Monday, 23 April 2012

What the hell is an Atheist?

Yeah, you read that right.

No, this isn't some kind of deep analysis on what it means to be an Atheist - although that is something I want to get into when I get around to the Burden of Proof. This really is just telling people what an Atheist is because I'm actually rather surprised at the number of people who just don't seem to understand this.

First and foremost is this ugly little word 'Agnostic'. Agnostics themselves aren't ugly, some of them are rather beautiful, but the way in which the term is thrown about. I've seen a number of people use it to mean that they believe in a God, but they're not sure what one to believe in or that they believe in something. This is one position on what is frankly a spectrum of Agnosticism, and isn't even really the best way of describing it. I would describe Agnosticism as a state of uncertainty, not really being sure whether or not a God exists. I was doing my research on this yesterday and I came across this lovely diagram on wikipedia which I felt described quite well what Agnosticism really means:

As you can see, it's a bit more complicated that just not being sure what God exists. There are many positions one can take on this, and the diagram above certainly doesn't show the full extent of them. You can be an Agnostic Atheist (as I am), not believing that Gods exist, but certainly not ruling out that possibility without definitive evidence. On the opposite end of the spectrum you have Gnostic Theism: Gnostic being a frame of mind where you "know" that a God exists (or does not, as the case may be).

Once upon a time in RE, someone informed the class that being an Atheist means you have no religion. This is complete bullshit of course. It bugged me a lot that my teacher made absolutely no effort to correct this, but that's beside the point. Being an Atheist means that  you don't believe in God. Nothing more, nothing less. Some religions have no God to speak of; Buddhism is (depending on who you ask) an atheistic religion. Similarly, you can believe in God(s) without being religious, which is usually just called Theism - with a few optional prefixes of course. Indeed, the 'Agnosticism' that many people think of is much closer to Theism than actual Agnosticism.

Bit off-topic but there's also the little issue of people assuming Atheism is a religion. It's not. There's not set belief system around it, it just means someone doesn't believe in God.

I'm really quite surprised I had to write this, and I feel like I'm preaching to the choir here (for lack of a better expression) because I'm sure regular readers (the ones who have suffered my other ramblings regarding religion) are already clued up on what all of this means, but this is just something I wanted to get out there.

I also wanted to make this as an excuse to mention that my posting schedule has been, and will continue to be, quite erratic for a few weeks. A combination of coursework overload, revision, lack of stuff going on in my life to talk about as a result of said revision and coursework and other commitments. I'll try and keep it regular, though.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting - the bubble diagram was good, although reminded me a bit too much of set theory in maths. :) I think I'd fit comfortably into the agnostic atheist slice as well, although I'd always gone for the more simple "atheist" bit before. Had tended to class agnostic as believing in "something" in the way of a deity but being unsure what.

    FWIW I find the idea of Jesus existing a lot easier than God existing. Whether all the miracles were true or not and whether he was the son of God, I'd find a bit harder to believe. I'm inclined to more believe that he was a bit of an all-round dude that did good things.

    I'd work on the basis that someone must have written chapters in the Bible about him for a reason, so I tend to opt for the theory that he probably existed, but by the time it all got written down, some of the 'facts' were blurred in the mists of time. When we can't even get facts on a story in the morning papers correct (well, the Daily Mail can't) then getting a story 100 percent straight 200/300 years after the event is going to be nigh on impossible.