By definition, atheism is the denial of God, a belief in the inexistence of God or the inability to believe in God. There are private atheists and militant atheists. (Personally, I have the same lack of patience for militant atheism as I do for militant fideism.) Yet, atheism doesn’t seem to be an option or a desire for most of the world’s population. Having traveled and lived in places where there is no hope except in a primordial cry for help – even in the face of that cry not being answered. This cry is an act of faith, of hope and of belief. So, while I do sympathize with protest atheism that protests the existence of God in an evil world and especially evil that is done in the name of God, I view atheism as a luxury made possible by individualistic cultures that see faith as a choice among other options and that desacralize and disenchant the world.
But it is relatively easy for people of faith to bash atheists, when we should recognize our own wrongheaded atheism. Let’s look at this oxymoron: believer’s atheism. The creation narrative found at the beginning of the Jewish Scriptures tells us that human beings are created in the image of God. Human beings – all of them – bear God’s image and likeness. The implication is that when we do not acknowledge the image of God in others, then we are practicing a different kind of atheism. Paradoxically, some atheists confer dignity to others – even to their enemies, while many so-called believers refuse. The believers’ atheism is most visible in their isolation from the poor, in their rejection of the stranger and immigrant, and in their inability to create space to relate to their enemies.
Being created in the image of God signifies a solidarity with all humanity. Through this basic dignity and vocation, God has offered us space to relate to one another – especially when we have fundamental disagreements with one another and are tempted to reject, hate and abuse.
So, we are called to a new kind of faith. We are called to denounce atheism that doesn’t believe in God’s image. And we are invited to believe in and to honor God by helping the poor, receiving the stranger and loving our enemy.
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