Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
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17-10-2014, 11:13 AM
Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
It seems to me that the term "Atheism" has been a source of confusion and controversy for a lot of people in this argument, especially religious people who have never heard of Atheism before. I have always felt something about the term that I couldn't really explain up until now. I think I have a grasp now of what it is that bothers me. This is an explanation of my personal position as well as my thoughts on the Atheist community or movement today.

It is important to me that any readers are aware that I don't speak for all Atheists. The only person I speak for is myself. I wouldn't be surprised if many Atheists disagree with me on this subject and I would be glad to read their comments.

I think the very first confusion for so many people is in the very definition of an Atheist. Here are a few of the most common misconceptions.

1. Atheism is always defined at the positive claim that no gods exist.

Here is a workable definition of Atheism. This one is from Wikipedia.

"Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist."

Before you balk at the obvious conflict between that definition and what I called a misconception, let me explain. This definition is one of the best I have seen because it defines Atheism inclusive of both Weak Atheism and Strong Atheism. Strong or explicit Atheism is the one defined "in a narrower sense" and it is a positive claim with all the requirements of the burden of proof to bear. Weak or implicit Atheism is merely the absence of belief in gods, or what is sometimes called "the null position".

That may not seem like much of a distinction, but it makes a world of difference when it comes to the burden of proof. Making positive claims requires evidence. Disbelieving a positive claim doesn't. The misconception is in the assumption that all Atheists you might encounter are explicit or strong atheists, when it is just as likely they are weak or implicit atheists.

It is my opinion based on my experience that weak Atheism is more common than strong Atheism. I am a weak Atheist myself. I don't know if any gods exist so I don't believe in any. If it is a matter of probability, I am convinced that a godless universe is more likely, and I can give an explanation of that to anyone who asks. I think that the so called "New Atheist Movement" inspired largely by 9/11 and the "4 horsemen of the anti-apocalypse", is largely made up of weak Atheists.

2. Atheism, in and of itself, is a belief system or a religion if its own.

I feel as though I have been responding to this idea for as long as I have been an unbeliever, which I think illustrates the failure of the term "Atheist" as a descriptive and informative label or title. Given the definition of Atheism above, Atheism is not a doctrine or a belief system. The term "Atheist" does not include any information about any positive beliefs or even a moral compass. The only thing I can know about someone who claims to be an Atheist is that they don't believe in gods. It is really that simple.

I think the label fails to provide some of the most basic and vital information about me, which if known and understood by believers and outsiders, would dispel many of the common misconceptions about Atheists. I wish to be known as a moral person. I wish to be known as an unbridled thinker who isn't bound by any dogmas or belief systems. I wish to be known as a positive person who is happy with my life. I wish to be known as a person of honesty. I wish to be known as a student with a passion for Science and discovery. The label "Atheism" doesn't automatically denote any of these desired attributes. It is impotent to represent my humanity as well as what beliefs I do hold.

You will notice that I still call myself an Atheist anyway. I don't feel the need to abandon the term completely for two main reasons. First, it is perfectly adequate to denote my disbelief in gods. Why fix what isn't broken? Second, it seems to be somewhat necessary. So many people in my country believe in gods and are religious that I need a simple and direct way to denote my religious abstinence and disbelief. The concept of an unbeliever is sometimes so foreign to people in my country that they assume without the slightest controversy of thought, that you are at the very least "spiritual", if not religious. The fact that you might not believe in god doesn't enter into their minds at all. The bold and bright term "Atheist" cuts through that sort of naivety like butter.

I have found a part of the solution for myself, but not all of it. Atheism alone is not enough for me, because there is so much more to my life than disbelief in one specific positive claim.

I am...

1. A Freethinker

Belief systems have always required beliefs and prohibited beliefs. Free thought is without such constraints. It is not bound by authority or emotion. It is not ruled by social norms or cultural preferences. Free thought and free inquiry transcends the taboo and the sacred. It is freedom of the mind and heart. It is the denunciation of dogma and tradition for its own sake. It is sometimes freedom from a history of self doubt, self loathing, guilt, or pain. Belief systems impose a great deal of emotional duress on people, which they then learn to impose on themselves.

