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Caru On April - 29 - 2011

I am an atheist.





Or is it?

There are many ways of defining atheism, each one more convoluted than the last and each one with its own parameters for what is and isn’t atheism. Here, I hope to lay out my own views on this matter and try to tackle what I think are some misconceptions about atheism.

First of all, atheism has two similar yet distinct meanings:

1.) Without God.
2.) Without Theism.

The first encompasses all aspects of atheism that you’d expect and certain spiritual practices or philosophies such as certain forms of Buddhism, Taoism and Paganism. Under this definition an atheist is a person with no belief in god. Now, and this is very important, atheism is not necessarily an unbelief (active rejection) in god. In my experience, most atheists have a non-belief (passive rejection) in god. (I shall explain both passive and active rejection further into this post.)

The second excludes those certain spiritual practices that I’ve mentioned and focuses solely onΒ  viewpoints that do not encompass any form of supernatural phenomenon. In my experience, there are four main viewpoints under this definition.

a.) Agnosticism
b.) Ignosticism
c.) Apatheism
d.) Anti-theism

Agnosticism means not knowing whether god exists or not because the evidence presented in favour of theism isn’t enough. Contrary to popular belief this is a form of atheism. After all, you can’t believe in a deity/supernatural phenomena if you don’t know that it exists, so you are put into the default position of not believing in a deity/supernatural phenomena. Furthermore, agnosticism is not a “weak” position as some of the “stronger” atheists put it. It is the default, rational position that anybody presented with an extraordinary claim would take. Of course, some agnostics have a much lower threshold of necessary evidence for the existence of god than others, but that is a discussion for another day. (Agnostics have a passive rejection of theism)

Ignosticsim is precisely the same as agnosticism, except that ignostics ask this of any claimants before considering any evidence: “Define deity/supernatural phenomena.” If they are not satisfied with the definition, then they will not consider the evidence as an agnostic would. I consider myself to be an ignostic.Β  (Ignostics have a passive rejection of theism)

Apatheism means exactly what you’d expect, apathy about theism. This is where a person takes the default position as an atheist simply because they don’t care about spiritual or supernatural matters. (Apatheists have a passive rejection of theism)

Anti-theism is the boogeyman of atheism. An anti-theist is an atheist because they explicitly and vehemently oppose theism in all its forms. They are atheist fundamentalists. Thankfully, outside of some Internet trolls there are very few anti-theists. Even the egregious* Richard Dawkins, by his own admission, isn’t an anti-theist. Though his dismissive and occasionally pompous attitude might lead you to think otherwise. Please forgive him, he’s from Oxbridge you see. (Anti-theists have an active rejection of theism)

By now you’re probably wondering what I mean by passive and active rejection. Well, I’ll try to explain it with the following situations.

Passive Rejection:

Person A: I believe that this (insert extraordinary claim) here is true.

Person B: Could you show me some evidence to back up your claim?

Person A: *Presents evidence*

Person B: Sorry, your evidence does not substantiate your claim, therefore I reject it.

Active Rejection:

Person A: I believe that this (insert extraordinary claim) here is true.

Person B: No! You’re wrong and stupid. Go play in the sand box.

Essentially, active rejection is the jerkass position.

And now to dispel some commonly held myths about atheism:

Myth 1: Atheism is just as much a religion as any other religion.

Fact 1: Atheism is as much a religion as bald is a hair colour or a vacuum is a volume of gas.

Myth 2: Atheists are amoral as they have no god to give them morality.

Fact 2: Most atheists consider morality to be essential to the human condition and most again follow Humanist teachings about morality.

Myth 3: Atheists hate religion.

Fact 3: Most atheists consider religion, by itself, to be either irrelevant or mildly annoying. It is only religious overreach that atheists really do not like.

Well, there you have it folks. I leave you with this little ditty.



Hacker: What does “egregious” mean?
Humphrey: Um, I think it means outstanding. … In one way or another.
β€” Yes, Minister., “The Death List”

Written by Caru

I don't really have anything of note to put in here... Oh, I won a bar of chocolate once.

