Tuesday, June 24, 2008

You might be an atheist

There's just something about that word - "atheist." Oooh...just sends shivers down your spine, doesn't it? After all, atheists don't have any morals! Atheists look at this beautiful world that we live in, dung beetles and all, and don't see the hand of God in it! They don't pray! They don't believe in America! Oh, such a bad, bad, bad thing to be.

Of course, there are plenty of people out there who don't view atheists that way at all. Especially people like me, who you know, actually identify themselves as atheists. (The fact that I love sacrificing infants and rampant soddomy is a completely separate issue, I assure you.) There are also all sorts of faithful people who understand that atheism does not equal immorality. And don't forget the religiously neutral - the agnostics if you will.

Those are the people whom I'm addressing here. Obviously, I'm not talking to you Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Zoroastrians, but feel free to keep reading if you're one of them. Oh yes, I used to call myself an agnostic as well. I think that the reason why I did was because I had spent so much of my life believing in the Christian God (I think they call him Jesus) that it was hard to completely let go of it all and call myself an atheist. In fact, I used to argue with atheists (one in particular, who no doubt delights at the fact that I joined the dark side with her). I just couldn't understand those people. Clearly, there was something wrong with them. How could everything just come together so perfectly? How could the Earth orbit the sun at just the right distance? How could it all be one big accident? (What really annoys me about those arguments now is the fact that I used to make them!)

So, when it became much too difficult for me to believe that there was such a thing as the one, true religion (and it turns out that a lot of Americans are leaning that way) I called myself an agnostic Christian - even though I wasn't entirely sure if that actually meant anything. Basically, I believed in Jesus, but I wasn't too sure that He was the only correct way to view God. Eventually, this started to fall apart for me, and I just went with full-on agnostic.

The thing is, I like shades of grey. I think that being absolutely sure of anything is a sign of insanity. That's what kept me from going to atheism - despite the fact that if I was honest with myself, I really didn't believe that some Supreme Being was watching me. The running dialogue that I had in my head with God had started to go away as I realized that it was a touch too one-sided to be a dialogue at all. Trying to figure it all out, I asked myself the question:

If somebody were to put a gun to my head and ask me whether God exists or not, and "I don't know" wasn't an option, and getting the answer wrong would mean my head being turned into a canoe, I'd have to go with "no."

This doesn't mean that I'm absolutely certain that there is no God. I'd say I'm about 90% certain. That's pretty certain though. Or forget the dramatic scenario. If asked whether you believe or not, and your first response, even if only mental, is "no", then you're an atheist. You don't believe. Even if it's a "No, but I allow for the possibility." Do you see prayer as a monologue or a dialogue? If it's the former, you're an atheist.

And there's nothing wrong with that. So, get off the fence. As Stephen Colbert always says, "Pick a side; we're at war!"


Kirsti said...

I've been sitting on that fence for a very long time. After reading Ray's blog, I'm definitely finding myself leaning way more towards one side, but I haven't jumped. I guess that's a label that I'm just not quite ready for.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

Like I said, just because you leave open the possibility that there might be one, that doesn't mean that you believe in one. And if you don't believe in one, then you're an atheist.

Kirsti said...

Look...in your post, you described how you don't like to be labeled a Liberal, even though you are similiar to them in what they stand for. Same goes for me with this subject. Just because I may not technically believe in God (nor do I NOT believe in one), I don't think it's fair that you label me an Atheist.

Lance Christian Johnson said...

I didn't say you were one. Reread what I wrote. I'm just stating that, according to the definition, all you need to be an atheist is to not believe in a god.

But I understand what you mean. The word has all sorts of implications that many people don't like. I guess my point is that it shouldn't have all of those implications.

Efrique said...

Atheism is nothing more nor less than the absence of a belief in god or gods. If you don't have a belief in god or gods, you are, whether you like the label or not, an atheist.

Agnosticism is the position that the existence of a god or gods is unknowable (often, but not necessarily, accompanied by an assertion that we should therefore not take a position of belief or express absence of belief).

It is possible to be agnostic and atheist or agnostic and believer.

An agnostic atheist would use an argument like "I don't know god doesn't exist, but I also don't know unicorns don't exist - and I have no particular reason to believe in either."

(Agnostic atheism is a typical position of a skeptic, since it's just skepticism applied to the existence of gods. An agnostic atheist would believe in gods if they had sufficiently convincing evidence of their existence - keeping in mind they'll generally use Sagan's yardstick.)

Some people (a small percentage) might assert "I know there's no god". That's sometimes called "strong atheism". I've never met one, myself.

An agnostic theist might say "I can't know god exists, but I'm sure something is there."

I recall spending some years in the wilderness, not being willing to admit being an atheist, but really, if you don't assert a belief in a "god" in some sense, you are, by definition, an atheist of some stripe.

When I finally said the words, it eventually turned out to be a tremendous relief.

SteveMudSkipper said...