What follows is a reply to an article on atheism written by Dan Foster — a talented and passionate writer who gets people talking. The reply went on longer than planned, so here it is.
When people communicate an idea, they define the meaning. Not the audience.
Our world is so hell bent on proving everyone wrong, or being the one that is right, we will add complexities to the expression of others where there is none.
To test this, I asked 10 atheists in my life — or perhaps I should write people who identify as atheist — what they mean when they call themselves an atheist.
Ten out of ten said they meant that they do not believe in the existence of God.
I then asked what they meant by ‘God.’
They referred to the Supreme Being.
No doubt, there are other ‘gods’ each of them worship and value, but they are not considering them when they describe themselves as an atheist.
They mean they do not believe in the Big G.
And it is the Big G the people who filled out the survey mentioned in Dan’s article, were referring to, when they completed what was titled the ‘Religious Landscape Study’.
All such people can worship money or many of the other things contemporary humanity worships and values, but they are not including them in their definition of atheism.
At least not in the context of this conversation.
Ask anyone to define Atheism in a religious context and the response will typically be the same.
In any case, the definition cited by Dan — who I think is a brilliant writer — also goes on to define an atheist as ‘one who subscribes to or advocates atheism.’
Meaning they decide if they are atheist or not.
And they also decide on the length, depth, breadth, and nature of their atheism. Not us.
There are other formal definitions of atheism in dictionaries which define atheism as a ‘disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods.’ (Britannica.com for the one included here)
Even the image in the article included the notion of God, with a capital G, as an option for defining atheism.
Using this definition allows for the application of the term atheism to a disbelief in God — capital ‘G’ meaning the Supreme Being — or to a broader more generic notion of god.
The latter referring to the stacks of other things/gods we can worship in our personal lives.
Based on this definition it is the individual who considers themselves atheist in the first place, who gets to define and construct their own version of atheism. And what it applies to and what it does not.
I love and value open and honest discussion and debate around the notion of God. And, no doubt, a disbelief in the Big G will influence the other things atheists do choose to value, prioritise, and worship.
But taking something that has a clear and concise meaning when someone expresses it, a meaning important to them, and then adding complexities to their expression which they did not include themselves is unfair and disrespectful.
And to what end?
One of the great problems in our world today is people taking something someone said, redefining it, and then attacking or destroying them for what was not said.
This then leads to an apology by someone for something they did not say, or even try to imply, in the first place.
It is love and compassion that tries to understand what someone is saying without it needing to be said with perfect clarity.
Love asks, ‘what do you mean’ when something is said that might not be clear.
It does not jump to, ‘you are wrong because I am going to redefine what you are trying to say in the first place. Even though I know exactly what that is!’
When someone says they are whatever-it-is-they-say-they-are, they are inviting others into their world to be understood (most of the time, anyway, I hope), not asking to be destroyed.
Our world is almost loveless.
Because some of the gods — small ‘g’ — we value in our contemporary world (and there is no shortage of these on the ‘Medium’ platform if we were to be honest) are the gods of being cleverer and more inspiring than everyone else.
And becoming the god — smallest ‘g’ possible — that educates the rest of the world on how to be more like them, while destroying the dignity and sacredness of anything that is not.
I am a Big G advocate, through-and-through.
But I know a lot who aren’t and who also don’t believe in, value or worship any of the other, more corrupt gods, Foster Wallace, and Dan mention.
The people I refer to here believe in living a life that exudes love and care for everything around them.
I have no desire to prove them wrong. Or destroy their preferred definition of themselves. For I know the God I believe in, wants, and needs them to live just the way they are.
However, I do suspect, very soon, we will all be invited into Big G’s real world.
In any case, when it comes to the many and varied gods of power, only one stands taller than the rest.
And that is the power of LOVE.
And not one of us will ever be denied the right to apply it to everything we do in our world.
Whether we define ourselves as an atheist or not.
That much we all know to be true.