A reader asked me my definition of an atheist. Allow me to play Lineaus and identify the various subspecies.
An atheist is someone who disbelieves in any god. I would make a distinction between a rational atheist and a fashionable atheist, based on his motive for disbelieving.
A rational atheist is one who, if asked, can provide some warrant for his disbelief, give some argument or chain of reasoning to justify his disbelief. He does not believe in god for an impersonal reason.
A fashionable atheist is is who, if asked, reacts to the question with erratic hostility and antic halfwittedness, jerking his knees and elbows at strange angles, lolling his tongue and crossing and uncrossing his eyes in protuberant and alarming display of eccentricity. This behavior is accompanied by accusations, ad hominem, insults, sneers, carping, capering, expressions of hate and scorn and contempt that anyone would dare raise such a question. This is also accompanied in a manner risible were it not so pathetic, with what psychologists call projection, where the fashionable atheist accuses all and sundry in the immediate area of being filled with hatred and bigotry.
After he is done voiding his bowels and rolling sticky warmth, tearing his hair and shrieking his praise of himself as a paragon of cool intellectual ratiocination, bystanders, embarrassed, avert their eyes, pretending something that fascinates them is in the grass underfoot or the sky overhead. Or, if the reaction of the fashionable atheist to a request for his reasoning is in word-noises, the glossolalia he eructutates approaches this same level of dignity and reasonableness. And he says religion is a “meme.”
The causes of fashionable disbelief are emotional, personal, and usually quite frivolous. He is scornful of religion, ignorant of history, and proud of his ignorance. He is indifferent to morality and decency if not (through an odd inversion of psychology) actively proud of his immorality, a righteous defender of perversion and unrighteousness.
He is not just shallow, he is shallow in all aspects of his philosophy. If I may be permitted the oxymoron, the fashionable atheist is profoundly shallow.
The arguments of the rational atheist generally will fall into two camps of arguments: first, that God is not necessary to explain nature nor to account for moral imperatives, theistic belief is unnecessary; second, that God an incoherent concept, since a being of omnipotent Providence could not tolerate the evils that exist in the world, nor could an omniscience being leave room for men to have free will.
A third camp of argument is specifically antichristian rather than atheistic, which argues that nothing in particular distinguishes Christian belief from pagan fore-bearers, that Christianity grew up from human imagination and historical or anthropological roots.
By this argument, even if the atheist became a Deist (that is, a man who believes in the somewhat Neoplatonic “Watchmaker God” of the philosophers) he could not take the step to affirm that the Christians describe that God accurately or know Him. Strictly speaking, all arguments about comparative religion or pagan parallels with Christ are not atheist arguments at all (since to argue that all men agree on the basics does not argue that those basics are false); but for some odd quirk of recent history are taken to be such.
All these arguments can be met with rebuttals that in turn can be met with counter-rebuttals and counters to those counters, and so many a merry seminar can be had between theists and atheists who agree to disagree on a rational basis.
It is far otherwise with the fashionable atheist.
The passions and whims of the frivolous atheist makes him fall, or decline, into three or four basic camps: (1) Antichrists (2) Marxists (3) Romantics (4) Nihilists.
Antichrists is an over-dramatic word, but I will use it under a better presents itself. These are men who do not believe God exists in retaliation for some real or imagined slight by God against them, or judgment, or past wrong. I leave it to others to untangle the question of how a rational being can direct his anger or anxiety against a non-existent being.
Marxists includes any and all Progressives and Leftists who accept Marx’s ironic analysis of the Church as an opiate for the masses. The Church, in the Marxists worldview, is a conspirator who exists merely to enable the self-delusion of the ignorant, and render the poor and oppressed passive with colored smoke-dreams of a better life in a next world, so that the evils of this world go unchallenged. I call the analysis ironic because such shallow beliefs are, of course, opiates themselves.
Marxism is an ersatz Church which those who despair of the next world, or who are too stupid to believe in it, delude themselves with colored smoke-dreams about heaven on earth, and who allow the evils in their souls to go unchallenged, that the Marxist may abet and do whatever evils in this world his corrupt imaginations can devise, from simple lies called Political Correctness, to slanders, to frauds, to extortion, to expropriation, to mass theft, to violence, up to and including riot, rebellion, revolution, and all the sick and sinister institutions of the abortion mill, the police state and the concentration camp. It is the opium of Marxism which dulls the mind and smothers the conscience and induces hallucinations to permit otherwise decent people to contemplate and savor such monstrous evils, while taking on a tone of intellectual superiority and moral self righteousness.
I include in this category all socialists and semi-Marxists and ignoramuses who neither know nor care whence the ideas in their heads were spawned, or who first concocted them.
Romantics is also an awkward word, but, again, I cannot think of a better to describe this group. I do not mean anyone who like love stories or who favors emotion over reason, for that would include theists of all traditions and sects.
One might call this school “Progressives” or “Theosophists” or “Shavians” or “Nietzscheans” or even “Transhumanists” but all these words have other implications or specific meanings, and hence would be misleading used here.
I mean anyone who believes in a vaguely-defined “life principle” or “living energy” or “evolutionary purpose” which again serves as an ersatz religion, and who thinks we humans shall evolve into superhumans even as we once evolved from apes. They generally agree that the belief in God is a hindrance to the spiritual growth and evolution from mankind to supermankind. They generally agree that man is lead by an inner light or interior god, or that all mankind is part of a godhead, like a Trinity run amok and turned to Myriads.
