23 June, 2008

What Kind of Atheist Are You?

I'm in way too mellow a mood tonight to be laying the smackdown, and I think we're all tired from a weekend of insane politics (and beating up Ken Ham, which was just more cathartic than I can describe), so let's do something fun together.

No, not that. Mind out of the gutter, you! Yes, you - I see you smirking there in the back.


So here's the bone (shadupshadupshadup!) I want to throw you:

I've been doing a fair bit of hanging about with various and sundry atheists in non-cyberspace lately, and I've noticed a spectrum. I've not done enough hanging about with atheists to really get a clear perspective, but I'm seeing some broad categories:

The militant atheists who'd love nothing more than to stamp out the last bit of religion - verily see it as their duty to do so;

The newly-arrived atheists who've just come out of the soul-shredding experience of rudely losing their faith and who are starving for confirmation that there really is life after religion;

The long-term atheists who're tremendously comfortable with their godlessness and truly enjoy poking sticks at fundies just to watch 'em howl;

The easy-going atheists who think just about everything's a bit of a lark, especially the silly things religious people do, and love nothing more than having a good-natured laugh over it all;

The live-and-let-live atheists who have no problem with believers who aren't viciously trying to force their belief on others;

The who-the-fuck-cares atheists who are too busy caring about other things to give religion much thought at all, despite being surrounded by frothing fuckwits like Ken Ham (yes, I just couldn't resist another poke - he's such an easy target);

...and many more, I'm sure.

The point is, just like you can't label a religious person a definite way just by virtue of them being religious, you can't know everything about an atheist just because they're an atheist. "Atheist" is just the big-tent label that contains a huge variety of folks. I've even heard of conservative atheists, although how someone can be rational enough to abandon religion and yet still buy into conservative philosophy in the current climate, I still haven't figured out. Maybe there's a conservative atheist around here who could enlighten me.

I wish I could tell you where I fall on the atheist spectrum. Honestly, I'm still not sure. I know I'm not militant, although there are days when I just want to take every believer in the universe by the scruff of the neck and shake the faith right out of them - we all have those days, especially after dealing with Ken Ham. But religious moderates don't actually bother me, when I stop to think about it. After all, there's the good believers at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, who fight shoulder-to-shoulder with the secular folk in a valiant effort to keep religious fuckery out of the public sphere. There's my many faithful friends, who believe in a wide range of God, gods, goddesses, and other assorted supernatural beings, most of whom are rational enough not to fall for woo despite the religious streak. Their faith makes them happy, it's not something they force on a single other soul, and there's no way I could bring myself to take it from them. So, militant I am not, despite the fed-up days.

And who the fuck needs a label, anyway? We are who we are: complicated human beings, too complex for labels to fit most of us neatly. So let's consider it a banquet. Which atheist dishes do you heap on your plate? Do you take a heaping helping of militancy with a side of fundie-poking? Do you load up on there's-room-for-everybody, but pick out the Ken Ham because that just ruins the flavor? Are you newly arrived and scarfing up a bit of everything while you figure out what's most to your taste?

And how do we show the world that there's not a single entity behind this term "atheist," but a whole smorgasboard of godless goodness?


Lightning Rose said...

I'm primarily the third type (long term, pokes sticks for entertainment), who would like to support the first type (trample their souls into the dust of hell - or something), but am pragmatic enough to realize that's not a practical option, so I'm also partly the fifth type (live and let live so long as they keep their delusions out of my face and public policy).

I first rejected Catholic dogma at the age of six when the nun teaching my first grade class told us animals didn't have souls. She was such a bitch I knew Gypsy (my little black terrier mix) had at least as good a soul as she did. I figured if she could lie about that, she could lie about anything* and never again accepted anything spewed by a parasitic delusion monger without scientific evidence to back it up.

*) At the age of six I thought Adults of Authority knew everything, so any falsehood spoken must be a deliberate lie, rather than a mistake.

Unknown said...

Becoming an atheist was highly painful. It came along with a lot of other shit where I was rejecting everything I had ever learned. I learned a lot, and I am just picking up the pieces now.

Facing death was and is the scariest thing.

On the other hand, there was a huge relief not feeling judged all the time. Also, I felt that I could act as I wished not be told what to think.

I am pretty agnostic which means that I feel that I can't know everything so I can't really say there is no God.

I do feel strongly that God has no place in my life because I never got any response from him when I prayed, and I feel this emptiness, like I am talking to myself when I pray.

I think that atheist is really more about the relationship one has to God. An atheist is one who has no relationship with God even if there is one. I guess some people don't realize that even if there was a God there would be people who wanted nothing to do with him.

Since then I do some Buddhist spiritual practices. I find it strange when some meditators (non-Buddhist) talk about seeing God in all people. I feel a connection to all people at rare time, but no God is there.

My favorite story is when the Zen master was asked, "will you go to heaven or hell."

He said, "Hell. That's where they need me the most."

Really if you see everything starting with your own mind, you'd realize that heaven and hell are products of the mind. I never did get to talk to Christians about this, but I'd like to.

Since you can't go to hell without a mind, you can do spiritual practices anywhere. Even hell. In fact, it might be easier to do it in hell because you have little else to focus on.

Cobalt said...

I'm not an atheist at all! But I really enjoy having the kind of atheist around who's willing to see me as a rational adult human despite my beliefs. It's a very different perspective from my own, and it helps keep me grounded.

The militant "oh em gee we need to get rid of all religion" atheists upset me. They don't just upset me because they tend to treat me like crap, but because they're making the same mistake that religious fanatics make, as if they haven't learned anything from being treated like crap themselves by fundies.

