I think I would be willing (or perhaps even forced) to accept atheism under the following set of conditions (and no, neither of the conditions have anything to do with the existence of non-existence of a God; the more I have considered the question of the existence of God, the more convinced I am that the very question may have very little meaning): 1. If I thought it were possible for a human person to exist without worshiping something in some form and 2. if, in the absence of a strong ontological concept of God as the other (which can encompass a pantheistic conception) man did not have such an unavoidable and unattractive tendency to worship himself. These are both disputable assumptions, based on little more than my own observations and intuitions. While I feel comfortable, based on my broad definitions of these terms, that these observations can be generally universalized to include the mass of mankind, I willingly concede that this may not be the case--still, I haven't come across anything which has caused me to seriously doubt these two observations.
This will seem like an odd supposition to some, for it is taken as a given principle in our post-modern age that man is essentially his own god (though the belief is not usually expressed quite so bluntly), and thus the self-worship of the self (so long as the self recognizes himself as mere man) is not only justified, but is itself the end all and be all of our brief existence on this world. On the one hand, this answer seems delightful and comforting, giving us free rein to indulge our natural desires and passions. Of course, when viewed from the ultimate position of Being (an imagined state which we little understand, but I think cannot help--in some sense--thinking on since we are beings who abstract from ourselves) such an answer cannot help but look hollow, and one cannot help but think that our experience of it is hollow. Unless, of course, one happens to be one of the lucky few who are able to so subsume themselves in their activities of becoming (whatever that may be) that they are able TO BE simply (I am thinking of something similar to Heidegger's concept of Dasein here) and thus forget the ultimate existential question. This would (appear), if perfectly realized, to return the being of man to the state of animal perfection, in which he is not aware of his own mortality. Unfortunately (or fortunately), while the great may sometimes (or even most of the time) be able (because of their power and resources) to construct their world in such a way that they can approximate this state (for I don't think one can ever realize it fully, and least of all by willful effort), that old existential bugaboo will still slip in at odd quiet moments, and terrify them all the more because of their power and wealth--for they are truly tied to the world and love the world. So what appears, in the beautiful rendering of thinkers such as Nietzsche, to be bold and heroic action, appears to be deluded, since it ultimately attempts to subsume what, to my mind at least, seems a fundamental and inescapable aspect of human action--the contemplation of death and the demise of the earthly body.
But wait, you will ask, might not the action of such speculation (while terrible) itself be raised to a sort of heroic action, and a proper action of the great? I don't think so, since it would seem that it is such speculation that raises one to contemplation of the divine other, that is, presuming that man has fully embraced the terror of this project. Does an embrace of terror lead inevitably to God? No, that's where the heroism comes in, for one is not guaranteed (as a matter of nature) salvation or illumination. And again, remember that this state is only ever available to the greats of the world; Nietzsche is no democrat. Furthermore, the action (whatsoever it may be) which humankind is subsumed into is completely amoral. This may sound alright to an age that believes itself to be amoral, but this system would justify the man with the great and natural inclination to murder so long as he had the power or craft to carry it out without detection (think of our fascination with Hannibal Lector and Napoleon). So, from this perspective, our present liberal order and its insistence on human rights and dignity is an unfortunate hangover from a moralizing age.
"But wait," you will say, "you have said very little about our inclination to worship and self-worship." True, I respond, I am referencing the precursors, but surely they follow from these? Think of God as an image of an individual human's ultimate concern, and worship as the action of paying heed and homage by whatever means to said God. If a man follows nothing but the dictates emitted from his own heart, and the dictates of his heart ultimately spring from himself alone (or at least, that he perceives himself as the originator of these dictates) then he has set himself up as his own God, and worships himself by giving heed to all of his innermost impulses. "But surely," you say, "he will perceive some impulses as better than others, not all will be perceived of as equal?" Of course not, I say. And surely the powerful will do their best to convince the masses of the veracity of some impulses and the sinfulness of others? But, at the end of the day, who is to judge the goodness or badness of impulses but the man himself, if he has discovered how to actualize his freedom? And so, in such a system, we are led inexorably into a land where we see freedom for the few (perceived at least) and slavery for the many. This is an untenable situation, for to my mind the weak would be justified in rising up, and putting their "great" masters to the sword, and then drinking down their hemlock in turn, to cleanse the earth of this bastard child known as mankind. Or, if the great were really great, what better way to assert their greatness than to burn the earth as a giant funeral pyre to their own greatness? No, this I fear is the end of all such systems. For even if I do not perceive such actions as right and good, there will always be men who simply wish to watch the world burn (to paraphrase The Joker), and I shall have no moral means to refute them other than the power of my arms to assert my will over theirs.
I REFUSE to believe in such a world [though it fits well with many of the appearances of things] but I REFUSE it with every fiber of my bone and being! "You refuse?" you respond. "Then you are already one of us, for you are asserting the preference of your will" [but from whence springs my preference?], "and screaming it into the void of an uncaring universe. You will not succeed in your preferred vision. You have a right to your vision, but it is a vision of fantasy. Your vision places you in a straight-jacket, the world being what it is. And you, who could have been powerful and terrible will watch in horror as the forces of the mighty men, men with less scruples then you, pour over the barricades of the innocent, and devour their babes, and rape their women, and skewer their men upon pikes" [that could have been me, or I could have been merciful, would have been merciful]. "You, who could have saved this slavish mass who you claim to love so well. And now, you now can save neither them nor yourself. You refuse, and knowing what you know, realize that you have chosen the worst of all possible worlds."
I stand stoically aside and stare into the eyes of my accusers. I look at the carnage strewn about my feet by the strong men of the age and I weep bitterly for the blood spilled on that field. I weep for the fate that surely awaits our souls in the underworld, if such world there may be.