The foremost example of this camp known to me is the science fiction writer Olaf Stapledon. My apologies for being so ill read, but I consumed my youth with science fiction works, so this is where I first came across this fashionable modern idea of a materialistic mysticism. Whether he got the idea from G.B. Shaw or Fred Nietzsche or somewhere else, I know not. The basic idea is to dress up Darwinian notions of decent with modification with Marxist or Hegelian notions of a directed or deliberate evolution, a striving of the “life-force” or the powers of history toward a specific and lofty goal.
I will hasten to add that Darwin is not a member of this camp and nothing like this: the “evolution” he describes is undirected and accidental. Darwin says that out of a litter, there will be some variation and mutation of the parent form, and whichever litter mate just so happens to have the characteristics best suited to survive long enough to reproduce in whatever environment he happens to find himself will carry on that trait; and he speculates that the breeding for these traits by “natural selection” will from time to time gradually accumulate so many changes as to constitute a new species.
Mystical nonsense about a life force trying out different new shapes as a frivolous housewife tries out new hats has nothing to do with Darwin. The Romantics took Darwinian ideas and made idols of them, bowing down and worshiping them as a goddess called history, or fate, or progress.
The Romantics and the Marxists overlap, because one belief does not preclude the other. Strictly speaking, what I am calling Romanticism does not preclude a belief in God, but here I am using the word to refer to those Romantics who are atheists, those who do not think God made Man, but who instead think that men will one day evolve into gods.
Once again, I leave it to others to disentangle how a rational person can believe in evolution being directed toward a goal without believing in a divine intelligence doing the directing; or to explain why all these patently non-divine things, the material world, the history of species, the history of man, are supposed to be given divine attributes and epithets and win our devout loyalty.
I am tempted to say it is all nonsense, but I will instead do the Romantics the honor of saying their mysteries have not been disclosed to me, who is not of their cult and clique.
Nihilists disbelieve in God more or less by default. By Nihilism here, I do not mean someone who believes nothing is worth doing because life has no meaning. That was fashionable among the Goths and their Beatnik forefathers. The new fashion is otherwise. A nihilist is one who holds anything you want to do is worth doing, on the grounds that life has no innate meaning, and is given meaning by an act of human willpower or self-expression.
The nihilist says there is no Truth, no truth with a capital “T”, merely truths, local truths, by which is mean not truth but whatever opinion or self delusion or arbitrary set of ideas one finds convenient, or useful, or comforting, or fashionable this season.
Nihilism hence forms the default metaphysical and ontological stance of our age. Anyone of the modern generation who, without reflection, adopts the politically correct cant and shibboleths of popular in the media, in entertainment, in academia, will assume that any speech is meant as propaganda, any philosophy meant as self-justification, and that any motive for any act is selfish and self-aggrandizing. In the modern age, willpower is the only god. If a man says that he wills or wishes or suffers a whim, it is considered somewhere on the spectrum between extremely discourteous, to outright treason to judge or to condemn his choice. The mere act of choosing is regarded as sacrosanct, and the content of the choice is considered beyond discussion.
Nothing could be more clearly against the radical subjectivism of this worship of the whim than a belief in an objective and rational moral system whose imperatives we cannot escape, unless perhaps it is an objective and rational moral system imposed by a supreme being with the moral authority and present power to do so, whose judgments cannot err.
The particular hatred of the modern age is directed against theism is general, monotheism specifically and Catholicism most of all precisely because of the metaphysical difference between nihilism and a belief in solid reality, and a spiritual reality.
The animus is directed against theism in general, because if the pagan gods exists, we cannot with abandon create our own reality or (what is to the nihilist much the same thing) our own “narrative” of reality; the animus is directed against the Abrahamic religions specifically because if there is one God, the supreme ruler of the universe with a legitimate claim on our loyalty and a specific demand on our moral behavior, our freedom to choose is limited to a small number of possible interpretations of a basic moral program, a limited (albeit ever growing) number of denominations; and the animus is directed against Catholicism most of all, because if there is only one true apostolic and universal Church, the demand of the magisterium abolishes Luther’s freedom to decide what doctrines to follow and what to ignore. In this last case, human freedom of choice is a limited to a simple binary of orthodoxy versus heterodoxy. For the nihilist, an institution determining specific nuances of theological questions, such as the nature of justification, incarnation and trinitarianism, and moral questions of homicide, abortion, slavery, divorce, contraception, socialism and social justice, leaves him with very little room to exercise his power of inventing reality or narratives of reality.
Since the whole point of nihilism (let us be honest) is to silence criticism of one’s own immorality by undermining the basis of all moral reasoning, polytheism and monotheism are annoyances and enemies, but Catholicism is the arch-enemy.
The danger faced by any rational atheist is that he will fall into the temptation to be a fashionable atheist while still talking as if the choice and decision were purely based on evidence. Real rational atheists should be quick to denounce the fashionable atheists in their midst, since they bring the whole school of thought into disrepute, obliterating the legitimacy of their central claim, which is that reason naturally directs man not toward a belief in a Supreme Being, or Unmoved Mover or Form of the Good, but toward atheism. Unreasonable people believing in reason for irrational reasons is a monstrous self contradiction.
For the same reason, of course, Christians should be quick to denounce the hatred and sanctimony of Pharisees and hypocrites in our midst, as nothing more quickly gives scandal to the spiritually starved unbeliever than to see the devotees of the God who is Love parading themselves to the public eye with loveless words and deeds.