Posts filed under ‘Atheism’

Humanist, Naturalist and other Definitions

I’m not interested in jumping into any religious debates currently, but I thought I’d shed some light by trying to sort out some definitions.

Atheist– There is/are no god(s)  Theoretically could believe in an afterlife, magic, divination or other non-scientific proven things.

Agnostic– Knowledge of god(s) is unknowable- many people use it in the sense of “I’m not sure” or “I don’t care” which would be an Apatheist. More about the a/gnostic & a/theists axes here.

Skeptic– person who uses critical thinking, reason, and logic, though they may not be consistent in how they apply these tools! Could include religious people but communities of skeptics typically don’t. Skeptics originally were a school of Greek philosophy

Freethinker/Freethought– one who thinks freely, especially in matters of religion and philosophy- originally this was used for Deists and people who questioned the doctrine of the Trinity, but has been mostly taken over by nontheists.

“None”– demographic rather than a self-identifier, person who has no institutional religious affiliation. This could include some Pagans.

Spiritual But Not Religious– many “nones” describe themselves as such, many Pagans do so as well, though I find the assumptions behind the division of “spirituality” with “religion” to be rather tiresome, I think we should listen SBNRs define this for themselves individually rather than just writing them off as flaky, which many mainstream religious folks and atheists alike often do.

Nontheist– includes atheists, agnostics. Depending on how you want to define things, a pantheist, deist, animist or ancestor venerator (with no deities) could also be nontheists. This isn’t typically a self-identifier, but I use “nontheistic pagans” as a broad term for pagan-identified folks who are less deity-focused. (If I ever get someone’s identity/label/tradition wrong please let me know)

Humanism– philosophy or life-stance that focuses on human needs, this life, a positive view of the body and the world, humans making the effort to improve themselves and the world, reason, critical thinking and the scientific method. Typically a humanist is at least agnostic or not focused on questions of the existence of gods, spirits and the afterlife.

An older definition of humanism (pre Humanist Manifesto) that is still used particularly in educational settings, is of Renaissance humanism, belief in the value of individual freedom of expression, education in the humanities, exploration of what it means to be human. This is the sense that I might use it for myself, but it requires so much explaining and disclaiming that I don’t usually bother!

Secular Humanist– pretty much the same as the first definition of humanism.

Religious Humanist– Humanists who want to have rituals, celebrations of rites of passage and/or the seasons, possibly buildings/organizational structures similar to churches, and sometimes humanist celebrants and chaplains who officiate at ceremonies or provide ethical or spiritual counseling. Religious humanists can be found in Unitarian Universalism, the Ethical Society/Ethical Culture, Sunday Assemblies, Jewish humanist groups, and various forms of Paganism, Buddhism- Secular Buddhism, Nontheist Friends (Quakers) and various people who attend church services because they like the community/music/etc. even if they aren’t sure how much of it they believe in.

Religious Naturalism– viewing the Earth, universe in a reverential manner, as a mystery, way of seeking meaning, based in scientific inquiry. This may be the “new” religious humanism. Spiritual Naturalism is another version.

Anti-theist– one opposed to belief/worship of God(s), who wants to convince religious people to leave religion behind. Please note that not all atheist activists, even those who actively criticize religion are necessarily anti-theists. Often it’s hard to tell though since they typically conflate all religion with fundamentalist Christianity and Islam. I would typically exclude these guys from humanism, whether secular or religious, since they treat most humans with such disdain. Interestingly, I’ve mostly seen this used pejoratively, but I’m starting to see people self-identify with it. Another person I know uses it as “I believe gods exist, but I want nothing to do with them!”.

Pantheism– seeing God/the Divine as the same as the Universe/nature

Universal Pantheist Society-includes pantheists, panentheists, cosmotheists, religious naturalists etc.

World Pantheist Movement– scientific/natural pantheism, broke off from the UPS and is now larger

Panentheism– sees God/the Divine as both pervading and transcending the Universe

Secularism– Not the Same as Atheism! In an United States context it can mean separation of church and state- state secularism. A secularist may advocate for the rights of nonreligious people, and ending forms of religious privilege, dissuade religious influence over political decision-making and public discourse- they can be religious or non-religious on a personal level. Christian fundamentalists/evangelicals in the United States often claim that advocacy for separation of church and state and loss of Christian privilege is “creeping secularism/secular humanism” and is an erosion of their religious freedom. Seriously, for years I didn’t know secular humanists were a real group of people, because they just sounded like Jerry Falwell’s imaginary bogeymen!

