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impolite discourse

More on the religious front: The reason I hesitate to tell people I'm an atheist is because too many atheists treat religious people like retarded little children, and I'd rather not have people think I fall into that category. I've had a million debates about religion - there have been many on this site alone - and I have come to the conclusion that those who practice a religion have more respect for atheists than vice versa. Faith in a higher being is something that comes from within. To disrespect someone's faith is to disrespect them as a person. I may write about what I believe are the problems with certain religions and sometimes I may even poke fun at those religions; but I will never make fun of or be condescending to a person because of their faith. To make an analogy which may help me explain myself better - it's like two kids fighting over a rock band. It's fine to say "I think Dashboard Confessional is the worst band ever," but it's not fine to say "You're an idiot if you like Dashboard Confessional." As a non-believer, I walk around with the knowledge that I just may be wrong. There are no absolutes when it comes to religion; there is no proof of the existence of God or the non-existence of God. If I want people to respect that I choose not to believe, I need to respect those who do. If you are the type that gives a figurative pat on the head to Catholics or Christians or Jews or practitioners of any religion when you are having a discussion about faith, perhaps you should spend some time thinking about that. After all, we, as atheists, could very well be wrong. Wouldn't that be a kick in the ass when you die and are greeted by a spiritual figure. Your turn to be patted on the head like a little child who doesn't understand the first thing about life. It won't hurt you to listen to what people have to say. There's a lot to be learned from various religions that have nothing to do with higher beings or resurrections, but with living in general. That said, I've had to delete some comments on the passionate post. Just so you know where I stand.

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"As a non-believer," writes Michele, "I walk around with the knowledge that I just may be wrong. " For some reason this reminded me of a dream Isaac Asimov once... [Read More]

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Comments

Very well said. I hope that I have not said anything that disrespected your blog.

Michele, if I offended or was disrespectful, I apologize to you and whomever it may have been. That was not my intention. I do try to discuss in a polite and intelligent manner and if I feel it is getting even the slightest bit heated, I leave the conversation.

You're an infidel if you like "Dashboard Confessional"!!

You and Dean Esmay have a lot in common on that front. As a former agnostic/atheist, I try to keep perspective that people's beliefs change, and that ultimately, it is a question of faith.

Respect works both ways. Excellent points.

I'm tempted to pat Michele on the head, but I've gotten this far in life with all my limbs intact, and, well...

I guess it depends on what you consider respect for someone else's beliefs. I'm an athiest and I've never tried to convince anyone that god didn't exist and I admit I could be wrong. I simply have no faith. But I hate to tell people I'm an athiest because instantly that person usual goes on a mission to convert me. I find that disrespectful to my beliefs or lack of them. It's a double standard.

That's a big reason I consider myself an agnostic instead of an atheist.

Atheism claims to represent the truth just as much as various 'theisms' do. I'd rather say, "I don't know."

I know too many atheists who are complete zealots.

Very well stated, Michele.

By my definition, you're actually a fellow agnostic. Recognizing that the possibility exists that you could be wrong leaves you without the certitude that true atheism requires. Because atheism necessitates an absolute, positive assertion, IMO it is actually a form of faith.

I mean, it requires just as much a leap of faith to assert without qualification that there is no god as it does to assert the reverse.

Good post Michele.

I was a member of a webboard that I recently had to leave because of the very issues that you speak of. I like being there, the discussion was very interesting and intellegent most of the time. However, the attitude towards religion that many of the regulars had was simply too much to put up with. It was arrogent and condecending to the extreme. As an atheist, I simply got sick and tired of the childishness of it all.

Christians have a direct edict from Christ to spread the good news and bring nonbelievers to Jesus thus saving their souls.

Mark 16:15-16
15 He said to them, "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation. 16 Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.

This is hardly a "live and let live" approach, hence the proselytizers. While not all Christians live by this (or do so in more subtle ways than knocking on your door, pamphlet in hand), enough of them do. As Emily said above, it depends on what you consider respectful. I consider anyone trying to recruit or convert me to be very disrespectful of my beliefs. I am a Christian, and I've never had an atheist or agnostic try to convert me. I have, however, had several Christians try to convert me to their brand of Christianity.

And Shelby, that's the problem. Just like the classic hard sell, hard sell proselytizing doesn't work in the long run, i.e. you turn away more potential customers than you catch.

