Happy Friday and welcome to the first day of Autumn for the top half of the globe. I was wondering why this word search happened.
Every 30 seconds of everyday, Merriam-Webster dot com tells us the top ten most popular words being looked up in their online dictionary. Based upon news and world events, it usually makes sense.
This is what they say about this feature, “Trend Watch is a data-driven report on words people are looking up at much higher search rates than normal. While most trends can be traced back to the news or popular culture, our focus is on the lookup data rather than the events themselves.”
The other day number ten was the word religion. Why now? Do the people doing the search not know the definition of religion? And why might they care?
Just to be sure, I often look up words that I know how to spell, pronounce, and how to define. I do not constitute a trend. I’m not sure how many it takes to merit the trend list. I have looked up the meaning of religion before. In this case, I wanted the exact dictionary definition.
The three definitions of religion listed are:
1. A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices.
(a/1): the service and worship of God(s) or the supernatural, or (a/2) the commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance.
(b): It is the state of a religious (like a nun in her 20th year).
A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”
I have no argument with these definitions. I knew them. But why were so many people looking it up? What’s the cause or big deal?
For days, if not weeks, fascism has been in the top three. It was gone when I last checked. It’s been in the top ten for years. I get that.
Do you think someone is thinking, oh now, if it means that, then this is not a religion? They update the list about every 30 seconds, but still—religion? I find it oddly interesting.
A curious synonym for religion from the M-W online thesaurus is cult. I also agree with that connection. I was originally taken aback when I first read all religions are cults. Now I get it. Yes, they are.
You could say “so what?” or be insulted by that synonym. But one must remember, conversely, virtually all cults have a remarkable resemblance to a religion.
Try this. Think of words ending with the suffix -ism: Paganism, plagiarism, criticism, racism, sexism, alcoholism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. Words tied to -isms include doctrines, causes, theories, attitudes, beliefs, acts, practices, processes, prejudices, conditions, religions, adherence to a system, characteristics, and traits. (merrian-webster.com)
That same dictionary also defines atheism as “a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods” and/or “a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods.”
How many -isms are defined by what they are not or do not do? There is no atheist doctrine, theory, belief, practice, process, prejudice, religion, or adherence to anything.
There are certainly atheists. I suspect more than anyone knows. There are also atheist groups and atheist organizations. People use the phrase, “as an atheist…” often. While I often push back on terms like true atheist and all atheists, both believers and atheists use such phrases. I try to avoid saying as an atheist and prefer the phrase because I do not believe any god exists. But what is atheism other than what an atheist does not believe exists?
I realize people say many false things about atheists and define what they call atheism to insult nonbelievers or to threaten, often dependent, closeted atheists, doubting believers, and their friends, family, and neighbors. Those are almost always ignorant lies, and that will not go away.
However, I, along with others, claim that while most -isms exist, atheism does not. While I am atheist, I have no doctrine to either follow or reject. I believe many things, just not that there really is any god. I have no atheist practices and worship nothing (including Satan, which, like any god, is unlikely to be). I have read social research that indicates some atheists believe there is a god. I call them enigmatic, if not confused, atheists.
There are many types of Jews and forms of Judaism. Same for Islamism. Within Christianity there is both Catholicism and Protestantism, but they are all Christians. Mormons claim to be Christians and lord knows they have their own set of practices (and underwear). Within all these groups lie doctrinaire differences, but they still have rules to debate or follow. Atheists have none of that. I, for one, want none of it.
So, how can atheism be a thing if it cannot be defined by what it is?
Happy National IPA, Underwear, Oyster, and Work Like a Dog Day.
The other day I read an old blog post by a Jewish Rabbi about The Difference Between God and Religion (title of his post). Reb Jeff says they are not the same thing. I agree, but only if the god or gods in question really exist.
I know many religious people wrap the two so tightly that they cannot conceptually separate them. I doubt if most believers could conceive of one without the other. A theist without theology.
Since the rabbi opened the door and put it out there, I am going to pick at his comments.
He wrote, “To me, God is manifest in the realization that I am here, and so are you, to fulfill a purpose and truth that is greater than any one of us individually.” (From Reb Jeff blog 8/18/2012, Italics mine). Jeff’s logic is that because you, he, and I exist, God not only exists, but is “manifest.” If that was true, there would be neither atheists nor agnostics.
Manifest means “readily perceived by the senses and especially by the sense of sight” and “easily understood or recognized by the mind: obvious” (merriam-webster.com). No god is obvious. None.
