Friday, August 8, 2014

Am I An Atheist?

It’s starting to look a little bit dangerous to be identified as an atheist these days.  The circle of demonization has been extending itself since the infamous Nine/Eleven.  That event put Muslims on the shit list.  Homosexuals have been thoroughly demonized by now.  Liberals need not apply in some quarters.  People are angry, and as the world gets weirder and the changes in society come along faster, people are looking for someone or some group or groups to blame it on, to blame whatever the voices in their heads are telling them is happening on. 

Not only Muslims now, but, depending on whom you ask, also Hindus, Sikhs, animists (!!!) and atheists are coming up for the treatment.  Somehow anyone in any of those groups, maybe particularly the homosexuals, is individually and collectively responsible for all of the evils of our society, as delineated by the haters, the demonizers. 

Make your own list of the demons, it’s fun.  Hamas sympathizers!  Washington insiders!  Global Warming patsies!  Dissidents!  Contraceptive mongers!  Democrats!  Leftists!  Congressmen!  Federal agents!  FEMA!  The UN!  The possibilities are endless. 

This is all dangerous, especially if you find yourself in one of the demon categories.  Eliminationist language is frequently employed, often by semi-famous people on Facebook or the radio, and daily by anonymous paranoids in the comment threads of the Internet.  Often they do now shy away from mentioning their preference for Final Solutions. 

So I am moved to wonder:  do my views on religion make me eligible for death? 

What Am I?

I have never made a secret of my views on religion.  I don’t approve of it.  I generally claim that I respect religion, all religions, as other people’s business, it’s up to them.  But that’s not entirely true, the respecting part.  Really I think it’s all poppycock. 

Perhaps luckily for me and my fellow travelers, that may not be enough to make one an atheist.  Let’s hold this thing up to the light.

“Atheism/atheist:  a disbelief in the existence of a god or gods.”  (Not capitalized in the source.)  From the Greek, “a theos,” without God.  (All definitions from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, 2006.)

This might save me on a technicality, because disbelief, like belief, is an affirmative act.  You can argue with atheists, they have taken a position.  It seems to me that atheism is a faith, as much as any religion is a faith.  Atheism is a belief, based not on evidence, that there is no God.  It is based, if anything, on the lack of evidence for the existence of God.  In my Weltanschauung, either the belief in God or the belief that God does not exist are equally foolish. 

There is another category, a kind of “atheism lite,” a kind of wishy-washy almost atheism. 

“Agnostic:  a person who believes that nothing is known, or can be known, of the existence or nature of God."  (Capitalized in the source.)  From the Greek, “a gnostic,” without knowledge. 

Well, that’s a lot more like it.  “Agnostic” seems to sum up my feelings on the matter quite nicely.  As little as we now understand even about ordinary reality, which can be observed and quantified, it seems ridiculous to me to begin pretending that we understand the nature of God.  I am quite satisfied to continue to capitalize the word, “God,” while I remain unpersuaded on the subject of God’s existence of lack thereof.  Who knows?  Stranger things have happened than God. 

Agnostic still has a belief component though, and I’m pretty sure that I don’t believe in anything at all on the subject.  Besides, claiming the status of an agnostic when they come for the atheists would be a lot like hiding from the Big Bad Wolf in a house made of straw.  I’m pretty sure that such a narrow distinction would not be honored by hunters.  


So I’m going with faithless to describe my own condition.  I’ve written about my failure in this area before.   I’ve never in my life had any faith in anything religious.  It’s not something that I lost at some point, it never took root in me in the first place.  From the earliest attempts by teachers, or my parents, or the church, to inculcate some kind of religious belief in me, I have universally found those efforts to be dubious at best, frequently ridiculous, and certainly nothing that remotely lined up with the world that was staring me in the face. 

Could I be demonized for faithlessness?  It wouldn’t be easy, but those who might seek to do so paint with big brushes, so I guess anything is possible.  My defense would be that faithlessness is not a moral or intellectual position, it is a straightforward confession of fact.   Some may disapprove of it, but you cannot argue with it.  Faithlessness is blameless.  


P Winn said...

Faithless is a good term I guess. I’ve always thought it a true sign of the power of religion that we have to have a name for someone who doesn’t believe in a god of some type. There is no name for people who don’t believe in unicorns, so why should there be a name for someone who doesn’t believe in something just as baseless? I think the big difference between a religious person and a faithless person is that we aren’t bothered by uncertainty. I have no clue what happened before the big bang, or what the universe is expanding into, or what was “I” before I was born, or what will happen to “me” after I die. This life, my friends and family and their situations now are what I care about. I can do something about that, I can’t do much with the other stuff; so why bother.

fred c said...

I agree that it's all about the uncertainty. If religion is a comfort to some people, it is because religion offers a framework and an excuse for uncertainty. Thanks for reading.