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Atheism vs. Agnosticism

In my experience, most agnostics are practically atheist. They don't believe in god or afterlife, they're not praying, they're not worrying about it all. There are exceptions, from the occasional "agnostic theist" to a more common agnostic who is "seeking", or struggling, or wistfully wishing X was true, or on their way from being Christian to being atheist. But even those could largely be seen as functionally not-theist.

Conversely, most atheists are philosophically agnostic. Some do say that they've proved God can't exist, or think that has been proven, but most, if pressed, will disclaim certainty. They don't need it, being happy with implausibility rather than impossibility, because their (our) key argument is not "I know you're wrong" but "there's no evidence that you're right."

So if the bulk of atheists and agnostics overlap, why pick one label over another? Part of it is beliefs about what the definitions are, or what "belief in no God" means: countless times I've seen agnostics say that they're not atheist because that would be claiming certainty "just like a believer", immediately followed by atheists saying "no, you've missed the point." Part of it's personal history and what one is comfortable with for subrational reasons; in my case, I once as a child answered that I was agnostic out of cowardice and promptly got called on it[1], leading to a vow to not sell out again.

But there's also what message you're sending. Agnostics aren't the only ones who think 'atheist' means faith-like certainty in non-existence, for believers often respond that way too. But that's not the only message in play -- what message does calling yourself 'agnostic' send, and is it one atheists would want? To my mind, agnostic isn't just making a philosophical point about lack of certainty, but says that various religions have a real chance of being right, that there's a level playing field between atheism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Scientology, Hinduism, Jainism, Shinto, Sioux beliefs, Mbuti beliefs, etc. Well, maybe most agnostics would balk at some point in that list, but certainly level playing field between atheism and Christianity is often implied, or at least inferred by me. And then the atheist asks why one should stop at any point on the list.

Whereas the atheist uncertainty is more on the order of "there's no proof the Sun will rise tomorrow; the laws of physics are just observed patterns which *could* be a big coincidence." A philosophical point, not a practical one. The message the atheist really wants to send is "So, what's your evidence, anyway? I'm sorry, let me rephrase, what's your *convincing* evidence? Why should I take Jesus any more seriously than Zeus, or than you yourself take Brahma or Mohamed? You don't believe in Islam, well, I don't believe in Islam *or* Christianity." Do you (for agnostics) really think general Christianity, Mormonism, Scientology, Shinto, and the latest cult are on a level playing field, and if not, if you feel able to rule out some of those, why not all of them?

Core agnostic message: "I don't know", with room to infer "and maybe I can be convinced."  Atheist message: "I may not KNOW, but damn am I skeptical."  Often with "and I've looked at other religions, and for that matter your own religion, more than you have" as a followup.

Of course, this all assumes that truth-value is relevant, as opposed to social-utility value.

[1] It was on the schoolbus, 8th grade probably. For some reason I got asked what my religion was, and surrounded by a bunch of not overly friendly kids, I said agnostic, despite thinking of myself as atheist. They asked what agnostic meant, and another kid answered "it's what atheists answer when they don't want to say they're atheist." Which isn't true in general, but was really specifically true of me, and I burned with shame.

Comments

( 38 comments — Leave a comment )
fanw
Nov. 2nd, 2007 01:20 pm (UTC)
Definitely interesting discussion. A few thoughts from an agnostic.

Core agnostic message: "I don't know", with room to infer "and maybe I can be convinced." Atheist message: "I may not KNOW, but damn am I skeptical.

I bristle a little at the inference you added to agnosticism. To make a silly analogy, I'd be just as annoyed as a bisexual if people kept saying "oh, well, you just haven't had that one key experience" (ala religion) or "you just don't have the balls to say you are X or Y" (atheism's rant against agnosticism).

For me, I am comfortable with where I am and I don't intend to become more or less religious. Do I feel hinduism is more real than scientology? That catholicism is more real than mormonism? Not particularly. I don't interpret any of them literally, but I do find value in their various interpretations of living the good life. In fact, as a scientist, I find it much more valuable to do a sort of comparitive look at all religions than to focus on one.