96 Responses so far.

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  1. funksands says:

    I liked your post Caru.

    Myth 2 is especially Myth-y as I am an atheist and have not eaten my children, become a serial killer, torn a tag off a mattress… Yet.

    I suppose that my amorality may rise up and compell me to perform a barbaric act of evil someday. But until then I shall live a quiet life and and laugh as the world trundles by.

  2. foxisms says:

    Believe in everything and believe in nothing.
    In the end, we all share common ground.
    So, why not?
    Just try not to hurt anybody along the way.
    Luv the viddie!

  3. whatsthatsound says:

    There are PLENTY of atheists in foxholes!
    They’re called “foxes”.

  4. KillgoreTrout says:

    This is the 1st ideogram out of 81 that make up the Tao Te Ching;

    “The Tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao.

    The name that can be named is not the eternal name.

    The nameless is the beginning of heaven and earth.

    The named is the mother of ten thousand things.

    Ever desireless, one can see the mystery.

    Ever desiring, one can see the manifestations.

    These two spring from the same source but differ in name;

    this appears as darkness.

    Darkness within darkness.

    The gate to all mystery.”

    Lao Tsu

  5. KillgoreTrout says:

    I posted this the other day, on another thread, but I think it would fit nicely here;

  6. Caru says:


    “You lost me bito.”


    I think that I’ve found what he means, courtesy of wikipedia:

    “…mu is considered by Discordians to be the correct answer to the classic logical fallacy of the loaded question, “Have you stopped beating your wife?”[9] Assuming that you have no wife or you have never beaten your wife, the answer “yes” is wrong because it implies that you used to beat your wife and then stopped, but “no” is worse because it suggests that you have one and are still beating her. As a result, some Discordians proposed “mu” as the correct answer, which to them means, “Your question cannot be answered because it depends on incorrect assumptions.””


    • foxisms says:

      Good article, Caru. And this post in itself is interesting.
      Sad only due to the fact that in this place and time it’s highly likely that someone will still manage to misinterpret your “Mu”, “Mew” or “Moo” and indignantly demand that you explain yourself completely.

    • bito says:

      Ha, I didn’t know that about “The Discordians” , I learned it from an Asian Comparative literature Professor from Korea I had many years ago.
      Now I can go back to bed, I have learned something new today.

      • Caru says:

        Another Discordian one:

        “Among Zen Buddhists it is said that, ‘When you meet another bodhisattva on the road, greet him with neither words nor silence.’ This leaves you with a vast selection of barnyard noises from which to choose.”

        • bito says:

          Joshu began the study of Zen when he was sixty years old and continued until he was eighty, when he realized Zen.

          He taught from the age of eighty until he was one hundred and twenty.

          A student once asked him: “If I haven’t anything in my mind, what shall I do?”

          Joshu replied: “Throw it out.”

          “But if I haven’t anything, how can I throw it out?” continued the questioner.

          “Well,” said Joshu, “then carry it out .”

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      I still don’t see how that applies to my comments. Again, I never stated that I thought Campbell’s quote was immutable or gospel. It just makes sense to me.

  7. Caru says:

    To bito,

    No, a blind man does not see the moon. Unless, of course, you are using a non-physical definition of “see”, wherein the blind man could have the moon described to him and “see” it in his mind.

  8. KillgoreTrout says:

    Kalima, I said We can SEE water, and FEEL…etc. That was in reply to wts’ analogy of the numerous descriptions of deities and the numerous words for water.
    All I meant by that is I have never seen a deity, and I have never met another who has.

    • whatsthatsound says:

      actually, from a certain perspective, one might say you are meeting deities all the time. The Sanskrit word “namaste” means “The god in me salutes the god in you”.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Yes, in that sense I agree. The same with Hindus. This is why they fold their hands in a prayer posture and bow slightly when greeting another person. They are paying homage to the divinity within the other person.

    • Kalima says:

      I’m hoping to meet one when I pass on to the next stage, but knowing my bad sense of direction, I will probably get lost and miss them altogether. πŸ˜‰

  9. Caru says:

    KT, mu is either an ancient Greek or Japanese letter/word. I’m not familiar with the Greek meaning, but in Japanese it means “no thing”.

