What Comes After Atheism? Liberatheism, Freedom from God(s)

I am honored to write the Foreword to David Eller's soon to be published book, Liberatheism: On Freedom from God(s). Here is a draft I've submitted:


David Eller’s luminous works contain important perspectives you won’t find from anyone else in today’s world. We are all in his debt. You aren’t a fully informed person if you’re not reading them, and this new book is no exception.[1]

Let me highlight just a few of his perspectives, those I found to be brilliant, important, and persuasive. First, as a professor of cultural anthropology Eller has challenged me to think outside my cultural box. Rather than thinking exclusively in terms of westernized notions of faith, religion, and culture, he has forced me to adopt a global perspective. This global perspective has been a game changer for me. I used to think in exclusively in  terms of the westernized theistic gods of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. And while I don’t have a very deep knowledge of the other religious cultures and their gods, my consciousness has been raised to consider these other religious cultures more than ever. When that happens you will see the problem of religious diversity for what it really is.

From Eller I was forced to acknowledge it is not the case that westernized notions of religion have any superiority to them. That was a shocker to me, but then at that time I was still in my ignorance. Again, when we adopt a truly global perspective on religion none of them have anything more going for them than the others. This means for me as an atheist that when I choose to argue exclusively against one deity over the others, by that very choice I’m acting as if one particular deity has more going for it than the others. That assumption is false. The reason it’s false is because all religions are subjective, cultural, tribal, and relative. Our inherited religion is just a different cultural expression of the same kinds of hopes and fears over the problems we face with life and death, morals and society itself.

Since the dawn of human history religionists have been arguing over competing and even mutually exclusive religious faith claims. These claims on behalf of gods, goddesses, and other superhuman beings, along with their commandments, prophecies and promises cannot all be true. If we try to strip religious claims down to an agreed upon commonly shared bare minimum, what we might have left is the belief in a superhuman being, or beings, and/or superhuman force, or forces, the ground of all being, or the subjective feeling of transcendence. Even that bare minimum shared belief, variously described, is not such a bare or minimum or shared belief. Religionist beliefs differ over the existence of one paranormal being (i.e., one God) or in many paranormal beings (i.e., gods, goddesses, angels, spirits, ghosts, demons), or in one paranormal force (i.e., panentheism, deism) or many paranormal forces (i.e., karma, fate, reincarnation, prayers, incantations, spells, omens, voodoo dolls), or some sort of combination of them. Religionists who agree with one another on these beliefs go on to disagree over who these beings and/or paranormal forces are, how they operate, and for whom they operate.

So if we were to use one word to describe what we know about religions, that word would be diversity. When dealing with such a diverse phenomena where no religion has an advantage over others, we must treat all religious faith-based claims the same, privileging none. Eller points out that “the diversity of religions forces us to see religion as a culturally relative phenomenon; different groups have different religions that appear adapted to their unique social and even environmental conditions.”[2]

Eller’s works convinced me of the cultural and relativistic nature of religion. Given the historical track record to date, no religion based on faith will ever rise above the heap of them. For this would require something they cannot provide, sufficient objective evidence that can convince reasonable outsiders.[3]

Second, because of the above perspective, Eller helped change my view of the philosophy of religion. Although I was trained in that discipline and taught it at the college level, I now see clearly its irrelevance and inadequacy.[4] If atheist philosophers and students want to truly understand my call for the end of philosophy of religion, they must read his works.

Third, Eller has also challenged me to consider what it means to be consistently atheist in an atheist society. About his book, Atheism Advanced, I called it “The Best Damn Atheist Book on the Market Today, Bar None, Hands Down, Without Question!”[5] Among other things, he effectively argued that Christians believe in a local Christianity or no Christianity at all. 

When I started writing my books, I wrote against a specific religious viewpoint, likened to a small limb growing out of the very large tree of religion. I wasn’t arguing against animism, animatism, nor ancestor worship, ethical non-theism (like Buddhism), nor the many polytheistic gods and goddesses. Nor did I argue against other monotheisms like the several branches of Judaism or Islam, nor against whatever original Christianities believed, nor liberalism, nor deism. No. My focus had been against a small sect in time, evangelical Christianity. And among evangelicals themselves there is no consensus about true Christianity, relegating certain other branches to “cults.” Christianity is best understood as a “local Christianity,” one situated in a particular time and place, held by particular localized people. What a particular Christian believes is a hybrid coming from schism after schism and the conclusions of hindsight through the process of syncretism.

While I have argued specifically about the dominant American fundamentalist or evangelical view in my book, Eller argues against religion itself. Along the way Eller advances our understanding of just what atheism is. Acording to him atheism is not just a view that stands in contrast with the dominant religious view of any particular society. Atheism in Hindu countries would be a-Hinduist, while atheism in Christian countries would be considered a-Christian. But this cannot be what atheism is about. We atheists have allowed the dominant religious view of our societies to set the definition for what atheism is, and even the language we use to debate the issues, Eller argues. Why is it that most debates in western cultures are debates on such topics as “Christianity vs. Atheism”? Eller wants us to think in larger terms than that. According to Eller the real debate should be set in terms of “Christianity vs. Itself,” since there are so many branches of it. Or perhaps “Christianity vs. All Other Religions,” since that’s the proper way to think about religion. Can you imagine a Christian wanting to debate that topic with an atheist?

