On Why Slate Gets Atheism Wrong

Slate today asks a provocative question — Which is worse for evangelicals like Rick Perry — being an atheist or a Muslim?

Writer Brian Palmer answers “atheism.” And while I agree with his answer, I disagree with his reasoning.

Writes Palmer: “The ancient and medieval Christians wouldn’t have had much to say about pure atheism, which is an 18th-century concept. Their closest analog would have been Epicureanism — the belief that worldly pleasure matters above all. In Christian-themed literature, at least, Epicureans were held in special contempt.”

Even if Palmer is correct, which I doubt as there’s little in common between atheism (a non-belief in deities) and epicureanism (an elevation of human pleasure as the highest moral principle), he misses the bigger picture. There’s a far more basic, a much simpler reason why an evangelical Christian would be more accepting of a Muslim than an atheist.

Atheists, contrary to Palmer, are not hedonists. Nor are atheists nihilists (believers in nothing). Atheists lack a god. That’s it and that’s all.

Muslims worship the same Abrahamic god that Jews and Christians worship.

Atheists think that the Abrahamic god is bunk.

A Muslim is in the same spiritual neighborhood as a Christian. An atheist isn’t even on the same continent.

To a Christian, a Muslim is mistaken in a lot of the theological differences, but at the end of the day they accept the same deity at the center of their spiritual life. An atheist, however, represents a complete and total rejection of that spiritual core. It’s not a mistaken theological difference like a Muslim or, even further out, a Buddhist or Hindu. For an evangelical Christian like Rick Perry, an atheist is something worse — an atheist is an outright denial of something absolutely fundamental to a Christian’s identity. An atheist is simply wrong in ways that godly non-Christians are not.

I agree with Palmer — an evangelical Christian would be more accepting of a Muslim than an atheist. I simply disagree with Palmer’s reasoning; not only does Palmer’s reasoning not make sense (and is beside the point, to boot), but he misses the critical reason why a Christian would be bothered by an atheist.

Of course, now I’m bound to go home and reread Sam Kieth’s Epicurus the Sage. Brilliant, brilliant stuff. 🙂

Published by Allyn

A writer, editor, journalist, sometimes coder, occasional historian, and all-around scholar, Allyn Gibson is the writer for Diamond Comic Distributors' monthly PREVIEWS catalog, used by comic book shops and throughout the comics industry, and the editor for its monthly order forms. In his over ten years in the industry, Allyn has interviewed comics creators and pop culture celebrities, covered conventions, analyzed industry revenue trends, and written copy for comics, toys, and other pop culture merchandise. Allyn is also known for his short fiction (including the Star Trek story "Make-Believe,"the Doctor Who short story "The Spindle of Necessity," and the ReDeus story "The Ginger Kid"). Allyn has been blogging regularly with WordPress since 2004.

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