  10. Kalima says:

    “Kalima, maybe you better read that quote again. I think you you completely misunderstood it.”

    KT, I would suggest that you read my comment again because I also believe that you have completely misunderstood it. Yes you said that we can’t see God, and I explained why I thought that in my case it was not a good enough reason to not believe, that was all I was trying to say.

    All I asked about the quote was if another’s written opinion was infallible?

    • KillgoreTrout says:

      But I never said anyone should not believe. And neither did Campbell.

      • Kalima says:

        Where did I say you did?

        It’s early in the morning here and I’m not up long, but I don’t think I said “you” and was referring to people who say that they don’t believe it because they can’t see it, and then go on to describe us as delusional. I meant nothing more, nothing less.

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          “Yet you believe and quote the words of another man who writes about mythology as if they were gospel or he were infallible.”

          Maybe this is where the confusion lies.

          • Kalima says:

            Yes I’m sure you are right. I should have said “if” instead of “yet” and made it into the question I wanted to ask you. I’m sorry, as I said, I just got up and yes, that sounded rather abrupt, although it wasn’t intended to come out that way. Rereading it, I didn’t add a question mark at the end of the first sentence, my bad.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              OK, I see. No apologies necessary.

            • Kalima says:

              It wasn’t about just one man’s quote, it was about many I read here and there, and no, I’m not talking about you or here.

              Maybe I’m just not happy with the word “myth”, because like wts, I believe that there must have been something very powerful for the beginnings of each religion, what that was is left up to each individual to decide I think.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              No biggie Kalima. I just didn’t understand your defensive posture in regards to the Campbell quote. πŸ˜‰

  11. KillgoreTrout says:

    From Joseph Campbell;

    “Anyone who has had an experience of mystery knows that there is a dimension of the universe that is not that which is available to his senses. There is a pertinent saying in one of the Upanishads; “When before the beauty of a sunset or of a mountain you pause and exclaim ‘Ah,’ you are participating in divinity.” Such a moment of participation involves a realization of the wonder and sheer beauty of existence. People living in the world of Nature experience such moments everyday. They live in the recognition of something there that is much greater than the human dimension. Man’s tendency however, is to personify such experiences, to anthropomorphize natural forces.”

    • Caru says:

      I know what Campbell means and while it can be artistically or metaphorically valid to engage in anthropomorphisation, people tend to get carried away with it.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        But anthropomorphizing is what people do, in regard to deities. That is the point. Humans try to attach some sort of personage to the Natural forces of Nature.
        Not all humans, of course. I am a Taoist, as I have said many times here. There is no deity in Taoism, so technically that makes me an atheist, but it doesn’t mean I have no spirituality. Actually, Taoism has many similarities to the teachings of Christ. But, Taoism came about 500 years before the birth of Christ.
        I don’t condemn or ridicule people for their beliefs. It’s not my place to do so. I also believe in the Buddhist suggestion to respect all religions, because they are simply different paths to the same end.

  12. Mightywoof says:

    As an atheist I heartily concur with your Myth 3 -- personally, I am utterly indifferent to religion and spirituality. I only get anti-religion when those darned people turn up at my front door with bible in hand seeking to save me from whatever misery they think will befall the rest of us for not thinking like them. I am no longer polite when I see them and it helps that I have the ferocious Mightywoof at my side. I view proselytizers in much the same way I view anyone trying to sell me something at my front door. I have a family member who was ‘saved’ and this family member turned into the most self-righteous arsehole I’ve ever met and we no longer talk -- I miss the person I once knew but the person who now inhabits that body is a total stranger to me; if this is what religion does to someone then I want no part of it.

    Having said that, I have met some wonderful people who live their faith every day -- many of them right here on the Planet. They are wonderful, warm, non-judgmental and caring human beings. I don’t understand the need to believe in a higher being but I do respond to those who, having chosen that way of life, embrace humankind rather than judge and condemn it -- people like this are, in my experience, few and far between.

  13. ADONAI says:

    As a non practicing Deist, I pretty much live in a world between atheism and religion.

