“I dislike being a foot soldier”: Freddie the Atheist on the Awful Quiet of Actual Atheism

Freddie, at The League of Ordinary Gentlemen, is not a movement New Atheist. He’s just an atheist. And he likes it that way:

[T]here is an elementary consonance between evangelist religion and evangelist antitheism that I find inarguable, that both insist that their adherents have duties and responsibilities that are a product of their theological stance. I chafed early and often against the social expectations of atheism for a simple reason: I dislike being a foot soldier. I cannot work my mind to the headspace necessary to believe that emptiness insists that we must be conscripted into a grand cultural war. I have said before that the real benefit of being an atheist is that you never have to get up early to go to church or temple. I say that only partly in jest: to me, what makes atheism attractive as a practical matter is that it requires nothing of me.

And he makes a great observation concerning what atheism, when you look at it closely, is (and isn’t):

Atheism is not a project. It proceeds towards no goal. It involves no work. Atheism is absence, an emptiness and, often, a comfort with that emptiness. . . . There is a freedom that is breathtaking and terrible in spiritual and theological nihilism that I find singular. But it is not an experience I share with antitheists; they are too filled with their belief in being unfilled, too bent by the force of what they are rejecting to understand or enjoy the awful quiet of actual atheism.

I’m not sure that living in that empty space is tolerable for more than a very tiny ironic minority. History suggests that vacuums do not go long unfilled. Political religion or some other pseudo-religious activity fills the void. But I admire any atheist who finds a functional and happy path in the full terror of unblinkered nihilism. The Buddhist saints somehow manage it. And Camus managed it.

As an agnostic, I’m still trying to keep my options more open.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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