I. the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds;
VI. that our civil rights have no dependance on our religious opinions, any more than our opinions in physics or geometry; that therefore the proscribing any citizen as unworthy the public confidence by laying upon him an incapacity of being called to offices of trust and emolument, unless he profess or renounce this or that religious opinion, is depriving him injuriously of those privileges and advantages to which, in common with his fellow citizens, he has a natural right;”
- Thomas Jefferson, A Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, 1777
Quite true. On a Christian forum I know (Planet Wisdom) there was a poster who was an atheist. But then suddenly he announced one day that he had become converted and was now a Christian. His rational attitude did not change one bit (he still champions evolution, for example), but as far as I can tell, he just decided to take a “leap of faith” and try believing in God. To his surprise, he found that doing so filled some kind of psychological need he didn’t know he had. At least, that’s my interpretation.
[quote author=“cgallaga”][quote author=“Doubter”]But is being an atheist something you can choose or is it an inescapable conclusion you come to?
depends entirely on what you mean when you use the term.
For the past 25 years I’ve been calling myself an atheist (I was never indoctrinated into any religion) simply because I needed some sort of label with to identify my position. I never chose to be an atheist and in fact I don’t even like the term but in my country, and probably yours, if you say you are non religious it is often assumed that you must be a lapsed christian.
So atheist is much more emphatic.
If religion did not exist would we all be atheists? I think not.
I really don’t know how to define atheism. It’s like trying to define “not” something. You can only do so with respect to that something.
I often feel that by defining myself as something I am being drawn into the dance of those narrow minded people who need to draw distinctions.
I don’t follow any particular creed no do I like to label myself, I just follow a hodge podge of general philosophical points of view.
No worries I was born in the US, but I think you will find the lapsed Christian thing is not at all universal there. Major population centers like New York, Chicago and LA have plenty of diversity.
So to answer your question then,
being an atheist something you can choose or is it an inescapable conclusion you come to
I think in your case it does not appear to be an inescapable conclusion and it is a title you have chosen. There are some definitions of atheism which one could argue (we have) to be the default natural position in regards to theology. I have maintained that agnosticism is the default position, but some soft atheists would say that their brand is.
Now atheism can seem to be an inescapable conclusion to specific descriptions of gods. For example, we would be hard pressed anymore to find anyone who was not Atheistic about Thor or Pan, But the rub is that to completely disprove even such obvious myth is also impossible. Thus pure or hard atheism is no less an article of belief than theism. The belief may have been arrived at by a more rational thought process, but in the end, it too is simply a belief about an outcome for which we can not (at least as yet) be sure.
At the risk of being jumped, I think it depends on what you mean by Atheism. In many a Christian’s mind, I am an Atheist, BUT I do not believe in an anthropomorphic god or a reincarnated Zeus, like so many Christians and Islamics appear to believe in so strongly. It is most definitely NOT a theistic god that I speak of when I say such things to the religious as a means to communicate to them and we are BOTH keenly aware of this when all is said and done. It is something that I have always felt, even as a child, but at that time I had no idea exactly what it was- except god (notice the lower case) and have often gotten nailed for it by Christians, esp in recent years because I can explain better what I mean and they realize that I do not believe in God, esp their reincarnated Zeus. Then there are some Christians who agree with me that my scientific description is God and don’t see me as an Atheist.
When I speak of a god, it is undescribable because it has no form what so ever and much like the wind, you can only see it in the form of things such as love and compassion from humans and animals. Yes, I said animals for they can look at you when you are having a bad day and as you look into their eyes, there is that therapuetic psychological chemical reaction in the brain that some how causes you to feel better which is triggered by your pet’s reactions to your emotions. It is that transcending feeling you get when you hold your new born child in your arms for the first time while you both gaze into each others eyes- I had this with my first son. It is that awesome feeling you get when you see the first signs of springs with all it’s beautiful colours, and hear the birds sing with joy. The list goes on as to the stimuli that triggers brain chemisty in the frontal lobes and amygdala that can give that awe inspiring feeling of transcendence.
Even Dawkins has mentioned such a god when he says, “If when you speak of god you mean love… then this does not apply.” For even he conceives of this idea on some level. I’ll have to find that article, but he has said similar things in his videos, which I very much comprehend when he says such things. Harris spoke of this transcendence too in an essay, which he does not attribute to a supernatural being either.
Technically, I call myself a non-theist because I do not believe in God, but rather that which is found naturally in nature, within us, and shown with science via brain scans that show the brain’s reactions to various stimili and sometimes causes feelings of transcendence that the religious so much like to attribute to God. No, IMHO, this is NOT a theistic deity at work but rather something else that triggers chemical reactions in the brain. This is something numinous (definition #3 in the dictionary) that causes transcendence and can be shown with scientific research, but it is not a human created deity and it needs no Holy book to support it or even worship, only science.
Unfortunately, there seems to be no one word to encompass this so it is hard to communicate it and calling it god does not really do it any justice, because it is not a deity. Nor can one go around continuously explaining what they mean by such a word.
So, yes, I think what you are asking does depend on what you mean by the word Atheist. Thus why I call myself a Spiritual Humanist and a non-theist.
I prefer the term “non-theist” rather than “atheist” for myself because I see atheist as being actively anti-god. However, I am much more hard-line than Mriana here. I strongly disbelieve in the existence of any entity or power, or even organized causes.
