I was looking for. This Onion article is probably the best way to explain it: “Local Church Full Of Brainwashed Idiots Feeds Town’s Poor Every Week“.

Now, I think it’s best to be a silent voice in support of atheism. The believers that made me feel OK with other believers just did small, good, kind acts each and every day. So I can only do the same. The best way to convert a mad believer into an accepting one is to show that an atheist’s moral code is no different for how we open doors, care for the sick, or extend a hand to those in need. Maybe this is what Francis was talking about for how the believers and atheists can meet on common ground.

On that note, another reader:

Recently a young fellow who openly identified as atheist began attending the same church I do, and by attending I mean fully participating: small group meetings, community service projects, Sunday School – the whole nine yards. It turns out, he is there for much the same reason I am, because he needs friends and community and a church can be a good place to find it.  He is welcomed with open arms and loved by everyone.

Fast forward to a recent Sunday meal with a young couple who also turned up at our church.  When the question was asked how they found out about our church, the answer was through our young atheist friend.  “We thought if you accepted him, then we’d have a place too.” As it turns out, our atheist has been the best recruiter our little church has ever had.  I count at least eight regular attendees he brought with him. Some of them were already people of faith, some were searching, and others were just lonely.

I love that kid and the way he has opened up space in our midst. The church should be a place of refuge for everyone and when it truly is people just might start coming.