Furthermore, he got lost in the idea of living a pointless life without his god and his holy books. Based on what he wrote, without the Jewish God, Reb Jeff and his ilk cannot imagine a purposeful or fulfilling life. No news there. They subsequently reflect that position onto others, especially nonbelievers. How can you be happy if you cannot believe any god exits? Well, we are.
In the post, the rabbi speaks of “experiencing” God. Something not everyone does. Not even most believers. I never did. Experiencing is not manifestation. Psychoses and delusions can be experienced. Religion is experienced. Is God?
He also wrote, “You don’t need to be a mind reader to realize that a true atheist would not be concerned with the struggle to maintain faith.” Is the rabbi an expert in what a “true” atheist is? He is a reformed Jew. What if I claimed that he was not a true Jew?
Maybe he never heard of the true Scotsman fallacy. Anyway, I’ve been concerned with having faith and the “struggle to maintain faith,” my entire life. If the rabbi would say I am not a “true” atheist because I have such interests, he’d be wrong.
Then he says, “Atheism is the conviction that there is no God or gods (he’s wrong); no ultimate source of meaning (strike two), truth (wrong again) or morality (well, not the Torah) in the universe.” The whole universe?
He goes on, “How could a true atheist struggle with faith when atheism denies the very basis of faith?” He could have looked up the definition of atheism by atheists, but he did not. Maybe Reb Jeff should look up the meaning of faith and religion and God when he checks out the correct definition of atheism.
I suspect most atheists agree that people have faith whether God exists or not. Lord knows we hear it as the very reason many believe—not God’s manifestation. If God is obvious faith is unnecessary.
Some atheists are convinced to some degree that no god exists, but not all (at least as God is described by the Abrahamic religions).
As for terms like ultimate truth or morality in the whole fucking universe, I admit that I don’t know any universal ultimate truths except that death is real, and it seems to be wherever life exists. But my knowledge only applies to life on Earth. The old joke about three Jews having five opinions exists for a reason. Maybe I should ask three Rabbis and see how it goes.
I think separating religion and belief in god or gods is important for a better understanding of each. Rejecting religion makes room for varied conclusions about gods. However, as the rabbi implies, since I do not accept any belief in a real god (due to lack of evidence), thousands of religions become simple social/political organizations from my point of view.
The problem with seeing god and religion separately is that religion creates gods. Religions tell people who and what a god is and how to interact, relate, and what to believe about the god or gods. It’s contrived by humans. All religions thus become silly (some dangerous) psycho-social clubs.
Consequently, religious folks like good old Reb Jeff use terms (promises) like “experiencing God” to hold people to unnecessary social clubs, which they may enjoy, even as atheists.
Maybe that is why the rabbi thinks he must tolerate atheist-Jews showing up at the synagogue to be with other Jews. He claims they do.
While I don’t much judge what people say regarding their past metaphysical opinions, a blog post written several years ago by Bruce Gerencser struck a chord with me. He claimed that some folks who say they used to be atheist were lying. I pondered his claim. This is what I think.
First, these brief definitions are from the online Marriam-Webster dictionary (skip these if you want):
Was is (love that) the past tense of be for first- and third-person singular. Were would apply to second person singular.
Is is (even better) for be in the present tense third-person singular. It’s the dialectal present tense first-person and third-person singular of be and the dialectal present tense plural of be.
Am is (I like it) present tense first-person singular of be.
Just to be clear, be (in this case) means to identify with, to constitute the same idea or class, to have a specified qualification, or to belong to a class of.
Stay with me here for one more. M-W defines an atheist as:
“a person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods: one who subscribes to or advocates atheism.” It has nothing directly to do with religion or scripture. Just god.
I’ll stop there. But meanings of words and terms are important.
I was a believer, although always with some doubts. I was a Catholic/Christian in that I accepted and professed beliefs and did things that gave me those specific qualifications. Some Christians would want me to use their woo-woo words or terms. Anyone is welcome to doubt that I was what I claim to have been, but I make my claim and I have documents to support it.
Now for my point. While I prefer, I am atheist to I’m an atheist, either works fine. I’m uncertain which is more grammatically correct, but I think atheist is a non-count noun needing no indefinite article. But who cares? Maybe a grammar expert will comment. But that’s still not my point.