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November 17, 2015 at 7:11 am 6 comments

What Atheopaganism Won’t Do for You

A lot of what Mark Green shares here also applies to polytheistic/animistic forms of Paganism. The Gods are not our cosmic babysitters. Sh*t will happen, in spite of all our best efforts to avoid it. (Frankly I think the My Little Jesus forms of Christianity misinterpret their theology as well!) The virtues of Heathenry & Druidry are social and relational in nature- rather than “Do This to Please God(s)”, it’s Do The Right Thing so you can help yourself, help take care of your friends/neighbors/family and keep human society from falling apart- and human society is viewed to some degree as a microcosm of the larger Universe, Maintaining the social order and one’s place in it is part of upholding the laws of the Universe- whether we refer to this as wyrd, orlog, Ma’at (Egyptian) etc. One can *loosely* identify those spiritual concepts with the laws of physics, nature and such- laws that the Gods and Spirits are subject to us just as much as humans are. That is a key difference with monotheism- in that scenario typically God is believed to be in control of everything, which creates a lot of theological, ethical and philosophical problems!

Atheopaganism

Recently, I have experienced some severe life challenges. A period of disability followed by a one of unemployment drained my savings away. I finally landed a good job with a great organization…only to be told, one paycheck in, by my landlord of 18 years that my beautiful home has been sold and I must move by Sept. 1.

Without any money. And 18 years’ worth of accumulated possessions.

I believe I will get through this, as people do. I have community and fundraising skills and ideas, and I am earning a salary now. Nemea and I will find another home, and survive.

But it occurs to me that members of other religions tend, in times like these, to speak of their religions as “a comfort to them”. In moments of grief, sorrow, adversity they can look to their beliefs for reassuring platitudes: God has a plan. Everything happens as it should…

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June 8, 2015 at 9:32 pm 2 comments

Fanfiction as Midrash

The next topic in the Pagan Experience is Wisdom, Knowledge and Gnosis. I’m writing about “the Lore”, Holy Writ or Official Canon.
There’s an old post by Greta Christina, an atheist blogger called “Why Religion is Like Fanfic
I remember agreeing with a lot of what she had to say, but taking away a totally different message than what she intended. She was demonstrating how silly religion is, because religious people keep explaining away gaps and inconsistencies  with theological interpretations and midrashim- in Jewish tradition, a midrash is a story that “fills in the gaps” in stories in the Torah, and Christians do similar things. This looks completely ridiculous to someone outside of the religious tradition, just as a non-fan might look at Star Trek fan fiction writers doing somersaults to explain discrepancies in TV show plotlines. Unlike some religious people might be, I wasn’t insulted by the comparison. (To be fair, my religion wasn’t involved!) Though it might seem petty to others, I know that for myself and many other fans, Star Trek and many other fictional narratives are in fact deeply meaningful, in fact some of us find more relevance in matters of ethics and philosophy in our “silly stories” than in religious texts like the Bible which according to other people are “serious stories”. More about “fandom as surrogate religion- or sometimes actual religion” in another post!

Like many atheists, Greta Christina is going off of the “if this religion isn’t completely literally true, then why bother with religion at all?” mentality. Polytheists and Pagans are people who find value in myth and story, and we don’t typically view our myths literally. What matters isn’t that the story literally happened, but what the story is telling us. The question is not “Is this story true?” but rather “Does this story work?” That is what any good storyteller or writer asks themselves, or their listeners and readers, for that matter. If someone wants to base their worldview completely off what can be scientifically proven, that is fine. I am not interested in trying to win converts here. And I indeed find much value in scientific discovery and am very glad human beings have developed the scientific method.

