Can you be an atheist and a Thomist? I’m finding Thomism to be more and more a gorgeous philosophy but need to evaluate the costs and benefits of adopting it.
No, you can’t, because the very essence of Thomism is believing in God.
I hope I’m not answering out of my depth here, but when you refer to Thomism in a secular sense, the first thing that comes to my mind is Natural Law.
As I’m sure you know, Aquinas described natural law as the rational creature’s participation in the divine law, which is nothing other than God’s (often inscrutable) will. If you’re willing to accept the idea that we live in an ordered universe (i.e. that there is a genuine correlation between rational conclusions and reality), I think you’re well on your way to accepting Thomism.
From the ordered nature of the universe we are able to discern the natures of smaller things e.g. man, and based on how that nature can be respected or violated we come up with a system of laws that describe morality, predicated on our natural rights. Note that this is done solely through appeals to reason, not through appeals to divinity.
This isn’t entirely free of theism for reasons I’ll be happy to go into, but as far as I’ve found it’s the best way to make arguments for morality without say, quoting scripture.
You could perhaps believe in the underlying principles upon which Thomism is based, without agreeing that the arguments for God proves the existence of a God. Its not inconceivable that one could come across an atheist who agrees with thomistic concepts such as the distinction between esse and essence, and yet not believe in God. But whether that will hold true in practice is another matter.
The essence of Thomism is believing in God?
Have you ever studied Thomism?
An atheist could be Aristotelean. St. Thomas is based on Aristotle, and so an atheist could share many of the same principles, like matter and form, the 4 Causes (if a Darwinian interpretation is given to final cause), etc.
Thomism, however, refers to a theological school just as much as it does a philosophical one. If you actually used the term Thomist, I think the assumption is that a person is at least Christian.
The spirit of Thomism is to use philosophy in the service of faith. You can be a philosopher without being a Thomist. But you cannot be a Thomist without having a faith to serve by your reason.
I think you admire St. Thomas and you’ve discovered that his approach makes sense. Read more of his writings and that might pave the way for your faith. St. Thomas does not say that every truth of faith can be proved by reason. But he was confident that every truth of faith cannot be disproved by reason either.
Not in-depth (not University/professionally), but I have a good idea about it. Other posters have better answers than what I can give you as to alternatives
I suppose you could give it a go, but I don’t know how you could without believing in God.
It would be hard, because even the Aristotelianism that St. Thomas used to give rigor to his enterprise found it necessary to postulate a sort of “God of the philosophers,” a regulative concept of Deity that made it possible to warrant reality ontologically. St. Thomas is a realist, in that he is less concerned with justifying belief than accounting for believed-in things, but unlike Aristotle he takes the Christian (Christ, in Scripture and in Eucharist, as received by the Tradition) account of reality as properly basic to the project of better knowing God, our selves, each other, and our world. I think you could study St. Thomas thoroughly with profit, while not yet willingly taking on some of his core beliefs; I don’t think you could call yourself a “Thomist” with honesty, or more importantly I don’t think you’d be getting full value from the Ox, if you didn’t find yourself entangled with the very Christ whose Real Presence, for St. Thomas, eclipsed his whole lifetime of intellectual engagement with the spiritual constitution of reality.
From what little I know and have read of Saint Thomas, I would say that you could to a certain degree. You can adopt and accept how he reconciled Aristotelian philosophy with Christianity - specifically revelation is not in conflict with reason nor the senses with reason etc… without necessarily adopting Christianity.
Isn’t that what the philosopher and atheist (ahum, as yourself) did? For Edith Stein this move open the doors to finding God. She became a nun and finally was canonized.
I would recommend that you read the books she wrote which may help you to understand her journey to finding God.
Here is a well written article about Edith Stein and Saint Thomas and it even brings in Pope John Paul the Great. Good stuff.