By saying in the present tense that I do not think any god exists (the definition of atheist), I am owning up, putting in writing, signing my name, and accepting all consequences. When I first did this publicly my wife’s comment was, “I am not ready to go that far yet.” She is not (an) atheist because she does not say that she is. I will return to this idea.
Unfortunately, the only decent word we have says what we are not: we are not believers in the existence of any god or deity. By default, this not-believing jettisons most major religions. I’m not saying that atheists do not practice any religions. Of course, they do. They just think it’s necessary for some reason other than a belief in God.
I am also not going to say all religions are ruled out because atheists may practice Unitarianism, Wicca, Buddhism, or some other “religion.” But this brings so much mud into the water it’s frustrating.
Here’s my question. Can anyone say that they were atheist if they never admitted that they are atheist? Can the atheist conclusion be arrived at in hindsight? Especially, after being saved.
To me, when someone tells me they are atheist, I accept that as true. However, when someone tells me that they do not go to church, that they have no (or practice no) religion, if they tell me they have fallen away from some religion, or they tell me anything except, “I am (an) atheist,” I do not consider them to be, or to have ever been, atheist. But they might have been.
Atheism has no litmus test, no creed, no organization, no scripture, no set of rules. It is just a conclusion, usually self-arrived at, about the existence of any gods. Many people reach this conclusion but never tell anyone.
However, it is not difficult to find believers, often practicing some form of religion, who will claim that in their past they were atheists. I’ll write of two.
One was a doctor in my previous parish. She eventually drifted off into a lot of not Catholic woo-woo, like speaking in tongues. The more I learned about her, the more convinced I became that she was never atheist and never in her past identified as such. I would call her a none (no religion) who turned to religion because of some trauma she had faced in her life. The other was the writer/author Anne Rice.
Mrs. Rice, in her Memoir, Called Out of Darkness, claims to have been (an) atheist beginning in about 1960 up to the late 1990s, when she found herself back in the good graces of the Catholic Church and once again claiming to be Christian. She admits that she was atheist. But was she?
I have doubts. I have not read where in those 38 years of successful prolific writing and movies where she outed herself and said that she is (an) atheist. Her self-admitted behavior toward the Catholic Church and religion for many years does not seem very atheistic, and certainly was not anti-religion, to me (except for one priest). At most she was agnostic. But it’s more correct, in my opinion, to say that Anne was a long-term, fallen-away Catholic and nothing more.
Before Anne Rice died late last year, she had renounced her identity as a Christian in favor of Secular Humanism with a belief in God. Knowing this outcome made reading her memoir more interesting for me. I recommend it for any fallen away or former Roman Catholic (or anyone).
Except for the few deists out there, very few people harbor a belief in God, particularly of the Abrahamic or Hindu variety, without some attachment to a religion. My experience is that religion removes from a person (Anne Rice being a possible exception) the ability to objectively contemplate the existence of a god or higher power. To this claim, I would add most 12-step programs such as AA and NA, all of which claim not to be religious, but in fact are at least faith-based, if not outright religious. They say we are not. I say, yes you are.
I have read what many of the former atheists who are now Christians claim and found every one of them lacking. Except for a few people who may have made metaphysical adjustments very late in life, and who were possibly mentally or emotionally affected, I agree with Bruce Gerencser’s claim that people who were nones are looking for attention by claiming (lying?) to have been atheists when they certainly were not.
I read this brief post titled “How do we engage believers?” on Freethought Now by James Haught. The idea is for ‘well-meaning’ believers and freethinkers to have calm discussions, presumably about the existence of any god or the efficacy of any religion. It’s not a long article.
I cannot recall ever having such a discussion as either a believer or an atheist. That is unless you consider comments like, “well, there must be something” to be a discussion.
Today it might begin something like this. I’m atheist. Your religion is (pointless, dangerous, destructive, or silly) to me. Or I am convinced that no god exists. Why are you so certain that there is one?
Many folks still don’t know I’m atheist, much less what that means. While I’m willing to have that talk, I don’t want to. Some folks would be immediately offended simply to know that I don’t believe in Jesus, Allah, or Brahman (Hindu god). However, if sincerely asked why I don’t believe in any gods, I’m willing to explain. I’m just not up to debates or arguments.
I once had a Christian friend/acquaintance who would bait folks into such discussions or arguments, only to later play the victim (like she was accosted rather than the accoster). She would later criticize the other person behind their back or on her blog. I never walked into her trap even though she tried, but I did call her out on her “unchristian” behavior before distancing myself.
