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StellaM

Religion on my mind due to other thread - anyone else here moved from atheism to agnosticism ?

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And what has that looked like for you ?

I'm an ex Catholic who become atheist, and has now headed back to agnoticism. I believe this is a function of age ? But also of considering that 'Godness' may be something quite different to the personalised God of my childhood, with my grasping after mathematics and logic functioning as a very rough analogy for the human grasping for Truth. 

Really, nothing has changed in my life as a result. But I'm just curious to know if anyone has had a similar journey.

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I moved from Protestant Christianity to atheism to agnosticism to dabbling in Eastern thought (mostly Buddhist) to Catholic Christianity. It was a long strange trip and continues to this day. 

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Yes, I was a devoted atheist as a teenager/young 20something - I remember reading Skinner for the first time and telling my mom that humans understood everything in the world and it could all be accounted for either by empirical fact or by random chance.  Then I read the Tao Te Ching, oh, a dozen or so years ago, and since then I've developed an understanding that there are aspects of the universe that might just be beyond my comprehension.  

I see religion as a sort of metaphor.  Almost all religions, mostly tribal, tend to see their truth as Universal Truth and their limited view as The Only True Account Of How Things Are - but they all share/overlap in many ways, and it is in these ways that I sort of see the metaphorical truth of various religious ideas.  

I like William James's The Will to Believe - basically, for me, the idea of a literal sort of belief in Christianity (water into wine, and raising the dead, and virgin birth and all of it) is as dead a hypothesis as Zeus or Vishnu or whatever.  But the idea that self-sacrifice has literal value, or that there is an order to the universe, or that there is essential good and absolute right and wrong  - those are all live hypotheses, for me.

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And, btw, a huge part of the reason specific religions are dead hypotheses to me is the idea that I am not special.  If one religion in the history of mankind is true, say Christianity, what are the chances that it is the one that I personally have been the most culturally exposed to, that speaks my language, that exists in the time that I exist?  I dunno, seems a bit much of a coincidence.  If, on the other hand, all religions are just local expressions of a greater truth, and local ways of regulating social morality - well, that makes more sense to me as someone who is not that special.

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I'm a recovering Catholics.  I've been all sorts of things, dabbled here and there, want to believe in something. I yearn for the traditions and rhythm of my catholic faith.  But I straddle the fence between atheist and agnostic.  Right now I'm firmly in the I don't know, and I don't care, and I don't have time for any of this.  Perhaps once the children fly the coop.  

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I'm a recovering Catholics.  I've been all sorts of things, dabbled here and there, want to believe in something. I yearn for the traditions and rhythm of my catholic faith.  But I straddle the fence between atheist and agnostic.  Right now I'm firmly in the I don't know, and I don't care, and I don't have time for any of this.  Perhaps once the children fly the coop.  

 

Oh look, you can be an agnostic atheist or an agnostic theist.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Agnostic_atheism

 

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5 hours ago, scholastica said:

I moved from Protestant Christianity to atheism to agnosticism to dabbling in Eastern thought (mostly Buddhist) to Catholic Christianity. It was a long strange trip and continues to this day. 

 

Journeys are interesting; I'm quite surprised to find myself back on the road!

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My journey has been:

from cultural Catholic (Christmas-and-Easter plus Sunday school) to

never-think-about-it-agnostic to

fully-participating-Catholic-but-always-with-internal-conflict-about-teachings to

angry-lapsed-Catholic to

tried-coming-back-Catholic-but-couldn't-quite-get-there to

today...and I don't even know where I am now. My best guess is agnostic-but-yearning-for-the-the-rituals-and-rhythms (perhaps similar to dancingmama). ETA, Agnostic theist, maybe. Possibly theist. Not atheist. Definitely still working through it.

--

I really appreciate this thread. I am not really up for chiming in on the current Catholicism thread at the moment. I find it interesting and puzzling that nearly everyone I know IRL seems content with their "faith status," whether that is atheist, devout Denomination X, agnostic, cafeteria Catholic, etc. etc. I have tried having this journey conversation with plenty of people and almost always get the feedback of These are the reasons why I am satisfied being ____ (fill in the blank with atheist, devout Denomination X, agnostic, cafeteria Catholic, etc.)

