Monday, July 13, 2015

Atheist or Agnostic . . . or maybe it's time for a new Label

I occasionally get some feedback about my comments and often get accused of being an Atheist or an Agnostic.  Actually I have been accused of much more, but for the purposes of this conversation, let's focus on Atheist and Agnostic.  It recently made me think that neither of those labels actually apply . . . I think it's time for a new category, one that might make more sense when/if opinions are polled.

As I understand Atheism, it is principally the belief that there are no deities.  Often the term is used as a lame attack because they do not share the attackers particular view.  But, again, as I understand it, it is the belief that there are no deities at all.

Agnosticism is more the belief that there are deities, but understanding them is beyond our capabilities.  Rarely have I heard it used as an attack, like 'Atheist!', but it is often used to categorize or pigeonhole someone.

Are there really only two choices if you don't believe in one specific religious tradition?

I disagree, I think there are more than two types of non-theists.  What about those of us who really don't care about the existence of deities?  While that may sound rather strange, think about it for a moment.  Does having a deity supposedly looking over your shoulder really impact many people's behavior?  Really?  How many people who self-identify as Christians behave in a decidedly non-Christian manner?  You probably know as many as I do.  The Sunday piety gives way toward behavior that wouldn't pass muster.  And throughout it all they simple claim to not being perfect and many of them 'confess' their sins and never take responsibility for their actions.  Islam is marketed as a religion of peace, yet the news is loaded with example after example of the opposite?  The less said about Scientology the better!  Is that even a religion?  My experience is that as a group, Buddhists seems to come the closest to their religion's ideals, but even then it's nearly more arbitrary than deliberate.

While I know you can come up with examples of theists acting in accordance to their published standards of behavior, but be honest, is it the norm?  Even the self-proclaimed leaders of various religious groups tend to have trouble maintaining their behavior.  If you disagree, you might Google Grant Hass, Jessica Hahn, or Debra Murphree.  Of course if those names don't ring a bell, you might ask Ted Haggard, Jim Bakker, or Jimmy Swaggart who they are.

So if being a theist doesn't seem to have much of an impact on actual behavior, what about being a non-theist?  I know theists like to claim that their belief systems are the source of all morality, but is belief in a deity required to follow a moral code?  I think not.  While I know theists like to think their rules are the source of our laws and societal mores, that is not a very convincing argument.  Most of the so-called rules were nothing more than standards codified through various means.  Such standards of behavior pre-date modern religions and if some Christian, for example, wants to throw the Ten Commandments as the source of American Jurisprudence, an honest Christian would know that those rules were not original to early Christianity.  But that's one of those annoying little bits of facts too many Christians don't like to hear.  But studying a bit about Mesopotamia and the Hittites could certainly be enlightening.

OK, we are getting a little away from my central point.  Are Atheist and Agnostic the only terms to describe a non-theist?  Since behavior seems less influenced whether you are a theist or not, I think a new term is in order, so how does 'Apathist' sound to you?  I'm not making this word up, it's a valid dictionary word that relates exactly to what I have been saying.  But I want to popularize it's use because I believe it to be much more appropriate than Atheist or Agnostic.  At first I was looking for something else, something more . . . well . . . positive I guess because "Apathy' doesn't tend to be a positive or proactive stance, but I was reminded of an old joke which punchline described Ignorance and Apathy as "I don't know and I don't care" and realized that there is a large category of people, theist and non-theist alike who really don't care.

For the Theist, the existence of one particular deity might not be in doubt, the deity doesn't seem to have much influence on their behavior.  As evidence by the Baptist minister who after preaching against drinking, smoking, and sex smacking a woman (not his wife) on the ass after telling a dirty joke with a beer in one hand and a cigar in the next at the social gathering following his service.  As for the Atheist, I think it's pretty self explanatory.

I think I fall into that category.  For the most part, I do not care.  I don't care what your religion is and I don't care to claim one religious tradition for myself.  I don't live my life according to the rules claimed to be from a capricious deity, I prefer society's customs, mores, and laws -- regardless of source. 

Rather than argue about the existence of deities or whether or not we can understand what they are and what they want, I really don't care about them one way or another.  I do not judge my actions against what one deity or another might expect.  I don't play the WWJD (What would Jesus Do) game when considering options.  I think I am more down to earth.  I consider what would my spouse or my parents think about a possible action of mine.  I try and think how my actions will affect the people around me.  But I don't sweat the idea of being judged on some standard set by someone claiming to speak for a deity. And I do my best to take responsibility for my actions in the here and now!

It almost sounds like I shouldn't care about this whole conversation, but think about this blog.  I do care when someone tries to force me into their idea of what a person should believe or not onto me or others.  Your beliefs are your beliefs and efforts to make other people toe some imaginary line so you can have brownie points with your version of a deity really does piss me off.  When you try and steal a scientific curriculum to push your belief system, I get annoyed!  When a politician panders for votes using his religious beliefs, I know which way my vote won't be going.  Other people's actions define their beliefs much more clearly than what they say about their beliefs.  I think more people than not would fall into the Apathist camp rather than theist, atheist, or agnostic.

So, there you have it.  Next time someone accuses me, I know how I will respond.  Bet it confused the hell right out of them :-)

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