For me, judging a religion by its religious text is like judging Western culture based on Hamlet. We are not all murderers and do not all commit incest, but the play still illustrates human qualities that are important. In this way, the Bible has lots of violence and crazy dictates, but it also has some wisdom. I don't mind so much its flaws. After all, it's not a work of God, it's a work of Man.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 02:59 pm (UTC)
I could have been clearer, as I dumped out my thoughts which were keeping me from sleeping. But note: inference, not implication. The message is as much a function of the recipient as the sender; it's not that the agnostic is meaning to say "I'm open to being convinced" but the religious perhaps hearing that, just as they often 'hear' "I think I've proved God's non-existence" when they hear "I'm an atheist". Part of the point of the thing was to elucidate why a lot of atheists don't want the agnostic label for themselves, even when it technically applies.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 08:38 pm (UTC)
This post is going to feel like a weird role reversal of us, and possibly I'll find that I've overly simplified or stereotyped or completely misunderstood your position. Be kind!

To me, your comments sound like, paraphrased into my own words: "I respect various religions, and value studying them for their commentary on human life, or for useful ways of living life, and don't insult them by getting hung up on their truth value."

Now, I'm happy to engage in cultural appropriation and miscegenation, even without respecting the source I'm stealing from. And maybe I'm projecting the whole 'respect' thing onto you -- but you do prefer agnostic to atheist, and you're more UU than I am, so I fill in somewhat from observed UU behavior.

But "after all, it's not a work of God, it's a work of Man" seems to be begging the very question under debate. (And a statement which sounds more atheist than agnostic in certainty.) Religions don't consider themselves the work of Man, but the work of God! The Christian martyrs didn't die for a better way of community or even stuff like loving your neighbor, they died for the salvation of their eternal souls. They may not even have had texts yet to take literally, but they had core supernatural beliefs which continue to be key to Christianity. Orthodox Jews will defend the beliefs that God appeared to Moses, and then to the entire Hebrew people, and that the laws they follow are literally the commands of God to his chosen people. Muslims will defend that Gabriel dictated to Mohammed; Hindus have their own claims to revelation. These aren't literalist freaks, but the historical mainstream of what their religion is based on. Without the truth of the Resurrection, or the dictation, a lot of them feel, reasonably, that there'd be no point to their religion, nice cultural practices notwithstanding. And certainly no point to their having suffered, or killed, for those practices.

I study other religions for fun, out of curiosity. I can imagine plundering from them too. And I'd say "it's the work of Man", but I'm the unabashed 'atheist'. And I know that they, or lots of them, would say "no it's not, by God!" (very crucial comma there) Seeing *you* casually throw out that line makes me think one of us is missing something, though I really don't know who.
fanw
Nov. 2nd, 2007 09:00 pm (UTC)
Good points all. (I thought that "work of Man" line might provoke something!) I want to make a small point though.

There's a difference between truth and the retelling of the truth. For example, I believe there was an attack on Troy, but given the nature of oral history, I'm not sure I believe every little bit of what got written down from Homer's memory. In the same way, Christians don't deny that Matthew, Mark, Luke & John wrote their bits of the New Testament, not God. Same goes for the Old Testament, but with anonymous writers. The religious authority took great care in choosing what texts were more reliable and what were less reliable and could be tossed into the Apocrypha. So here I see less of a difference between my stance (it was written by Man) and a Christians stance (it was written by a prophet) than I think you are implying.

Yes, there are plenty who believe if it's written in the book then it's true. But I think, I really do believe, there are many more who use it as a guide, as parable. Now, of course, I'm discounting the fundamentalists who really do believe every word is true, but there's certainly enough of a tradition of interpretation, in Judaism, in Christianity, etc, that I don't feel my comment was that flippant.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 09:19 pm (UTC)
Yeah, I've noted before that liberal Christians seem to have a better leg to stand on than Jews and Muslims. Textual self-assertion of inerrancy and privileged authorship is there in the OT, and I presume in the Koran, while the NT is a bunch of secondhand sources. I think Peter's the only one who's supposed to have met Jesus in the flesh, and his epistles don't evven say much. Which gives room for distancing oneself from Matthew's three-hour eclipse and zombies of Jerusalem. (Of course, there's always the "divine inspiration" tack, but let's ignore that.)

