There will always be atheists in the world—so I’m not talking about a demographic trend. I don’t know where atheism is heading with the masses. For all I know, it may be growing faster than any other idea in the world. Go team! But I’m not talking about who’s up and who’s down in the wars of religion. I’m asking about vitality. I’m asking the question: Is atheism a death cult, a premature closure on eccentricity and possibility?
And in this, as an agnostic, I must say that it is. It’s why I’m not an atheist.
I’ve asked myself more than a few times lately, Why do I call myself an agnostic and not an atheist? And I keep coming back to closure. Certainty (or near certainty) on matters approaching the ontological mystery feels ridiculous to me. Belief, any belief—including belief in atheism—appears t be the enemy of thought. And then, when watching this clip from Terence McKenna, it occurred to me: I don’t like atheism for exactly the same reason that I don’t like noncharismatic religion.
When I was a teenager, and attending Christian churches, I gravitated toward charismatic religion for the same reasons that I gravitate toward agnosticism today. I wanted an encounter with the ontological mystery, an experience. The noncharismatic churches I encountered (like the atheist “web congregations” of Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and PZ Myers) set themselves against a direct encounter with the ontological mystery and the transcendent. They demarcated life in such a way as to drive the wild eros from it.
And that’s what the new atheists do today. Richard Dawkins, Jerry Coyne, and PZ Myers are secular John MacArthurs. They function as the spike-collared rotweillers to William Blake’s Urizen, the dismissers, restricters, and policers of exotic imaginative energies:
A world of Dawkins-style atheism would be as narrow and dead as one circumscribed by any noncharismatic version of religion. The wild plants must have their air and sunlight—and we are those wild plants. Atheists and noncharismatic religionists prematurely tame the ontological mystery, and they leave little space for the ecstatic. Can you, for instance, imagine Richard Dawkins or Ayn Rand submitting to glossolalia? Agnostics and charismatic experiencers of the world unite! We have nothing to lose but their chains!