I witnessed one brief chat she had where the other person simply said, “I don’t see how you people can believe that stuff.” She said nothing to the person who made the comment. Later, she claimed to be shocked, offended, and angry. She soon posted the experience on her blog, seeking sympathy from fellow Christians.
Believers often charge persecution when they hear terms like freedom from religion, fiction, fairy tale, nonsense, delusions, lies, or deception. Recently, some god-believing folks commented on this blog, which is fine. They are welcome to do so. However, they eventually left claiming insult or injury (hurt feelings). One guy even said his claim to injury was his call since he was the ‘injured’ party. This after making odd and ridiculous claims which I, and some of you, pointed out for what they were: nonsense.
Apparently, when one claims the ability to prove a god’s existence, my pointing out that as evidence of a delusional crack pot is taken as an insult when it is merely describing their claim in the same terms even many of their fellow believers would do.
If anyone claims belief in a spiritual world, a belief in ghosts of dead people, or in other things unseen such as a parallel universe, that’s for them to do. Generally, they don’t ask me to share in their vision.
Religious believers are different. They get their panties in a wad when I request logic, science, proof, justice, human rights, and freedom. Sometimes the only way to remain civil is to talk about the weather (if we don’t have to pray for rain). Yet, even with weather, politics loom.
Here are more brief ponderings.
I am not interested in educating anyone about their religion. They needn’t ask. That’s their job. All religion is pointless to me because there is no god.
If others want to have religious discussions, good for them.
People who do not believe in any god are called agnostics or atheists. It’s that simple.
I call people who believe or claim to believe in some god, believers. Equally simple.
I try to keep Gods and associated religions as separate topics.
On this blog I post my thoughts (ponderings) as simple, up front, easy stuff.
If I read about people saying or doing something dumb regarding some god or religion, I will have my say on this blog. I rarely block comments, so if folks want to weigh in, be my guest. However, #1 above still applies.
If someone prays to their god asking him, her, or it to make me a believer like them; I claim equal opportunity to pray to that same god to make them skeptics like me. Fair is fair.
I like to listen to some religious debates. I enjoy learning about why some people believe in a god and why others don’t. It is better when they play nice. However, finding something new in any of that is rare.
Like everyone else, my days are numbered. I do not plan to use many of them arguing politics or religion. But one final point.
I was a believer for many years. While my doubts waxed and waned over the years, I’ve finally decided about most things spiritual. I’m clear on the heaven or hell hypothesis; I’ve read the complete bible, most of it multiple times. I’ve studied it and taught it along with other religious subjects. That gives me some street cred.
Consequently, when people insist on educating me about the Christian religion or its God(s), I can lose patience with them. I may even grow a bit testy. However, I sometimes play along. I want to see how ridiculous they can get. I’m human.
I had nothing, then this mic dropped. It’s an email FFRF posted today. I need to send them some dinero for helping me out.
Now, it is out of “love” that this Gary person sent this. (CAPS, spacing, spelling, and punctuation are all GARY’s). He removed all our excuses (what a jerk).
“I WANT YOU PEOPLE SAVED AND NOT GO TO HELL FOR ETERNITY . SO PLEASE LISTEN TO ME BEFORE ITS TO LATE FOR YOU . YOUR ETERNAL DESTINY DEPENDS ON IT . I MUST WARN YOU PEOPLE – JESUS IS VERY REAL . YOU ARE LOST WITHOUT HIM AND WILL DIE IN YOUR SINS . HELL IS A REAL PLACE – SO IS HEAVEN . DON’T BE A FOOL AND REJECT CHRIST . I PLEAD WITH YOU OUT OF LOVE . HELL IS A PLACE OF ETERNAL TORMENT WHERE THE DEVIL AND HIS DEMONS WILL ALL BE . YOU WILL GO TO THIS MOST TERRIFYING PLACE IF YOU DON’T REPENT . I GUARANTEE YOU WILL HAVE A RUDE AWAKENING IF YOU DON’T LISTEN TO THIS MESSAGE . ONCE AGAIN DON’T BE A FOOL ! THIS IS REAL AND GOD DOESN’T MESS AROUND . YOU ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE NOW – ALL OF YOU . — Gary”
God doesn’t mess around, and Jesus IS VERY REAL: Gary guarantees it. There we have it, right?
Okay, let’s say I repent (for what I’m not sure). I get my Irish ass saved (from Hell I guess). Presumably after I die, I will not have a rude awakening (but I will remain doornail dead).
