The idea “to be religious is to be a theist” as Christopher Hitchens stated in his debate with Lorenzo Albacete is a quite ethnocentric claim. It is true that in the West we have often associated a theistic God with religion, but this neglects Taoism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Jainism and numerous religious traditions which have adopted a deistic, pantheistic, panentheistic or other understanding of God. And as I pointed out in my critique of Hitchens last week, Unitarian Universalism contains 19% of people who identify as atheist/agnostic.
In the over 140 comments I received from my post “Christopher Hitchens: The Orthodox Protestant Atheist” both on the Tikkun site and in the version crossposted on Alternet.org there was both surprise and disbelief that atheists could be religious leaders. I described how I am in seminary at Starr King School for the Minstry studying alongside atheists and agnostics who are in training to become religious leaders and ministers. This seemed to be an oxymoron as for some of the respondents all religion is evil and always associated with God. So I thought it would be helpful to include a few statements from atheist students in seminary studying to be religious leaders.
From a fellow atheist seminarian at Starr King:
First, I think there is a difference between being an atheist and being anti-religious. They are orthogonal. There is also a difference between being anti-religious and being opposed to the effects of particular religious traditions. These terms should not be conflated. Since when did not believing in God mean that you are opposed to other people believing in God and or practicing religion regardless of whether they believe? I am an atheist. Just to be clear, by that I mean I don’t believe that there is a god, a higher consciousness, or a spirit. I am also opposed to the effects of certain religious traditions. But I am not by any means anti-religious. I don’t deny the value that religion or religious practice, (whether actual belief in god and the afterlife, or simply liking the pretty candles at mass and multiple opportunities for community) brings to people including myself. Religion has a lot to offer and to deny that is to deny the complexity of the human condition.