2. A Humanist

Contrary to common misconceptions, I consider it the responsibility and privilege of humanity to improve itself through kindness, compassion, generosity, and morality. Finding ourselves without an ultimate just and benevolent authority, my fellow Humanists and I have concluded that we must do everything we can to help each other, since we are the only hope of those who suffer. It is no longer acceptable to privately assume all will be well. It is just as important to cast aside laws and regulations which are designed to honor deities, and put into place those designed to perform a useful and positive purpose for men and women.

Equality and respect for sexes, races, cultures, sexualities, and all people is a value worth having. The injustices of the past will fade all the more quickly without faith in ancient bigoted texts. Feminism, Anti-Racism, Multiculturalism, and a Promotion of marriage and sexual rights for all orientations all play their part in making a happier world.

3. A Skeptic

For me, skepticism is a recognition of the inconsistencies and imperfections of human inquiry. We are fallible and it shows. To combat this, skepticism is without equal. Standards of evidence, reason, and logic help people abandon those propositions and claims which are without foundation in reality. Contrary to popular misconceptions, it embodies a spirit of perfect open mindedness in being open to hearing and considering claims without necessarily believing them. There is never any fear in considering or hearing an opposing viewpoint because it has yet to be criticized and examined.

It is a strong foundation for the methods of Science, which through basic and consistent rules, help discover the mysteries in the universe. Technology and innovation thrive off an atmosphere of constant self correction and striving for something better than what was understood yesterday.

Where is religion in all of this? Suffice it to say that whenever thought and inquiry are limited, demonized, or replaced by indoctrination, whenever immoral policies are made systematic and unchangeable, whenever dogma and blind faith rule over evidence and reason, you will find religion at the heart of it. You will also find that throughout history, it has been loathe to surrender its power, and will maintain it by any means necessary, however depraved.

I consider myself a proud part of a movement based in enlightenment values, and one with consistent political and social goals:

1. To humanize Atheism as a movement acceptable and normal in society and to remove negative stigmas.
2. To promote a separation of church and state and to prevent the favoring of any one religion over another in government and education.
3. To promote freedom of and thus from religion, and to promote the multicultural values of secular government.
4. To promote Science and reason in government and education.
5. To promote morality based in human rights and needs, while denouncing policies based in supernatural rights and needs.

There may be more, but I think that is a great beginning. It is important to me that as a movement we find a way to present ourselves not only as Atheists, but as Humanists, Freethinkers, students and promoters of Science, and Skeptics. For that to be the case, I think we need one label that can encompass all of those positions.

What would it be? I have no idea. I have heard that some of us have nominated ourselves to be called "Brights" which I dislike because it seems pretentious. That is the only serious suggestion I have heard. I have not thought of one of my own yet, but I am thinking about it all the time. I would be happy to hear if anyone on the forum has thought of something.

I hope this clears up a few things for anyone who might be confused. I know it isn't a simple subject, but I appreciate the efforts of anyone attempting to learn about Atheism rather than merely assuming things about us or believing what the preachers might say without investigating.

I would love to read any thoughts from other Atheists. How do you feel about the term "Atheist"? Do you call yourself something else?

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.

-Karl Marx
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17-10-2014, 11:42 AM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
While I respect your right to create a bunch of boxes to categorize types of thought, and I recognize your diligence in giving them all names, I don't think you should be in such a hurry to jump into one of those boxes. Personally, I have found that the more I learn, the less I am able to fit my beliefs into any specific category. Recently, on another forum, tried to ask a fairly generic question about the actual purpose, use, or value of god. Half of the respondents blasted me for trying to impose an anthropomorphic god on them, and the other half blasted me for being atheist.

My conclusion was that how others see me is more dependent on their perspective than on who I actually am. In a similar way, how I see myself has more to do with the position from which I view myself then on who I actually am. For this reason I am attempting to give up labeling myself. Having labels is comforting, but I have not found them to be very accurate in my case.
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17-10-2014, 12:13 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
Mostly as response to Pointwithinacircle.

I don't consider "atheism" a meaningful label as much as it is a description. I am an atheist by definition, but being an atheist doesn't define much about me. I'm also black by definition, and look at it similarly. I'm also white by definition. I find no harm in accepting that you fall into the category of a defined description.

