Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Atheism – An Incomplete Worldview

I am an atheist. What does that tell you about me? Can you infer from my statement that I am a Republican or a Marxist? Am I a moral libertine or straight-laced? Do I eat meat? Do I oppose abortion or am I pro-choice? Am I religiously literate or illiterate? Am I aggressively opposed to all forms of religion or do I encourage the practice of [non-theistic] religio-cultural ritual? It should be clear that by identifying as an atheist, a person does not immediately inhere to any given worldview or value system.

Philosophy professor and atheist Keith Parsons observes the following:

From the mere fact that one is an atheist very little else can be inferred.
Atheists can be political fascists, conservatives, libertarians, liberals,
communitarians, anarchists, or radicals. Their philosophical views can be
pragmatist, empiricist, rationalist, idealist, existentialist, postmodernist,
feminist, or almost anything else. … Atheism--whether it is taken as the claim
that belief in God is false, incoherent, or unjustified--just does not have
sufficient content to constitute a worldview. (p. 53).

Parson’s words above are immensely important. Atheism, in and of itself, is an incomplete and a negative world view. By negative I mean that it is a denial rather than an affirmation. It simply asserts that there is no God (and for many, like me, that there is no supernatural). It is important to note this because many fundamentalists jump to unfounded conclusions about atheism by associating it with just about everything they identify as evil and sinful.

My Worldview

I have had this conversation on numerous occasions with @Fizlowski—I do not like to identify myself merely as an atheist because atheism is a negative identification, a statement of what I am not. I do not like to identify by what I am not. I don’t call myself a non-female or unislamic. I prefer to assert what I am.

What am I? In reference to my view of the cosmos, I am a naturalist and a metaphysical monist. I assert that the material universe (or universes), the cosmos, in all of its grandeur, beauty, and hostility, is probably all there is—undifferentiated monism. Additionally, I am a humanist. I assert that human values and ethics are best developed in process with one eye on our evolutionary past and future and the other on the well-being and happiness of humanity.

I also participate in an independent, liberal religious community with ties to the UU denomination. In this community I enjoy the ritual of Sunday morning church attendance—something I enjoy due to my Christian upbringing. Because I enjoy religion and the study of religion and religious texts, I also identify as a religious naturalist. Religion for me is a human cultural creation, and I take out of it what I enjoy. I eat the date and spit out the seed. Not all of my atheist friends appreciate this aspect of my identity, but it is who I am. (For further information on religious naturalism consider reading Without God Everything is Holy by Chet Rayamo). I might develop this more in future posts.

So, in sum, I am a secular humanist, a religious naturalist, and a metaphysical monist. From this one should be able to infer that I am an atheist or an atheist agnostic.

Parsons, Keith. "Atheism: Twilight or Dawn" in Steward, Robert. ed. The Future of Atheism. Fortress Press: Minneapolis, 2008.


Tess B. said...

If I were absolutely forced to place a label on myself describing my relgious opinion/affiliation, I would have to call it agnostic Christian, heavy on the agnostic.

Jamie G. said...

Great post... this is one of the reasons why I gave up the label "atheist" (and every other label for that matter), although I still lack a god-belief, sort of.

I think after my anger after leaving Christianity (yes, I was an angry atheist) had subsided, I didn't feel a need to be so strident and vocal. I more or less settled and stabilized, and moved on with my life.

Now, though still greatly fascinated with philosophy (religion to an extent, but not for the sake of a god-belief, or something to "save my soul".

I would also characterize myself as spiritual, but more inline with Carl Sagan's definition.

I feel that both you and I could talk for hours on where we've come since our paths first crossed a few years back. What a journey!

Peter said...

yes Jamie, I look forward to that beer, it's a long time overdue.

Hey, how does Sagan define "spirituality?" I think I have read this, but I am forgetting.

Jamie G. said...

On the New Jersey Humanist website (http://www.njhn.org/Humanist_Candle_in_the_Dark.html)

"Sagan distinguished clearly between mysticism and spirituality. While mysticism is concerned with matters of magic, the occult, the supersensual and ‘essentially unknowable,’ spirit is something quite different, he maintained. "It comes from the Latin word 'to breathe'. What we breathe is air, which is certainly matter, however thin. Despite usage to the contrary, there is no necessary implication in the word 'spirituality' that we are talking about anything other than matter (including the realm of matter of which the brain is made) or anything outside the realm of science...Science is not only compatible with spirituality; it is a profound source of spirituality...The notion that science and spirituality are somehow mutually exclusive does a profound disservice to both."