There was no way I could not arrive at that conclusion, given a) the premises I believed, and b) my concept of logic. A person who started out with different premises could easily think that I was being an idiot for not believing in a god, and similarly, a person who didn’t use logic as I do (however, describing it, I would define his techniques as “logic” rather than logic) could equally see my reasoning as flawed.
So, it depends on where you’re coming from and the path you take to get there as to whether or not you arrive at atheism.
That’s just it, though, while I don’t believe in a theistic God, so many Christians label me as that, esp the Fundies, because I use science to describe something totally foreign to them. The thing is, what I describe is not a god though, not to them at least, so I have been called an infidel, heretic, and even an Atheist. Sometimes, I think it chose me, but it is a misnomer, IMHO and non-theist seems to fit me better. An admin. on another board pointed that out to someone who started screaming things, via a board, including “You are an atheist!” None of it was very nice, but I had to laugh at the atheist part, because that was the least abusive, if even abusive at all, with what he was saying. I guess he thought he’d hurt my feelings by saying that.
I finally told him if he meant the reincarnated Zeus, some sort of anthropomorphic god, a supernatural deity, or something like that, then yes I am an atheist and being called such doesn’t bother me, but if he was talking about love, compassion, and/or transcendence then we can talk about the scientific componant of it all and attempt to label it appropriately.
[quote author=“George”]You are surely not an atheist, Mriana.
Love and compassion don’t hold any special meaning. They are a product of our brain just like any other feeling. There is certainly no need to label love and compassion as something mysterious.
I know, but I’m certainly not a theist either and I have been accused of atheism due to my various myth busting about the supernatural. Yes, I also know love and compassion are products of our brain, which can also trigger various chemicals in our brain. Depending on the form of love though, such as holding your newborn child in your arms for the first time, can cause feelings of transcendence. It’s the neuro-chemistry in the brain that does this to a person, however, the religious try to blame it on the supernatural. There is nothing supernatural about it though.
Even Jeaneane Fowler talks about transcendence in her book “Humanism: Beliefs and Practices” and says Humanist are not incapable of making a connection to the universe. She even states Atheism and non-theism are two distinct terms, stating atheism suggests no belief in god of any kind. I think it is also the difference between Secular Humanist and Spiritual Humanist.
I heard Paul Kurtz wanting to drop all adjectives before the word Humanist to unite us as one and then I was reading his comments on Epstein- the Humanist Chaplin of Harvard. For the first time I saw him make a distinction between Secular Humanists and Religious Humanists. I wouldn’t call myself a Religious Humanist though, but I did understand his distinction in what he was saying. Wish I could find that article concerning Epstein, the New Humanist, and the seminar. Not that it’s important to the topic, but it was interesting.
The thing is, when one does not believe in a supernatural deity, the religious come down hard the person- at least here in the Bible Belt. By the same token, those who aren’t religious get very confused if they don’t understand the science I talk about in relation to the human and the things that trigger the brain chemistry and cause the various feelings one has. It can not be attributed to the supernatural, but rather something that is very natural- like life itself.
I can’t help feeling part of the problem is the human penchant for labels. They often create as many problems as they solve. Religious folks are obsessive about them because they see significance in miniscule points of dogmatic difference. But judging from the discussions here, the non-religious community is just as bad. What’s a humanist, an atheist, an agnostic, a non-theist, a deist, a scientific naturalist, a materialist, etc ad nauseum? Oh, I understand the power of labels. They’re especially good for distinguishing enemies, though they can create a sense of community by less malign means. And they’re a convenient shorthand. But I really resist taking on such ideological labels as much as I can. If someone asks me my religion, they’ve earned themselves at least a few sentences explaining my position, even if all they wanted was a quick label with which to pigeonhole me and fill in all the blanks about all the things they can then imagine they know about me. Of course, anyone who’s seen a couple of my posts here knows I’m no good at brief :wink: Anyway, I wouldn’t say one chooses one’s beliefs about god. They either come with childhood indoctrination or evolve gradually throughout life. But one does choose which, if any, label to use to describe them.
As for “religious” emotions, that’s a really interesting area, though a bit off topic here and perhaps deserving a thread of its own. I’ll start one under Religious Feelings if anyone is interested.
[quote author=“mckenzievmd”]Anyway, I wouldn’t say one chooses one’s beliefs about god. They either come with childhood indoctrination or evolve gradually throughout life. But one does choose which, if any, label to use to describe them.
Ah, yes. I think I grew into mine starting at an early age, but I was influenced by the Roddenberrys via the media. Yet at the same time, I watched the actions of people, esp adults. I’m not certain, but I think my being an only child had a little to do with that. Then as an adult, I had the freedom to research whatever I felt like researching and soon found I went full circle back to Humanism, which I didn’t know that was Gene’s influence when I was a child, but I saw it clearly through the Humanist Manifesto and alike. So, you are right, people do choose their labels. One can choose to become a Humanist, agnostic, atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, or what have you, but they can not choose the culture they are born into anymore than they can choose their genetics or parents.
However, it does take “Courage to Become” as Paul Kurtz said with his book. It takes courage to go against the mainstream and say, “For me, your ideas are wrong and I prefer this or that.” In the U.S. the mainstream is Christianity and it takes courage to stand up and say, “I’m a Humanist” or whatever label one chooses. Whatever the case, I truly believe one grows into whatever they choose as time goes on.