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.