What is needed is neither the overweening rationalism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief.Disappointed because, finally, "the God of the philosophers and the theologians is no more probable than the idoloatrous God of the fundamentalists", makes no more sense, is no more "worthy of our worshipful respect--alas." And so the essay dissipates at the end.
Yet I agree with much of Wood's conclusion, though I wouldn't put it in the same weary, disappointed tones. One reason for the lack of disappointment in a formulation I might come up with is encapsulated in an excellent line from the second paragraph of Wood's piece:
Atheism is structurally related to the belief it negates, and is necessarily a kind of rival belief; indifferent agnosticism would be a truer liberation.Atheists often bristle at the idea that atheism is anything like religious belief. Fine. What I'm interested in here is the second half of the sentence: indifferent agnosticism would be a truer liberation. One could challenge the charge that atheism is like religious belief--"structurally related"--and posit a different kind of atheism, retaining the rest of the formula: indifferent atheism would be a truer liberation. And in this phrase I see myself. On the one hand, I do not believe there is a God. Some argue that the inability to truly know means one should opt for agnosticism, but even if I ascent to the problem of knowing, I nevertheless must cop to a belief, a belief in an absence, yes, but a belief nonetheless. On the other hand, I am indifferent. Though I have at times in my life pretended to be an engaged atheist--that is, one who feels the need to argue the matter with believers, who has felt that religion needed to go away--in truth, those periods have been the exceptions. For most of my life I have been indifferent to religion, to religious belief. So I agree with Wood that indifference is the truer liberation.
At the same time, I share the desire for a theologically engaged atheism. But can such a thing exist alongside an indifferent atheism? I am indifferent to religion, yet I remain interested in and respectful of certain aspects of tradition, I want to know what it's about, I yearn, weirdly perhaps, to know what it feels like to have genuine access to the symbolic culture the tradition rests on. Is it possible to be deeply conversant with, for example, the religious literature, while being indifferent to its sacredness? That is, while always having been indifferent? Can one go through a whole life indifferent to matters of faith and belief and still get the literature? And still really get literature?