Many unbelievers suffer from conflicted body language. On the one hand, they attack Christianity because Christians can’t face up to reality. Christians nurse the illusion of a God who cares about them. Christians nurse the illusion of a heavenly afterlife. Christianity is founded on wishful thinking.
And that’s bad. We need to grow up. Stare reality square in the face. Be unflinching in our courageous embrace of the evidence, wherever it leads us.
Richard Dawkins is a classic exponent of this doughty, tough-minded rhetoric. For example:
“If it's true that it [i.e. naturalistic evolution] causes people to feel despair, that's tough. It's still the truth. The universe doesn't owe us condolence or consolation; it doesn't owe us a nice warm feeling inside. If it's true, it's true, and you'd better live with it.”
Dawkins acts like a stern, disapproving nun who patrols her classroom with a metal-edged ruler to smite the bare knuckles of naughty, mischievous students. His calling in life is to turn boys into men. To banish our childish fears of oblivion.
That’s atheism from the neck up. The stiff upper-lip of labial atheism.
But when you shift your focus to atheism below the belt, it has an odd way of going weak at the knees. The tender joints of arthological atheism.
When Christians point out that atheism entails moral nihilism, which renders human existence meaningless, the average atheist becomes very agitated. Very defensive. He accuses you of misrepresenting atheism.
Suddenly the undaunted atheist can’t quite bring himself to accept the grim consequences of his position. He yells at you for making him look at a picture of the moral abyss.
He retreats into make-believe meaning. We project meaning onto the world. We create our very own heaven-on-earth through utopian good deeds. The triumph of the human spirit. The Ode to Joy and all that good stuff.
So we need to distinguish between labial atheism and arthological atheism. Labial atheism is boundlessly brave, heroic, and noble. But arthological atheism is timid and fanciful.
What is atheism? Depends on which part of the anatomy you’re inspecting. The upper lip or the wobbly knees? To paraphrase Scripture, “These people honor me with their lips, but their knees are far from me.”