I see where you are going and thanks for the input. I think some of my general impressions of atheism has shaded my thinking on this and I seem to be very hung up in the semantics. Perhaps you all can help me with this.
First, the “author” was making a distinction between “an affirmative belief that there is no god” and “a lack of belief in god.” I’m not sure I see a difference in an affirmative disbelief and a lack of belief, except perhaps in a matter of degree. That’s my first mental challenge. They certainly may be making a distinction for a point of clarity, as in “I am saying we are this and not that,” but just because they are choosing to specify their language that way has not helped me to see the nuanced difference. Thus I get caught up in semantics.
Most metaphors fall short of a direct comparison, but here are my thoughts on the Zeus explanation. True that Zeus is not relevant to my day-to-day experience. When I learned about Zeus it was in the context of mythology and history; what a previous (and long gone) civilization believed. Any contemporary context would be film, comic books, maybe art; comfortably under the category of fiction. I know of no one in my community that has an affirmative belief that Zeus is God. So my thoughts/beliefs on Zeus has little relevance as compared to others in my community. So if you are trying to get across that atheists think of Jesus in that same fictional context, then I see what you are trying to say.
But atheists generally DO live in communities/society where others have an affirmative belief in God (whether or not that includes and affirmative belief in the person and/or divinity of Jesus). Probably many atheists spend no time thinking about the idea of God one way or another, except to answer NONE when asked to specify a religious affiliation. Either they cast off the idea of God long ago or they’ve never given it much thought (in which case I wonder if they can really be called an atheist). But on the spectrum of atheism, there are certainly those who are strident proselytizers. Seems to me their position is an affirmative disbelief, and they were the group I had in mind when I read your post, given the source was atheist.org. My mind immediately went to that end of the spectrum.
After all my mental consternation, I’m asking myself why does the difference between an affirmative disbelief and a lack of belief matter? If a person doesn’t believe in God, I’m wondering why a categorization matters very much in the long run. So I’m left wondering about the initial challenge and how should I respond to, “If atheism is a belief then not collecting stamps is a hobby.” I do like SeanO’s response. Well done Sean, your tone was engaging and sincere.
Now, I probably would respond:
To be in community together we have to be able to communicate and understand one another. Help me understand what you see atheism to be, if it’s not a belief. Is it a category that would not exist if it was not used as a comparison to those who believe in god(s)?
It’s hard to describe a void (let’s say a hole), yet the hole exists. We describe the hole with language as a thing that exists, yet in essence it is an area of nothingness, a lack of solid matter. But it is defined in relationship to the matter around it. Am I getting any closer to understanding?
Why do you think a belief in God is important to others?