How can this type of witnessing possibly be Christ's directive?

Atheism claims to represent the truth just as much as various 'theisms' do

Eh? If you don't believe in gods, you're an atheist; end of story. There's no inherent "claim" to "represent the truth" involved in that. You wouldn't say I was "claiming to represent the truth" if you asked me "Do you believe there are aliens living on Venus?" and I said "No, I don't believe there are", would you?

Anyway, it has certainly not been my experience that religious people are more tolerant of atheists than vice-versa. I have definitely found it necessary to keep my lack of religious beliefs a secret -- growing up in the South in particular, but even in southern California.

Heck, I try to convert people all the time, but they don't know I'm doing it. The only person I've gotten to convert so far is my husband...

I do understand how out-and-out proselytizing is annoying, and I think that it's usually not effective, especially in a population that already knows and has rejected the tenets of one's faith. That said, many of the corner bible-thumpers do think that you're going to Hell if you reject Christ -- if you're of that mindset, it's not terribly charitable to your fellow man to allow him to continue on his hellbent path. Again, their tactics suck, but I do not malign their intentions or beliefs.

Likewise, I understand that many atheists think that believers are wasting their time with fairy tales -- time better spent paying attention to the here-and-now and not an afterlife that will never be. Their tactics suck, but I don't malign their intentions.

It works both ways. People need to consider what is actually convincing to someone coming from a totally different thought- and belief-system. Too often the atheist or true believer thinks of what would convince themselves, not what would be compelling to someone else.

Dan,

Weak strawman there:
"Do you believe there are aliens living on Venus?" and I said "No, I don't believe there are"

What if I asked you, "Do you believe that there are no other intellegent beings in the universe?". Whether you meant it or not, it strikes many of us non-atheists that you're disrespecting our faith by a comment that equates believing in aliens on Venus (which, knowing what we know about life and the atmosphere of this planet makes it even more offensive than, say Mars) with believing in a higher being.

Am I being overly sensitive? Not sure.

(BTW, where in the south are you taking about? Your experience may be true in rural areas but I haven't found intolerance in most southern cities and their suburbs.

actually, dan, that's exactly what i would say.

by asserting that there are indeed no aliens on venus, you are "representing the truth" as it appears to you. if you, on the other hand, admitted that really, you didn't know, THEN i would say you are not trying to represent the truth. you would simply be admitting that you really don't know.

if someone says, "there is no God" they are atheistic. they BELIEVE in the LACK of a God. if someone says, "i'm not entirely sure, but i'm unwilling to ascribe to a set of assertions about anyhting" that person is agnostic. they have no set of BELIEFS.

actually, dan, that's exactly what i would say.

by asserting that there are indeed no aliens on venus, you are "representing the truth" as it appears to you. if you, on the other hand, admitted that really, you didn't know, THEN i would say you are not trying to represent the truth. you would simply be admitting that you really don't know.

if someone says, "there is no God" they are atheistic. they BELIEVE in the LACK of a God. if someone says, "i'm not entirely sure, but i'm unwilling to ascribe to a set of assertions about anyhting" that person is agnostic. they have no set of BELIEFS.

they have no set of BELIEFS.

Actually, agnostics do have beliefs, they just aren't of the religious kind. To state that someone has NO beliefs is rather bold.

Perhaps they believe in themselves, or love, or humanity. A belief system does not have to involve a higher being.

Okay...I'm probably going to open myself up to some pretty nasty stuff, but here goes...

I'm LDS Christian (yes--Mormon--eeek! run away). Yes, I was a missionary for two years--necktie, nametag, et cetera. I went Spanish-speaking to California.

I ran into plenty of Bible-bashing born-agains, and I discovered through hard experience that such "conversations" never produced anything worthwhile. Building on commonalities--talking to instead of past each other, getting past the rhetoric and instead to the nuts-and-bolts beliefs and doctrines--is far more productive, meaningful, and enjoyable.

FWIW, I tried to show a degree of respect. If they weren't interested in hearing more, I just wished them well and moved on.

Michele, I'm particularly glad to hear you say that there are no absolutes in organized religion or atheism. More than a few atheists I've known have asserted the opposite in their belief in God's non-existence.

I'm with you.

Re: terminology. I think MIKER's term, "agnostic," is correct. Those of us who literally do "not know" if there is God or not, as your caveats suggest.