Consequently, says Eller, “Nothing is more destructive to religion than other religions; it is like meeting one’s own anti-matter twin. Other religions represent alternatives to one’s own religion: other people believe in them just as fervently as we do, and they live their lives just as successfully as we do.” Eller goes on to rhetorically ask the important question: “But if their religion is relative, then why is ours not?[6]

Fourth, Eller convincingly argues that western cultures are dominated by Christian language, rituals, symbols, arts, music, habits, and so forth. It’s as if we are almost imprisoned in it. He writes:

We find in practice that atheists in Christian-dominated societies speak and think in Christian terms just as surely as Christians do. We let Christianity set the agenda, identify the questions, and provide the language of the debate. We quite literally ‘speak Christian’ just as fluently and just as un-self-consciously as they do. [7]

Eller continues:

We need to stop speaking Christian so as to loosen the grip of Christian language on our thinking....We do well to begin our debunking of religion with a debunking of religious terminology. [8]

Eller calls upon atheists to eliminate our use of words and phrases like “heaven,” “hell,” “sin,” “angel,” “devil,” “bless,” “soul,” “saint,” “pray,” “sacred,” “divine,” “baptism,” “purgatory,” “gospel” “the Mark of Cain” “Garden of Eden” “patience of Job” “a voice crying in the wilderness” “wolf in sheep’s clothing” “wars and rumors of wars” “lost sheep” and others. They have no corresponding referent in other non-Christian parts of the globe. This Christian language only serves to continue the cultural domination that Christianity has in western society; much like chauvinistic language does with respect to women.

Fifth, Eller argues that there is no specific “Science vs. Religion” problem, since some religions do not believe in any personal god, and because religious believers are not against most scientific disciplines. Believers are only opposed to those scientific disciplines that come into direct conflict with their own specific religious claims. Some religions don’t even have a creation theory! Surely religious believers are not opposed to quantum theory or gravitational theory or meteorology or botany or gemology (the study of gems), for starters. They are only opposed to specific claims within physics and biology when science crosses over into the arbitrary and sacred/profane boundary of specific religious claims.

Religious believers are not opposed to science as a whole, just some aspects of it. So the debate is not about science vs. religion but rather about specific local religions vs specific scientific claims.

These are all very important perspectives readers need to understand and articulate. Pushing the envelope of our understandings farther is the impact of this volume. In the front matter essay, Eller asks, “What comes after atheism? My answer is liberatheism, not against god(s) but free of god(s). We can think of liberatheism as liber-atheism (free-without-gods) or liberate-theism (freedom from theism), but either way the message is the same. The battle over god(s) is finished. We move on to a life and a world freed from god(s).”

In his Introduction, Eller deals with the complexities, paradoxes and contradictions of freedom then focuses in on the responsibilities of freedom at the end. He wants us to consider the responsibility to liberate ourselves from masters, from god, history, or human beings:

If no man or woman, no historical force or ‘law of nature,’ and no god dictates what we think, what we value, what we do, what institutions we construct, then it is up to us to decide. We do not make such decisions in a vacuum; we are creatures of a particular culture, historical experience, and historical moment, overdetermined to choose some things and avoid others…But in order to extricate ourselves from old, tired, ill-fitting, and often pathological social realities, we must liberate ourselves from old, tired, ill-fitting, and often pathological authorities, including especially religions and their god(s).”

       Then he outlines the rest of the book by sharing the three steps in this process:  “The first step in this process, in theism-dominated societies, is atheism—saying no to god(s). The next step is liberatheism—getting free of god(s). The final step is not talking about god(s) at all.”
        This book finishes a trilogy that began with his book Natural Atheism,[9] to which I say Bravo! We are in Eller's debt. May his work gain a very wide hearing. It can help lead us into an era where gods and goddesses can be ignored, along with their caretakers and spokespersons(!). Ignoring prescientific superstitions and paranormal pretend beings is our best hope for achieving human and animal flourishing on this pale blue dot of ours.  Based on scientific literacy without gods, and our own capabilities for empathy, there is hope we can bring it about eventually. But if not, we might as well die trying. "Light a candle in the dark," Carl Sagan said. Adopt that as your purpose in life. It's one that can transcend all that we do.


[1] I am thrilled he graciously wrote a Foreword for one of my books and several chapters for my anthologies.

[2] David Eller, Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a FreethinkerAtheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker (Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2007). p. 233.

[3] It’s from this perspective that religionists should approach their indoctrinated culturally adopted religion as outsiders. It’s the best way to test whether any one of them is true, if there is one. On this see my book The Outsider Test for Faith How to Know Which Religion is True (Prometheus Books, 2013).

[4] See my 2016 book, Unapologetic: Why Philosophy of Religion Must End (Pitchstone Publishing).

[5] Atheism Advanced: Further Thoughts of a Freethinker (Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2007). https://www.debunking-christianity.com/2009/02/best-damn-atheist-book-on-market-today.html 

[6] David Eller, Atheism Advanced, p. 233.

[7] Ibid., p. 235.

[8] Ibid., p. 236.
American Atheist Press, 2004.

John W. Loftus is a philosopher and counter-apologist credited with 12 critically acclaimed books, including The Case against Miracles, God and Horrendous Suffering, and Varieties of Jesus Mythicism. Please support DC by sharing our posts, or by subscribing, donating, or buying our books at Amazon. As an Amazon Associate John earns a small amount of money from purchases made from Amazon. Buying anything through them helps fund my work here, and is greatly appreciated!