Monday, June 04, 2012

No Religion? 7 Types of Non-Believers

From AlterNet:

For those who have lost their religion or never had one, finding a label can feel important. It can be part of a healing process or, alternately, a way of declaring resistance to a dominant and oppressive paradigm. Finding the right combination of words can be a challenge though. For a label to fit it needs to resonate personally and also communicate what you want to say to the world. Words have definitions, connotations and history, and how people respond to your label will be affected by all three. What does it mean? What emotions does it evoke? Who are you identifying as your intellectual and spiritual forebears and your community? The differences may be subtle but they are important.

More here.

A couple of days ago, I got an email from my Southern Baptist Dad telling me that he was going to be spending about ten days in South Africa on a short mission trip working with families affected by AIDS. Actually, he's been going on these kinds of trips off and on for a couple of decades or so, and it's always good work, dealing with orphans and whatnot, but this one kind of excites me, given that it's in Africa and dealing with AIDS, a couple of pet issues for the politically liberal community with which I affiliate.

So I posted this on facebook:

For all my friends who are believers, and even the agnostic among you who lapse from time to time, my Dad is leaving on the ninth for South Africa to do some mission work for about ten days with some families affected by AIDS. Keep him in your prayers.

If you're an atheist, just do some reading about how AIDS in Africa still totally sucks, and maybe bring it up in a few conversations.
The post got nearly fifty "likes," with tons of comments offering support and prayer. But the catch here is that I'm not a believer. Indeed, I self-identify as agnostic. So what the hell was I doing issuing a call for prayers, in which I do not believe? The short answer is that I wanted to bring some attention to the good work my father is doing, and the prayer request is very much in keeping with the religious nature of the so-called "mission trip."

The long answer is somewhat more complicated.

As an agnostic, I really don't believe in God. I don't call myself an atheist because I just don't have enough evidence to rule out the possibility of God in the same way I don't have enough evidence to rule out the possibility of, say, breaking the light speed barrier, or time travel. But for all intents and purposes, I just don't believe. On the other hand, I grew up Southern Baptist, and I honestly like the religious fellowship and ritual that come with the denomination. I like people telling me that they're praying for me, even if I don't think there's going to be some kind of supernatural payoff for it. I like how just talking about Jesus makes believers faces light up, how it changes the mood of the room.

And it just seems to me that there's got to be a way for me to enjoy all that without blessing it as absolute truth. I mean, apart from the God question, religion is an important cultural institution that has been with mankind since before recorded history. I think there's something very deeply human about it all, whether you believe in God or not. And it makes me feel good to tap into all that energy from time to time.

At any rate, if you click through and read the essay, I think I can be classified as a mashup of agnostic, humanistic, and pantheistic. But generally I just say "agnostic." The point is that, even among non-believers, there's a whole lot of room for discussion and thought.