Literally, in Greek, "a+gnoso," a=not, gnoso=to know.

(Lotsa comments here. I "do not know" if someone already made that point.)

JFH,
You saw what I posted on my site.
I live in Florida. Sarasota, pretty big city.
I get attempts to save me every time I leave my home and have to take a public bus. They come at me at the bus stop when I am basically a prisoner.
You say you don't see intolerance in most southern cities. Maybe in most it doesn't, but I have personally found intolerance of my lack of faith here.
If I politely wave them off, they will still try to talk to me. If I decide to argue intelligently against their beliefs, they get angry and come back the next day looking for me with more members. I have actually been gang proselytized.
If I yell at them or take their picture which is my latest strategy for publicly letting them know I will not tolerate their witnessing to me, they get furious and tell me I have no right to invade their privacy by taking their picture. I then have to remind them that they have no right to tap me on my shoulder and invade my privacy to preach to me while I am listening to my cds and not bothering anyone.
I have had to use airhorns and whistles to get them to leave in some cases.
At one gang witness at the bus stop, other riders had to tell them to leave me alone or they were going to call the police.
There is much religious intolerance here.
And I don't feel that I should have to give a white lie and take their pamphlet in order to be left alone. A simple no should suffice don't you think?
This is what makes me angry and compels me to speak about my non-beliefs.

There's absolutely nothing wrong with stating, "All the evidence that we have strongly indicates that there are no deities," which is functionally equivalent to "There is no god." And that statement is not "equally a leap of faith" with believing in god. Faith is belief without evidence ("Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe"); atheism is belief based on the evidence.

Atheists, in my experience, are more likely to admit to the possibility that they might be wrong than theists are. Most atheists subscribe to some materialistic/scientific worldview, and that's what science does -- reserves the possibility that current theories are incorrect, subject to change with future evidence. I've not met more than one or two theists, on the other hand, willing to admit that their deity might not exist.

I hate it when people try to convert me, especially when they bring out the "what if you're wrong and end up in hell?" line. I'm sure that, if there is a god, he'd be really happy with people worshipping him purely out of fear.

I don't mind debating religion in a lighthearted fashion, the problem is that it doesn't stay lighthearted when you're dealing with those who have strongly held beliefs.

Kat,

Southerners don't consider Florida a southern state :). I'm ashamed of these people's behavior and if they only knew (requiring understanding and making a logical conclusion) of how they're doing the opposite of what they intend, maybe they'd stop... Unfortunately for you, I doubt that this will come to pass.

JFH,
Florida is as far south in the states as you can get but I am willing to accept the fact that I won't be called a southerner or a southern hick if they don't want me as part of the club. :D

"Southerners don't consider Florida a southern state :)."

Then they've never been here. Everything north of Orlando is very much the South.

Oh, and Florida is not as far south as you can get in the US. That'd be Hawaii. ;-)

OOps, my bad. But south as in hick southern bible thumping south. :D
Learn somthing new everyday. ;)

Dave J,

You're right, I'm wrong (although I'd draw the southern line a little higher maybe Gainsville or Daytona Beach and above)

Kat,

Hicks (or rednecks) exist throughout the country, and I love 'em. Regional cultural mores are typically driven from the upper-middle class and above, however. Take Charleston, for example, voted most polite city more than a few times in the last couple of decades. No "bible-thumping" there.

There is only one absolute: Jack Chick comix RULE!! Especially "Bewitched" although that is a discontinued title available only in 5000 qty print runs.

by asserting that there are indeed no aliens on venus, you are "representing the truth" as it appears to you.

I didn't assert there was no life on Venus. I said I didn't believe there was life on Venus. There are three possibilities here: believing X is true, believing X is false, and having no beliefs on the subject. Some atheists believe there are no gods; others, like me, simply don't believe in gods.

if someone says, "i'm not entirely sure, but i'm unwilling to ascribe to a set of assertions about anyhting" that person is agnostic. they have no set of BELIEFS

That is wrong. Agnostics are people who hold the positive belief that the existance of gods is unprovable. There are two kinds of people. People who answer the question "Do you believe in at least one god" with the answer "yes", and atheists. Agnostics are just a subtype of atheists.

What if I asked you, "Do you believe that there are no other intellegent beings in the universe?".

