Infinite Shades of Secularism.

An interesting bit of drivel turned up in my email box this morning. I read this first in the Pocono Record, who apparently purchased the content from “Tribune Media Services” (TMS). Wow, I just complained about a Seattle reporter cribbing from an AP report, and not doing his own homework. I guess he’s not so bad compared to a newspaper that just buys and prints the news as a product; no reporter needed – just a sales person. Am I just behind the times? How long have newspapers based their content on second and third hand sources and ‘content providers’? Hm. It’s time for me to do some research.

Anyway, TMS sells a column from “The God Squad” By Rabbi Marc Gellman and Monsignor Thomas Hartman. Their product is a Q & A column, and their latest offering is an answer to someone in Florida who is waking up after years of sleeping to the ever-present American religious meme. The Questioner doesn’t believe in life after death, has become interested in science and astronomy, and has realized that he doesn’t feel connected to God even though he does feel connected to a sense of wonder. He then asks the Rabbi and Priest if he is an Atheist.

Isn’t that a little like asking a virgin for sex advice?

Anyway, the response is predictable. God gives you a ‘get out of jail free’ card. We don’t understand how the universe formed so it must be God’s fault. They came up with one I hadn’t heard before; God is the source of human love! This is opposed, I assume, to animal love. Do my dogs love me? Is their love from a different deity than God? Or is it just good programming by the creator?

And then they come up with this gem:
Those who cannot find a way to believe in God fall into two general types: agnostics, who simply say that they are not certain if there is or is not a God; and atheists, who believe that the non-existence of God can be conclusively proven.
No no no… You’d think after years of religious training that they would know this answer is misleading at best. I guess I can’t blame them because people in general tend to think in terms of labels and in black and white classifications. Still, I’d expect better from them.

I’ll be the first to admit that the reason why these two came up with such a simple belief is because some Atheists claim proof that gods do not exist. The secular community calls this the “Strong Atheism” position, as opposed to “Weak Atheism”.

Weak Atheism is based on the root meaning of the word ‘Atheism’. This word is comprised of ‘A’, which means ‘without’ and ‘theism’, which is a ‘belief in God or gods’. An Atheist is ‘without belief’; he or she is a ‘non’ believer, not an ‘un’ believer.

There is a difference between saying, “John believes there are no gods,” and, “John lacks a belief in gods.” The first is a belief in the lack of gods, which is the Strong Atheist position; the second is a declaration that in the absence of evidence John will act as if there are no gods until new evidence turns up, this is the Weak Atheist position.

But life isn’t black and white – it’s an infinite series of shades of gray.

Let’s look at the word Agnostic, or Agnosis. Gnosis means ‘Knowledge’, so an Agnostic is ‘without knowledge’. But there are strong and weak forms of Agnostic. The weak Agnostic is someone who is waiting for more evidence, the jury is still out and he or she will be patient until it comes in. The strong Agnostic stresses that not only do we not know if there are gods, but we CANNOT know if there are gods. This position is often humorously called a ‘militant Agnostic’, (as in, “I don’t know and neither do you!”)

Next up in shades of gray are the ‘nones’. These people if given a choice of religious categories will select ‘none’ instead of ‘Atheist’ or ‘Agnostic’. I would guess that some do so because of the stigma associated to those terms, and that others do so because their religious position is not well thought out.

The questioner from Florida seems to be a ‘none’, and the Rabbi and Priest are trying to sway him into a religious belief system. They use a bit of psychology and a loaded statement, saying that some people lack a “capacity” to believe in God – as if they are unable to believe because they are ‘broken’ in some way. They delicately imply that the idea of the universe being formed without a God is absurd, and suggest that admiring the (presumably) unexplainable universe is the path the questioner will take to find God.

I guess their religious training was good for something after all, because it looks like they aced their psychology classes.


Scientia said...

Calladus- My brothers and I had an argument related to this about 4 months ago. Both are students of philosophy who took issue with my classification of myself as an "atheist" because I have to admit the possibility- however infinitesimal- that there exists some form of god. I have to make that exception because I know that accurate, absolute statements are nearly impossible (I stuck in that "nearly" at the last minute to avoid an absolute statement).

Both kept telling me that technically, I'm an agnostic, which is ludicrous to me because all the people I've met who are agnotic seem to have very nebulous, hazy ideas and thought patterns on this subject- there's no clear reasoning there at all. We finally agreed to disagree- I maintain that I'm an atheist, and they maintain that I can't call myself that because of my strict adherence to rationality. We never did come to any consensus, or come up with any solution.

That said, the fatuous sentences of the "authorities" you quoted are both irritating and idiotic. And this is what the educated religious folk put out...?

Anonymous said...

Welcome back Sumi! I know you've been busy!

I should have mentioned that Agnostics have more shades of grey than this too.

An agnostic who is waiting for evidence may act more Atheistic while waiting.

Or an agnostic who doesn't believe there is enough evidence will attend religious services to 'cover their bases' while waiting.

So in some cases it may be hard to tell an Agnostic from a religious person, or from an Atheist.

So I can't blame people from mixing these categories up. They are all labels and I don't really believe that anyone is sufficiently contained by a label.

I would guess the solution is to find what labels people apply to themselves, and then have them explain it to you.