I admit that I at times envy those who consider themselves content. I find that feeling elusive.

 

Edited by Penguin
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I've been all the things.  Let's see . . . raised unitarian monotheist, became adamantly atheist by age 18, dabbled in polytheism but it didn't stick, back to atheist, softened to agnostic briefly before becoming pantheist, was comfortably pantheist for several years but then became trinitarian monotheist and honestly, sincerely thought I was done.  But that doesn't seem to be sticking either and I'm finding myself more pantheist-leaning again.   

Penguin said, "I admit that I at times envy those who consider themselves content.  I find that feeling elusive."  You took the words right out of my mouth.  I want very much to be a person of faith, but for me it's like trying to hold water in your hands.  Eventually, no matter how hard I try, it just drips away, and I'm left empty.

If I had to choose a label at the moment I think it would be pantheist Taoist, because that doesn't require any sort of dogma or doctrine, and my brain just can't seem to do dogma and doctrine.  But I can't be an atheist either, because I've had experiences that can't be explained by a purely materialist universe.  So pantheism suits.  For now.  Five years from now?  Your guess is as good as mine!

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I never explicitly embraced the label "atheist," but even as a tiny child out the gate I was, rather to my deeply spiritual mother's disappointment, really tuned to evidence- and scientific method-based forms of inquiry; and a questioner / debater by disposition.

Since my twenties I've moved, glacially, into ever greater and deeper and more-faceted engagement with matters of the spirit (generally) and connection to my faith tradition (particularly) and my synagogue community.  Now even more so than in my youth, though, I steer clear of the terms "atheist" and "agnostic," because embedded within both words are matters of belief and of a particular conception of the divine/sacred... which isn't mine.  The words don't work at all for me; Dawkins' spectrum of theistic probability is wholly unusable to me because it is premised in so wildly a different place than I start.

Where I start is hard to reduce to internet-sized bytes, but the idea of non-centrality that moonflower speaks to

14 hours ago, moonflower said:

And, btw, a huge part of the reason specific religions are dead hypotheses to me is the idea that I am not special.  If one religion in the history of mankind is true, say Christianity, what are the chances that it is the one that I personally have been the most culturally exposed to, that speaks my language, that exists in the time that I exist?  I dunno, seems a bit much of a coincidence.  If, on the other hand, all religions are just local expressions of a greater truth, and local ways of regulating social morality - well, that makes more sense to me as someone who is not that special.

is in there -- both me personally as MF puts it and also human life more broadly.  Western religions all place humans smack in the center of the sacred story, which strikes me as both statistically improbable from an evidence-based perspective about the cosmos; and also the height of hubris from the perspective of divining-the-divine.  On this I start from a place of wonderment and smallness, gazing at the stars.

 

And another critical element of my starting place is an acute consciousness of the limits of human cognition.  We literally can't imagine much further than we can perceive sensorily; Flatland, and all that.  We are necessarily reduced to imperfect vessels of metaphor and imperfect pipes of language.  Thus, through a glass darkly: the major faith traditions, and I think the Western faith traditions most particularly, have arrived at a conception of a personal God that in many respects looks remarkably like a human being -- a male human being -- with superpowers.  That strikes me as both statistically unlikely, and also, again, hubris.

If -- speaking hypothetically of course, purely for the sake of the argument -- God is eternal and ineffable then our words and metaphors are necessarily very finite and feeble conduits.

So I have other reasons, and mechanisms, for attachment than "belief,"  on which both the terms agnostic/atheist and the Dawkins scale are rooted, and at which most conversations about religion in the US at least usually start.

Nonetheless my attachment has deepened steadily for a very long time.

Edited by Pam in CT
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Not agnostic per se but I spent 29 years as a staunch atheist and then became Christian while in my secular doctoral science program. It was an absolute knock me on my butt type of awareness or epiphany that I can never quite explain. 