But all that said, and noting that the Catholic Church passed on literalism from the beginning... you've still got fundamental beliefs, without which I think Christianity gets gutted, and its martyrs look sad. That Christ was the Son of God, sent to redeem humanity of its original sin (see: Adam, Eve, Eden) not to mention all the other sins, through the miracle of the crucifixion and Resurrection, and providing through faith in Him not hell or death (sources vary) but eternal life. That, and maybe some stuff about the Holy Ghost and Mary, are basic creeds of almost all varieties of Christianity. A congregation of believers vs. apostolic succession and holy priests might be debatable, but what I listed isn't.

Well, *these days* you can find "Christians" who'd bend even on that... but that's pretty novel, I think, and post- the Enlightenment bitch-slapping Christianity for a few centuries. Older Christians would happily burn the lot as heretics.

And the more liberal you get, the weirder it seems to me if you stop to think about it. If one doubts the miracle of the zombies, why believe the miracle of the Resurrection? And that's that say about Matthew, who added the zombies (or believed someone else who added the zombies?) If Gabriel didn't dictate to Mohammed, or God to Moses, what does that say about the books which claim he did, and the religions based on those books?

Huh, I fear I'm rambling now. Oh well.
zosimos
Nov. 2nd, 2007 01:45 pm (UTC)
I'd note that the "and I've looked at other religions, and for that matter your own religion, more than you have" is a bit of a mistake. While a lot of Atheists tend to study religions for various reasons, there are just as many who are no better versed in religious history or philosophy than any other person on the street.

The core "may be convinced" vs "skeptical" issue though is something I would agree with as the fundamental difference between the two, if we're creating a intellectually valid split.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 03:13 pm (UTC)
That's why I said "Often with ... as followup."

As for the split, to be clear, pace my reply to fanw I think it's a split less in the real attitudes than in the message being sent, intentionally or not. My-college-friend probably wasn't any more likely than me of being convinced or converted, but we chose the different labels...

This post stemmed from poking around atheist blogs recently, and the topic coming up again of whether it's rude or confrontational to call oneself atheist. It certainly feels that way to some believers, and some agnostics who give that as a reason for not being 'atheist'. "You're saying that everyone else is wrong." Yet that's the implication of being a believer, but somehow *that's* okay, while nonbelievers are supposed to stop at the "well, I'm not sure" level or be rude.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 2nd, 2007 02:40 pm (UTC)
There is virtue in maintaining communication. Why be dogmatic about what you don't know? If you wish to convince others of the validity of what you do know, why insist on the validity of what you don't when others find that a different concept of what none of them, you, nor I know works a whole lot better for them?

I am sympathetic to the boy on the bus, but that was a typical childhood bullying over nothing. The real danger is not getting beat up, but in not communicating.

I personally find, for one example, tales of the deeds of the angel Moroni unconvincing. I find the accomplishments of the people who believe in those tales impressive, again, for one example. Not that all of the deeds were virtuous, but that the society was strong and stable.

If you don't like current religions, what are you going to replace them with that will give the same strength and stability, given that not all of mankind is proficient with analysis, logic, and the scientific method, and seems to need some religious type of help to get along? That's a real question, not rhetorical, and I don't pretend to have an answer.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 03:05 pm (UTC)
It wasn't bullying really. I had no fear of getting beat up then, at least physically, just social fear of... something. And the guy who called me out, while snarky and inaccurate in the general case, nailed me perfectly.

