There are two main kinds of apatheists: apathetic agnostics and apathetic atheists. Apathetic agnostics believe it is not worth debating whether or not God exists; perhaps because human beings cannot know the answer and perhaps because if God exists, He does not care whether one believes in Him. What’s true is what you make true, as represented metaphorically by “ideas” like the devil or God, according to them. Trevor Hedberg has defended “practical apatheism” largely on the grounds that there is no reason to think there would be harmful consequences to ignoring the question. (His philosophical defence for apathy depends, ironically, on a great deal of analysis and reflection.)
Apathetic atheists believe it is quite obvious that God does not exist, but that there is no point debating it, either because they believe that the argument has already been won or because their “live and let live” philosophy entails a mild tolerance of belief in God. Alex Nichols’s Baffler essay “New Atheism’s Idiot Heirs” mocks “a certain species of idiot” who is “devoted to the notion that his disbelief in God imbued him with intellectual superiority,” but it is the manner not the message he dislikes. Many apatheists have no more respect for arguments for the existence of God than do Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, or Daniel Dennett; they are simply more polite.
…Christians should also work to challenge the apatheists’ emotional complacence. This can be addressed by questioning the secular worldview and its ultimate telos—or lack thereof. What is the point of caring about God? Well, what is the point of living a purely material life without knowing where you stand?
As an apathetic atheist, this is a fair description. I think it is self-evident that whatever mysteries remain in the universe, none of them, if uncovered, are going to point convincingly back in the direction of the God of monotheism. Arguments from biology, geology, astronomy and history are far more convincing than any neo-Scholastic logic-chopping. And I agree with the main point of the article — Christianity is withering more from benign neglect than devoted iconoclasm. If anything, the self-inflicted wounds to religious moral authority by recurring scandals like pedophilia in the Catholic Church have been far more lethal than any invective from secular opponents. But I’m not sure what, exactly, they’re proposing to do about it here. Am I to understand that someone has finally come up with the immovable argument for God’s existence sometime in the last decade? Are they seriously calling for redoubled efforts to convince people of the literal truth of Christianity? When I was a young pup, abstruse theological debates were like Kongs, tug ropes and squeaky toys for me — fun exercise, and good for mental muscles and critical teeth. But, you know, there comes a time to put away puppyish things, and I think I’m pretty typical in having arrived at middle age without the slightest interest in what people believe as opposed to what they practice, and frankly, as Nietzsche observed to his disgust a century and a half ago, in practice, there’s very little noticeable difference between me and my Christian neighbors. The best parts of Christian practice have passed into the public domain as non-denominational common sense. In today’s Body of Christ, the doctrinal specifics and logical absurdities are like the appendix and wisdom teeth — maybe they served a purpose a long time ago, but now they’re irrelevant at best, only noticeable when they cause pain. It just seems like, uh, evolution in action to me.
As for that last bit, well, I’m not sure what a “purely material” life would be. Even the most resolute materialist still has hopes, dreams, sublime pleasures, and collective belongings. We just don’t fall for the intellectual fallacy that a life without a firm theoretical foundation underlying its practice is somehow incomplete or invalid. It’s a tired old false dichotomy that our only choice is between monotheistic belief or Ivan Karamazov’s nihilism. (Nihilism: the shadow of God — where the Son doesn’t shine.) In her book The Human Condition, Hannah Arendt put it well: “[E]ven if there is no truth, man can be truthful, and even if there is no reliable certainty, man can be reliable.” (Centuries earlier, Marcus Aurelius had said much the same: “Although everything happens at random, don’t you, too, act at random.”) The higher things are not given to us from on high; they have to be created anew constantly — even, or especially, as they get wasted and destroyed. Is music any less sublime because it needs to be played into existence by fallible humans, rather than waiting, pre-composed, in some divine storehouse, to be given to us by the Master Musician? Why, then, would life itself be any different?