Life journeys are crazy rollercoasters ?

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I used to be a strong Protestant, mainline Christian. Many events and circumstances in my life along with some diligent study of the theological questions I have had has left me a theist. So maybe one step to the right of agnosticism. This is a huge change for me, and dh is still a moderate mainline protestant Christian so we now deal with religious issues in the marriage. 30 years and this is where we are at. Sigh...but I also cannot and will not go back to traditional Christianity even though I do believe there is a god or deity or greater power out there. I would die a little inside.

 

This has been a gut wrenching journey. So much internal pain. But I am at peace now which is really important because it makes some situations in the extended family much easier to bear now that I don't have the inner turmoil.

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 Defining the terms is vital, I think. Generally atheism is understood to mean the person is sure there are no gods, while agnostic means you aren’t really sure either way.

I find that distinction pretty useless, probably because the agnostics and atheists I know and read are indistinguishable. Both allow that something *could* be out there, but think there probably isn’t and don’t structure their lives in a way that acts like it is true. Probably not, almost certainly not, and certainly not don’t end up looking any different practically speaking. No one is living like there is a deity, because, by definition, if they thought there was at least one, they wouldn’t be agnostic anymore. It really is quite personal how one defines oneself in this area because the terms mean different things to different people.

I find people are respectful when you say you are an agnostic, but flinch when you say you are an atheist. I say agnostic to avoid the social stigma, but like I said, I don’t really see the difference. My own views are that I really don’t know if there is something out there beyond the natural world, but I lean probably not. The more one defines the “something” as a loving, intervening deity, the less likely I find it to be true. I find the existence of the monotheistic deity of the Abrahamic religions to be *extremely* unlikely, but the more nebulous you get, the more I shrug.

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4 hours ago, livetoread said:

 Defining the terms is vital, I think. Generally atheism is understood to mean the person is sure there are no gods, while agnostic means you aren’t really sure either way.

I find that distinction pretty useless, probably because the agnostics and atheists I know and read are indistinguishable. Both allow that something *could* be out there, but think there probably isn’t and don’t structure their lives in a way that acts like it is true. Probably not, almost certainly not, and certainly not don’t end up looking any different practically speaking. No one is living like there is a deity, because, by definition, if they thought there was at least one, they wouldn’t be agnostic anymore. It really is quite personal how one defines oneself in this area because the terms mean different things to different people.

I find people are respectful when you say you are an agnostic, but flinch when you say you are an atheist. I say agnostic to avoid the social stigma, but like I said, I don’t really see the difference. My own views are that I really don’t know if there is something out there beyond the natural world, but I lean probably not. The more one defines the “something” as a loving, intervening deity, the less likely I find it to be true. I find the existence of the monotheistic deity of the Abrahamic religions to be *extremely* unlikely, but the more nebulous you get, the more I shrug.

 

Yeah, I don't know what 'we can't really know, but probably, something' is. Agnostic theism ? 

For me it's a shift between 'there is no god' to 'I feel there is some unifying principle I have no better word for than godness'. 

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9 hours ago, Penguin said:

--

I really appreciate this thread. I am not really up for chiming in on the current Catholicism thread at the moment. I find it interesting and puzzling that nearly everyone I know IRL seems content with their "faith status," whether that is atheist, devout Denomination X, agnostic, cafeteria Catholic, etc. etc. I have tried having this journey conversation with plenty of people and almost always get the feedback of These are the reasons why I am satisfied being ____ (fill in the blank with atheist, devout Denomination X, agnostic, cafeteria Catholic, etc.)

I admit that I at times envy those who consider themselves content. I find that feeling elusive.

 

I have had a long journey, and I don't think I'll ever feel any one place is "right" because I don't think humanity can grasp God well enough to get it right. Ever. So I finally picked the one that I thought was closest AND was part of my cultural tradition, as that would give me the best basis for working my faith on a daily basis, if that makes sense. I don't really think it matters where you end up, as long as you are making that journey and doing your best to explore and live out your faith - whatever that is. 

