Why I'm dropping the atheist term to describe myself in relation to religious experience. Some vocabulary

A discussion on an agnostic forums has me rethinking my willingness to cop to the “atheist” label. Debates on definitions can get tedious but I found this discussion useful. In the past I have blithely accepted that since I do not believe in any external being that turned nothing into everything, can intercede on anyone’s behalf or can grant anyone life after death that I must be an atheist. But in fact I do not believe there is any rational argument for thinking such a being could not exist any more than I believe there is any sound argument for believing such a being must exist. Technically that leaves me an agnostic and secular, but not an atheist. I have no real investment in believing “God” or “faith” or “sacred” or a “higher power” cannot exist. In fact I’m inclined to believe there is something more than primitive superstition and ignorance which has given rise to imbuing those terms with meaning.

The agnosticism label only deals with certainty. To my mind agnosticism separates the angry atheists and the militant fundamentalists from those not willing to promote as fact that which they cannot entirely justify. The truth is important to agnostics, both the secular ones and those who accept that the grounds for belief are insufficient without faith. Frankly I’m not sure if any world view which goes beyond the empirical to also take into account the richness of our subjective life is even possible without faith in some things for which adequate justification will be found wanting.

I used to think not holding specific beliefs in external beings with ‘supernatural’ qualities was sufficient for copping to atheism. Now I’m seeing it differently. I still don’t have any use for ‘supernatural’ as a way of making sense of how the something more we sometimes experience fits with the world as we know it. But I’m recognizing that my notion of our psyches as giving rise to multiple products of consciousness is just as repulsive to many, both among believers and atheists. Perhaps how we rationalize to ourselves how there can be something greater which we can appeal to than our own rational ruminations may not be as important as whether the something more we believe in by faith is important to us. In that regard, I’m no apatheist. It is pretty central to my world view.

I recognize that there will be believers who still see me as an atheist and atheists who will insist I’ve lost my way. But any labels that require this much work to sort out probably aren’t really that useful anyway. And, as usual, what other people think will tell me more about who they are than who I am. The latter isn’t a problem whose solution I can farm out.


I guess to me it sounds agnostic. If you believe there is a possibility that a god creator could exist, or any form of supernatural powers it’s agnostic. If you don’t believe it’s atheist and if you do it’s it’s some form of religion or spirituality.

Sorry that it probably does not help. I am a Christian and I don’t believe in anyone experiencing supernatural events such as miraculous healings, raising the dead, praying in tongues and so on. I don’t believe people see the dead, angels, demons or have visions from a all powerful being and so on. I think it’s all ceased.

Ironically I’m often accused of being an atheist who uses Christian studies to mask it lol.


But to me being an atheist is not any more militant than saying I’m Christian or religious. I think it’s mostly just hype on the media that tries to accent things like fundamentalist Christian, militant vegan or militant atheist and so on.

I know a bunch of atheists who are certain god does not exist. After all, a Christian is someone who is absolutely certain no god exists except our god. So I absolutely don’t believe in Zeus, Thor and so on. I believe most people are agnostic. Some lean more towards one and some another.

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Well this is still new to me but all I can say is that the category of the supernatural just seems seems wild to me but then I have to acknowledge the context I give it in consciousness seems just as weird to nearly everyone I talk to about it. But the main thing is, while I strongly suspect the supernatural is an empty set I have zero evidence for saying it is or must be. I guess if anyone believes or suspects there is something more going on in our experience than empirical investigation will ever get to the bottom of, we must be operating on faith or just be deluded. But like I say, I can’t imagine a worldview devoid of anything but the empirical; scientism is beneath us

Is that because you think there was a God but He isn’t much tuned in any longer, which I suppose would make you a deist. But do you think praying (not in tongues) connects you with anything? Do you believe God is interested in what you think and do? I don’t think of the something more that I believe has given rise to God belief is anything like a deist God. But I do think there is something within which is Other to us which is intimately tied in with us forming a kind of partnership. We both depend on each other. “I” am nominally in charge but more dependent on the silent partner than it is on me.

Seems weird to talk about it but what I like about Christians is they at least try to talk about it and make room for it in their life. My criticism with Christianity is that it is so heirarchial with the vast majority of believers passively taking their views from their leaders. But that doesn’t take away from the insight and balance I find from those who are more actively involved in their faith.


“Not religious” works for some.

The person I was discussing this with suggested “secular” but doesn’t that just sound like you want to ignore it? But that “not religious” pretty much fits. Not only am I “not churched” I’m also “not traditioned”, “not heirarchied” and “not creeded”.

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How about creed-challenged?


I’m not a deist. I believe that God cares what we do and uses the Holy Spirit to help guide us. As we study the word, and we pray, it directs us towards the answers in scripture.

