Pope Benedict talked about atheism in his Wednesday audience. He speaks with such clarity and intelligence. A pleasure to read:
From the Enlightenment onwards, the criticism of religion has intensified, history has also been marked by the presence of atheistic systems, in which God was considered a mere projection of the human mind, an illusion, and the product of a society already distorted by alienation. The last century has seen a strong and growing secularism, in the name of the absolute autonomy of man, considered as a measure and artifice of reality, but depleted of his being created "in the image and likeness of God." In our time there is a particularly dangerous phenomenon for the faith: there is in fact a form of atheism that we define, as 'practical', which does not deny the truths of faith or religious rituals, but simply considers them irrelevant to everyday existence, detached from life, useless. Often, then, people believe in God in a superficial way, but live "as if God did not exist" (etsi Deus non daretur). In the end, however, this way of life is even more destructive, because it leads to indifference towards faith and the question of God.
In reality, man is separated from God, is reduced to a single dimension, the horizontal, and this very reductionism is one of the fundamental causes of totalitarianism that have had tragic consequences in the last century, as well as the crisis of values that we see in our current reality. By obscuring reference to God, the ethical horizon is also obscured, to make room for relativism and an ambiguous conception of freedom, which instead of being liberating ends up binding man to idols. The temptations Jesus faced in the desert prior to his public ministry, represent well the "idols" that fascinate man, when he does not look beyond himself. When God loses centrality, man loses his proper place, he no longer finds his place in creation, in relationships with others. That ancient wisdom evoked in the myth of Prometheus is still relevant: man thinks he can become "god" himself, master of life and death.I love his equating of practical atheism with theoretical atheism. You take a guy like Joe Biden and ask, "If he became an atheist what would change?" Obviously his Sunday morning routine would change. He would not go to mass. What else would change? If the answer is nothing then he is a practical atheist.
As my discussion with Grundy is showing, theoretical atheists can't really eliminate the supernatural from the picture. Still they see that if it existed it would be unreasonable to ignore it. Practical atheists reduce their concern to the natural life even while admitting they believe in the supernatural. It is not logical. If the supernatural does exists it should merit primary consideration. They just don't like where they end up when they think that way. So they stop thinking that way.