For discussion: Atheism is a strictly derivative proposition. If every single theist of every kind were at last one day to die off, leaving a human population of atheists only – the atheistic proposition would still, historically, conceptually, and grammatically be a strictly derivative proposition. Being a derivative proposition, atheism is necessarily prone to resentment, and what atheism resents is the originality of theism, or theism’s firstness, whose status it can never usurp. Indeed, atheism can have no status at all, not even its derivative status, except for the prior existence of theism. Whereas atheism is clearly derivative of theism, it is difficult to imagine how a subsequent theism might ever derive itself from an original atheism. There would be nothing, in the first place, to negate, and therefore nothing to serve as the basis for a derivation. Such resentment, attaching necessarily to its embarrassing structural character, would explain the vehemence and petulance of atheism. Lucretius, following Epicurus, was probably wise to reject outright atheism for his brand of theistic minimalism, never denying the being of the gods, but declaring their non-intervention policy with respect to humanity. Even for Lucretius, however, imitating the gods – following the model of their blitheness – remained a desideratum.*
Atheism’s debt to theism resembles the debt of any attempt to dethrone metaphysics to the selfsame metaphysics that it would dethrone. The abolition of the axioms is left finally with its own lame axiom, just the one, complete with the embarrassing negation, dangling from the proposition like a wet tail. Nietzsche’s God who is Dead, for example, must previously have been Alive, an irritation concerning which Nietzsche seems to have been aware, to credit him with that much, at least. (Was Nietzsche really an atheist? In his own description he was a Dionysiac, pitching Dionysus against Christ.)
In their pursuit of firstness, derivative propositions are always-already checked.
Of course the bland terms theism and atheism, to put them in their proper order, are not quite adequate. The Theos against which atheism pits itself is never Huitzilopotchli or Istustaya, Sol Invictus or Domna Luna; it is invariably the Christian Trinity. The atheism of our age (and it is not clear that atheism can claim any previous age) is simply another form of the pervasive and resentful anti-Christianity, which spurns the Christian remonstrance to give up resentment, and which has been angrily present in Western society since the Parisian Blutrausch of 1789.
[*A minor mystery of antiquity is the sudden disappearance of the Epicureans, who had constituted a major segment of the Imperial citizenry all over the Empire, in the middle of the Third Century. The most plausible explanation for their abrupt departure from the scene was offered by Walter Pater in his novel Marius the Epicurean (1885): In rejecting the sacrificial gods, the Epicureans were already extremely close to Christianity, to which they converted very nearly en masse.]