I would answer "no". Because there isn't a lick of evidence that there are other intelligent beings in the universe. However, that is NOT the same as saying "I believe there is no other intelligent life in the universe" -- which is a claim of truth.

I don't believe in gods. I also hope, in particular, that the Judeo-Christian-Islamic God doesn't exist, because I consider him evil. I am not, however, absolutely positive that no gods exist, because I can't prove it. Nevertheless I am an atheist, because I lack belief in gods.

it strikes many of us non-atheists that you're disrespecting our faith by a comment that equates believing in aliens on Venus (which, knowing what we know about life and the atmosphere of this planet makes it even more offensive than, say Mars) with believing in a higher being.

Knowing what we know about the universe, it is impossible for anything to be "all-knowing" or "all-powerful"; it violates the Heisenberg uncertainty principle and conservation of energy. I don't think it's fair of you to imply that life on Venus (which, while hard to conceive of, doesn't directly contradict our understanding of the universe) is less-likely to exist than a God is.

BTW, where in the south are you taking about? Your experience may be true in rural areas but I haven't found intolerance in most southern cities and their suburbs

I grew up in Memphis, Tennessee. The reason you don't notice intolerance to atheists is that you aren't one yourself.

I think it's a bit broad brush to paint all atheists as intolerant of theists.

I never said that, Faith. I don't think anyone else here did, either.

As an atheist, I treat any theists I encounter with approximately the same respect they treat me.

If they keep proselytizing after I ask them to stop, I get rude and / or condescending.

Otherwise, I let them believe what they believe while I believe what I believe ... silently.

If they sincerely want to know about my beliefs, and I know them well, I'll talk about it. There is a very pronounced and very noticeable intolerance to atheists, even in our "enlightened" , sunny state of California. It makes discussing it with strangers very much not worth the effort.

D

This point has likely already been made. A theist has faith there is a god, and in many cases adds lots of detailed beliefs. An atheist has faith there is not a god. Both have faith that the unknowable is true. By definition, bith theism and atheism are religions. An agnostic does not know if there is a god and professes faith in neither direction.

Many theists like to include atheists and agnostics in the same group, but the common label does not fit.

"You're right, I'm wrong (although I'd draw the southern line a little higher maybe Gainsville or Daytona Beach and above)."

Ocala's south of Gainesville and still definitely the South. That's or at most two counties north of Orange (Orlando).

Wayne, yes it does. In Greek 'a' means 'without' or 'not' and 'theos' means 'god.' I will admit that the current slant to the definition of 'atheist' seems to include a 'belief that there is no god'. But that isn't the meaning.

Agnostics no more "believe in" any god than do atheists. They are a subset of atheists. Both are 'without god'.

The only difference between us is that we agnostics are much more likely to respond to proselytizing of the 'existance implies GOD' sort with questions about which god it implies.

After moving from Miami to Orlando, I consider everything in Florida north of West Palm Beach to the South.

PS: Kat, you are not experiencing conversion attempts anymore, you are experiencing harrassment. You should tell the harrassers that the next time they accost you in any way, you will call the police, have a restraining order put on them, sue them, go on the nightly news -- whatever. Anyone who tried to harrass me into their church that way would go back to their church carrying nothing but their own ass in their hands.

That should read "to be the South."

It's relative, Andrea. All I know is that Tallahassee is DEFINITELY the South. But it was work here or starve, so here I still am.

Atheists do not, generally, believe they have faith in a lack of god, they feel that there are so many places where there could be evidence for a god, but where this evidence does not exist, they decide there is no god. This is not dissimilar to my lack of belief in the Easter Bunny: I'm not agnostic on it, but I would not say I have faith in its non-existence.

It's a little condescending for theists to presume they know better. Just as condescending as it is for atheists or agnostics to presume they know better about what a theist believes and/or has faith in.

Kathy K, Atheism vs. Agnostism

While a-theism means literally "without god", the common current definitions are

Agnostic - One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a god.

Atheist - One who denies the existence of god.

One is not a subset of the other. An atheist has more in common with a theist than with an agnostic since both claim belief in that which is unknowable. Atheism is a religion while agnosticism is not. Indeed, atheism is an evangelical religion to many of its followers.

Well, if "atheist" and "agnostic" meant the same things one of those labels would be redundant.

I have always understood atheist to indicate a positive belief that there is no God. And if that's what it means I gather that the majority of those calling themselves "atheist" aren't.

