Without a Prayer?

The truth about atheism. Plus there’s more than one type of atheist, what drives religious skepticism, and more.

How Are Atheists Allied With God?

Rejecting the "culture wars"

I’ve been skeptical of the “culture wars” description of what is happening in the United States for many years now. We like the easy characterizations which divide us into two groups: Red vs. Blue, Atheist vs. Theist, Conservative vs. Liberal, and so on. While the "culture wars" description of the controversial moral issues being debated in the public square is sometimes accurate, I think a different characterization is preferable. At a deeper level, it is also more accurate.

To see why, consider the following from contemporary philosopher Robert Adams, in his book Finite and Infinite Goods:

"I do not mean to imply that only theists should be regarded (by theists) as allied with God...I am as interested here in implicit as in explicit love for God; and whether we share God’s loves depends much more on what we love (for its own sake) than on whether we conceptualize it theologically…In a theistic perspective, nontheists and theists are equally creatures of God, and their good impulses come equally from God…So we can think of a sort of implicit alliance with God as helping to constitute an implicit love for God. Doubtless alliance with God can be more fully developed if it is theologically explicit, but such theological explicitness does not guarantee the authenticity of such alliance (p. 198)."

There is a lot to say here, but I merely want to make the point that a nontheist can be more allied with God than the theist who may express in clear and direct terms her own allegiance to God. What matters in this context, as Adams points out, is what we value for its own sake. And I would add that how this plays out in our actions is crucial as well.

All who possess and show compassion are allied with God. The nontheist who values the welfare of other human beings for its own sake is more aligned with God than the theist who values the accumulation of power and wealth over her family, friends, and other people. The nontheist who values the beauty of the natural world is more aligned with the teachings of many varieties of theism than the theist who is more concerned with conspicuous consumption.

To be sure, there are deep divisions related to some moral and political issues in our time, but if we think of ourselves as allies of the Good, rather than enemies of one another, perhaps we can then carve out enough common ground to work together for the common good. For the theist, this can constitute an explicit love for God, as she may identify the Good with God. For the nontheist, such love will be implicit and therefore unrecognized as a love for God.

But either way, there is common ground to be had and a common good to be pursued. Perhaps we should start there.


Without a Prayer?