23 hours ago, moonflower said:

And, btw, a huge part of the reason specific religions are dead hypotheses to me is the idea that I am not special.  If one religion in the history of mankind is true, say Christianity, what are the chances that it is the one that I personally have been the most culturally exposed to, that speaks my language, that exists in the time that I exist?  I dunno, seems a bit much of a coincidence.  If, on the other hand, all religions are just local expressions of a greater truth, and local ways of regulating social morality - well, that makes more sense to me as someone who is not that special.

Yeah, I don't think any are right. I think it's impossible. I think that if you can understand it, it isn't God. So we do the best we can. And I figure God knows that, and it will all get worked out in the end, and we will all be laughing at how ridiculously far off we were. In the meantime, I do the best I can. 

So I guess, what I'm saying is that I found contentment when I stopped worrying about getting it right. Because I acknowledged I never would or could. 

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I have not really been sure exactly where I fit since admitting I don't believe.

 

What I mean is....I don't think a divine being exists.  But, I could be wrong.  And I am ok with being wrong, if I am.  Agnostic is defined as "we cannot know".  And I am not sure that really fits me, because it's not so much "I can't know" as much as "I don't know."

 

And then I often find myself wondering................what does "divine being" actually mean?  What does GOD....actually really mean?

 

I currently describe myself as "Catholic-leaning agnostic atheist."  What it means is....I don't think God/divine beings exist, but I could be wrong.  And that I like many of the traditions of the Catholic faith, in terms of things like the ritual of the service,  Advent and Christmas, and so on.  

 

SO, what does all that mean...............I dunno.  

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9 hours ago, livetoread said:

 Defining the terms is vital, I think. Generally atheism is understood to mean the person is sure there are no gods, while agnostic means you aren’t really sure either way.

I find that distinction pretty useless, probably because the agnostics and atheists I know and read are indistinguishable. Both allow that something *could* be out there, but think there probably isn’t and don’t structure their lives in a way that acts like it is true. Probably not, almost certainly not, and certainly not don’t end up looking any different practically speaking. No one is living like there is a deity, because, by definition, if they thought there was at least one, they wouldn’t be agnostic anymore. It really is quite personal how one defines oneself in this area because the terms mean different things to different people.

 

To me atheism is a lack of belief in gods, not a belief that there is no god(s). That sounds like the same thing but it's really not. This from the American Atheists website probably explains it better than I can - 

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as “there is no God” betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read “there are no gods.”

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On 8/30/2018 at 7:54 PM, moonflower said:

And, btw, a huge part of the reason specific religions are dead hypotheses to me is the idea that I am not special.  If one religion in the history of mankind is true, say Christianity, what are the chances that it is the one that I personally have been the most culturally exposed to, that speaks my language, that exists in the time that I exist?  I dunno, seems a bit much of a coincidence.  If, on the other hand, all religions are just local expressions of a greater truth, and local ways of regulating social morality - well, that makes more sense to me as someone who is not that special.

Something weird happened in my last post when I tried to multi-quote, probably because of the pasted quote I added from an outside source. Anyway -

The bolded is something that really stood out to me when I was examining my beliefs before I rejecting all beliefs and realizing I was an atheist. For most people the religious tradition they follow and strongly believe is right just happens to be the one they were born into. Often, but not always, it's also the majority religion of their country. That's just too coincidental for me.

I sometimes wonder what's wrong with me that I didn't find my journey to atheism to be gut wrenching or difficult and that I don't miss any of the rituals of my former religions. I was a cradle Catholic and switched to mainline Protestantism (United Methodist) in my 30s. I didn't feel any loss when I let go of belief yet I often hear people say they miss the rituals and comfort of religion and church. I have no idea why I don't miss it. I also didn't find it hard to let go. There was no Aha! moment when I just stopped believing, it was just a gradual thing as I researched and explored other religions before I rejected them all. I just simply understood that I don't believe any of them. I agree with the saying, "They can't all be right but they can all be wrong."

