Atheism in Religion

Kenneth L. Patton: The Real Atheismin the Happy atheist: a humanist religion
(Meeting House Press: Ridgewood NJ 1984) 191-3

Words have a way of becoming bogey men. A person can be made or broken by some adjective that is attached to him. The tyranny of words prevents clarity and objectivity in thinking. Emotional aversion to a label can prohibit us from viewing sympathetically the object of its reference. Such words as communist, radical, heretic, appeaser and pacifist are sufficient to convict anyone without trial if they attach to his person.

A word even more potent than these in religious circles, and perhaps even more superstitiously regarded, is atheist. For many people an atheist is the lowest form of human life, one who is completely vile and lacking in all moral perception and intelligence. "The fool says in his heart there is no God." Someone who could be amusing about it defined an atheist as a man who had no invisible means of support.
Most often this name means practically, not that the person does not believe in God, but that he does not believe in my God. ...

The question can be raised whether the concepts of God and atheism have any real meaning to us today, in light of their relativity and misuse in the past. But we must never forget that the ideas of God held by our ancestors were their sincere attempts to conceive the underlying and decisive forces of the universe and to orient themselves to them. If there is any truth and vitality to religious faith, there must be some criterion whereby real atheism can be ascertained and defined. There must be some continuous and eternal reality behind all definitions of God, for all men have lived on the same earth and gazed upon the same cosmic scene. Is the term atheism merely a relative judgment, meaning that someone disbelieves in one or another myth, or is there a real atheism?
A. Eustace Haydon answers the question when he says that "faith in God is the daring confidence of man that the universe in its deepest meaning does allow and give support to our human hopes and ideals." This he complements with the statement: "More needful than faith in God is faith that man can give love, justice, peace and all his beloved moral values embodiment in human relations. Denial of this faith is the only real atheism."

This would be my definition: The only real atheism is lack of faith in the forces of the universe that have evolved and sustain us. Lack of faith in man is also atheism. To disbelieve that man, through growth and industry and intelligence and moral stamina, can win through to a higher and more abundant life, is atheism, for it is a denial of those universal forces which man embodies and in which he lives and moves and has his being.

[Kenneth Patton was a Unitarian Universalist minister in New Jersey.]

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created 1jun1996, revised 20mar98     |     comments on this site? tpkunesh@atheisms.info