I am sitting here reading the Ten Commandments wondering which of them Gary thinks I’m going to Hell for. Jesus is not mentioned. I believe in No Gods, so with one exception, I am good for the first one. No false gods and all that. But, the graven image shit may doom us all.
I’m not sure I know what #2 means, but when I swear, I seldom involve deities. Now I am a fan of the late George Carlin, who, presumably, has experienced his rude awakening. In persona, I’ve been compared to him, but I’m not even close to that funny. Anyways, when I cuss, I use four of George’s seven dirty words: shit, fuck, cocksucker, and motherfucker. I don’t consider cunt, tits, or piss swearing when used on their own. Back to Commandments.
I’m good with Mom & Dad. Lately, I’ve not killed anyone without repenting. I have not adulteried (made-up word), stole, false witnessed, or lusted for or with any of the neighbors. I like my stuff better than theirs, so I’m non-coveting. I am not sure what I could do to fuck up a Sabbath anyway, or which day it actually is.
So here’s the thing. I’ll be going to Hell for ETERNITY, according to Gary and his fellow (loving) pacemakers (that was a 1960s band) because I acknowledge the fact that there is no evidence whatsoever that any of the 5,000 or so gods man has created ever existed. Anything else? Nope.
By what process do we make most important decisions? How do most of us select a religion or denomination to follow?
What do Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodox, and Evangelical Christianity have in common? With each other, about as much as they share with Judaism or Islam, and little more than those last two have in common with each other.
Within and between many religious or Christian groups the divisions are astounding, even to a cynical skeptic like me. They’ve pretty much all killed one another in the name of the god they claim to believe in. The god who knows and is responsible for everything, including them.
One thing they do share is the opinion that all atheists are immoral, criminal crackpots and meanies. Most recently I’ve been accosted for not thinking like a true American. Wowzer. Me?
Six of seven sacraments, a Boy Scout, several US Department of Defense careers (two honorably in uniform), Christian education and Bible Study teacher, Parish Council President; a father, and grandfather to about a dozen; and some right-wing crack-pot thinks it’s his job to enlighten me!?
Buddhism is a religious exception. There may be others. Many followers of this path are not a good fit as I define a religion (you need a god). I see Buddhism as more of a philosophical tradition. However, much of that philosophy and tradition can be woven with other religious beliefs. While Buddhists don’t believe in any gods, there are things that can help (or hinder) such people toward enlightenment. Meanwhile, back at the Reality Ranch…
The rest of us, mostly Christians in America, have several methods for choosing a tribe or religion to follow.
We’re born or adopted into it by our parents or guardians.
We convert into it for any number of reasons.
We are forced into it in various ways.
For community and social reasons. Like, we want a church home for our family, and we find something that seems to work okay.
We discover it through careful analytical thought and examination of all religious beliefs, practices, philosophies, dogma, and whatever else belongs to the trappings of a religion. (Yeah, right.)
My wife, Yolonda, and her three siblings were raised in The Church of Christ. They grew up in Texas. The entire family of kids moved on to other Christian denominations in adulthood because of their displeasure with the denomination of their parents.
Yolonda converted into the Catholic Church about twenty years ago (I was born Catholic), at least in part because I was giving the denomination a final attempt.
One day she said to me, “What I like about being Catholic is that you can be a normal human being and still go to Heaven.” If you know much about the Church of Christ, you know why she said that. Her decision to join me in that, and our eventual decision to leave it twelve years later, is another story. But we gave the faith lots of pray, pay, and obey for as long as we could.
While I piddled with eastern religion and philosophies prior to the making one last run at the faith of my birth, neither of us ever took any path other than Christian and Catholic, until we both gave that up.
Looking back. the religious trek in our long marriage may seem chaotic, but that is what real searching looks like in hindsight. It’s called street cred. You must jump into the pool to feel the water. It is kind of like watching a pinball bounce around inside the machine. It seems chaotic, but the player knows what he or she is doing until the ball passes the flippers and is lost. To the ball, it is all random.
I was not born into atheism. I cannot name one atheist person I knew prior to age 21. Even after that, I’m not 100% sure I knew any names until I staked my claim. Atheism was never suggested to me as an option, nor was I forced into it. I resisted for socio-cultural reasons even as I slowly and continually moved toward it. There was no community satisfaction or social attraction similar to having a church home to being atheist.