However I believe that the word teaches cessationism. That God blesses the prophets with gifts until a Christ came then only Christ had the gift. Christ laid hands on the apostles and have them the power to pass on gifts. That they would pray and hope the spirit placed this or that gift on someone. They could not control what gift. Those who received the gift could not pass it on and as the apostles died out, so did new disciples who
Received the laying on of hands. As they died out, so did miracles. The miracles ended as God revealed all he is to his people through giving us words. There are not more new books coming from god with divine knowledge. Satan has been defeated and we no longer need to battle him. Just our sin nature and we do that through the guidance in the word.

I guess that just means we don’t agree about everything. But we still have a deep respect for nature in all its forms. Well that COVID virus not so much.

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We probably don’t agree on many things. But it’s fine because sometimes even my own thoughts are at war with each other until I’m able to understand it and study it out. Even then I may never draw a single conclusion. It often upsets people that we can have two contradicting but legitimate conclusions that we think may be possible.

Kind of like a Schrödinger’s box but inside is the definite answer to something you’re not sure about.

Inside the box maybe there is a god. Or maybe not.

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You mean the way Jesus (not the Jesus we’ve been taught about through Christian orthodoxy, but the real Jesus) was not churched, not traditioned, not hierarchied, and not creeded? :grinning:

Careful, Mark. That’s sounding an awful lot like the mystery of Divine Love.

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Does that mean that you reject the multiverse because it is not empirically based?

I’m not sure why you ask that Roger. In what you quoted from me I was saying that the empirical study of the world was not enough to make sense of our subjective experience. I don’t understand why you would bring up the multiverse in response to that.

What a pleasure to hear from you, Jennifer.

Was Jesus a practicing Jew? If so he’d have no use for a church but definitely would have felt himself to be part of a tradition. I meant those "not"s somewhat tongue in cheek but I’m not the first person on my path. I find a better articulated model for my world view in McGilchrist’s book The Master and His Emissary. We’re all emissaries. Some think the master doesn’t exist at all some think the master is the creator and master of the universe. I think the master is real but of more modest dimensions than the biblical God. The master is an inner Other arising naturally just as we do.

I trust you are settled into your new digs. Didn’t that happen at an opportune time before the pandemic hit?


Hi Mark,

Good to hear from you and glad to hear your thoughts.

About those "not"s you mentioned . . . I know you used them tongue in cheek, but I was being serious. Sure, Jesus was born Jewish, but he really wasn’t very Jewish in his understanding of God by the time he died. Obviously, there was no church as we know it. But there was a Temple – in fact, many different kinds of temple – and Jesus wanted no part of any of them. So you could say he was “not churched.”

Jesus walked away from most of the traditions he’d been raised with, especially conventions related to the treatment of women, children, slaves, and all the “imperfect” people whom others rejected but whom Jesus saw as worthy and perfect in God’s eyes. Jesus was pretty much “non traditioned” to his core.

Jesus was radically inclusive and seems to have been immune to the temptations of status addiction. Everything he taught was an attempt to redefine our relationship with God as a “horizontal garden” as opposed to a “vertical ladder.” Definitely “not hierarchied.”

Jesus had a very small creed, which is summed up nicely in Mark 12 with the two great commandments about love (both of which take a lifetime to understand and live). So “not creeded” applies, too.

See? You thought you were being tongue in cheek. But maybe you’re onto something, Mark. :wink:


I’d never heard that before but it sounds about right. You may recall I think the fate of men and what gives rise to God belief are intertwined. Both are needed. Neither is sufficient without the other but we on our side are by far more dependent. Nonetheless it is a partnership.

Those are two very practical bits of advice. Never esteem anything higher than your silent partner and always give people the benefit of the doubt since they like ourselves are emissaries who are likewise dependent and fallible. The second of those is the toughest to execute. :wink:

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American Atheists has a really good article on this very topic that I would strongly recommend.

I and others have often joked that agnosticism is the halfway house between theism and atheism. I spent some time as an agnostic as well. I also fully understand not wanting to be associated with certain atheists. I tend to agree with American Atheists that we should embrace the atheist label, and be a peaceful and thoughtful person so that other atheists have a model to follow. I also believe that there is a silent majority of atheists who are nothing like the vocal minority we see in books, articles, and other media.


Thank you for your response. I apologize. I misread what you said.

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So, truthfully, all of us are agnostics; some of us make the leap of faith to be agnostic atheists, agnostic Christians, etc; yet others opt to be just agnostics and make no leap?

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This quote from your post summarizes the message I take from the New Testament, and why I believe Jesus would want us to replace the concept of Original Sin with Original Blessing. It is an invitation to rise above our (evolved) animal natures to become something that freely seeks to become an Image of our Creator.
Al Leo

“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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