do religious atheists exist?

Of course they do! Buddhists are the standard example. But most all religions have had atheist proponents.

The main problem with the current crop of atheists is precisely that they conflate atheism with areligion, or rather a form of militant anti-religiosity. By definition atheism simply means you don’t believe that a (personal) god exists. It certainly does not imply that you reject all forms of transcendence!

Dawkins, Hitchens and associates are trying to fight religion by equating a-theism with a-religion. But their attack is profoundly flawed:

(1) they offer a specific scientistic flavor of atheism that one needn’t share: it is not because science works well without presupposing direct divine intervention that we need to abandon all forms of transcendence. Science doesn’t prove atheism, it just presupposes it.

(2) they equate religion with theistic dualism. As mentioned above, there are entire religions (buddhism, jainism) that do very well without a creator god, thank you very much. Most non-monotheistic religions are monist in the sense that they consider the gods (or whatever) as part and parcel of the world: they have, so to speak, an world-immanent idea of transcendence. This doesn’t mean that physicists are going to find Brahma within their particle colliders; but it does mean that Brahma can easily be interpreted as a “force” (or whatever) within our universe, and one that should be understandable by science – when science gets that far.

Atheism is not areligion – and anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something, namely a mutilated and watered-down view of religion. There is plenty of room in atheism for mysticism, transcendence and humbly acknowledging that we don’t understand everything. In fact, a religious atheism is perhaps even more interesting than a theistic one because the Mystery of the World lies not “outside and far away” but is the very fabric of our existence. Religious atheists are per definitionem not tempted to claim that we or the world “are god”, but they most certainly are entitled to believe that religious understandings are perhaps our best and most beautiful hope.

P.S. from Religious Atheisms:

How can there be “religious” atheists?

– Consider the group called the Sea of Faith – cultural Christians living in a post-christian world, who find meaning in christian culture, but not inerrant truth in its writings nor its beliefs. The Sea of Faith people believe the Western judeo-christian God to be a human construct … but the religion and broader culture built around that god to be still meaningful in their lives and others around them.

Consider the main character in Miguel de Unamuno’s short novel, San Manuel Bueno, mártir (Madrid 1933) : Father Manuel, a Roman Catholic priest taking care of the people in a small remote spanish village, but without faith in anything but this world … a Catholic atheist.

Consider Altizer’s Radical Theology and the Death of God (1966), Bloch’s Atheism in Christianity (1968), Kolenda’s Religion without God (1976), Pérez-Esclarín’s Atheism and liberation (1978), Apostel, Pinxten et al’s Religious atheism? (1982). Add in daoism and buddhism and forms of hinduism for the eastern variety of religious atheists.

Frequently the atheistic admonition “to live without gods” is translated to mean “to live without religion” as well, given that gods are always coterminous with religions. The mental conflict in the West arises as people of the West, indoctrinated for two millenia in the identity equation “Religion = God (= State)”, believe that religions require the presence of deity and the supernatural, whereas the ancient religions of the East and the modern religions of the West have none.


4 Comments to “do religious atheists exist?”

  1. Your discussion would make sense, except that each of these writers define religion as the belief in a personal god. You can dispute that definition, but that’s the one they use.

  2. That was (supposed to be) the sense of the post: that atheism cannot be equated with a-religion and consequently that theism can’t be equated with religion (though i admit i didn’t make that last bit clear). I will grant you that Dawkins does tend to equate religion with “gods and holy books” and he does prefer to call buddhism an ethical system rather than a religion. But then so much the worse for Dawkins’s definition. He just can’t go redefining religion as monotheism (though he doesn’t really since he at least admits of polytheism and hinduism as religions). I don’t think that invalidates my complaint though that he is equating atheism with areligion.

  3. Well, their other point is that the vast majority of theists subscribe to religion, whereas the vast majority of atheists do not. So there’s that.

  4. all i was getting at is that from the New Atheist talk out there it sounds like atheists are never religious and that religion is always some silly belief in improbable beings. My point is simply that you _can_ be an atheist and religious. But you are certainly right that most atheists are not and that (all?) theists are.

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