Examining their theories of religion in the "Atheism for Lent" Course at Journey, we have seen that for Freud religion is primarily ‘ontological weakness seeking consolation;’ for Marx it is primarily ‘sociological power seeking legitimation;’ and for Nietzsche it is primarily ‘sociological weakness seeking revenge’ (Merold Westphal, Suspicion and Faith, p.229).
But perhaps it is also possible for a hermeneutic of suspicion to interpret these critics’ sceptical atheism similarly? Perhaps atheism is also wish-fulfilment? Does atheism also function as an oppressive ideology? Does it also operate within slave morality? The claim that atheism – the “new-” or “neo-atheism” of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, etc. in particular – is also a form of religious (i.e. dogmatic) belief system is often made in Christian rebuttals of atheist critiques of religion.
But perhaps atheism and religion are alike in more radical ways than this.
Both Ricky Gervais and Derren Brown note the pervasiveness of atheism, even amongst theists. Brown says, ‘[t]he reality is we’re all atheists regards every other “god” that’s ever been believed in or is still believed in, we just may not be atheists about “the one God” we believe in. So we all know what it is to be an atheist.’
As emerging church author and speaker Pete Rollins, founder of Ikon, Belfast, currently based in Greenwich, Connecticut, US, explains, ‘every concrete theism creates its negative, its atheism. There are as many atheisms as there are theisms.’ This means that ‘atheism is always regional, it’s always local, it’s always connected to an affirmation,’ since ‘[a]ll affirmations create their negations.’ However, he writes that ‘the atheistic spirit within Christianity delves much deeper than this – for we disbelieve not only in other gods but also in the God that we believe in’ (Rollins, How [Not] to Speak of God, p.25).