PZ (he only gets identified by his initials from now on until another PZ comes along) has written about a Salon interview with Ron “Book of” Numbers, evidently a former Seventh-Day Adventist (making him either a Sixth-Day or an Eighth-Day Adventist now, I guess) and the author of a new book about the history of creationism. In his post, PZ says something he’s said before and that many of us have said 1,001 times:
“Atheism is not a religion; it is an absence of gods, and of course the only way to maintain religious neutrality is to teach without the promotion of any gods at all. I don’t understand why some people find this so difficult to grasp.”
They find it hard to understand chiefly because strongly religious people have, by and large, been funnelled into harboring a world view that genuinely does not permit them to accept that some people really are atheists. They think in terms of athists being angry at god, or fighting against god, or taking a philosophical position solely to squabble with believers of a different stripe, or some such idea, but atheism to them is a religion because it is something they themselves do not and cannot believe in, and very the existence of which — to say nothing of its endorsement — really does, in their view, rely on faith. Tell them it’s the influence of those claiming to act loudly and destructively on behalf of gods that’s exasperating, not gods themselves, and they roll their eyes just as quickly as I do when someone new to creationism Web sites starts yammering about peppered-moth hoaxes or Cambrian explosions.
The thing is, to clear this misconception up, every U.S. Christian mystified by the concept of true godlessness really needs only look to an Islamic terrorist willing to die at a moment’s notice solely for theistic reasons. The Christian can conceive of neither the terrorist’s god not his commitment — but knows it is there. What any Christian observer feels at this point should give him or her observer a glimmer of insight as to what it is like to be an atheist. We just knock one more monster out from under the bed.
I’ve come to understand that explaining atheism to a committed theist is like trying to explain the stark qualitative difference between Mozart and the Beastie Boys to a deaf person. Their minds are closed to the very capacity to treat godlessness as a genuine article.
As an aside, most of the people PZ is talking about don’t want anything resembling religious equality anyway, though most of them are either deluded enough or cagey enough not to say as much out loud.