FWIW, when I was a teenager my father demonstrated his failure to grasp the distinction by calling me an atheist when I told him I didn't know. I've never been an atheist, and my agnostic phase has long since passed.

I don't agree with Wayne about the current "common" (whatever that means) definitions of atheism. I take it to mean a lack of belief in God(s). To quote Bob Carroll: "... since there are many concepts of God and these concepts are usually rooted in some culture or tradition, atheism might be defined as the belief that a particular word used to refer to a particular god is a word that has no reference. Thus, there are as many different kinds of atheism as there are names of gods." Personally this is the definition I prefer.

As a native Floridian (of the palest sort) you guys are being way to linear in your thinking. Florida is actually composed of roughly four to five other locations.

The panhandle is affectionately refered to as "Lower Alabama" or L.A. The legend is that about 25 years ago or so, Alabama actually tried to buy the Florida panhandle.

Anyway, then you've got a roughly peninsula shaped area INSIDE the actual florida peninsula. The further from the coast you are the more you are in "Southern Georgia". Ocala comes to mind...Gainesville, Tallahassee, Lake City. Jacksonville is definately southern Georgia, but that's about it for the east coast. Now there are thin areas of South Georgia most of the way to the Everglades.

Then, you come to New York/New Jersey. This starts at roughly St. Augustine and is continuous pretty much to Sarasota, and some could argue all the way up through the Tampa/St. Pete area. There are very few natives there. Mostly, it's transplants.

Finally, you've got Little Havana and the Keys. These are Cuba and the Conch Republic respectively and bear little if any resemblance to other places in Florida or other places in the world. Little Havana is nothing like Cuba is now, though I imagine it bears some resemblance to pre-Castro Cuba.

Some folks consider Orlando a different world. I try not to consider it at all, honestly:)!

Debineezer...
Born in Tampa, raised in Lower Alabama, higherly-educated in St. Pete and escaped to Seattle:)!

It's odd that you should mention athieism in the same post as Dashboard Confessional as Dashboard Confessional is obviously proof that there is no God.

There's a reason some blogger (Andrea Harris, I think?) once suggested that atheists should be called "Smugs". Michele is a refreshing change on that front.

"The further from the coast you are the more you are in 'Southern Georgia'."

True, I was indeed simplifying things. Oh, and "Southern Georgia" is not to be confused with South Georgia, which is one of the Falkland Islands if I'm not mistaken.

. . . and you can be an agnostic and practice religion anyway, like many Jews and Buddhists. As a Jew, I assume the existence of God in order to think in certain ways and do certain things that wouldn't work otherwise, that make my life better. There is something useful about assuming there is something out there greater than us, to which gratitude is the appropriate emotion. It encourages a certain awe and humility which cannot be accessed otherwise.

Methinks the line between North and South is beginning to smudge. :-)

Atheist - One who denies the existence of god.

Sorry, but that's working the refs. Atheists aren't "denying" anything, with all the connotations that entails. They simply believe in one less deity than your average theist.

Ian S.: Seems like what you mean is really, "Christians prefer the kinds of atheists who yet leave themselves open to the possibility of conversion."

I tried being an atheist but it requires too much faith. Now I'm just a lazy agnostic.

I'm amazed at how much religious debate this movie (I'm assuming its all cause of the movie, otherwise we're all very cliquey in our choice of conversation) has caused, which can only be a good thing.

I think the key feature of agnosticism is that they consider the existence/nonexistence of any gods to be unprovable given the limits of human understanding. It would be perfectly possible for me to say, "I don't know whether there is a god, but I believe that evidence could exist that would prove it one way or the other. I just haven't found such evidence yet." I'm not sure what you would call such people, but strictly speaking, they're not agnostic.
I consider myself an atheist because I find the possibility of a god to be preposterous, not in any logical sense necessarily (although there are good logical reasons to believe an omnipotent, omniscient god is incompatible with the existence of free will, which I do believe in). Rather, it just doesn't seem remotely plausible to me. Sure, I'm not going to rule out the possibility entirely, but that's more in virtue of wanting proof I don't have than doubting my own belief. For example, since I've never seen actual proof of the moon landing, I'm willing to entertain arguments that it never happened, although I fully believe that it did. I don't think that a willingness to entertain radical doubt makes one an agnostic. If it did, every religious person who has ever doubted his faith--or even entertained the notion that it's possible their faith is wrong--is an agnostic too. If that's the case, the word becomes meaningless.

