OPINION John Barnie

NWR Issue 107

Atheist

There is still something disreputable about the word ‘Atheist’ which is why I rarely use it with reference to myself – even though I have been one for as long as I can remember. To be an Atheist is to be not quite acceptable, not quite trustworthy; for an Atheist rejects the comforts of religion which many like to think are there, even if they rarely, or never, go to church. It is why so many non-attenders – so-called ‘cultural Christians’ – have a church wedding, christen their babies, and opt at the end for a Christian burial. It is why many believe in ‘the spiritual’, the ineffable, which they cannot define.

To be an ‘Agnostic’, on the other hand, is acceptable, because it suggests a weigher-up of pros and cons, someone who keeps an open mind and as such is not necessarily antagonistic to religion. The Agnostic merely cannot decide – perhaps God exists; perhaps not.

The Atheist will have none of this. He sweeps away doubt, sweeps away two thousand years of tradition and belief, to face the material universe as it is. At death, the Atheist says, we return to the discrete atoms out of which we were formed; there is no afterlife and no God.

People don’t like that. Atheism offers stoicism, but it does not offer hope, and that is what most want – a straw to grasp in moments of fear or grief...

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