As for atheist, I find it honest, not dogmatic. "not-theist". Out of atheist agnostics, the 'atheists' choose to emphasize the fact that they're not believers, while the 'agnostics' choose to emphasize their lack of certainty. I used to have arguments with a college friend: same views as far as I could tell, different labels. He wanted the label of open-mindedness and lack of certainty; I replied that I felt I was technically agnostic on everything, and saw no reason to distinguish religious matters in particular for a label of doubt, vs. a label which actually says what I think of said religious matters.
countrycousin
Nov. 3rd, 2007 10:47 pm (UTC)
I apologize, the comment you replied to was mine, I didn't notice that I wasn't logged in. (and, of course, did not get notices of the replies.)

Yes, I agree that technically atheism should mean just that one doesn't believe, but practically, agnosticism has come to mean that and atheism has come to mean that one believes in the non-existence. Going back to communication, there is virtue in thinking about how the listener will interpret.

I understand your point, and we had part of this discussion before - I just feel it is better trying to keep the bridges open. I admit I don't have any bridges that span to the far side. :<(
fanw
Nov. 2nd, 2007 03:15 pm (UTC)
If you don't like current religions, what are you going to replace them with that will give the same strength and stability, given that not all of mankind is proficient with analysis, logic, and the scientific method, and seems to need some religious type of help to get along?

Oh, see there I disagree! Take Europe for example. Not very religious. Also not sinking into the tarpits. People don't NEED religion, but they will always ask questions about the meaning of life. Now you can leave them as questions and let people find their own answers, or you can create a structure within which people can find out "what do 5 million other people think" (aka religion). You don't need a doctorate in philosophy to figure this stuff out, just like you don't need to understand electro-magnetic fields to use a microwave. We're all people and we all think and feel and live. No on NEEDS the answers in a book.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 03:56 pm (UTC)
> create a structure ... (aka religion)

Or create a structure in which people can find out "what answers have people come up over time, what have they said about each other's answers, and what might we see about how that all worked out?" Aka a comparative religion class, or a philosophy (more along the Greek philosophies of life than along ontology) class. Or maybe a UU religious ed class, but I expect that's similar to comp rel.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 03:57 pm (UTC)
(clarification: I'm agreeing with you but expanding.)
tooth_and_claw
Nov. 3rd, 2007 08:50 pm (UTC)
Mostly just following along with the conversation, but this:

Take Europe for example. Not very religious

Made my go Wurp? I will say that europe is not strongly *Christian*, in that I think they get a much bigger melting pot of religions, but Europe (at least what I can see, currently residing in it) is pretty damn religious.

At least, Italy is, but Zurich, Prague and Barcelona all shut down completly on Sundays as well, and I've gotten cursed for wearing a penacle hear than anywhere I've been in the US, including fundie-towns.
mindstalk
Nov. 3rd, 2007 08:58 pm (UTC)
Interesting. I'd have thought the US has more religions running around, though Europe has a larger Muslim minority. And maybe more Hindus, in England.

"not religious" is usually based on polls, where Europeans attest to various beliefs far less than Americans. And politicians don't talk about God or their beliefs, and sex attitudes sound saner, and such.

Shutting down on Sundays: is that people actually going to church, or people refusing to work on Sunday? Maybe less "we're religious" and more "we like our day off". Like France going on vacation for August... I also know various countries still have state churches or state-funded churches. The Queen is the head of the Church of England, after all. So there's more religious residue, but less belief or believing practice, at least in some areas.

Sucks about the pentacle curses.
tooth_and_claw
Nov. 5th, 2007 11:18 am (UTC)
It depends on the country. Italy has a lot of relgions floating around right now because it's one of the primary immigration points in europe at the moment (to the annoyace of the locals), but the primary religion is, of course, Catholcism. I would say that the same amount of people are religious here and elsewhere, if not more here. Having not lived in other european countries I can't say what they are like, but in Italy, even in a *very* liberal city like Florence, you had better watch that you don't take the lord's name in vain on the street, and there are strict dress codes for a lot of places.

