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Meditation 1126
Just what does atheist mean anymore?

by: John Tyrrell

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I have noted several times on this site that atheism used to have a pretty clear meaning and that in recent years the meaning has changed, changed to the degree that if someone claims to be an atheist, you still cannot be sure what the person actually. For example, several years ago I wrote in a discussion item:

When someone like Philip Pullman (The Golden Compass) can call himself an atheist and yet state "I don't know whether there's a God or not," and "there may well be a God somewhere, hiding away," then I think the word "atheist" is fast losing meaning. It has become a wishy-washy word; if someone claims to be an atheist, you still do not know where that person stands.

There's a reason I went back to that particular comment. Frank Schaeffer has written a book entitled Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God.* It's now official - the word atheist in now completely meaningless.

I have not read the book; I expect I won't bother reading the book unless it falls into my hands for free. All I know of it is a brief - and I think confusing - extract published in the Huffington Post. Based on this extract, Schaeffer thinks that he holds both belief and disbelief in his mind at the same time. Or maybe he alternates between the positions. I'm not sure. But that's OK - he can believe / disbelieve whatever he wants.

But that's not what annoys me about the extract. It's that he asserts everyone - and that includes you and me - is in the same boat. Apparently Schaeffer thinks all of us are both atheists and believers in God. And that's where I call BULLSHIT!

Schaeffer even calls in quantum physics to justify his claim - and bringing in quantum physics into any argument except physics almost always sets off my bullshit detector:

You will always be more than one person. You will always embody contradiction. You--like some sort of quantum mechanicals physics experiment--will always be in two places at once.

I'm not going to speak for anyone else and I'm not going to claim that there are not aspects of my life which do not embody contradiction, but on religious matters I am, as I have been for several decades, unequivocally agnostic. Nothing else.

And as for being simultaneously an atheist and a believer in god - just what does atheist mean anymore? And as I see no indication of which god Schaeffer believes in, it is possible the word god has achieved meaninglessness also.

* If anyone chooses to read this book, I'd appreciate you sending in a review.

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