A friend of mine on Facebook is a self-professed atheist. One day in the not-too-distant past I noticed he joined a group that caught my attention called “Calling all ATHEISTS – Let’s see how many Atheists are on Facebook.” It’s a rather silly group that never actually bothers to define what they mean by “atheist”. Is the group open to “weak” atheism or only “strong” atheism? That is to say, does the group recognize me as an “atheist” if I am merely agnostic about the proposition? For that matter, how does this group define the “God” it is so fervently denying?
It came to my mind to recall the fact that Christians were originally called “atheist” by the Romans (and thus perhaps the oldest group to receive that appellation). Additionally, when we understand the original meaning conveyed in the Germanic term “God” (compare “Gott”)—a word that was in Old English when the tribes of Brittain were far from Christian—it would be reasonable to refrain from using that term for YHWH the Eternal One of scripture. And thus in my denial of this pagan “god” concept, could I not be an Atheist myself?
Well, suffice it to say, I’ve had a good bit of fun with this group and despite the several discussions I’ve had with others on the subject, I’ve yet to receive a satisfactory definition of “Atheism” in the group as no one has yet to define “God”. It’s not that I’m asking for someone to disprove the concept; I’d just like to know what the concept they’re attempting to disprove IS in the first place. So anyhow…
As part of posting on that group, I came across this rather silly picture…
When I saw this, I had to laugh—although perhaps not for the reasons intended by the person who put this picture together. The reason I was immediately moved to laughter is because I have a passing acquaintance with these figures. Anyone with a passing acquaintance with history would immediately question the inclusion of at least some of the iconic figures depicted in this graphic. And the truth is it’s actually quite difficult to say that any of these figures could unarguably considered to be completely “atheist” in the common parlance understanding.
From left to right, top to bottom we have: Ernest Hemingway, Abraham Lincoln, Carl Sagan, Samuel Clemens (a.k.a Mark Twain), Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin, and Benjamin Franklin.
Starting with Hemingway, the only evidence I could find to support Hemingway’s supposed atheism is a quote that is much bandied about on the interwebs by a lot of smug atheists who proudly make this citation…
“All thinking men are atheists” – Ernest Hemingway.
This sounds rather conclusive on the surface, and it is a fact that Hemingway wrote that… as part of a FICTIONAL dialog stated by a FICTIONAL character in one of Hemingway’s FICTIONAL books! Suffice it to say, my derisive laughter only multiplied when I found atheists using this quote this way. I guess these “thinking men” didn’t give this one enough thought. Here’s the quote in context…
” ‘All thinking men are atheists,’ the major said. ‘I do not believe in the Free Masons however.'” – A Farwell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway (Chapter 2, p. 8)
Now, while we’re on the subject of quotes, let’s just go ahead and consider the following quotes on the rest of these great “atheists” shall we?
