The other day I saw someone on Google+ who described himself as a 'lapsed atheist.' I found the term a little fascinating, and I was reflecting on it as I walked home from Mass at the Poor Clares this morning.
I guess we tend to think of the theist as the one who makes assertions and claims, while the atheist does not. In other words, in our somewhat godless society, atheism is the default position. To confess God is to make claims that are alternative, and indeed rebellious.
In fact, however, this is a false imagination. Even though many of us religious people operate under it all the time, it is atheistic in its presumptions.
Atheism is, in fact, a very strong sort of claim or set of claims. Often it is based on an appeal to reason, though taking great (and ultimately useless) pains to avoid the intuition that the very reasonableness of the cosmos and the ability of our minds to interface with it through our own reason have been ordinary paths to the intuition of Reason itself, and the great religious intuition that this Reason is not a what, but a benevolent Who.
To be a theist, on the other hand, is just to surrender to the actuality of things, and I mean 'actuality' in all of its metaphysical force and theological richness.
So I like the idea of a 'lapsed atheist' and I'm thinking of adopting the language for myself. It suggests that the position of faith or the confession of God is not some sort of claim or set of claims that are adopted in a positive way, but simply an admission of what is and surrender to its implications.
In other words, the religious person is not someone who has become special by adopting some extraordinary outlook or worldview, but someone who has become ordinary by just accepting things as they are. We must never let ourselves become, in so many subtle ways, the Pharisee who thanked God that he was not like other men.
May I lapse from my atheism today. Amen.