The biggest difference seems to be that Europeans, at leats italians, are *just* as religious, just ot as loud-mouthed about it. Priorities are different, too. There isn't an obsession about virginity and abstinence here, but you can bet your ass if you get pregnant, you're keeping it, and NO WAY do you live in sin. In fact, near 50 percent of the population 25-30 still live with their parents. Honor thy mother and father is real big, too. Gays? sure, if they don't mind being terrorized.

Sunday is not just a day off. Certainly, lots of people take it that way, but many of them spend their mornings in church. the bells are actually what I rely on to get me up on Sunday mornings. All Saints Day and the Annunciation are major national holidays.

As for 'pagan' religions, I've never ever met someone who would come close to professing they believe in them here. Germany, I hear, is much more open to that.

Lastly, sexual politics are HORRIBLE over here. HORRIBLE. This is something that I think is pretty much an Italian issue, but women's rights stink. Aside from the constant, *constant* cat-calling, there is not a female classmate that I know who has not been sexually molested on the bus, and several now have more nasty stories (ike being followed and grabbed, or having someone sit across from you in the train and openly masturbate). This is the country that let a man off with a lighter sentence in a rape case because the girl wasn't a virgin, and another man was let go entirely because the courts ruled that you can't rape someone wearing tight jeans.

And yet, there are more female bus drivers, doctors, police officers, construction workers and street cleaners.

It really seems like relgion isn't a huige subject here, ot because people aren't religious, but because they are A. more pragmatic about it and B. they all live in it. It's tradition. Why muck around with it?

It's a different from the fanaticism we see in America. Of course, if you follow the European view on that, it's because all Americans are basically teenagers-- passionate, loud, not very bright, freindly, but very black and white.

pompe
Nov. 5th, 2007 03:03 pm (UTC)
In my corner of Europe Sundays aren't very sacred at all. Most shops are open and so on.

The main reason to have them closed is because people need a day off and because union standards demand more pay for working on weekends. So the work hours on sundays are usually shorter. But religion? Not much, no. I don't know anyone who actually goes to church on Sunday.
mindstalk
Nov. 3rd, 2007 09:08 pm (UTC)
Or for another example: I think it was -- is? -- illegal for retailers to be open on Sunday in Germany. Probably for Christian reasons originally, but I think when people thought about removing that, they found secular labor protection reasons for not doing so. "If you make it so people can work on Sunday, soon they'll be financially forced to work on Sunday, and next you know we turn into the United States."
(Anonymous)
Nov. 5th, 2007 11:38 am (UTC)
Word on the secular work stuff, for sure. it's one of the things I totally give Europe props for: their concept of work weeks, and even works days, makes SO MUCH MORE SENSE.
pompe
Nov. 5th, 2007 03:07 pm (UTC)
I don't think it is labor laws in a modern sense but old guild laws.

One reason why Sweden got rid of Sunday limitations was that the soc-dems allied with Big Companies instead of Small Business Owners.
fanw
Nov. 3rd, 2007 09:34 pm (UTC)
Oh, but state religion is different from personal religion. I bet you'll find a lot fewer Europeans who attend church, believe in God, or believe in Angels than here in the U.S.

Sundays are a day off, like a Bank holiday, but they don't worship banks there.
pompe
Nov. 5th, 2007 03:10 pm (UTC)
Well, arguably places like Berlin, Stockholm, Helsinki and London aren't very religious.
tooth_and_claw
Nov. 5th, 2007 03:47 pm (UTC)
That's what i'm hearing from people that travelled there. I've stuck to southern europe, except for a short jaunt to Zurich. are you from Germany? I'm actually curious how this is regarded from other european cultures--- it seems like lots of the more northern european states kind of view Spain and Italy as more . . . backward is not the right word, but maybe more traditional?
mindstalk
Nov. 5th, 2007 04:14 pm (UTC)
Pompe's Swedish.

Spain is part of the small but growing gay marriage alliance, FWIW, though not without a fight.
pompe
Nov. 5th, 2007 08:56 pm (UTC)
No, I'm Swedish. Sadly I've mostly travelled in the North/West/East, like Germany, Britain, the old East Bloc and of course Norden.

