The value of atheists

Ron Rolheiser

In his monumental study of atheism, Michael Buckley suggests that atheism is invariably a parasite that feeds off bad religion. It feeds off bad religion, picks on bad religion, and picks apart bad religion, writes Ron Rolheiser.

If that's true, then ultimately atheists do us a huge favour. They pick apart bad religion, showing us our blind spots, rationalizations, inconsistencies, double-standards, hypocrisies, moral selectivity, propensity for power, unhealthy fears, and hidden arrogance. Atheism shows us the log in our own eye.

On our honest days, we admit that this is a needed challenge. Ideally, of course, we should be sufficiently self-aware and sufficiently self-critical to see all these things for ourselves or, barring that, be attentive enough to our own prophets to stay aware of where we're falling short. But that's rarely the case and, as a result, there's invariably bad religion and this has always helped spawn negativity towards religion and atheism.

And we see this playing out at different levels: Philosophically, of course, its most powerful expression comes from the two most-famous atheists of the 19th century, Ludwig Feuerbach and Fredrick Nietzsche. Their real criticism of religion and of us, its practitioners, is not so much that belief in God is "the opium of the people" and that a focus on the next life helps keep us subjugated in this life, though they do affirm that. Rather their deeper criticism has to do with our religious actions, namely, that we use the idea of God and religion to rationalize our own desires.

For Feuerbach and Nietzsche, God did not make us in his image and likeness; but rather we've made God in our image and likeness. For them, God is a projection of the mind and we have perennially used that projection to morally justify and bless our own immaturity, our own will, our own fears, and our own rationalizations. As individuals and as churches, we simply use the idea of God to do whatever we want, and then call it God's will. We are not, in the end, obedient to any power or a will beyond our own, except that religion makes it seem that we are.

FULL STORY The value of atheists

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