October 16, 2019

If Atheism is the Lack of Belief in Gods, Why Do Some Atheists Care About Separation of Church and State?

farmer

Twitter is a great place to see strange things. For example, observing how some ideas take off among Christians using Twitter can provide some fascinating (if not disturbing) insight into how they think. I never would have expected the example I'll share in this post to be one that would take off like it did because...well...it is incredibly stupid, and I continue to think that most Christians have far more sense that it suggests.

The original tweet said something like this (I am paraphrasing here):

If atheism is the lack of belief in God, then why do so many atheists get so bent out of shape when a judge hands a defendant a Bible?

I could not believe the number of times this was retweeted. How could something so stupid be so popular? Yeah, I know. A few Christians replaced the last part with somewhat different examples, but what they all had in common was that they were church-state violations. That means that we can easily turn the whole thing into something like this:

If atheism is the lack of belief in gods, why do many atheists get upset by church-state violations?
And we might as well slap #checkmateatheists on at the end since that was the "spirit" with which it was delivered.

Atheism is indeed the lack of belief in gods. Bravo to every Christian who read that part and comprehended it. It is true that atheism does not entail concern about the separation of church and state. Most atheists living in countries where separation of church and state is the law probably would prefer to see it continue and might even wish the law was enforced once in a while, but that is not part of what atheism means. So, checkmate atheists? Not quite.

What those retweeting this drivel seem to have forgotten is that atheists are people who... Actually, we don't need to go beyond that. The point that needs to be made here is simply that atheists are people. As people, atheists are not one-dimensional any more than Christians are one-dimensional. Like Christians and everyone else, we have multiple interests. Christians are more than Christianity, and atheists are more than atheism. And so, it should surprise no one that many atheists are interested in preserving the separation of church and state, seeing the law enforced, and reducing what they perceive as discrimination and/or bigotry on the basis of anyone's religious beliefs or lack thereof.

Can we come up with a halfway decent analogue here that dimwitted atheists might use on Christians and which Christians would instantly recognize as similarly absurd? I'm not feeling very creative at the moment, but how about something like this:

If Christianity involves striving to be more like Jesus, then why do so many Christians not work as carpenters?
Yeah, that was pretty pathetic. Still, I'm sure you get the idea. Most Christians don't pretend they can ever be like Jesus, but many will tell you that an important part of Christianity involves looking to the model of Jesus as an inspiration. The part about not working as carpenters was supposed to be blatantly stupid. Finding inspiration in the Jesus character isn't limited to emulating one trivial aspect of his life.

What's the point? The point is just that atheism does have a very narrow definition (i.e., the lack of belief in gods) but that this narrow definition cannot constrain the people we describe as atheists. An atheist is more than someone who does not believe in gods in much the same way that a Christian is more than someone who believes in a particular god (or gods).