Atheism is a deceptively complex concept. My understanding of it was always pretty straightforward – I didn’t believe in God and that was it. Done and dusted. For the vast majority of people I talk to about faith, religious and irreligious, that’s “it,” too. But the umbrella of beliefs we subsume under the banner of Atheism do not always strictly line up with each other. And where does Agnosticism fit in? What’s the difference between someone who professes no knowledge and someone who doesn’t care? And what the hell is Ignosticism? All these questions answered after the jump.
Often, Atheism is defined more as an absence of religion than an active belief – I can’t count the number of friends I’ve known who cautiously identified as Atheist because they couldn’t say “I believe in God.” The more internet-savvy eventually progressed to calling themselves Agnostic, but still others complained of not quite feeling represented by the outright rejection of God, or felt the whole question was stupid, or had ideas outside of saying “Yes” or “No.” So I give to my friends this guide, in the hopes it might attach a word to a floaty, irritating concept on the edge of the mind.
All of the beliefs I’m outlining below are either overlapping ideas, subcategories or mis-categorized concepts separate from Atheism. They run the gamut from agreeing God exists to refuting it outright, but all have at their heart the same basic end result – a lack of worship of God, or a refutation of the basic traits regularly assigned to it. It’s, as always, up to you guys to argue over the fine print.
So, friend, tell me, what’s the problem?
“It’s not that I don’t necessarily believe God exists, it’s just that it doesn’t affect my morality. I just don’t care!”
You sound like an Apatheist. Apatheism (a simple portmanteau of apathy and atheism) is the essential disregard for the question of God’s existence. Apatheists acknowledge that God has neither been proven or disproven as a being, and additionally, may believe that if a God does exist, it clearly has little interest in humanity. Either way, the basic thrust of Apatheism is that God’s existence should have little effect on morality. For an Apatheist, it would make no difference if God existed or not – their morality would remain the same.
Apatheism should not necessarily be dismissed as a lazy mindset – many Apatheists believe that the question of God’s existence has caused untold and unnecessary bloodshed over the thousands of years of human civilization, and that, if we all just stopped giving a rat’s arse, we wouldn’t have to burn each other quite so much over it – they’re secularists, or they think earthly morality is a more pressing concern and that Apatheism is actually morally preferable to caring too much. This is, naturally, paraphrased.
An Apatheist at the End of the World: Oh, God? He’s over there, judging stuff…or not. Monopoly?
“This God guy sounds like a bit of a dick, to be honest. And anyway, why does being omniscient automatically make you worthy of worship?”
Seems like we’ve got a Misotheist on our hands, or maybe even a Naytheist. Misotheism is the belief that God or Gods is/are evil or (less strongly) flawed or fundamentally negative for humans. Misotheists argue, essentially, that God is a mass-murdering psychopath who demands worship and grovelling from its far weaker subjects. Naytheism, on the other hand, doesn’t necessarily claim that God is evil but still refuses to worship it. For a Naytheist, the idea of worship is inherently bizarre – akin to asking ants to worship us and then burning them when they don’t. Some Naytheists express a dilemma; any God worth worshiping wouldn’t demand worship, and any god that demands worship isn’t worth worshiping. The end result is no worship. A Naytheist could look God in the eye and would still refuse to worship him/her.
Some Misotheists, for the record, DO believe in worship – but it’s worship of propitiation, staving off the wrath of an evil God. It’s debatable to what extent every religion has a sprinkling of Misotheism. Neither Misotheism or Naytheism deny the existence of a God – Misotheism relies on it, in fact, while Naytheism is similar to Apatheism in that it doesn’t really make very much of God’s presence.
A Misotheist At the End of the World: OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD OH GOD RUN
A Naytheist: *eyeroll* As if that’ll help.
“Who is this God guy, anyway? What are we even arguing about? Where the hell are my keys?”
You might be interested in Ignosticism, the belief that our concept, our working model of God, is fundamentally riddled with errors, unfalsifiable, and possibly even self-contradictory. An Ignostic questions how we can debate God’s existence when we can’t seem to agree on how to categorize, identify or conceptualize God. Ignostics don’t just question the existence of God, they question the very concept of God – to the extent that without a falsifiable model, the term “God” as well as the question “Does God Exist” are both essentially meaningless.
An Ignostic At the End of the World: Yeah, but what does rapture even mean?
“Religions are dicks. I mean, I might even believe in God, but they are dicks.”
Say hello, Antireligion. This one’s pretty straightforward, and often (though by no means always) dovetails with broader Secularism. Antireligion is the idea that religious entities are inherently or expressly negative to society or the human condition. Antireligion can be used to mean opposition to organized religion specifically, or derision/opposition to any belief whatsoever in the supernatural. Secularism, broadly, is the belief that religion should not have undue (“undue” is for the specific person to decide, generally) power over the government of a particular social entity. For obvious reasons, somebody who is Antireligious may be rather strongly secular at the same time.
Antireligious At the End of the World: Look what you did!
Secularist: This divine judgement had better not be mandated in the public school system.
“I don’t know, do you?”
Welcome to the school of Soft Agnosticism. Soft Agnostics profess no knowledge of God’s existence,but leave open the possibility that others may possess better knowledge. They’re the fluffy bunnies of confusion.
“I don’t know and neither do you.”
Hard Agnosticism. These guys don’t and can’t know and neither can you. Curiously wont to say “Deal with it,” as if millennia of human civilization hadn’t been dedicated precisely to dealing with that particular lack of concrete knowledge.
Soft Agnostic at the End of the World: What is going on?
Hard Agnostic: Who the hell knows?
I end my brief tour on that note – who the hell knows? It’s hard to solidify a particular belief, especially when “I don’t feel right owing fealty to a God” may be the only feeling defining you as irreligious. It’s my hope that some of these words might act as prompts to help more specifically define your sort of irreligion.
Unfortunately, not believing in God is about as complicated as believing in him/her. Have fun!