Edited by Lady Florida.
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14 minutes ago, Lady Florida. said:

Something weird happened in my last post when I tried to multi-quote, probably because of the pasted quote I added from an outside source. Anyway -

The bolded is something that really stood out to me when I was examining my beliefs before I rejecting all beliefs and realizing I was an atheist. For most people the religious tradition they follow and strongly believe is right just happens to be the one they were born into. Often, but not always, it's also the majority religion of their country. That's just too coincidental for me.

I sometimes wonder what's wrong with me that I didn't find my journey to atheism to be gut wrenching or difficult and that I don't miss any of the rituals of my former religions. I was a cradle Catholic and switched to mainline Protestantism (United Methodist) in my 30s. I didn't feel any loss when I let go of belief yet I often hear people say they miss the rituals and comfort of religion and church. I have no idea why I don't miss it. I also didn't find it hard to let go. There was no Aha! moment when I just stopped believing, it was just a gradual thing as I researched and explored other religions before I rejected them all. I just simply understood that I don't believe any of them. I agree with the saying, "They can't all be right but they can all be wrong."

I had a similar journey from cradle Catholic to Methodist and now agnostic rather than atheist. I don’t miss the rituals or comfort of the church. Moving from Catholic to Methodist, I really missed the Catholic folk music and could just never really get into the staid Methodist hymns. What I miss is the community and the Sunday sermons and Sunday school in the Methodist Church. The Methodist Church we last attended had a great variety of Sunday school classes to choose from, including a social issues one I really enjoyed. The sermons made you think and want to be a better person, but we’re not at all “preachy”. I liked being involved with the volunteer activities and the social aspects of the church. But ultimately, I just didn’t believe the basic tenants of Christianity. I very much agree with Moonflower’s post upthread, she said very eloquently and succinctly what I’ve thought for a very long time. I can’t at all understand people who believe their religion is the only true one. It must be comforting to be that sure, but intellectually I just can’t wrap my brain around it. Even when I was a very devout Catholic, I did not believe it was the only way or even necessarily the best way. It was at the time the only way I’d ever known.

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6 hours ago, Lady Florida. said:

To me atheism is a lack of belief in gods, not a belief that there is no god(s). That sounds like the same thing but it's really not. This from the American Atheists website probably explains it better than I can - 

Atheism is one thing: A lack of belief in gods.

Atheism is not an affirmative belief that there is no god nor does it answer any other question about what a person believes. It is simply a rejection of the assertion that there are gods. Atheism is too often defined incorrectly as a belief system. To be clear: Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods.

Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Clearly, theistic influence taints these definitions. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as “there is no God” betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read “there are no gods.”

So, genuinely, I am curious how you would identify a person who actually says "My belief is that there is no god or gods."  This definition here specifically says that is not atheism, so then.........what is is?

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3 hours ago, happysmileylady said:

So, genuinely, I am curious how you would identify a person who actually says "My belief is that there is no god or gods."  This definition here specifically says that is not atheism, so then.........what is is?

They would still be called atheist but 1. I was giving the definition of atheism not what each and every atheist thinks.  2. Few atheists say there aren't any gods. Most acknowledge that there's no proof but that they go on the premise that there aren't any because there's no proof of any. Even Richard Dawkins says he doesn't know if there are any gods but simply doesn't believe there are. 

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My atheism was definitely a monotheistic atheism. There is no God. So I suppose, on reflection, a rejection of the Christian God of my childhood and adolescence.

The idea of gods ? Animating spirits ? Not literallly, but as metaphor for......something ? Some unknown to humans transuniversal order ? Don't think I ever touched atheism there at all.

In one sense, believing the existence of Order (or godness or Truth or beauty or....?) likely but unprovable makes zero difference to one's life.

In another, it obviously does or I wouldn't waste time thinking about it. I wonder if it's middle age death denialism, lol ? Idk. I feel a sense of healing though, from the pain of the struggle I had to let go of God. Because it was intellectually painful for me.