I guess the only reason I'm aware of a spectrum of atheists is that some are hurtful and some enrich my life. If only because I don't like being hurt, I learned the difference.

I guess the best way to teach people the difference is... to not be a dick. Some theists will be surprised enough by that to sit up and take notice. The ones that don't notice? Meh. You probably don't want to talk to them anyway. They wouldn't appreciate you like I do. =P

george.w said...

I've been several different kinds of atheists. See, I invested heavily in Christianity so calling that a sunk cost was not easy. I went through an agnostic (denial) stage that lasted five years or so.

Finally, admitting I'm an atheist but literally too angry to speak because I couldn't figure out what to say; that went on for a couple years.

Pain, resignation, and humiliation; how could I ever have confidence in my own judgment again? Couple years there.

A conciliatory stage - often labeled "concern troll" by others I thought (wanted badly to think) there was some way to reason with fundamentalists. An epiphany when I realized there isn't - that came recently when PZ was thrown out of Expelled.

Currently just focused on limiting the political power of the most obnoxious religionists.

All religion irrational? Yes. All religionists idiots? No. Even brilliant people believe weird things; belief, or the lack of it, is a complicated matter.

Do away with all religion? Doesn't matter what I think; eventually it will happen over a long time scale, sociologically speaking. Not in my lifetime. I'd just be happy if most religionists start caring about peace and about the environment for whatever reason suits them. And work with other stripes of religionists and with secularists to save this planet from human stupidity and greed.

This is fun?

Cujo359 said...

I've been an atheist since I was ten years old, so I'm used to it by now. My mother was a lapsed Catholic, and my father didn't take religion seriously at the time. I thought it out for myself and came to my own conclusions.

While I enjoy poking holes in any silly argument, it's probably less fun with religious people because they take it so seriously. Theological arguments, and many discussions about religious mythology bore me to tears.

I feel no need to cleanse the earth of religion. My personality has made me a sceptic and an atheist. Other people's personalities seem to make them susceptible to mysticism. If there weren't any religions, they'd probably have to invent them. While I wish people wouldn't devote so much time and energy to such a meaningless purpose, they'll probably do it anyway. Think of it as entertainment, which is also a pretty useless way to spend time and energy except for the pleasure you derive from it.

Efrique said...

I sort of wander around in the space between these:

The long-term atheists who're tremendously comfortable with their godlessness and truly enjoy poking sticks at fundies just to watch 'em howl;

The easy-going atheists who think just about everything's a bit of a lark, especially the silly things religious people do, and love nothing more than having a good-natured laugh over it all;

The live-and-let-live atheists who have no problem with believers who aren't viciously trying to force their belief on others;

The existence of so many believers who are not of the live and let live kind is what pushes me to be active at all.

I also made a post just recently about "positive atheism" where I express that the term doesn't resonate much for me. I am a mostly positive person who is an atheist, but I'm not sure that "positive atheism" really means anything. Or so I argue in that post. Who knows what I might say next?

Chaos Lee said...

I grew up in a household of active humanism in which religion was effectively ignored except when it did something right (it happens), so the very notion of being truly religious is fairly abstract to me. I've attempted prayer exactly three times in the course of my life, and each time I felt silly at best and generally nauseated. It's a weird feeling at the ripe old age of 9 to realize prayer was simply someone speaking aloud to try and sublimate their fears, give voice to hope, or mesmerize those listening. "Why not pray to yourself?" I asked myself.

I live in a way that could be deemed Buddhist, perhaps, though I simply see it as a good guideline for moral and ethical behavior, there is no religiousness to it.

Anonymous said...

I had a long conversation with some one I asked them what was an atheist as the had said that they were an atheist.
I did not know what an atheist was so I asked him. He told me that basically that he did not believe in a "being" that was a god like god the father or something like that. like some kind of a supreme being or other.I asked him then what was there? he talked about some kind of abstractness or other he was not a trained scientist but was raised to think along these lines I told him what he was describing sounded much like what I understood was talked about in the east in Taoism and Buddhism and in the root of Hinduism.
he thought that Buddha was a "god" and would not understand that he was not a god in any way he understood what a god was supposed be a god. I finally understood that what he was saying as to what an atheist was was some one who did not believe in what I would call the western idea, Abrahamic, idea of a god.
Is that how anyone else sees it? Until I found the blogs by atheists I have never heard much from a specific perspective of atheism.
I do dispute most vigorously with the fundamentalist of all kinds the stubborn irrationality that they all seem to express.

so what is an atheist and outside of the cultural history and metaphoric language how does it differ from the profounder insights of the east?
uncle frogy

george.w said...

Uncle Frogy, you're overthinking it. An atheist is simply someone who does not have a god belief. You know... a "theist" has a belief in a god - some kind of sentient, supernatural being running the universe - and an "atheist" does not have that belief.

Not that much to it, really; the universe is amazing enough on its own without made-up stuff.

Anonymous said...

>>a "theist" has a belief in a god - some kind of sentient, supernatural being running the universe - and an "atheist" does not have that belief.<<

as I learned from my previous conservation by that definition Buddhism, Taoism and Hinduism are atheist as they do not have a belief in any such supernatural being. It is just a mater of the words and symbols we use to describe what we understand as being reality. or could Atheism be defined as a negative belief? a NOT this.
uncle frogy

george.w said...

Some Buddhists are atheist in the sense of not believing in a personal god, but many Buddhists are theist.

Again, you're overthinking it. There's nothing complicated here. "Atheist" covers the set of people who lack a belief in any personal deity. That set overlaps many over sets.

george.w said...

Sorry, typo. "That set overlaps many other sets".

otching said...

Atheist realist, I know religion will never be eradicated.

The focus ought to be on what is benign and what is not. Although a good poke is always fun.