And yet, despite the huge dissimilarities between us, I share one essential characteristic with that Evangelical, a characteristic that, for the militant atheist, places me irrevocably in the camp of irrational superstition. That is, of course, that I also practice religion.
Now it has been observed that one of the curiosities of our age is how militant atheists seem unable to deal satisfactorily with the full reality of religious belief, in all its diversity over time and space. Invariably it seems they are drawn to their standard caricatures. God cannot really be anything other than a bearded old man in the sky and theological formulations like 'Ground of our Being' get them quite angry.
It ought be clear that any understanding of what religion is, and what it is not, has to encompass an extremely wide range of different beliefs, attitudes and practices, but nevertheless it is true that something really does link me with Buddhist, a Southern Baptist and a Jew and places me in that camp to which Professor Dawkins, for example, expresses deep and sweeping hostility.
So what is it that distinguishes a religious person? It's not belief in a God. It's not belief in an afterlife. It's not rituals. It's not even the act of worship. The Ethical Church had that. Faith comes into it but how?
I would argue that what marks out 'religionists' is they, we, believe meaning and purpose are there to be discovered. They are, in some way, intrinsic in the way things are. How they are intrinsic, is where the variety of religious belief comes in.
There is no proof for this. There are evidences that a religious person may cite in support, and those evidences may be examined and tested and criticized, but it comes down to faith. Faith that there is meaning inherent in the world.
Humanists, by contrast, do not have such a faith and argue that the lack of proof (indeed the lack of possibility of proof) for the hope behind faith is conclusive. Each person, therefore, has the responsibility to create his or own purpose and whatever meaning they can invent, using whatever sources they wish, science, reason, empathy. Of course, in theory an atheist could have no truck with any notion of meaning at all but I suspect such nihilism, whatever its intellectual strength, has very limited appeal.
This means, of course, that a humanist may arrive at very nearly the same moral and existential conclusions as I do; they may well be using many of the same sources that I take to be underlying truths, for example the Sermon on the Mount, as their building blocks to construct meaning for themselves. This is a likely scenario, for it takes a particular degree of bloody-mindedness to reject all the religiously-shaped cultural norms of the society in which you live.
So in terms of what I believe about my purpose and even how I arrive there (that is, what sources I use), I may be closer to an atheist than to a fundamentalist Christian but nevertheless, we will both find the matter of faith stands between us and regard the other's case as in that way unsatisfactory.