    I have a strong belief in a higher intelligence, a higher plane, a possible “architect”(or architects) of the universe. But I’m not entirely sure.

    As much as I reject organized religion and a belief in an active , human like GOD, I also reject most scientific theory claiming to know the beginning of the universe.

    Mostly because I doubt a creature as tiny and insignificant as human beings, who are barely aware of the universe they inhabit, can be absolutely sure about a goddamn thing.

    What pops up more in human history? Right or wrong? Wrong. By a landslide. Right only emerges after wrong has had it’s way with the place.

    Absolute atheism and absolute zealotry are incompatible with a universe than knows no absolutes. There are no impossibilities. Only improbability. There is knowledge and there is wisdom. Too many confuse them.

    • jkkFL says:

      ADONAI, I think that’s where I am, too. There are too many interacting forces for me to buy ‘happy accident.’ The Universe seems carefully calibrated and finely tuned to me; so I absolutely agree that the mostly lizard-brain humanoids are capable of providing me with a plausible explanation.
      I do accept evolution- but only to a degree..living with alligators has influenced that, perhaps!

      • ADONAI says:

        jkk, If I can expand on Caru’s reply a bit, there is a certain mathematical elegance to the way everything moves and reacts in the universe but, over all, it is a very random chaotic place. That is the main thing that keeps me from putting total faith in a GOD as defined by modern religion.

        And Caru is right in that very small changes in how the universe came together would nullify our existence. Even if a tiny chunk of the matter that made the universe were removed, the uniformity we perceive wouldn’t exist. Like wise if just a little more were added. I’m not a big believer in coincidence either, everything happens for a reason, but we do seem to be lucky to be here.

        We landed in just the right spot, at just the right distance from our star, with Jupiter in just the right place to protect us from mos t of the asteroids wandering by. It does seem like we were placed here knowingly. And we seem to be alone in our neighborhood. You would think we would have found a signal from our closest neighbors by now. Unless they’re way behind us.

        But I don’t think we will ever answer any of the bigger questions till we find someone else out there looking for those answers too.

      • Caru says:

        The universe only seems perfectly calibrated because that calibration led to your being.

        If the universe was not calibrated in such a fashion as to allow you to come into being, then you wouldn’t be around to notice it.

        Okay, that sounded stupid, but it makes sense… When you think about it.

    • Caru says:

      Is there such a thing as a practising Deist?

  14. Bauart says:

    Nicely stated!

    I have traveled a long road to my current position; beginning as a Christian, then a fundamentalist Christian, then Apatheism, Ignosticsim, Agnosticism, and now finally Anti-theism.

    I don’t believe my path is unique. A person leaving religion will seldom jump from belief all the way to anti-theism, but instead most will gradually progress from one stage to another. So, when I find someone who claims one position over another it’s often interesting to learn where they are on their journey and if they are still evolving. Anti-theism isn’t the ultimate destination for all, but I would guess most who hold that position got there gradually.

    I might disagree with your description of Anti-theism. Instead of calling believers stupid and child-like, I tend to think of them as misinformed, or more often they are just careful about not challenging their own beliefs. Nudging that complacency to not question their own beliefs is where most anti-theist get the bad rap. We know, usually first hand, that if you can get a person to truly ask themselves, “Why do I believe?” that the only truthful answer is [usually] not strong enough to keep believing.

    I find the strongest argument against religion is the sheer volume of different beliefs. It has been estimated that there have been about 3000 different religions. Of those about 2870 claim their god(s) to be a deity. So, most religious believers are quite comfortable with Atheism and actively reject 2869 other religions. I just go one god further.

    • jkkFL says:

      Bauart, my question: If we examine the major ‘religions’ does it not make sense to compare how they are similar?
      The differences could be resultant from anything from climate to history.
      It seems to me that the similarities would be more informative. I have no background in mythology or religion- but of the ones I am familiar with, I find striking similarities.

      • Caru says:

        If I intrude for a moment,

        Yes, there are indeed striking similarities. The question following that is whether these similarities arise from either a common spiritual source or a common human thought system.

