So maybe I am not an atheist

by Neil Rickert

No, I have not suddenly become religious.  I am just reacting to a recent post by PZ Myers:

When asked, I have usually said that I am not religious.  I don’t take offense when people say that I am atheist, but it is never a term that I have asserted for my own position.

PZ says:

Yet so many people just make that statement, and then argue that there are no antecedents and no consequences of atheism — a revolutionary idea for which people have been executed, which is in opposition to the premises used to establish many of the powerful institutions in our culture, which directly contradicts what many people consider the basis of all morality in society, is treated as casually and cavalierly as the statement, “I don’t much care for Justin Bieber’s music”.

Sorry, PZ, but “I don’t much care for Justin Bieber’s music” is pretty close to how I look at the God question.  I suppose that makes me closer to being an agnostic or an ignostic or an apatheist.  But those terms seem too technical, so I’ll stay with “not religious.”

I was a serious theist, mostly during my teenage years.  But I never rebelled.  Rather, I just walked away.  It did take serious thought for me to recognize that religion is entirely man-made.  And that was why I could easily walk away.  But I never did conclude that there is no god.  As best I can tell, there is no evidence either way.

Some theists raise the question “Why is there something, rather than nothing.”  They typically say that God is the answer to that question.  Personally, I do not have an answer to that question.  In my opinion, it is not a question that requires an answer, nor is it likely that there ever could be a serious answer.

PZ continues, with:

I think it’s important that we remind everyone that taking on a major philosophical position isn’t the same as getting the latest shoe from Nike. There’s baggage. There are implications.

And I guess that’s why I do not normally assert that I am an atheist.  My lack of religion is not a serious philosophical position.  I’ll grant that it is entirely casual.  Whether or not there are gods is not relevant to me or to how I conduct my life.

By contrast, my secularism is a serious position.  I do strongly believe that government should stay out of religion, and should remain neutral on all questions related to religion.

I seem to recall that PZ once criticized John Wilkins for being an agnostic.  If I remember correctly, PZ thought that John should say that he is atheist.  But John disagrees.  Perhaps it is because John is Australian, and perhaps it is because I grew up in Australia.  I guess Aussies are far more casual about religion than are Americans.

In his next paragraph, PZ writes:

I’ll also say something that will irritate much of the readership here: you may not like some of their interpretations, but Dawkins, Harris, Dennett, and Hitchens definitely take atheism very seriously, and see it as a transforming principle for society.

Well, sorry PZ, but I am not an admirer of any of those four people, so I am certainly not irritated by that.  I did find some value in reading “The Extended Phenotype” (by Dawkins), but most of his writings don’t interest me at all.  I’ve never been impressed by Harris.  Dennett does write some serious philosophy, but I usually disagree.  I have appreciated Hitchens’ skills at rhetoric, but he seems to have made some rather poor judgments (such as his position on the US invasion of Iraq).

I’ll stay with “not religious.”

One Comment to “So maybe I am not an atheist”

  1. Well put Neil. I have a similar temperament to you on this issue.


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