I'm a Frisbyterian. We believe when you die your soul goes up on the roof and you can't get it down..

Atheist and agnostic aren't synonyms:

agnostic:
a) One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a God.
b) One who is skeptical about the existence of God but does not profess true atheism.

atheist:
One who disbelieves or denies the existence of God or gods.

Similar, but not the same.

Orlando, FL is a suburb of Puerto Rico...

or...

agnostic: an atheist without the courage of his convictions.

:)

Having known a few atheists in my life, I can venture that to some people, atheisim is a religion unto itself, just a religion which specifically has no God. Atheists have no more right to try to foist their religion on me than do I on them.

I didn't read all 57 comments, but the point in your post is a good one. People of all beliefs could stand to be graceful with one another. After all, they're the only neighbors we have.

Agnostic - One who believes that it is impossible to know whether there is a god.

Atheist - One who denies the existence of god.

One is not a subset of the other. An atheist has more in common

Fine. What do you call people who don't believe in gods, don't "deny the existance of god", and don't believe it is impossible to know whether there is a god?

If god(s) exist, they affect the universe. They are, therefore, detectable, in theory. Nevertheless they have never been detected; we have no rational reason to believe in their existance. Therefore I don't believe in their existance.

Under your definitions, I'm not a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic.

Under my definition, as well as many dictionary definitions, I'm an atheist, because atheists are people who can't answer "yes" to the question "do you believe in gods?".

I would also like to point out that believing in the nonexistance of certain deities is not a matter of faith. Many deities (including many, though not all, of the versions of the Christian god) are logically impossible, and therefore can be dismissed on purely rational grounds.

I can venture that to some people, atheisim is a religion unto itself, just a religion which specifically has no God.

Oh, really?

Please share details on the following:
- Atheist rituals
- Atheist moral beliefs
- Atheist holy days
- Atheist saints

Also, please explain why your firm belief that the Tooth Fairy doesn't really take teeth from under children's pillows doesn't also qualify as "a religion". And don't say "because I don't try to convince people about the Tooth Fairy's nonexistance" -- you might, if you were surrounded by hundreds of millions of vocal Tooth Fairyists. :)

Please share details on the following:
- Atheist rituals
- Atheist moral beliefs
- Atheist holy days
- Atheist saints

Please share with me why religion is defined as any of these things. Oh, wait, you cannot, because they aren't. A religion is a belief system, and atheisim is based on the belief that there is no God.

Ian S.: I never said that all atheists should be considered "Smugs," though I was pretty smug when I was more that way... What I said was that this pseudo-movement of a group of atheists calling themselves "Brights" should be called Smugs. The "Brights" thing started with a column by Richard Dawkins, who came up with the awful thing, and there's a website around somewhere -- the "Brights" Faq" -- though gee darn I can't remember the url.

Please share with me why religion is defined as any of these things.

Name one religion other than the alleged "religion" of "atheism" that has no gods, no rituals, no holy days, no saints, and no inherent moral beliefs. On second thought, don't bother; it's obvious you're making this up as you go along.

Here's a short list of religions that don't meet those criteria: Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Unitarianism, Deism, Hinduism, Shinto, all Native American religions, Santeria, Voodoo, Wicca, and, oh yeah, every other religion in the entire recorded history of the world. There are no religions that have neither gods, nor moral beliefs, nor saints, nor rituals, nor holy days. All religions have some or all of those things.

A religion is a belief system, and atheisim is based on the belief that there is no God

I believe my car runs on gasoline, ergo I follow the Car Gasoline religion? Your definition of "religion" is deely stupid; it renders the definition of "religion" meaningless by applying it to every single aspect of existance. It's like defining "doing evil" as "taking action" or "rape" as "sexual activity".

"deely stupid"

is this close to Deely Plaza?
"I believe my car runs on gasoline, ergo I follow the Car Gasoline religion?"

When you get out of high school come back and we can have a seious discussion.

It has been said that if you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all. Not terribly bad advice, especially when you don't have to say anything. However, I am going to violate it in this post. (But in a respectful manner, of course.)

As someone who knows something about the academic/intellectual/philosophical study of religion, I have two big problems with what I've read here. What I will say here is based on my own studies in comparative religion and the philosophy of religion.

