It’s still unseasonably cold here. Honestly. What do we have to do to get some Indian Summer thrown our way? And since I’m nearly as cold in the city as I was at the cottage (okay, that’s hyperbolic- it was DAMN cold at the cottage) I’ve been wishing I was back there more than a little bit.
I got to thinking today about one of the kitchen chats I joined after walking in on it in the middle- because that’s what we do- talk, interject, offer opinions/advice/whatever. The things friends do when interested in each others’ ideas, opinions and perspectives. They were discussing atheism vs. agnosticism and asked me to define both terms. I offered my definition- and some of the reasoning behind my non-belief, which led to the same argument which our host and I have been having for well over two decades.
Theism is defined by the belief that at least one deity exists- somewhere- and the term is commonly used to describe the belief in a deity that is personal, present and active in the world/universe and who is gainfully employed in providing its governance. Therefore, an a-theist is someone who does not believe that any such a deity exists.
Going back to the original Greek roots of the term, I am literally ‘without gods’.
And I’m good with that.
Agnosticism is a bit more complicated- and varied- in its definition- and that was a source of a bit of contention. Also from the Greek, agnostic literally means ‘without knowledge’ and generally is applied to those who neither believe nor disbelieve in the existence of a god- or many gods- as they have been imagined and described by people.
Agnostics admit to ‘not knowing’. They‘re good with that.
Some will apply more of a philosophical meaning to the term, asserting that human reason and rationality are not capable of justifying whether- or not- deities do- or do not- exist. Essentially those philosophers among us would claim that there is no way of knowing one way or the other. Some suggest that you ‘can’t prove a negative’ and this ‘evidence of absence’ argument is one that is often tossed around when believers and non-believers (or those who allow for uncertainty) ‘discuss’ such things.
I concede that proving the non-existence of something is pretty tough to do, but I also suggest (as have others before me) that the flip side of that little tautology is that those who maintain the existence of something are likewise required to offer proof- that is acceptable to my particular worldview– that that same thing DOES exist.
Otherwise, I’m not likely to buy what you’re selling.
And since no one has, as of yet anyway, offered me anything remotely resembling definitive proof that the gods are anything other than the creations of us human beings, I’m very comfortable with my non-belief and I will thank you to not attempt to sway me to your perspective.
By all means- believe as you wish. We are fortunate to live in a society that allows us the freedom of our beliefs- and their expression (at least at the moment and in Provinces other than Quebec…) so I will likewise not attempt to disabuse you of any privately held views on religion and gods.
Do I have time for proselytising? Can’t say as I do. Sometimes my Canadian politesse comes into conflict with this reality, but as willing as I am to hear you out in your argumentation, if it includes anything about me being condemned to eternal hellfire or cursed for my non-belief, I’ll likely cut you off pretty quickly.
Name-calling has no place in rational discourse, and telling me that I’m ‘damned’ isn’t nice at all.
And attacks launched from the defensive? Also not attractive. Nor something that will incline me to listen all that sincerely to what you have to say.
Clear example of this tension- but also the way in which it is consistently overcome- is the ongoing discussion about this subject that takes place repeatedly. We will never agree on the divinity/non-divinity of Jesus (although ‘never’ is a word I hesitate to use. Too restricting- he might yet change his mind… Joking. Seriously- just joking. He knows I’m joking- and that I’m not looking to change his mind on the subject).
As an historian of religion. I believe in the existence of Jesus as an historical figure who sought change within his religious framework and social milieu, and that the guy had great ideas and inclinations toward inclusion, love and peace. He was a radical dude, seeking religious and cultural change for the better.
A prime example of the heights of humanity to which we should all aspire?
Zero argument there.
Son of a deity? One third of a triumvirate god that became incarnate in human form? Immortal and supernatural?
None of the above.
The thing with this ongoing discussion is that we always take the time to listen to what the other person has to say, and we both are secure enough in our belief(s) that we can maintain a sense of humour about the arguments. We happily agree to disagree.
When I touched upon this subject previously, I offered up an meme I’ve seen circulating that demonstrates the worst of the ‘New Atheist’ propensity toward labeling those with opposing views as ‘stupid’ or the like.
On the other side of the fence… I happened upon this little gem (that would be sarcasm) last night:
Also not remotely cool.
Although I’d think that Dawkins (and Hitchens before he died) would likely have found it quite amusing to be described as one of the harbingers of the Apocalypse.
A mythological story about the ending of all things and the return of a deity in which they do not believe.
Such rhetoric is demonstrative of this insidious propensity toward the externalization of ‘evil’– and making people monstrous because of a differing worldview- that I keep harping on about. Not good.
Definitely not good.
The more we vilify each other and create and perpetuate dichotomies of right/wrong, good/evil, black/white, the farther away we continue to stray from the message and the mission of teachers like Jesus of Nazareth.
One of the reasons I love and respect my friends and family (and the peeps I have had the opportunity to meet through this forum) is because we can continue to engage in dialogue without in any way dismissing or diminishing the beliefs of those around us.
Last night, while out for dinner in one of our local little restaurants (Focaccia near Yonge and Bloor. Try it if you get the chance. The staff is FANTASTIC), I overheard the conversation of the couple who had been at the next table, just as they were leaving. They were discussing their full-fledged support of the nonsense in Quebec– while loudly proclaiming their total ignorance of the beliefs and traditions of those they were demonizing.
Respect for our beleaguered waiter- who had been dealing with such commentary for the duration of their meal- was the only thing that kept me from speaking out as they exited. That, and the awareness (after years of experience) that minds cannot be forced open, and that, sadly, some people are just unwilling to even attempt to see a perspective outside of their own.
So instead I wrote this post.
In frustration that there are still so many who will not offer dignity and respect to those whose ideas differ from their own.
In exasperation that there are too many among us who still seek to divide rather than to bring together.
But also in remembrance of the fact that there are all kinds of people out there who are honestly willing to listen to one another and, as required, agree to disagree.
Lots and lots of people who realize that all humans are reflections of one another- regardless of place of origin, cultural context or belief or non-belief.
And that I am privileged to have a whole bunch of people like that in my life.
P.S. Speaking of the Four Horsemen and such things… I watched the series premiere of ‘Sleepy Hollow’ earlier this week. Seems the Headless Horseman is really Death- that Rider on a Pale Horse who seems to have been called up by a demon-type thing in the woods around town. Potentially interesting amalgam of a classic American story and apocalyptic mythology all thrown into the 21st century Hudson River Valley. Will have to check it out for a while and see. Told you apocalypses seem to be everywhere lately…