Labels Never Tell the Whole Story

Labels used to describe what we believe are useful, but they never tell the whole story for a few reasons.  First our beliefs are always so much more complex than being able to be described by a word or two.  Further, the definition of words change over time, are dependent on region and culture, can have different colloquial versus formal meaning, and also mean different things to different people.  The word faith is a perfect example of this.  I have a very hard time defining the word faith because it means very different things to so many people (yes, future blog post!)

At any rate I’m going to attempt definitions of some labels here given the things I have read, and in the process I’ll explain a little more of my beliefs.  Hopefully it will help you get a better idea of how to describe yourself as well.  For the first 2 words I am taking the descriptions used in “Atheism: The Case Against God“, by George H. Smith.

atheism: This is an example of a word that has very different meanings depending on who you talk to.  The word atheism can be broken into 2 pieces: “a-theism” and in that sense simply means without theism.  So the word just means “not having a belief in any deities”.  Now most spiritual/religious people seem to have the definition of “belief that deities do not exist”.  Not sure if the distinction is clear yet but this has been the source of many unicorn and Santa discussions all over the internet (if I had a dollar for every time I’ve read about unicorns in these kind of exchanges! 😉 )  Let me try a different example.  Many people in our world (not all by the way) do not believe in the Norse God of Thor.  Now this doesn’t necessarily mean that those people have a way of proving for sure that Thor does not exist, but it does mean that they do not claim belief in Thor.  It also doesn’t mean that they are not open to the possibility of Thor existing.  So in this way they would be a-thorists.  Now the level of certainty in not believing can span a range of course.  Hopefully not beating a dead horse here, but George Smith divides atheism into 2 categories: (1) an implicit atheist would be one who does not have or claim a belief in gods, but does not necessarily reject the belief as false. (2) an explicit atheist would be one who believes that the statement “there is a god or gods” is a false statement.  The vast majority of atheists are implicit, and I am definitely an implicit atheist.  I am not at all opposed to the possibility of deities existing, but do not claim belief in any right now.  Note also that a lot of people use the terms “weak/strong” or “negative/positive” in place of “implicit/explicit”.  I personally prefer implicit/explicit simply because it sounds better.

One last thing on atheism – I rarely call myself an atheist because there is so much confusion on this word.  If I know that the people I am talking to understand then I’ll use it.  If that’s not the case I might still use the label, but only after describing exactly what it means (which usually bores people – anyone still reading! 😉 )

I didn’t anticipate this getting so long.  I’ll continue on in the next post.

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10 thoughts on “Labels Never Tell the Whole Story

  1. Pingback: More Definitions | Truth Is Elusive

  2. I am an atheist. I am of the explicit sort, well, at least 90% in that direction. The only opening I allow is that there might be some entity somewhere in the vastness of the cosmos that has qualities we might attribute to a god. I would consider it an entity that was created as a result of the Universe having favorable conditions, as we are, rather than it an entity that created the Universe. It would of course not be aware of us, as we have seen no evidence of this, and therefore has no interest in us.
    As far as the god of Christianity, that door is closed, as I have learned too much about its beginnings. So many atheists leave that door open a crack, claiming insufficient knowledge, yet I think we have sufficient knowledge not only to close that door, but to lock it. I think that can be said about any of the many gods humanity has invented.

  3. Thanks for the comment. I’ve been enjoying reading the Freethinkers Corner blog of yours. My certainty levels are not near yours, but in general we have a lot in common. I just can’t get rid of the nagging fact that I am human and capable of being wrong. I leave the doors cracked open to all ideas, but not in a way that means they all haunt me and can suck me in without reason and evidence. Perhaps that’s what you mean by a locked door, so maybe mine aren’t really cracked open in the way that you mean. For many years I haven’t seen the realm of possibilities in reality as choosing between any particular religions or philosophies… I just don’t see it as quantized anymore. What may actually be the truths of our universe (or multiverses) may be a whole long list of things that humans haven’t even come up with yet. Anyway, I do however see that certain ideas within the Christian religion are so plagued with logical difficulties that the probabilities of me going back to those beliefs are in all practical sense similar to a “closed door”. One example of that is the idea of a god who loves his creation yet allows some of them to be tortured for eternity. One would have to redefine the word love to the point that it means something totally different than what we all agree is it’s definition to make that logically work. But not all ideas within Christianity or other religions for that matter are as plagued to the extent as this example.

  4. Maybe this is a good place to say that I’m enjoying your blog. I’m a believer who has come to the conclusion that there is an enormous difference between the Christian RELIGION and the Christian FAITH. I’ve recently written an article entitled, “What is faith and does God exist?” I have been outside the walls of traditional Christianity for some 40 years and have far more empathy with agnostics and some atheists than with those ‘Christians’ who think they have all the answers.

    I’ve been questioning the teachings of Christianity for more than 60 years – you might find the story of my journey interesting – especially as I spent some 20 years as a member of a Sabbath-keeping Christian church.

  5. Hi Peter – I appreciate the positive comments. I’ve enjoyed reading your blog as well. Sounds like you have been on quite a journey!! I also view thoughts about these kinds of things as an ever-changing journey as you have expressed on your blog. In the past 15 years or so I’ve taken a much more objectives/scientific approach as you may have picked up on from a lot of my posts. Seems like we may be approaching this with some differences but I’m sure we can both learn from each other. Thanks for commenting!

  6. Pingback: Secular Humanism | Truth Is Elusive

  7. Pingback: Moving Forward With Ultimate Questions | Truth Is Elusive

  8. Pingback: But If You Can’t Disprove It Then Aren’t You Agnostic? | Truth Is Elusive

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