My first problem is with all the arguing about the meaning of the words "atheist" and "agnostic."

Everyone seems to assume that each word has one and only one possible meaning, which is foolish just on linguistic grounds. When you consider that we are discussing spiritual experience here, this assumption becomes all the more foolish.

The word "gnosis" refers to spiritual awareness, spirtiual vision. Being derived from gnosis, the term "gnostic" simply means spiritually sighted: having or being capable of having spiritual or religious experiences. The term "agnostic" means spiritually blind: never having or being incapable of having such experiences. Obviously, these definitions stem from a religious point of view.

With regard to thinking about religious belief, agnosticism deals with a person's attitude toward spiritual experiences (the seeing of gods or angels, the belief in an afterlife, etc.) as a category of possible human awareness.

Furthermore, agnosticism can be of different degrees. More precisely, an agnostic can hold one of three positions:

A. He can acknowledge that he has had no experience of such spiritual matters.

B. He can assert that knowledge of such matters is humanly impossible.

C. He can assert that there is nothing to really know or not know -- these experiences have no reality outside the particular structure of the human mind.

I have listed these possible agnosticisms in order of increasing strength. C is a stronger agnostic position than B, which is a stronger agnostic position than A.

Choice A is simply a statement about what someone has or hasn't seen or heard. No assertion about reality is made, so there is nothing to argue with.

Choices B and C, however, are positive attitudes about spiritual experience as a category. They are the positions of people who definitely believe something. Agnosticism B makes a claim about Knowledge (an epistemological assertion), while agnosticism C makes a claim about Being (an ontological assertion). Anyone can fairly agree or disagree with either of these assertions. To do so is to engage in philosophical debate.

Theism and atheism are entirely different matters. Unlike the agnostic of choice A above, both the theist and the atheist make claims about what they have experienced in their own lives. Unlike the agnostics of choices B and C, neither the theist nor atheist makes assertions about all human spiritual or religious claims.

Theism is the holding to the notion of deities and/or a supreme being. This attitude can be weaker or stronger depending on the amount of doubt the believer holds with regard to his experience. A weak theist simply states that his own spiritual experience has convinced him that gods and/or a supreme being exist, while acknowledging that he is capable of being wrong. A strong theist definitely asserts that gods and/or a supreme being exist. No room for doubt is allowed.

Atheism is the rejection of the notion of deities and/or a supreme being. Like theism, it can be weaker or stronger depending on the atheist's willingness to subject his spiritual experience to skepticism.

Note that theism and atheism say nothing about the reality of an afterlife, the existence of heaven and hell, or any other religious claim that does not deal with deities. A person can be a theist and not believe in an afterlife, while an atheist can believe in life after death while rejecting that any superior beings affect one's fate in the hereafter.

That deals with my problem over useful definitions in discourse about religion. Now for my second problem, which is with Michele's orignal post.

I strongly disagree with the sentence, "there is no proof of the existence of God or the non-existence of God."

Existence and non-existence are not the absolute categories that Michele thinks they are. A thing may exist in one way and non-exist in another. For instance, an emotion has no physical existence. Emotions are real enough, but they exist mentally and not physically.

Another example is found just by reading this post. The meanings of all the sentences on this page have no sensory existence. From a sensory point of view, there are only marks on the screen. These meanings have no linguistic existence either; from that frame of reference, only the vocabulary and grammar of English exist. But if these sentences had no meaning, you wouldn't be able to read them.

Okay, I know, this objection does not come from philosophy or religion. So here is the philosophy of religion problem:

When you use the word "God" with a capital G (sometimes refered to by the word "Godhead"), you are refering to the power that makes everything in reality what it is. Thus this power is the existence of existence, and the non-existence of non-existence. These categories are the acts of the referent of the word "God." This referent is not an act of these categories.

In other words, it makes no sense whatsoever to talk about the existence or non-existence of "God." None whatsoever. Thus theism and athiesm -- with regards to the reality of "God," and not with regards to the reality of lesser deities -- are just the two sides of a single ontological error. The failure to realize this philosophical fact is what has lead to the very existence of this web page! And to all the intolerance ever exhibited by either thiests or atheists. Rather sad, isn't it?

In more than two weeks time no one has responded to my response above.

I assume that means everyone realizes I was right about everything I said.