The title’s a little sensationalist and exploitative. I know. But bear with me.
Jesus was an atheist! I believe that.
But not in the way we understand atheism today.
Traditional atheism is understood as someone choosing not to believe in a particular representation of God.
The new atheists (not a term I came up with) Dawkins, Hitchens et al, are rejecting particular forms of theism (belief in God). For example the belief in a creator God or a God who interacts with humans. Not the concept of God itself.
“atheism, at its best, is always provisional- meaning that it is always limited to a particular expression of belief.”
So, in a traditional understanding of atheism, Jesus was an atheist.
He rejected the Pharisees understanding of who God is. He rejected the Roman’s understanding of who God is.
Anyone with a faith in a particular understanding of God is an atheist because in order to believe in one understanding, we must reject others.
I am an atheist towards fundamentalist understandings of God.
I am an atheist towards a God who condemns those to eternal punishment because of a different understanding of God. A God who encourages picketers at gay soldiers’ funerals. A God who oppresses women, children, homosexuals, other faiths etc.
But let me push things a little further.
Rather than simply be atheists towards the understandings of God that we disagree with, we should be atheists towards any conception of God that takes the place of God.
In Exodus 20, the second commandment declares that we should not make an image of God. We should not bow to any description of God that claims to be the absolute authority of God. This is key to the Judeo-Christian faith.
Yes, we can reflect on the experiences of God that we have encountered personally and in the person of Jesus and help the young people we work with to experience this God but to claim that we have the absolute truth of God would be idolatrous.
Once we understand this, we can, as peter rollins suggests, ” stop arguing about God and…dedicate our lives to being the manifestation of God”.