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18 hours ago, Lady Florida. said:

 

I sometimes wonder what's wrong with me that I didn't find my journey to atheism to be gut wrenching or difficult and that I don't miss any of the rituals of my former religions. I was a cradle Catholic and switched to mainline Protestantism (United Methodist) in my 30s. I didn't feel any loss when I let go of belief yet I often hear people say they miss the rituals and comfort of religion and church. I have no idea why I don't miss it. I also didn't find it hard to let go. There was no Aha! moment when I just stopped believing, it was just a gradual thing as I researched and explored other religions before I rejected them all. I just simply understood that I don't believe any of them. I agree with the saying, "They can't all be right but they can all be wrong."

I meant to respond to this earlier and apparently can't work the forums properly lol.

 

I didn't/don't necessarily miss rituals and so on of the Catholic religion.  In fact, in many cases, I still participate from a cultural standpoint.  Even at the point of my wedding, 18 yrs ago, I didn't believe, but the ceremony of the Catholic wedding (NOT the full mass and ceremony, just the ceremony) was enjoyable.  I liked the process of the joining that the Catholic church used.  The vows of the ceremony fit my beliefs of MARRIAGE, even if not necessarily the beliefs of divine beings.  

I can also understand how some people feel a "loss" when they finally admit they do not believe.  A belief in a divine being often carries a sense of someone's "got your back."  Like that song "Jesus take the wheel."  The idea that there is a greater power at work and the faithful are.......*sharing* I guess is the word, responsibility, emotion, stress, etc, with that person.  I don't want to offend anyone with this thought but to me, it almost seems like a thought of "I am not wholly responsible for everything that happens to me."  And I am sure I am not wording that correctly.  But, when a person is part of a greater plan, or that there's someone to take care of them at the end, facing life can feel....better...in the end.

 

Many many years ago, my sister got engaged to someone who was divorced (very uncommon in my family), had a child from that marriage (and although I had a child before marriage, this is also uncommon within the extended family) and on top of all that, had a rather long criminal record, which included domestic abuse.*  My mom was HORRIFIED.  Agonized over it.  Prayed over it.  A lot.  Talked with the priest.  A lot.  She tells the story of saying prayers once and just asking "WHY?  Why is she drawn to someone so wrong for her?  Why would this be DONE to her?"  And then she suddenly had this feeling of "what if it's not TO her....what if it's FOR him?"  And that.......................made her feel better.  She is convinced that God answered her.  And it gave her comfort.  To me, the idea that my kid would be a positive influence on someone in great need of it wouldn't need to come from GOD to make sense.  For my mom, it did, and it helped.  (FTR....turns out my BIL's ex is completely crazy....acknowledged by a court appointed psych during a custody hearing.  Not crazy enough to be considered incompetent but really actually that close.)

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On 9/1/2018 at 9:44 AM, Lady Florida. said:

They would still be called atheist but 1. I was giving the definition of atheism not what each and every atheist thinks.  2. Few atheists say there aren't any gods. Most acknowledge that there's no proof but that they go on the premise that there aren't any because there's no proof of any. Even Richard Dawkins says he doesn't know if there are any gods but simply doesn't believe there are. 

 

Everything in this post reveals beliefs on the matter. A lack of belief means no thoughts on the matter. A banana is an atheist. As soon as one says that only a thinking, rational being can be an atheist you've put thought/reason/belief into the mix.  Most philosophical atheists tend to have a more robust definition than "lack of belief in gods."  It has not always been the traditional definition, regardless of the supposed monotheistic influence on dictionaries.  If one isn't going to affirm or deny anything--true lack of belief--then God can still exist in that reality.  Do you accept that reality? Or are you making a claim about reality?

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22 hours ago, 6packofun said:

 

 Do you accept that reality? Or are you making a claim about reality?

As I already explained I gave the basic current definition of atheism, nothing more. And I don't want to hijack Stella's thread so I'm not planning to continue the conversation. However, I'll just say that I don't actually think about being an atheist or even discuss it unless a theist brings it up. Lack of belief in gods in no more a part of my everyday life than lack of belief in leprechauns. It just isn't something that matters to me.

Edited by Lady Florida.
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