My Old Kentucky Homesite

You Say You’re an Atheist: Part III

Posted by Larry Wallberg on 03/01/2010

This post is the final installment of a discussion begun here and continued here. I’ve titled the series “You Say You’re an Atheist,” but I might better have called it “You Can’t Tell the Players Without a Scorecard.”

Before jumping into my description of Category 4 Atheists, I must again remind you that — for purposes of these posts — I’ve defined “atheist” as anybody who claims to be one. I have to point that out emphatically here, because the following classification will probably be objected to by at least some of my readers. Hell, I kind of object to it myself.

Category 4 Atheists:
People who are pissed off at their god (or his representatives)

Most of us who have tootled around the Atheosphere have come across these folks, and some of us have even met them in person. They’re theists who have become mad at, annoyed with, or disappointed in their SuperBud. When they say “I’m an atheist,” they’re issuing a challenge. But not to other humans. Category 4 Atheists fall into three subcategories, but there’s a good deal of overlap. If you’re so inclined, feel free to try to disentangle them into three distinct piles. I can’t.

The Forsaken are those self-identified atheists who have grown to hate their imagined supreme being, or, at very least, become majorly disappointed in him. There are dozens of reasons why their prior love might go sour, but you can usually find an unfulfilled expectation floating around somewhere. The announcement of their atheism is likely to follow a period in which they have, either figuratively or literally, looked up at the sky, and complained “But I’ve done everything you commanded.” Other forsaken types may feel that their god has acted unjustly in causing a natural disaster, or in not preventing it.

Screwyou-ers are Category 4 Atheists who have fallen out with ultra-religious family members, friends, or church officials. Their basic attitude is “I’ll show you!” People in this subcategory are usually eager to come out.

Godbaiters are folks who challenge their god to prove his existence. Some godbaiters have been on a long spiritual quest, and they’re merely trying atheism on for size. Others, are actively looking for either a sign of disapproval or an indication of love despite the fact that they’ve strayed; they assume that the easiest way to get such a message from on high is by announcing that they’re atheists. Godbaiters often live in both fear and hope.

A Further Note on Category 4 Atheists:
Most atheists can’t stay in this category for long. It should come as no surprise when Category 4 Atheists return to the god from whom they’ve fled. Many of them do, usually sooner rather than later. However, as difficult as it may be — and I must confess that I, myself, find it extremely hard — we have to recognize that these people believe themselves to be atheists, even though they’re clearly using a definition of “atheism” that most of us would find … um … paradoxical. But who are we to judge? In any case, not all Category 4 Atheists go screaming back to the religious fold. For some, their announced atheism is like painfully ripping off a bandaid; when they’ve finally done it, they discover that the damaged place (in their brains) has healed.

In Conclusion:

Now that I’ve gotten a good look at the real U.S.A., as embodied in Jeezucky, I’ve become convinced that American atheists must insist immediately on having a voice in politics, government, and education. We also need to take an active role in shaping cultural attitudes. Obviously, in order to demand effectively that our collective voice be heard, we atheists are gonna have to organize. So it’s imperative that we work hard to find areas of commonality among our various viewpoints. Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done. How can such a disparate group of individuals agree on anything? I think we have to start by recognizing who we all are, and building from there. Hence, this series of posts.

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14 Responses to “You Say You’re an Atheist: Part III”

  1. Expanding on my comment from part deux, all of category 4 would be under the irrationalist label.

  2. Philly:
    I think you’re missing the distinction I’ve made for Category 4 Atheists. Yeah, those people are certainly irrationalists, but they’re a special kind. You and I, and probably many other atheists, would tend to say that most Category 4 Atheists are really still theists deep-down. They’re saying “I’m an atheist” in order to register their dissatisfaction with the behavior of their god. Obviously, if they’re pissed off at their god, they must believe in him/her/it.

    For purposes of this discussion, though, I think they have to be classified as atheists — since they proclaim themselves as such.

  3. Yes, irrational atheists.

  4. Philly:
    You’re focusing too much on the word “irrational.” I said early on that the terms were arbitrary. I think you’ll agree that Category 4 describes different types of atheists than Category 3 does. The biggest difference is that Category 3 folks don’t necessarily begin with traditional theism. Even if they do, they don’t tend to fall back into it. Category 4 types are always traditional theists before becoming atheists, and they often return to theism after their brief “experiment” with “lack” of faith.

    Maybe we need a more specific kind of word for Category 3 “irrationalists.” Can you suggest one?

  5. These are the guys I would refer to as Hollywood atheists. They are like the escaped convicts from “Devil at 4 O’Clock.” Their supposed atheism is really more like an anger at the magic friend of their parents. The Hollywood atheist is always just one act of redemption away from being a full-blown bile-spewing Bible-thumper (or, alternately, he dies a gruesome death he apparently deserves).

  6. Des:
    I like the term “Hollywood atheists,” but I’m afraid it sounds far too glamorous.

  7. Linwood said

    Sounds like at Cat4 – Subcat/Foresaken? Maybe you can start a reference library of examples of each type?

  8. Linwood:
    Well, if he had announced “I’m an atheist,” I’d definitely place him in Category 4. But I’m not sure from the news story whether he’d be a Forsaken or a Screwyou-er.

    Fortunately, we don’t have to decide. He calls himself a “Christian – Other.” I guess ever since witch-burnings and inquisitorial autos-da-fé have faded into history, no Christian will openly admit to being in the Arsonist denomination.

  9. I was thinking that story smacked of “Screwyou-er.”

  10. Des:

    Yeah, that was my first reaction, too. Until I read that the guy was a “Christian – Other.” Then his actions really made sense. I think there needs to be a Christian classification category for “the Violent.”

  11. “Christian – Violent” is the classification with a special place for most Christians. It provides the perfect background for the standard Christian to begin a thought with, “I don’t approve of his methods, but …”

    That’s the typical Christian response to news of a women’s health clinic bombing, the murderer of an abortion providers, etc.

  12. Des:
    Uh-huh. In order to be classified as “Violent,” Christians wouldn’t necessarily have to perpetrate violence themselves. They’d merely need to condone it. And that includes cases in which violence is allegedly perpetrated by their god.

  13. MacNutz said

    I understand how you are using the term atheist for this article but I have a compulsive need to say that if you’re still angry at a god, you still believe in it, no matter what you call yourself.

    Maybe it is those returning angry ones that create the Christian idea that atheists are just angry at god.

    I’ve known some Christians that call themselves ‘ex atheists’. Upon closer examination you find their definition of an atheist is anyone not committed to a particular god.

  14. Mac:
    I agree that anyone who’s angry at a god must still believe in it; you can’t be angry at nothing.
    But in this series of posts, anyone who identifies him- or herself as an atheist is considered to be one — although not necessarily by the definition that you or I would use.

    It would be interesting if someone did a study of “ex-atheists” to find out what kind of “atheist” they may have been. To me, a god-believing atheist is the same as a meat-eating vegetarian.

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