As I’ve said before, particularly in the Celtic and Norse traditions, we aren’t always sure if some of our Gods are literary creations or actually historically worshipped beings, or even original historical people who were at some point deified. These stories are medieval literature, written down by monks and other Christians rather than as intended religious texts. We should be careful about viewing them as such. Heck even with things that were written down in pre-Christian times like the Iliad and the Odyssey, were they really intended as religious texts that gave people an idea of what the Gods are like and how they interact with mortals, or mostly as entertainment? It’s really hard to separate the two, because most art produced back then had at least some type of spiritual significance- anything from painted pottery to plays.

I am completely fine with admitting that my various components of my religion are human creations from parts created by medieval monks, bards that predated Christianity, the bards of the Celtic Twilight, to theologians and ritualists of the modern revival like Isaac Bonewits, to ideas of my own creation. Yes, that’s right, I just admitted my religion is “made-up”. That isn’t the same as saying that it isn’t real. Most human beings, religious and non-religious alike find value in the arts- music, dance, painting, sculpture, theater. We might even consider sports and games as another type of art. There are various theories about the evolutionary social functions of the arts, but people are not generally thinking about that when they suggest going to a concert. We can all go to the same concert and have different experiences, some may enjoy it, some may not, and we’ll all have different reasons for why that is. But there is no scientific way of measuring what music is good or bad. I see my religion as an art form, and furthermore a sort of language that I share with others. I can’t get everyone to do art the same way, or appreciate the same type of art, and I can’t get everyone in the world to speak the same language. Why would I want to? Diversity is far more interesting. The problem comes when some people *do* want to make rules about what type of music you’re allowed to play or compose- this is no joke, these sorts of laws have been made in various authoritarian regimes. Languages *do* limit what concepts you can express and how you can express them, just as religions can. This is why I enjoy being multilingual.

See also: http://daoineile/2015/02/06/friday-c-is-for-canon

February 27, 2015 at 1:45 am 5 comments

Six Types of Atheists- Relevance for UUs & Pagans

Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers and humanists- I identify loosely with several with those labels with the exception of atheist- in fact I feel atheists have a tendency to take over words for themselves which apply more broadly. The latest one is Pagan. Who has a “claim” to the word pagan? A messy question for another day! I see heathen get used, but usually in a more joking manner, and they generally aren’t aware of its use by Norse/Germanic pagans. What types of atheists make good allies for Pagans & UUs, and which types mesh well enough to even be included in UU & Pagan groups?

I came across this study- copy pasted it here, with some added commentary

How many ways are there to disbelieve in God? At least six, according to a new study.

Two researchers at University of Tennessee at Chattanooga found that atheists and agnostics run the range from vocally anti-religious activists to nonbelievers who still observe some religious traditions.

“The main observation is that nonbelief is an ontologically diverse community,” write doctoral student Christopher Silver and undergraduate student Thomas Coleman.

“These categories are a first stab at this,” Silver told the website Raw Story. “In 30 years, we may be looking at a typology of 32 types.”

Silver and Coleman derived their six types of nonbelievers from 59 interviews. We’re pretty sure we’ve spotted all six in our comments section.

1) Intellectual atheist/agnostic (often but not always activist type) Some friendly to religious liberals, others more broadly anti-religion

This type of nonbeliever seeks information and intellectual stimulation about atheism.

They like debating and arguing, particularly on popular Internet sites.

(Ahem.)

They’re also well-versed in books and articles about religion and atheism, and prone to citing those works frequently.

2) Activist (generally also the intellectual type, some anti-religion/anti-theist, others are more like “faitheists” 

These kinds of atheists and agnostics are not content with just disbelieving in God; they want to tell others why they reject religion and why society would be better off if we all did likewise.

They tend to be vocal about political causes like gay rights, feminism, the environment and the care of animals.

3) Seeker-agnostic- Spiritual But Not Religious (SBNR) many UUs, many Pagans- this describes me! Agnostic with a polytheistic worldview & an aesthetic/intellectual enjoyment of ritual & mythology. I feel that’s a more intellectually honest description, though I use polytheist for short. At the end of the day I feel I have more in common with them. 

This group is made up of people who are unsure about the existence of a God but keep an open mind and recognize the limits of human knowledge and experience.

Silver and Coleman describe this group as people who regularly question their own beliefs and “do not hold a firm ideological position.”

That doesn’t mean this group is confused, the researchers say. They just embrace uncertainty.