The typical word for southern Europe is probably "catholic", which is supposed to mean rather traditional and sometimes indeed also a bit backward, unfair as it often is. Not that say, Bavaria or Northern Italy is backward nor poor, but a typical Swede probably thinks Catholic equals Papal which in turn they think equals dubious progressiveness.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 04:05 pm (UTC)
I was wondering about your last question. Fanw's answer is good, and prompted an expansion by me. I could also point to the Epicureans, who ran communities of well-nigh atheists (irrelevant gods, no afterlife) for centuries until the Christians stamped them out. Unfortunately we don't know much about how they worked (cf. Christians.)

What I'd been thinking of saying was that I don't think I need to answer that question for everyone. It's enough for me to say what I think the truth is and why; I can say how I live my life, as example. But it seems condescending to think I or anyone needs to craft a replacement way of life for people. Especially as, as Fanw noted, they seem to be working it out on their own. The non-US developed countries are generally less religious than the US; South Korea is said to be 50% non-religious (CIA Factbook). The US seems to have been getting less religious with younger generations, especially the latest. So, people can cope. Probably helps to have a good social support network.

I personally find, for one example, tales of the deeds of the angel Moroni unconvincing. I find the accomplishments of the people who believe in those tales impressive, again, for one example. Not that all of the deeds were virtuous, but that the society was strong and stable.

Nothing about being atheist prevents one from finding such accomplishments to be impressive. Being atheist means you don't believe in Moroni and all his relatives. It doesn't mean you have to hate Bach.

(Though I did have a roommate who found that learning German ruined his enjoyment of sonatas.)
countrycousin
Nov. 3rd, 2007 11:11 pm (UTC)
(Though I did have a roommate who found that learning German ruined his enjoyment of sonatas.)

How depressing. I took German and did not notice such an effect, but I am a poor language student and did not learn it very well. I have been feeling guilty about this; I am now relieved. ;<)

But it seems condescending to think I or anyone needs to craft a replacement way of life for people.

I suppose. However, as a parent and grandparent I am vitally interested in passing on a way of life that is spiritually sustainable as well as environmentally sustainable. I observe, as I indicated in my first comment, that some sects with whose basis I strongly disagree nonetheless form stable and lasting societies, whereas those who stress the practical spiritual and soft pedal the myths have trouble retaining their young.

You say the US seems to be getting less religious with younger generations - my experience, over another generation, does not support that. Parts of the younger generation began getting more religious in a reaction to some of the excesses of the late 60's and 70's; the strength of the religious right that devils us today is part of that legacy.
mindstalk
Nov. 5th, 2007 09:16 pm (UTC)
I based my comment off the
Barna Group survey
.
countrycousin
Nov. 5th, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC)
Thanks for the link. And I won't argue against that it is decreasing recently - I suspect it is (and you cite data, although not from a site whose objectivity stands out.) There may even be a long term trend, depending on how one counts things. My point was that (my perception is that) there was a bump in the other direction several decades ago, and it had noticeable effects.
pompe
Nov. 2nd, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
We don't know if a modern society needs religion. We know that in old, non-democratic times of low science and little respect for human rights religions indeed gave hope, answers and strength to people. But perhaps we can give those things to people without using religion today.
pompe
Nov. 2nd, 2007 06:14 pm (UTC)
I don't really care for agnosticism. To me, atheism or theism is not an issue of conviction, evidence or proof, it is a matter of belief. I can't prove there is no God, but I don't believe in him/her/it/them. Not believing in God is atheism to me, regardless of how that non-belief is rationalized.

Religious people can't prove there is a God either, but they instead choose to believe. That I can respect. But I, to be blunt, don't respect the stance to be unsure about whether one believes or not to the same degree.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 2nd, 2007 08:52 pm (UTC)
Alright I'll pounce! I am an agnostic (normally I don't go around wearing a label, but for this discussion I'll adopt it) but I don't think I'm "unsure".