“As my husband was known to be the most loving and devoted husband & father we will allow these falsehoods a place where they deserve. We all — the whole world have been greatly shocked — at the fearful ideas — Herndon — has advanced regarding Mr. Lincoln’s religious views. You, who knew him so well & held so many conversations with him, as far back as twenty years since, know what they were. A man, who never took the name of the Maker in vain, who always read his Bible diligently, who never failed to rely on God’s promises & looked upon Him for protection, surely such a man as this, could not have been a disbeliever, or any other than what he was, a true Christian gentleman. No one, but such a man as Herndon could venture — to suggest such an idea. From the time of the death of our little Edward, I believe my husband’s heart was directed towards religion & as time passed on – when Mr. Lincoln became elevated to Office – with the care of a great Nation, upon his shoulders – when devastating war was upon us then indeed to my knowledge – did his great heart go up daily, hourly, in prayer to God – for his sustaining power. When too – the overwhelming sorrow came upon us, our beautiful bright angelic boy, Willie was called away from us, to his Heavenly Home, with God’s chastising hand upon us – he turned his heart to Christ” – Mary Todd Lincoln on Abraham Lincoln (“Abraham Lincoln and Religion“)
“Some people think God is an outsized, light-skinned male with a long white beard, sitting on a throne somewhere up there in the sky, busily tallying the fall of every sparrow. Others—for example Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein—considered God to be essentially the sum total of the physical laws which describe the universe. I do not know of any compelling evidence for anthropomorphic patriarchs controlling human destiny from some hidden celestial vantage point, but it would be madness to deny the existence of physical laws.” – Carl Sagan (“Personal Life & Beliefs” section of Wikipedia article)
“I believe in God the Almighty. I do not believe He has ever sent a message to man by anybody, or delivered one to him by word of mouth, or made Himself visible to mortal eyes at any time in any place.” – Samuel Clemens (“Mark Twain’s Creed”)
“In summary, then, Jefferson was a deist because he believed in one God, in divine providence, in the divine moral law, and in rewards and punishments after death; but did not believe in supernatural revelation. He was a Christian deist because he saw Christianity as the highest expression of natural religion and Jesus as an incomparably great moral teacher. He was not an orthodox Christian because he rejected, among other things, the doctrines that Jesus was the promised Messiah and the incarnate Son of God. Jefferson’s religion is fairly typical of the American form of deism in his day.” – Avery Dulles on Thomas Jefferson (“Thomas Jefferson and Religion”)
“I’m not an atheist and I don’t think I can call myself a pantheist. We are in the position of a little child entering a huge library filled with books in many different languages. The child knows someone must have written those books. It does not know how. The child dimly suspects a mysterious order in the arrangement of the books but doesn’t know what it is. That, it seems to me, is the attitude of even the most intelligent human being toward God.” – Albert Einstein (“Albert Einstein’s religious views“)
“I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God. – I think that generally … an agnostic would be the most correct description of my state of mind.” – Charles Darwin (“Religious Views” section of Wikipedia article)
“In the beginning of the contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine Protection. — Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a Superintending providence in our favor. … And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need His assistance. I have lived, Sir, a long time and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth — that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings that “except the Lord build they labor in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the Builders of Babel: …I therefore beg leave to move — that henceforth prayers imploring the assistance of Heaven, and its blessings on our deliberations, be held in this Assembly every morning before we proceed to business, and that one or more of the Clergy of this City be requested to officiate in that service.” – Benjamin Franklin (“Virtue, religion, and personal beliefs” section of Wikipedia article)
So, in summary, what do we have here? We have a Congregationalist turned Roman Catholic named Ernest Hemingway. We have a Calvinist Christian in the person of Abraham Lincoln who stirred the emotions of men with his famous appeals to the righteousness of God while liberally quoting the Bible. Carl Sagan is perhaps the closest thing to an “atheist”, but himself agreed with Einstein’s theological understanding of “God” and therefore was really more of a speculative Deist/Pantheist. We have Mark Twain who as a sardonic Deist was certainly no friend to the Church, although he remained in name a Presbyterian and a FreeMason. We have Thomas Jefferson who was also a textbook Deist, but unlike Twain he had a lot of respect for Jesus Christ and the morality of the Bible. We have the scientific genius Albert Einstein who famously referenced “God” and plainly stated “I’m not an atheist”. Then we come to Charles Darwin who, due to his controversial biological thesis, we might think the atheists have someone to claim here, yet he himself wrote “I have never been an atheist in the sense of denying the existence of a God.” Finally, we end with Benjamin Franklin… who not only was officially a Presbyterian, but Franklin actually argued for prayers to be offered at the start of congressional meetings on the basis that “God governs in the affairs of men”!
So, do we really have any atheists depicted here at all?
I think the answer speaks for itself. The message of the graphic is certainly tongue-in-cheek, as not one of the men depicted was an “idiot”. On the other hand, I tend to think the creator of this graphic was.
So, that being said and in conclusion, I decided to make my own little parody of this graphic to illustrate the point in the same spirit of satire.