What is atheism?
According the break down of the word "atheism," "a" is an alpha privative to denoting negation, and meaning "no." Take the alpha ("a") negation and add it to word, "theos" (God or god), and you have atheism being the worldview that denies the existence of God or gods. What do I mean by "God" or "gods?"
Let's work with the latter term, "God." When I am using the term "God," or I say that "I believe in the existence of God," I am saying that the God who exists is the personal, timeless (eternal), immaterial or spaceless and is the Uncaused First Cause and Designer of the universe.
Those who believe in God are what would be called "theists." Of course there are different kinds of theists, that believe differently about the nature and the existence of God.
For example the theist who believes in the God of the Bible (Yahweh) could be called a 'Christian theist' or a 'Jewish theist.' Islamic monotheism is different in that the Muslim believes that "God" (Allah) is personal, timeless, and Who is the First Cause of the universe. Islamic mono-theism is different in that there are differences in the Muslim understanding of God's personal relationship to his creation which is something vastly different to the Judeo-Christian understanding.
Some atheists will try and define or redefine the meaning of "atheism," But doing this is only an attempt to seek an unfair advantage in the conversation. This is also the case with this claim, "we're all atheists." I will address that a little more in a moment.
Whenever we are involved in a conversation with an atheist, it is important to make sure the terms are clearly defined, particularly when "God" is brought into the conversation. It is really interesting to hear atheists' understanding of the Christian God, coming from Christians with whom they have dialogued. As a result of this "phenomena," atheists will have a vastly different understanding of the God of the Bible. This is why it is very important to explain what and who is the God that we believe in. In many instances, you may find that it may be a different "god" than the onethey think we believe in.
What do the atheists mean when they say we're all atheists?
Since the atheist does not believe in the God of the Bible, the God of Islam or any of the deities of the polytheistic and pantheistic religions, the statement made by the atheist, that"we're all atheists, and I don't believe in one more god than you" is actually trying to seek an advantage by putting you and I in the same position as the atheist.
By saying we're all atheists, it is their attempt to "level the playing field," and get you and I to agree with the claim. This is a dishonest and shifty tactic, but one that needs to be dissected.
Let me see if I can sum this up. I don't believe in the nature and interpretation "Allah" but that does not make me an atheist. There are some major differences between the God of the Bible and the Islamic interpretation of God. There is also a different understanding of the God of the Bible, opposed to the understanding of the pantheon of over 300 million deities in Hinduism. Those understandings of God versus those deities are worlds apart from each other. But that does not make me an atheist.
I have my reasons based on an understanding of what makes a coherent and cohesive worldview. Those reasons are the reasons for rejecting the other religions' views including the understanding of the divine nature in Buddhism, which is essentially atheistic. But these understandings do not make me an atheist to them. My understanding about those who follow these views is based upon the fact that God has placed something in each person to seek their creator. The world religions' interpretations are merely a reflection of man not being able to find God, and that it is God who seeks us and shows us our need for Him.
So I am not an atheist to those religions, but at the same time, I don't accept them as realistic interpretations of the God who exists. What was my response to "Glen's" claim, "we're all atheists, and I am just atheistic to one more God than you."
My response was, "Glen, that is really a weak tactic, but since you are atheistic to the Judeo Christian understanding of God, let's deal with why you don't believe in that One." This response kept the conversation fresh and in focus. From there, we can move into a few strategies to find out where an atheist really is in their understanding of God's existence.
Conclusion: The real issue of the matter
In closing, we do not have to be like the "WWJD guy" in the picture above. We need to remember the vital importance of not losing bearing when we talk with atheists. We need to be willing to listen to them, remembering that they are people for whom Christ died. Get to know them personally and leave the conversation open as a friend.
When I was visiting with "Glen" a couple Sundays ago, and he made this statement that we are all atheists, I did not let him off the hook, but asked him what he meant. Asking questions shows them that you are interested in what they have to say, despite the fact that we are world views apart.
Lastly don't forget to pray during the conversation (silently) and after your meeting is over. You never know if you have "put a stone in the person's shoe" by just staying confident in the conversation and keeping in step with your conversant. That impresses atheists and a key to being a good ambassador for the Master.
Related Posts in this Series:
Responding to the "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidences" objection