Most discourse about atheism that I have heard comes from within a theistic paradigm. And a theistic paradigm that hasn’t yet engaged with atheism is incapable of understanding it. Think of the typical, impulsive set of questions that are raised when someone encounters atheism for the first time: So, what is the point of living [without God]? What is the meaning of life [without God]? Why be moral [without God]?
These impulsive and defensive questions carry within them a more basic question, which is more difficult to articulate. It’s something like, “Who am I supposed to serve, then?” Or, “Where is my master, then?” The questions reflect of an inertia, a lingering attachment to particular presupposition, namely that the principles governing a human life should be sought outside of that human life. Accordingly, it is not considered that living an ethical life is derived from an understanding of human life. It isn’t considered that knowing what it means to be human person means knowing what it means to be a good person.
The inertia reflected in impulsive questions (from atheism) show up, in other situations, especially when someone asks an inappropriate follow-up question. (1) A asks B, “Are you going to drink poison?” B responds, “No.” A follows up: “So who is going to drink poison?” (2) A asks B, “Did you beat your boyfriend?” B responds: “No, I didn’t” A follows up: “So who beat their boyfriend?” (3) A asks B, “Are you going to talk about religion?” B responds: “No.” A follows up: “So who is going to talk about religion?”
In all the above cases, Person A is attached to a presupposition: Someone has drunk poison (it’s just a matter of figuring out who). In the same way, it is assumed that someone has beat their boyfriend and someone is going to talk about religion. Attachment to presuppositions is why these questions aren’t genuine questions, but interrogations (Deleuze). The person who interrogates believes that they already have most of the answer, and there is only a small piece missing from what they know, perhaps a mere admission. The interrogator isn’t prepare to change the form of their thinking. Most often, the interrogator wants the other person to submit to them or admit something.
I said already that the questions asked from atheists are defensive (“So, what is the point?”). The person who is asking these questions wants to protect their World against the atheistic intrusion. They want to be able to dismiss atheism. If you’ve read or heard Peterson, you know he has this style of defensive non-engagement with postmodernism. He wants to be able to dismiss and deny postmodernism, “It was a mistake!” Even worse, “It didn’t happen! It never happened!” How childish. How pathetic. He is denying time, duration, change, the continuity of thought, and he wants to go back (defensively) to a time before postmodernism and before atheism.
I don’t think the impulsive questions are bad, as starting points, as long as they aren’t used as blocking devices. The questions (What is the point of living [without God]? What is the meaning of life [without God]? Why be moral [without God]?) shouldn’t be used for saying, “Don’t go there!” We must stay with these questions, up to the point where we can ask, So, what is the point of living [with God]? What is the meaning of life [with God]? Why be moral [with God]? In my current state, I really don’t care about the atheism vs. theism debate. What I care about is maintaining free movement between them. I want to be able to move from within one into the other, and vice versa, but when I return to my initial position, I am not returning to the past. I am retaining my connection to the past from the present. That practice, the right to engage with that practice, is what I care about.