Justin Martyr’s First Apology is one of the primary documents that we looked at this semester. It’s got this great line about Christian atheists. Christians, because they rejected all the Roman Gods, were accused of atheism in the first century. Which, I think, is why I’ve got a bit of patience for the New Atheists – toparaphrase Justin Martyr (and I believe one of the Jensens said something similar a few years ago) – they simply believe in one God fewer than us, but we both reject many gods.
Here’s what Justin Martyr said somewhere around 150 A.D to an emperor and his sons, whom he hoped to convince that Christianity should be legal.
Hence are we called atheists. And we confess that we are atheists, so far as gods of this sort are concerned, but not with respect to the most true God, the Father of righteousness and temperance and the other virtues, who is free from all impurity. But both Him, and the Son (who came forth from Him and taught us these things, and the host of the other good angels who follow and are made like to Him), and the prophetic Spirit, we worship and adore, knowing them in reason and truth, and declaring without grudging to every one who wishes to learn, as we have been taught.
From this online version of the Apology.