Is Atheism an Intellectual Luxury for the Wealthy?

Chris Arnade wrote an interesting article in the Guardian with this title.  I’m fascinated because Chris is an atheist who worked on Wall Street and then became a photographer of homeless people in the South Bronx.  He reveals the humanity of his subjects and their beauty amidst the brokeness in their lives.  In his conclusion he reveals his startling thought:

They have their faith because what they believe in doesn’t judge them. Who am I to tell them that what they believe is irrational? Who am I to tell them the one thing that gives them hope and allows them to find some beauty in an awful world is inconsistent? I cannot tell them that there is nothing beyond this physical life. It would be cruel and pointless.

In these last three years, out from behind my computers, I have been reminded that life is not rational and that everyone makes mistakes. Or, in Biblical terms, we are all sinners.

We are all sinners. On the streets the addicts, with their daily battles and proximity to death, have come to understand this viscerally. Many successful people don’t. Their sense of entitlement and emotional distance has  numbed their understanding of our fallibility.

Soon I saw my atheism for what it is: an intellectual belief most accessible to those who have done well.

I read the article reposted on Alternet, where he gets hammered in the discussion boards for defending the “silly crutch” of religion.  Since I worked in a homeless shelter, I saw a kindred spirit in this atheist who could see everyone’s humanity, so I posted this reply:


I was a program manager for homeless programs for 8 years and saw profound and beautiful faith of people bearing painful lives, brokenness that started very young. Thanks for giving voice to them, in words and photos. The faith of many people would not stand up to my own seminary-trained reasoning, but this faith often helps people move forward in recovery and healing. What people need most to move on from the shelter was hope. I could offer programs and life skills groups and job training, but if there was no hope, it did not matter. If an intellectually inconsistent and confused faith gives hope, helps people love and carry on, who am I to knock it down? In truth who among us really is totally consistent?

Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke at my church last Spring and someone skewered him about supporting production of parts for the F-35 fighter jet in Vermont while claiming to be against wasteful military spending. Bernie basically said, “Bingo, you got me. Some tech companies in Vermont also make military-related stuff. But I’m tired of people saying, ‘I can’t support you, Bernie, because I only agree with you on 99 percent of the issues.’ Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.”

Logic and reason is not always the best test of a human being. I’m going to be religious here for a moment and quote that crazy, confusing book called the Bible. “By their fruits you shall know them.” (from Jesus in Matthew) But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. (Apostle Paul to the Galatians.) Whether you are a Christian, atheist, Muslim, or anything else, if you embrace this kind of life, my heart is glad for it.

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