Believing in Nothing
Francis Collins, now Director of the National Institutes of Health (and one of the crackers of the human genome code) , quoted Chesterton on The Charlie Rose Show tonight: "Atheism is the assertion of a universal negative."
I was the friend of a card carrying atheist, (a Ph.D. in literature from Yale) for the last 33 years of his life, from age 51 to 84.
When I attended Divinity School at Yale from 1976-80, he thought I had lost my senses and didn't speak to me for ten years.
After his second wife died, we had a rapprochement, and although we generally agreed not to talk about religion, he surprised me in the last year of his life by asking me this question: "Do you think there is anything?"
I am not going to share my answer --- it is too personal.
But the fact that he asked that question (especially of me, whose Divinity education he considered an inferior academic enterprise) almost falls into the category of "No atheists in fox holes:" He knew at 84 with emphysema that his days were numbered.
But what impresses me most is that he did NOT have a death-bed conversion. He died an atheist. His son even eulogized him as an "atheist".
And it is in that light, that I improve on Chesterton. Atheism is not merely the "assertion of a universal negative," it is an actual form of faith: the BELIEF that there is NOTHING---the religion of atheism.
That BELIEF is practiced and ritualized by atheists in private, cerebral ceremonies, not public worship services.
It is the strongest of faiths, exactly because it is private and does not seek converts and therefore confirmation by support.
Ironically, atheism is the very irrationality which atheists criticize in religious adherents: Faith.
It would be a lot easier to just walk away from the argument. Instead of doing nothing, atheists choose to do something different.
They choose to ------------- BELIEVE.