Deepak Chopra made this comment,
"Without a definition of “God” or “atheism,” who really knows the state of
unbelief that an atheist feels? If you take the common image of God as a
patriarch sitting above the clouds, it’s entirely possible to reject a personal
God while retaining a religious spirit. Einstein spent years explaining this as
his position, and few understood what he meant."
On a community level, I can see how this question is valid. How would Christians know what atheists reject unless they first settle the definition of "god" or "supernatural"? But, at the same time, I know what Christians are talking about when they say they believe without having to have a rigid, standard definition. Isn't this a double standard? If you rejected this "personal God" that Chopra is referring to, while keeping a belief in a "religious spirit", then you're not an atheist, in my opinion. Chopra goes on, in his article, to state:
"How will belief evolve next? Maybe these believing atheists are showing us
the way, along with Einstein, beyond a personal God on to the shores of
eternity. Einstein had his sights set on a secular spirituality that, he said,
was most closely approximated by Buddhism."
The rational mind cannot go beyond words and concepts, but
consciousness can expand within itself without limits. Whether accidentally or
by intent, I hope at least a handful of believing atheists have set out on the
journey that begins with the will to believe and ends beyond images, even beyond
I may be an totally misunderstanding his logic in the first sentence, but it doesn't sound very sound to me. How can he prove that there's a consciousness that can "expand within itself without limits"? Why would the rational mind need to go beyond words and concepts? Having the "will to believe" in something doesn't speak to the reality or truth of what you're "willing" to believe in. I don't dismiss the existence of God because I'm unwilling to believe in that God. I dismiss the God because I see no evidence that any deity exists. Will has nothing to do with it.
Then there's an article by Brian McLaren, a pastor and author, who says:
Of course, many people are more "orthodox" atheists of the naturalistic
sort, refusing to believe in anything beyond physics and mathematics. But
according to the Pew data, there are a significant number out there who at first
seem to be simply illogical by claiming both atheism and belief in some sort of
deity ... but with further conversation, it turns out they have an interesting
spiritual story full of unresolved tensions, and that story isn't finished yet.
Which is true of us all.
I believe in many things beyond physics and mathematics. I also don't have unresolved tensions that account for my atheism. In fact, atheism resolved many of my previous "unresolved tensions" provided by dogmatic religion and illogical belief. This "significant number" of people who "claim atheism" but also "belief in some sort of deity" are only atheists in the sense that they're rejecting certain types of gods. This is not true of all atheists and it's not true of all of humanity (as this author is suggesting).
Sally Quinn's article is interesting, if not contradictory at every turn. She begins with the familiar disclaimer that she considered herself an atheist for years ...but, "in the end, never denied the existence of God". Her reason for never denying the existence of God seems to revolve around her next statement which states we can never possibly know if God exists. Isn't this just tap-dancing? There are a great many things in life for which we, as humans, do not require absolute confirmation or evidence before ruling those things out. Does Mrs. Quinn believe in Noodly Appendages because she has no evidence that the FSM doesn't exist? Of course not.
The fourth article I've linked to is by Susan Jacoby. I can't say this any better than she has, so I will post two paragraphs from her article.
I suppose it's possible that some of the atheists who said they believed in
God were operating under the misapprehension that atheism means something like deism--belief not in a personal God but in an overarching providence, or spirit,
that gave rise to the universe but plays no direct role in the affairs of
humans. I suppose it is also possible that some of those polled, aware that
atheism is greatly stigmatized in American culture, wanted to make nice by
saying that they did believe in God in the same spirit that some women say, "I
am a feminist but...." The "but" is always followed by some silly, ingratiating
statement like, "I don't want to burn my bra" or "I like men. But atheism is
not a flexible word. That is, in fact, the reason why so many nonbelievers
prefer to call themselves agnostics. Indeed, the word "agnostic" was coined by
Thomas Henry Huxley, the great popularizer of Darwin's theory of evolution, as
an alternative to the much older, harsher-sounding word "atheist." Atheists are
people who don't believe in God. They do not claim (as some believers mistakenly think) to "know" that there is no God. What an honest atheist says is, "Given all the available evidence, I don't believe in a divine creator." An atheist can no more prove that there is no God than a believer can prove that there is one--but only believers claim to "know" that their religious convictions are true.
Yes! Yes! Yes!