I’m A Closet Atheist, or so I’ve Been Told
I have been called a “closet atheist” several times online throughout the years. The comment of course doesn’t warrant much attention until you realize that I was born into the Mormon Church (alternatively “The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints”) and have remained active to this day. Perhaps to the chagrin of my congregation, I have taken these “closet” comments as deeply warm compliments.
I find no necessary contradiction between Mormonism and atheism.
This seems to be a contradiction in terms, no? After all, Mormonism is a restored version of primitive Christianity that espouses belief in a social Trinitarian cosmology. And atheism is just, well, you know, a God-denying philosophy that is completely antithetical towards anything that even slightly reeks of religiosity — right?
I have been led to a different assessment.
The obvious conflicts have generated the perception that allegiance to one side necessarily impairs allegiance to the other. These accusations, however, remain too limited — at best quaint — to effectively render what Mormonism has meant to me while growing up in a world predominantly ruled by doubt, disbelief, and cynicism.
There is an untold story on the rise about a particular reading of atheism, one that even the most devout Latter-day Saint or religious person can safely describe as, may I dare suggest, “sacred.” The pious character of this anti-god campaign serves many stimulating purposes for the religious, but one in particular stands paramount: Atheism compels Mormonism (and religion generally) to reveal its merits, its truth-value, even in the face of its most merciless critics.
Generally speaking, “atheism” is too diverse of a concept to explore without a singular philosophical framework. I will thus narrow my focus to a unique brand of modern, militant atheism known as “New Atheism.” I will first explain briefly its origins, tenets, and polemics against religion. I will next deflate a few of the common stereotypes ascribed to the New Atheists, and atheism generally. Philosophically, as well as linguistically, this will help prepare the grounds in revealing what New Atheism means to communicate about the human-spiritual experience. Paradoxically, what the New Atheists believe about our capacity for spiritual experience will reveal an even stranger rapport they unconsciously share with Mormon theology.
It will be my mission — my uniquely Mormon Mission (since I never served traditionally) — to show how New Atheism actually aids Mormon theology. In seeking to demythologize the trappings of religious belief, New Atheism incidentally re-mythologizes a new vision that may even guide Mormonism as praxis. This new vision baits us to ponder the following question:
What does it mean to be divine, while still remaining viscerally, existentially human?
To me the long-standing war between religion and atheism, especially when viewed in light of the restored teachings of Joseph Smith, is a superfluous war of words based on a dialectical distortion of what it means to be “human.” This distortion propounds immensely in relation to an even stranger concept — to be “divine.” In what follows, I will show that from the dawn of our assimilation, comprehension, and realization of these two paradigms — to be human, to be divine — is where the stories we tell about their assumed conflicts can begin to take on renewed meaning.
To read more of this essay, please click chapter headings below.