If anything, it was the opposite as I noticed a few folks moving away from me socially. However, I did get to hear other friends confess their somewhat closeted atheism to me later. That still happens, although seldom.
I simply decided that I do not believe any god exists (as in is real), and I should be true to myself (see #5 above).
This is from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, not the Bible, where Polonius says to Laertes, “This above all: to thine own self be true, And it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then be false to any man.” I enthusiastically, atheistically, and poetically agree.
I am far from being an expert on the workings of the LDS religion, church, cult, or whatever it is. A friend told me about his father who was a convert to Mormonism. Apparently, if one is a good LDS, God will grant an enlightenment at some point. I have no idea what that is, but it sounds like speaking in tongues for some other denominations.
Anyway, my friend told me that his father went to an LDS bishop late in life to complain about either God or the Mormon religion not delivering on the promised epiphany. The bishop apparently then confessed that not everyone gets it. I’m unclear on the details, but I suspect a deconversion. My friend’s dad died shortly thereafter. So, then what?
One person commented on this blog that I must confess my belief in God before it is “too late.” The too late being when I am already dead, and God (who is love, who is forgiving, who sort of died for our sins) punishes my soul with Hell for eternity because I would not, could not, or did not believe that he, or she, or it was real. That commentator was trying to tell me what much of Christianity teaches. Goodness does not matter. Belief is all that counts. It sounds crazy and stupid, but the Bible backs them up on this.
Bottom line, if you do not believe in any god, or if you have serious doubts, you are doomed for eternity, according to the “good book.” That’s the theory, anyway. Nothing else in your life matters. In fact, you can be a lying scum bag, a murderer, a rapist, or all of these, and still be forgiven and spend eternity in Heaven, provided you claim that you think God is real (i.e., profess belief). This makes sense to millions of people. But not to all of us.
In her memoir, Anne Rice raved about her Secular Humanist friends and how wonderful and kind and caring and what good people they were. How they do all these wonderful things for others. Many are, of course, people who do not hold much belief (or faith) in any god. Anne was at times a very devout Catholic. In that Christian denomination, belief was taken for granted. But it was (and still is) how you live and treat others that matters most. For them, ass holes burn regardless of belief status.
I sat face-to-face in a confessional one day. The Priest said, “God does not care about all that, Bill. What He cares about is how we treat one another.” Two other Priests told me essentially the same thing.
No matter what I believe about the existence of any god, I am convinced that how we treat each other is paramount. Therefore, if I treat my fellow man, nature, and the environment (God’s creation?) as well as I can, I’ll bet God would give me the same break he would give Anne or any of her wonderful friends. As for the Christian jerks, if there is a god, I have my opinion.
Opinion surveys often make a statement and ask us to respond on a continuum, or scale, from strongly disagree on one extreme to strongly agree on the other, with neither agree nor disagree at the center.
Consider this statement: There is a God.
Believers would mark agree, atheists would check disagree, and agnostics would tick one of the I don’t know choices. We would all be responding to the same question based upon our opinion of the statement. Nothing more, but predicable.
How we define ourselves (believer, agnostic, or atheist) is one thing. How we define others needs to be understood in terms of how they see themselves. But people are complex. Beliefs and religions vary widely. Despite our best efforts to find common ground, we hold different meanings for many of the same words, especially the three in parenthesis above. As we strive for clarity, the water gets muddy.
One of the areas of confusion is seeing everyone on the same continuum. It is difficult for believers, especially Christians, to accept that atheists really, sincerely, deeply, and profoundly, do not believe in any god, much less theirs. Not believing is inconceivable to so many.
It’s difficult for me to accept that people believe the following.
At some point when there was allegedly nothing, God decided, I’m going to create a material universe with stars, galaxies, and planets. On one of them I’ll create animals and humans. Then I’ll drown most of the nasty bastards and start over with some incestuous drunkard. Yet, many do. I don’t know why or how. Even when I believed, I did not believe that.
We do not all belong on the believers’ continuum. Only they go there.
The following continuum is mistaken. In my opinion, it creates confusion and mental blocks.
Believer<………………………> Agnostic <………………………..>Atheist
Nope. This is biased in the same way the word atheist itself is biased. The focus is believing (theology, theism, or religion). The obvious confusion is that agnostics are halfway believers. Another is that atheists are somehow distant believers, albeit weak ones. Believers and atheists should have their own scales, like this:
Strong Believer<……………………………………………….>Weak Believer
Strong Atheist<………………………………………………….>Weak Atheist
Agnostics could probably be scaled according to degree of uncertainty, but why bother? They are merely saying that they don’t know if there is God, or that such a thing is unknowable. None of us “know” if there is a god, yet despite no evidence, many bet their life there is one. There is no continuum there. We don’t know what we don’t know. We can’t know anything that is unknowable.