        Applying Occam’s Razor would direct me to the second, but I’d imagine that many would be directed towards the former.

        • KillgoreTrout says:

          It’s remarkable Caru, but among early cultures, they all have a creation myth that is eerily similar. And these were cultures that never even knew there were other cultures. They never borrowed ideas from one another, yet their ideas about creation were very much alike.

        • jkkFL says:

          Devil’s Advocate- If I may?
          Could both not apply?

    • whatsthatsound says:

      The “I just go one god further” rationale can be reversed to indicate that there IS some form of deity, and that people are simply seeing and interpreting it differently. The fact that there are hundreds, if not thousands of different words in many languages for “water” indicates that water DOES, rather than doesn’t, exist.

      • KillgoreTrout says:

        Yeah, but you can SEE water and FEEL water and TASTE water.

        • jkkFL says:

          AH! but a blind man Can ‘see’ a camel, elephant or a cat. They just don’t see it in the same way that sighted people do.
          This is a beautiful essay by Helen Keller on Sight, and hearing..
          Perhaps it might provide insight into acknowledgement regarding a ‘Higher Power’ as well?

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Come now, KT. Surely the universality of the concept of gods indicates that our ancestors SAW and FELT something. The only question is what exactly that SOMETHING was. Did they merely FEEL fear and SEE lightning and volcanoes and call that “god”?
          Plausible, I suppose, but still, the universality of religion causes one to wonder if perhaps there was something more, wouldn’t you agree?

          • jkkFL says:

            wts. We are on the same exact page!
            IMO, the Harmony of the Universe, Nature, whatever- is far too precise, and intertwined to have just ‘run into each other.’

          • KillgoreTrout says:

            Sure wts. But who has actually SEEN a deity? No one that I ever met in my 58 years.
            See my comment above, from Joseph Campbell.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              The mind is an abstract thing. How could one see it, in the literal sense.
              And there is the Cartesian, “I think, therefor I am.”
              Have you ever seen a deity? I mean, literally.

            • jkkFL says:

              @KT- you haven’t seen your mind either..
              does it exist?

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              You lost me bito.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              bito, what is mu.

            • bito says:

              KT, “Remove the question, it has no bearing.” (actually it’s near untranslatable from Chinese). It matters not whether I agree or disagree with the statement. It is not an immutable law, is it?
              Does a blind man see the moon?

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              bito, who said he offered a universal answer? And who said Campbell’s word was “gospel?” I merely offered a quote that makes a lot of sense to me.
              Do you disagree with what Campbell said, and if so, how?

            • bito says:

              KT, mu.

            • bito says:

              KT, and if I never read Campbell or found him full of it or think he has made a supposition from a closed mind, does that offer an universal answer?

            • Caru says:

              Bito, it is not dishonest to accept that one does not know, but that’s not what I suggested that it was dishonest to do.

              I suggested that it may be dishonest to ignore *any* question that may upset your peace of mind.

            • bito says:

              Caru, Is it dishonest to accept one does not know? When the question it self becomes a self fulfilling tautology of itself?

            • Caru says:

              Thanks for replying, Kalima. I sometimes forget that people are generally more experienced than me.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              bito, it is simply a matter of having an open mind. Nobody questioned Kalima’s faith. Certainly not me.
              I personally have never seen a deity, and that was my point in my comment before I quoted Campbell. He isn’t saying these natural forces DON’T exist. He is simply saying that we “anthropomorphize them.” Do you understand that?

            • Caru says:

              Of course not, bito. I had considered that beforehand and phrased my comment to be self-specific.

              But, it is interesting to me because ignoring a question because it may upset your peace of mind seems a little dishonest -- for lack of a better word -- to me.

            • Kalima says:

              To your last paragraph Caru, I’ve done most of my questioning of my beliefs a long time time ago, and no longer feel the need. It might be hard to understand, but yes, I do have peace of mind in my beliefs.

              I wasn’t criticizing KT, I was just trying to ask if another person who writes about myths is infallible and how would you know that?

              Sorry, when I said “questioning” in the last sentence of my last comment, I was referring to myself and not anyone else.