I prefer fantasy, but I have to live in reality.
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17-10-2014, 12:33 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
atheism is just a label that describes the lack of or non-belief in one particular thing

also if it has no evidence and is self contradictory on its own then I see no reason to make and maintain a positive claim that it doesn't exist until proven otherwise but thats a personal choice, its just not inherent to being an atheist

god has been described as omnipotence, omnibenevolence, all knowing/hearing aka maximally great being and we all know that any god that falls under this description by its own definition can't exist because its self contradictory when looking at the state of affairs in the world throughout history

also for fun
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism
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17-10-2014, 12:40 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
(17-10-2014 12:33 PM)Ace Wrote:  also for fun
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism
That's something that annoys me. It's like asking, "Hey, what's your ethnic background?" And then getting a response like, "Oh, my ethnic background is somebody who doesn't think their ethnic background is significant and therefor won't tell you what my actual ethnic background is." Dodgy.

Unless they honestly don't know...

I prefer fantasy, but I have to live in reality.
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17-10-2014, 12:42 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
meh, double post.

I prefer fantasy, but I have to live in reality.
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17-10-2014, 02:00 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
Atheism is the positive claim that logic can be used without God.

Truth seeker.
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17-10-2014, 02:18 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
(17-10-2014 02:00 PM)diddo97 Wrote:  Atheism is the positive claim that logic can be used without God.

I find it difficult to credit that you see any point to offering such statements.

Any point besides trolling for lulz, mind.

... this is my signature!
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17-10-2014, 02:44 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
(17-10-2014 11:42 AM)Pointwithinacircle Wrote:  While I respect your right to create a bunch of boxes to categorize types of thought, and I recognize your diligence in giving them all names,

Thank you. I appreciate it.

(17-10-2014 11:42 AM)Pointwithinacircle Wrote:  I don't think you should be in such a hurry to jump into one of those boxes. Personally, I have found that the more I learn, the less I am able to fit my beliefs into any specific category. Recently, on another forum, tried to ask a fairly generic question about the actual purpose, use, or value of god. Half of the respondents blasted me for trying to impose an anthropomorphic god on them, and the other half blasted me for being atheist.

My conclusion was that how others see me is more dependent on their perspective than on who I actually am. In a similar way, how I see myself has more to do with the position from which I view myself then on who I actually am. For this reason I am attempting to give up labeling myself. Having labels is comforting, but I have not found them to be very accurate in my case.

I don't feel that a box is an accurate description of any of the ideas I presented. Identifying with one particular set or subset of common beliefs does not restrict one from doing so with another in future, provided they are not contradictory.

I don't feel that the value or usefulness of categories and labels is diminished by their imperfection. They still serve their purpose in the organization of beliefs and related beliefs for greater ease of use in conversation. Imagine the annoyance and difficulty in explaining every individual belief one holds upon any given subject. How much easier is it to say, "I am a fiscal Conservative" or "I am pro-choice" and then to make corrections where one conflicts personally with those labels. Even if they do not fit perfectly, it is a road of less resistance to begin there and make your individual position clear.

So, it isn't that I want to limit myself with a confining ideological box. It is that I don't view labels as direct and flawless representations of myself. I don't privately determine things like worth and identity based on those labels. To abandon them altogether seems like throwing out more than just the bathwater.

I can understand your frustration when asking about the purpose of god, but I can also understand their reaction. "God" is the most variably defined word I know of. It is literally impossible to use the term at all in coherent discussion without a common definition.

When expressing my views and values through these labels, I am not concerned greatly with how others see that. If they want to ask me rather than just confirming their own viewpoint, great. It is first and foremost for me. If it helps my community learn more about what I value, rather than only what I disbelieve in, all the better.

You lost me on the limitations of your own perspective somehow leading you to stop using labels. I am aware that my perspective does not allow a perfect understand of even myself, but that doesn't stop me from using a useful label when I am sure of a particular opinion. I don't view it as comforting, and even if it were, that wouldn't matter to me.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, just as it is the spirit of a spiritless situation. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is required for their real happiness.

-Karl Marx
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17-10-2014, 02:48 PM
RE: Beyond Belief- Beyond Atheism
(17-10-2014 02:00 PM)diddo97 Wrote:  Atheism is the positive claim that logic can be used without God.

Sorry. It's not. But thanks for playing.
In fact many here agree the use of Logic in the absence of evidence, can be misleading.

No one can define what a god is. I may reject the concept if I ever hear a coherent one, meanwhile I'm a Igtheist.

Insufferable know-it-all.Einstein God has a plan for us. Please stop screwing it up with your prayers.
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