Atheism is not the other side of the believer coin, even though it seems so. It is an incredibly simple conclusion drawn, often after years of effort. No proselytizing, no religion, no scripture to read or learn (as such, but many of us have read it all), and often no personal help to guide us.
There are other views and things can get complicated. For example, this one. Each group has their own bubble. Where they overlap, we creatively use both words. Funny, eh?
As difficult as it may be to comprehend, not everyone believes, not everyone knows, and not everyone cares. I would flip gnostic and agnostic on the knowledge scale above because gnostic relates to knowledge, especially esoteric mystical knowledge as in knowing. Whereas, agnostic is more, I’ve not the faintest idea, nor shall I ever.
Last week I posted five reasons I don’t believe in God. By default, that is what an atheist is: a person who, for whatever reason, has serious doubts about the existence of any god. However, doubting deities is one thing. Publicly embracing atheism requires careful thought. The decision must not be made lightly.
Influential people have claimed that to be atheist is the worst thing a person can do. Worse than murder. Bush, Sr. said, “No. I don’t know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered patriots. This is one nation under God.” He never recanted that. I could rant on over this, but not today.
Friendships, marriages, jobs, political office, and many other social aspects of life can be negatively affected just by telling the truth. Bush seemed to think it negates US citizenship.
Pat Tillman was a war hero who was shot and killed in Afghanistan. This story gets interesting regarding the fratricide by which Tillman died, the subsequent discovery of coverups and lies by the US Army/Government, and the discovery that Tillman was at least agnostic, if not atheist.
Since this sham occurred on Dubbya’s watch, I wonder who may have questioned Pat Tillman’s patriotism. I have no evidence that Tillman ever identified as atheist or agnostic. Many people do not and should not do so. That’s my point. (Tillman’s Biography by Jon Krakauer)
I had nothing to lose. Back in the day I thought older folks went back to church, religion, and God as they aged, possibly to ensure a pleasant afterlife. That may be true for some, but not for me. Most of my family and friends were either dead or saw things somewhat as I did. Any estrangements had already happened for other reasons. I no longer worked, so I had time to learn.
Someone asked me if I was atheist. I vaguely remember discussions about beliefs and religion during my late teens and twenties. I recall people telling me their thoughts about atheism and atheists. It’s not uncommon for people to ask me about religion, but until this person asked, everyone assumed I believed in God. Answering the questions meant coming out.
Faking it is not making it. If there is a God, she knows who does not believe in his existence. I’m sure many who are wrapped tightly in religious practice do not believe any of it. Is it anyone else’s business? Probably not. But I felt a little guilty about my silence. When asked, I felt the promise of openness and honesty being better paths for me.
During the three days I pondered the question of coming out I began to feel better, even though I never felt the least bit bad about it. I felt a certain freedom. I was not in bondage by religion, but by my own silence. The timing was right. I was ready. It felt great to say I am atheist. It still does. No regrets.
This may not seem like a reason to be atheist, but in hindsight, it was. A world of information opened to me. My world view and philosophies regarding life became more manifest, in my opinion. I could run the race and wear the tee-shirt. While I was never unhappy about any of it, I felt more joy. I realized that I did not have all the answers and I needed none of them. I tried to learn as much as I was able (still do), but it was finally 100% up to me. I felt like I was being honest to myself and to the world. I no longer had to reconcile reality, truth, and facts with some religion or God someone else created.
Regarding using the words atheist, skeptic, agnostic, apostate, nonbeliever, free thinker, and whatever, whatever, whatever; I just don’t care. Atheist is not ideal to many of us because it defines us by what we are not. But it works for me because I have nothing else. I am not “one of the good ones.” We are all good and, in my opinion, better than many religious folks.
For the record, I’ve never murdered or raped anyone. I’ve robbed no banks and I do not lie on my income tax. I believe in love and compassion. I enjoy most of nature. And dogs like me. I like cats, but you know how they can be.
It’s almost December, a month of more US holidays. Happy and Merry everything to everyone. My Thanksgiving poem was published yesterday over on pluviolover.com. But who do you thank when you are atheist?