I was asked, earnestly by a friend if I could explain “the atheist mind.” This was my answer, which received a surprising number of positive replies, and I thought perhaps it neede to become an entry here.
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As you probably can imagine, there are almost as many definitional schisms among atheists as there are among Christian sects. And, as my friends know, one of my repeated approaches to life is to NOT start with the “Websters” definition of a word. I don’t hold Webster as any more sacred a tome on word meaning than I hold any sacred text on the meaning of life, truth, or morality.
So your first paragraph is key: let’s discard any assumptions about what you’ve been taught it means to be (or to live) a-theistically, or what an “atheist” IS or DOES. And then, I can only tell you how I look at it. Do I wish more in “my camp” thought like me? Sure…because I also see some of the infantile, angry, reactive behaviors you dislike, and I agree with your dislike. Onward:
Everything I (dare I say ‘we’?) do is aimed at making sense of our experience, integrating our experiences into future actions. How do I decide what conclusions to draw, what things to deem true, what foundation blocks to add to my store of reliable knowledge? What hypotheses do I formulate?
I simply approach life a-theistically, without theism. That is to say, without the hypothesis that “Goddidit!” And without the need to gin up hyptheses for the unknown. I’m comfortable saying “That experience is a mystery I do not understand,” as opposed to saying “That is incredible, it is a sign of “God.”
When faced with the need to explain something, I plainly and simply do not start from the assumption that “God”is already in the picture, and I certainly son’t ADD any supernatural explanations to my perspective just because I reach a point where I have to say, “I don’t know.”
So a-theism to me means approaching the world without theism: without assuming and/or ASSERTING “God” is already a thing on the playing field. Every explanatory element has to earn its way into my worldview through consistency, predictive value, reasonably cogent definition.
Critical thinking: to get to where I am, yes, the willingness to ask questions about assumptions and absolute truths is required. Remember that as a born/raised Catholic who at one time believed God had called me to be a priest for the one, true, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church, i had some questioning to do. Willingness to ask questions and follow evidence to where it leads, rather than ignore it to preserve indoctrinated beliefs, is required. What if the Bible isn’t the dictated word of some being called “God”? What if the Catholic Church is just a human political organization? What if this “being” I’ve been taught about since birth is just a place holder for “we don’t know”? What if some people have figured out how to prey on other peoples’ credulity to amass power and wealth?
Giving up childhood teachings was indeed a long slow difficult process, but I emerged at the other end realizing that my “theistic” self was based on a LOT of untested, unprovable assertions and assumptions that had been given to me, injected, implanted before the age of reason. I simply eliminate those and approach life as an observer of my experience and don’t force unneeded assumptions back in when I do not know. I removed “theism” from my approach to how I understand the world.
Does that help?