Here's why I choose agnostic instead of atheist. To me, and of course there may be different interpretations, atheist implies not just a lack of faith in a supreme being, but a similar lack of faith in many so called spiritual experiences which are not supported by scientific fact. Personally, I do not believe in an interventionist supreme being (no one's up there whom I can call to for help or hindrance). However, I have articles of faith. For example, I believe in the basic good nature of humanity, despite all evidence to the contrary! I also believe that there is a connection amongst all living things. And I believe there is much we do not yet know about the mind and spirit and consciousness.

So, while I'm pretty clear to myself on the evidence of God (there's none I can see), I don't want to align myself with the skeptics camp for topics related to the soul and such like.
fanw
Nov. 2nd, 2007 08:53 pm (UTC)
Darnit, that comment was from me. I just wasn't logged in. Sorry!
pompe
Nov. 2nd, 2007 11:02 pm (UTC)
I don't think that's a fair definition of atheism. Or agnosticism. Atheism is about the rejection of a belief in a god or
gods. The type of atheism you describe is philosophical atheism based on an empirical/materialistic world view which in turn is likely to lead to a rejection of certain values of God, but in principle you can believe in spiritualism, astrology, reincarnation, pixies, homeopathy or that Newcastle will win the Premier League and still be an atheist.
mindstalk
Nov. 2nd, 2007 11:15 pm (UTC)
That's certainly true, technically, but I'd admit myself that there's a strong materialist/naturalist halo to atheist, and I've always gone "umm..." when people claim Buddhism as an atheist religion. "Umm, no Creator, okay, but reincarnation and boddhisattvas?" So I'm not rushing to claim "no god, but woowoo" types for atheism. Personals sites have a "spiritual but not religious" category which seems somewhat appropriate.

Whether Fanw's inclinations and beliefs actually qualify as what I'd call woowoo I don't know; I hear the words, but the actual intended meaning has always been elusive. "spiritual" is a slippery word.

While I'm posting, I'll add a clarification I'd been thinking of: I'm not out to relabel all agnostics. Someone who's broken somewhat with their religion, but has lots of doubts, is perfect for the agnostic label. And there may be other good varieties as well. But I think I've seen people who are practically atheist in every way, and even attack religion on their own, but who then turn and say "oh, I'm not atheist, that'd be being as dogmatic as a believer." (I know I've seen that statement, many times; I'm not *certain* I've seen it coupled with the other traits, it could be my memory is conflating things.) Grrr.
(Anonymous)
Nov. 3rd, 2007 09:38 pm (UTC)
You're quite right. It's not a fair definition of atheism or agnosticism. But enough people fall into those camps (materialist atheist vs. wishy-washy non-commital agnostics). Given those two false perceptions, I'd rather be deemed wishy-washy than dogmatic, I guess. I'll happily take the time to explain that I don't believe in God, but I don't want to try to convince them that I'm open-minded. Somehow I feel that's harder when you say you're an atheist.
mindstalk
Nov. 3rd, 2007 09:46 pm (UTC)
Obviously I allow anonymous comments. But if you I'd appreciate some indication of who you are, or if I don't know you, how you got here/why you're reading this. I'm curious.
mindstalk
Nov. 3rd, 2007 05:01 pm (UTC)
I think the question I want to ask, not to attack but to find out why you believe, or *what* you believe, is "what difference does it make?" How does a world with inherent goodness in humans and a connection among all living things look different from a world without, and what do you see as the alternative possible worlds?

Of course you say they're articles of faith, so maybe there isn't supposed to be an external difference. But surely there's a difference to you? How is your life and behavior different for having those beliefs compared to not having them, or having the alternatives you might imagine?

As an example, if I believed in the inherent evil of humans, I imagine I might never trust anyone. Never really opening up emotionally, looking for the 'inevitable' betrayal. If I believed in inherent goodness as some potential, I'm not sure my life would be much different compared to not believing in inherent anything, but just expecting people to be various mixes of good and bad, or of various personality traits. If I believed in goodness as some 'stuff' infusing people... nah, I don't think I can actually wrap my mind around that.
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Damien Sullivan
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