If I’m going to say that atheism is a worldview, I better start defining terms before I find myself on the wrong side of my own issue. So, the first part of this post will be defining “atheism” and “worldview.” Once I do that, I’m going to give an analogous depiction of life incorporating the definitions and then draw a conclusion to affirm the title.
Atheism. Two distinct definitions come to mind. The first is the literal definition based on the original Greek. ‘a’, meaning ‘no’ and ‘theos’, meaning ‘god’. In the strictest sense, atheism literally means no-god. But, literal translations don’t always carry over to current word usage. The word “joystick” for example, hardly means rejoice peg. The second definition is more popular with a lot of atheists at the moment, and that is: a disbelief in god or gods. I’ve written a lot on why I think these two definitions are the same (here and here). Nate has also discussed this here and here, and there are some great external links for good measure here and here). Since a lot of ground has already been covered on the second definition, I’m going to move on.
Worldview. Until about 6 months ago, I didn’t really think this word needed a definition; it’s pretty straightforward, actually. The word “worldview” is simply a view of the world. But, in good faith, we will grab a more accurate definition for our friends at Google: “a particular philosophy of life or conception of the world.” This definition actually works to my advantage, but we’ll get to that.
As a quick recap, atheism is either a belief in no god or a non-belief in god (because these are not the same?? I digress) and worldview is the perception of reality as it pertains to origins of the world. Can we agree to these two points? Leave some feedback below.
Now, an analogous incorporation of these two terms.
Life is often compared to a maze.
Marriage and Family Therapist and contributor to Huffington Post, once wrote to the point, “In review, we see we have taken wrong turns, hit dead ends, lost time, meandered in wrong directions and twisted and turned at unexpected places. We thought we were going one way and had to head another. We are born into this maze”.[i] Deveric’s post goes on to describe the purpose of life and how to navigate the labyrinth. She goes on to write that the maze is navigated by perceptions and expectations, comfort and belonging, and other mental constructs. But, she writes, “No location within the maze can be the end goal because time will forcibly move you and death will take you out.” With this in mind, let’s examine worldview like a maze—an ever changing perspective but steadily moving.
You wake up in the morning in the middle of a maze. In front of you is a backpack which is stuffed full of all the knowledge you’ve acquired from the previous days. You have a choice to make. You can continue to walk the maze, venturing this way and that, searching for what you want every step of the way. Or, you can stop and reflect on the maze itself. Where did it come from? Why is it here? What is the purpose of the maze? Why am I here? What is my purpose?
In the analogy, the choice is presented as an either-or. Either, you continue on your path or you reflect on the meaning and purpose of it all. But, in life, both can happen simultaneously. Events are thrown hither and thither and demand reflection. For me, one of my reflection moments came two weeks after my return from Iraq. I had returned unscathed but that wasn’t true for my friends who returned after I did. One returned with one less eye, another came home with extra shrapnel, and another with severe burns. Why them and not me? Why was I selected to leave on the advance party? Why was the IED placed after I traveled down that same route just two weeks earlier?
Psychologists called it survivors guilt, but it doesn’t need to be this serious to induce the same thoughts. Others experience similar thoughts when loved ones die. Still others face similar thoughts after being laid off from work and wonder about their uncertain future. There are some who struggle similarly when introduced to new concepts and ideas. In fact, there are countless reasons to induce philosophical thought in regards to the formation and purpose of the world. If you’ve never gone through this time of reflection, allow me to challenge you to do so now.
Now, in fairness, not every philosophical thought leads to God—nor do I think it needs to. But that’s not the point. The point is simply that philosophical thought exists and it exists daily. I had reconciled the notions of time and chance with coincidence and luck following my near miss of the IED explosion. And that reconciliation went into my worldview backpack. The next time I faced those kinds of thoughts, nearing divorce, I reached into my backpack for “time and chance”; but this time they didn’t fit. This time, I actually had a hand in the fighting and verbal rhetoric. This time, I could change something—my attitude. So I did. My philosophy was changed.
Everyone goes through these moments in life that challenge their views on the conception of the world. The fact that individual philosophies change is not the point; the point is every bit of one’s philosophy makes up what we call worldview.
Did you catch that. The experiences go into the backpack and is then used to formulate a worldview.
This is important because, with regard to worldview, atheism is a consequence not a precursor. Allow me to explain. A lot of atheist articles that I read claim that atheism is not a worldview because it is nothing more than a negative response to a theistic question (here, for example). This means that the question was posed:
“Hi (atheist). Do you believe God exists?”
“No” Or “I see no reason to believe it at this time.”
And it can stop there. Because a worldview was established at the instant the question was answered. If, as I pointed out at the beginning of this post, worldview has to do with the conception of the world, and God is not a part of the formation, then the conclusion must be in line with atheism.
Let me say it another way. If an atheist believes the “Big Bang” was the beginning of the existence of our universe, then the “Big Bang” must be compatible with atheism. In this regard, atheism is the worldview and the “Big Bang” is a mechanism that supports the view.
And it doesn’t stop there. Aliens, the multi-verse, a mechanical universe-generator…it doesn’t matter what the mechanism is as long as it is compatible with atheism. Because as soon as the how becomes incompatible with atheism, an atheist will dismiss the possibility in support of his atheistic worldview.
The worldview that arises out of wrestling with the notion of God’s existence has the greatest impact.
This is where our definitions start plugging into our analogy. When you woke up this morning, you began the day with a series of choices. A lot of those choices seem to have no philosophical impact (i.e., What belt should I wear? or Should I make eggs for breakfast?), while other choices depend greatly on your philosophy (i.e., Should I lie to avoid getting fired at work?). Every choice hinges on your view of the consequences.
Think about that. When I left with the advance party to prepare the home-front, I did so because I believed I was leaving my comrades behind in relative safety. My choice to leave would have been different if I thought I could change their fate. My choice to change my attitude in the face of divorce was because I believed that consequences mattered. They do. I’m still married and we have four amazing children.
And this is where we get to the real heart of the matter. Atheism, whether a belief in no god or a non-belief in god, has the same consequential influence on moral decision-making. Those decisions are chosen based on an evaluation that excludes a divine perspective. Atheism, whether a belief in god or a non-belief in god, has the same influence on worldview—it keeps the choices to a local level. And that’s the problem. That’s why atheism is a worldview. Atheist make choices based on the view that God does not exist.
If God does not exist, or at very least if you live as if God does not exist, the choices you make will always be made as such. Not just because it defines how you believe the world came into being, but because it affects how you live your life. Do you agree or disagree? Let me know below.