4) Anti-theist (sub-type of the activist) New Atheists, typically. This is the type that probably would *not* mesh well in a Pagan group, interfaith group, or a UU congregation! Ableist attitudes (such as “religion is a mental illness/neurological disorder” or “religious people are stupid” are disturbingly common.

This group regularly speaks out against religion and religious beliefs, usually by positioning themselves as “diametrically opposed to religious ideology,” Silver and Coleman wrote.

“Anti-theists view religion as ignorance and see any individual or institution associated with it as backward and socially detrimental,” the researchers wrote. “The Anti-Theist has a clear and – in their view, superior – understanding of the limitations and danger of religions.”

Anti-theists are outspoken, devoted and – at times – confrontational about their disbelief. They believe that “obvious fallacies in religion and belief should be aggressively addressed in some form or another.”

5) Non-theist (Apatheists, functionally agnostic) my partner falls in this category

The smallest group among the six are the non-theists, people who do not involve themselves with either religion or anti-religion.

In many cases, this comes across as apathy or disinterest.

“A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement.”

They continue: “They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

6) Ritual atheist (secular Buddhists & Jews, UUs, some Pagans?) Alain de Botton- Religion 2.0

I suspect for a lot of sci-fi/fantasy/comics & games fandom, fandoms can function as surrogate religions for the ritual atheists. Music & sports do as well.

They don’t believe in God, they don’t associate with religion, and they tend to believe there is no afterlife, but the sixth type of nonbeliever still finds useful the teachings of some religious traditions.

“They see these as more or less philosophical teachings of how to live life and achieve happiness than a path to transcendental liberation,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “For example, these individuals may participate in specific rituals, ceremonies, musical opportunities, meditation, yoga classes, or holiday traditions.”

For many of these nonbelievers, their adherence to ritual may stem from family traditions. For others, its a personal connection to, or respect for, the “profound symbolism” inherent within religious rituals, beliefs and ceremonies, according the researchers.

(Problem is I couldn’t figure out where a non-theistic path such as Buddhism would fit in- though I suppose it would depend on the kind of Buddhism. By secular Buddhism I mean the practice of meditation & some philosophy without the belief in karma & reincarnation. )

December 12, 2014 at 5:06 am 9 comments

Autism & Atheism: A Correlation?

(This post is from Sept 2012 on my other blog)

This spring, an article came out with several studies showing a correlation between autism and atheism. My procrastinating self is finally getting around to responding.This connection does not at all surprise me. Most adults with autism I have met or interacted with online, (myself included) seem to be either skeptical or non-believing in God & religion, or have their own unique spiritual beliefs/practices.  Some of these psychologists are attributing the lack of belief to autistics’ lack of  theory of mind or mentalizing- the ability to understand what others are thinking.  It was also stated that men as a group have a lower mentalizing ability compared to women. Maybe this is so, but I think it isn’t so much that autistic people don’t develop similar beliefs due to not intuiting others’ thoughts, but because we care less about what other people think and believe.

The autistic mind is generally prone towards logic and free-thinking.
We also tend to be literal-minded, which can either result in rigid fundamentalism or questioning commonly held beliefs, traditions and customs. We also tend to edge away or outright refuse to do or say things we don’t understand or agree with.
A neurotypical child, who is more easily socialized may sit quietly during a service that s/he finds dull and little meaning in, and recite a creed in a confirmation ceremony before they are really old enough to have formed beliefs for themselves. An autistic kid? Don’t bet on it!Faith and emotion might hold together an individual’s religious belief system, but it’s social conformity that holds together religion as a whole. This is not to insult religion- conformity isn’t always a bad thing, we all must follow traffic laws to be safe for example. Nonetheless, organized religion with its positives and negatives depends on many people following leaders, rules and traditions that aren’t always so logical.I hope this data does not lead to further stigmatizing either autistics or atheists- seeing autistics’ religious beliefs or lack thereof as a sign of their mental inferiority or thinking those poor misguided atheists must just be autistic.
But this does seem to reveal some sparks of autism in the lack of social tact practiced by prominent atheists like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late Christopher Hitchens.

November 11, 2013 at 7:08 am Leave a comment


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