Saturday, October 27, 2012

Where I Stand On Issues of Religious Belief

There is a slight ambiguity to the intention behind Saint Cynic.  On the one hand, I write in such a way as to support certain religious notions, while on the other, I reject a good number of religious ideas.  This has led to the occasional question about my personal point of view on the matter of religion.

Until now, I've hesitated to simply have it out.  There are a few solid reasons for that, but I won't get into them.  Suffice it to say that my social life was not secure enough to handle the backlash that would come from being honest on this matter.  That has recently changed, however, so I don't mind to step out and be clearer on this issue.

So to get to it, I'll set out a few definitions:

  1. Theist -- one who believes in God/gods, especially personal creator God/gods who are concerned with the goings-on of humanity and participate in some manner or another to ultimately benefit humanity.
  2. Agnostic -- one who insists that nothing is or can be known about God/gods, or even if they exist or not; material reality is sufficient to the formation of a respectable worldview.
  3. Atheist -- one who lacks belief in God/gods, the supernatural, or anything beyond material reality.
It is common to suggest that 'agnostics' and 'atheists' are really the same, but that 'agnosticism' is a safer, more reasonable position: there is sympathy given to both sides when one can honestly state that they don't know, or are undecided about the possible existence of God/gods.  But it is good to recognise that agnosticism is not, properly speaking, a stance on God/gods so much as it is an intellectual position about knowledge.

That is the chief difference between an agnostic and an atheist: the agnostic is claiming there is no way to know whether or not there is a God or gods, whereas the atheist proposition is that there are no supernatural beings and therefore belief in them is not a knowing action so much as a hopeful projection; a matter of 'faith' or sentimental compulsion.

Because the agnostic position seems more respectable it is often thought to be a middle-ground between the extremes of theism and atheism.  The difficulty with such a perspective is that it is mixing apples and oranges. Theism and atheism are not polar opposites with agnosticism acting as a fulcrum between the two ends.  Agnosticism is not a pivot-point, or a point of balance; it is a proposition about the nature of knowledge.

Theism and atheism are stances about the existence of God or gods.  Theism and atheism are metaphysical propositions, whereas agnosticism is an epistemological position.  So to toss agnosticism in between theism and atheism as a live metaphysical option is a mix-up, a confusion.  One is either a theist or an atheist when it comes to beliefs about supernatural deities.

And that brings us back to the original point of this article, which was to disambiguate my take on religious issues.  I'll do that now: I am an atheist.

I do not believe there are any gods overseeing the universe.  I do not believe that there are spiritual beings that populate any reality beyond the human senses, that lay in wait for us to expire and cross the proverbial river Styx between life and death.  I do not hold to the Christian creeds (though I used to, and will write about that in time), Islamic claims, or Judaism.  I see no point in milquetoast doctrines like deism, for what is the point in giving attention to a deity that really has no interest in my life, or the life of any other created thing?

I do not believe in heaven or hell, except insomuch as we conduct our personal affairs with others in the here-and-now.  Which is to say that I think we can make what we'd like of this life, and in-so-doing create for ourselves lives that we could sentimentally term 'heaven' or 'hell.'  If life is what you make of it, then making the best of your life is heaven.

I do not believe in Wotan, Zeus, Odin, Allah, Yahweh, El, Jesus, Gaia, Osiris, Mythra, Horus, Quetzalcoatl, or any of the other beautifully and ingeniously dreamed of gods that have populated our libraries and cultural landscapes for so many thousands of years.  But I do respect and benefit from the wonderful inheritance I have received from reading and learning about them.  I do think it matures a person to take the time to know the mythologies our species has nurtured itself on for so many thousands of years.  And I do find great joy in the myriad symbols such mythologies use to wrestle out and understanding of the world and its incredible and diverse inhabitants.

So for those of you reading this that have known me for a long while, yes, I used to be a Christian man.  I used to be a minister of the Christian faith.  I have not had that faith for a while now, and I have remained somewhat quiet about stating as much explicitly.  Life circumstances don't necessarily make it easy for a person to be comfortable with expressing their change of heart, but hopefully you will be loving, so we can continue to enjoy each other as human beings regardless of our philosophical clothing.

In the next while, I will write about my 'deconversion.'  I'm not sure how many articles that will comprise, but I'm looking forward to cobbling together the bits and pieces of that process as it happened in my life, and sharing it with you.

Until then, cheers!

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