              I don’t have much time, it’s early morning here.

            • KillgoreTrout says:

              Kalima, maybe you better read that quote again. I think you you completely misunderstood it.
              Who is questioning anything? And your beliefs are opinion, as well.
              Joseph Campbell has devoted his life to the study of Mythology. He was a professor of Mythology. All religion stems from Mythology.
              I really don’t understand your attitude here.

            • Caru says:

              Kalima, just because KT quoted someone doesn’t mean that he takes his word as gospel. Most people quote someone because that person was able to better express an idea than they were.

              Also, not questioning something because you have or think you have peace of mind? I mean, really? It wouldn’t be possible for me to have peace of mind if there was a question about it that I hadn’t considered.

            • bito says:

              It wouldn’t be possible for me to have peace of mind if

              Ah, there’s the rub, it wouldn’t be possible for YOU, does that make it not possible for others?

            • Kalima says:

              Yet you believe and quote the words of another man who writes about mythology as if they were gospel or he were infallible.

              Maybe it’s because I have never been influenced to any great degree by what someone either for or against religion has written in a book, because that is just another’s opinion and I’m skeptical as to their motives either way. Don’t you find that people who are just unsure will search until they find just the right words that will give them assurance that they are right?

              We can’t see God, but those of us who do believe can feel him in ways that would be impossible to describe or put simply into words, so how can others say that what exists in our hearts, in everything we do, doesn’t exist simply because we can’t see it?

              I believe for those of us who have found peace of mind in our lives through whatever we choose to believe or not believe, would be foolish to keep questioning it, what good does that do?

      • Caru says:

        Isn’t that an aspect of Hindu thinking?

        • whatsthatsound says:

          Hi Caru,

          I’m not quite sure what you mean by that. But it IS in line with what has been called “The Perennial Philosophy”, an anthropological/metaphysical hypothesis that at their core, religions teach the same things, because they have the same “root”. Just as languages have taken off in all directions, so have religious beliefs.

          Now, some people will say that the root is obvious -- human fear and ignorance in response to a dangerous world. We needed “gods” at that point in our development in order to make sense of things.

          I can see how someone can easily assume that. I was an atheist for many years, and that is what I believed. I am no longer an atheist, and I now feel that this root is the truth of human reality, that we are expressions of an intelligent, living spirit. This spirit can be experienced. In fact, if I hadn’t experienced it, I would still be an atheist.

          • Caru says:

            WTS, I asked about Huxley because he wrote a book called “The Perennial Philosophy”.

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Oh, Caru, I knew that! I think I mentioned that book on this very thread somewhere! :)

          • Caru says:

            That’s quite similar to the Hindu idea that I mentioned.

            You say that this spirit can be experienced, so does it come to you or do you find it?

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Hi Caru, no.
              But I really like Aldous Huxley.

            • Caru says:

              Thanks, wts. By any chance was that book by Aldous Huxley?

            • whatsthatsound says:

              Hi Caru,

              I see that quite a debate happened here while I lay sleeping! :)

              I can only speak from personal experience, to answer your question, but nevertheless I think the famous quote from zen is useful, “When the student is ready, the teacher appears”.

              In my case, I showed I was “ready” at a cocktail party by debating these types of issues with a believer. Although she hardly knew me, she gave me a book to read which I strongly resonated with. This book mentioned other authors and works, and I began to explore them too. As I read them, I could feel new chambers of my mind opening. I experienced them differently than how one usually experiences reading a book. It was as if the words were flying off the page and inserting themselves into my consciousness. Or, it was like I was having a real, ongoing conversation with them. Or, it was like I knew what the next sentence was going to say before I read it. This was an experience unlike any I have had before or since. It was my time of “awakening”.
              That is the short answer. :) Of course, there is more to the story, but I don’t want to go on and on.

    • Caru says:

      Perhaps I was a bit strong in my defining of Anti-Theism.

      Of course, within Anti-Theism there is a spectrum like all the other forms of atheism that I’ve listed bar apatheism, which is too uninterested to have a spectrum. πŸ˜‰

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