Every once in a while there is a gust of wind which changes the direction on the weather vane in the garden of culture, and which might warn us of a front to come. In what direction is the atheist weather vane blowing? Atheists are going to church[i]; indeed not only are atheists going to church they are extolling the value of faith[ii], community and mission[iii]. At the very least, this is interesting; apart from anything else, some of those atheists who are in search of a community are modelling their attempts at constructing it on a very particular and limited understanding of the church.
Why not model community meetings on a tribal gathering, or a religious festival like Diwali, or a religious meal like Passover? Or why don’t they just go to the pub, a cultural lecture or a concert – doesn’t society, secular or otherwise, already have ‘communities’ for all? But whatever the reason for the current popular model of Atheist Church there is something of a convergence of the streams of atheism, doubt, community activism and blind unbelief.
So would it sound reasonable if I suggested that any future ‘culture war’ (in the West, anyway), will no longer be demonstrated by a sharp, simple divide between Atheism and Faith; or that the Atheism we have been familiar with over the last decade – the Atheism of Dawkins, Harris and Hitchens – while continuing, will be joined by a popular softening of unbelief? And that another atheism (a ‘New’ New Atheism, if you like) will begin to emerge and connect with a variety of “Faith communities”; and that the focus of this movement will be a common shared identity based on what we have agreed it is to be human?
I’d like to suggest, for example:
- that it would be a pragmatic move for influential atheists, who wished to further their participation in national politics and society, to foster links with faith movements which already have significant influence, and who are not going away.
- that there are atheists who recognise that to be fully human means to embrace, among other things: cultural stories and practices, morality, and a sense of being that a zero sum reduction of humanity to atoms, cannot explain.
- that the same atheists have noticed that faith or religious communities have this sense of being in abundance.
- that the best way for atheism to further its involvement in the human story of compassion and respect for one’s fellow man is to ‘piggyback’ on faith communities, while rejecting god.
- that there will be those within atheism who will shift from constantly attacking Faith and begin to invite faith communities into a dialogue, and also press for equal access to Faith events and recognition from Faith communities.
- that in the future we should not be surprised to hear of faith and interfaith events which include atheists as keynote speakers.
- that significant proportions of the Christian Church are already atheist in the sense of not-theist, and that atheism, therefore, holds no concern for them.
- and in all of this, *our shared humanity* will be the common focus and emphasis.
In this environment, each faith or non-faith community will be encouraged to share its story of how it becomes fully human, and stories of gods and the supernatural will be welcome to the extent that we can learn from them how to be more fully human. Even exclusive faith claims will be welcomed in this brave new world, for to participate will be to implicitly recognise that others see us as wrong, and that there is therefore hope that we shall be encouraged to greater empathy and understanding.
And I’d like to suggest that this will be a religion in all but name and that it shall have as its ‘icon’ or image, a tree (not the one which burns but which is not consumed) but the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and that this way will be the way in which each of us – religious and non-religious – shall be encouraged to understand ourselves, our identity in this world and in connection with others, and in doing so it will be the outworking of the serpent’s temptation.
This culture war won’t be about believing in god or disbelieving in god, so we will not be able to answer it with established forms of apologetics; and true Christianity, whose Gospel places it’s trust in the Scriptural God who has revealed Himself in Jesus, will be its most hated enemy, for true Christianity calls for a denial of oneself – and this movement will be about the worship of ourselves.
[i] 1 http://www.salon.com/2013/09/22/atheism_starts_its_megachurch_is_it_a_religion_now/