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Entry 6 – Labels

September 18, 2009

I often struggle with labels and which one I should attach to my recovering as a Christian, besides the obvious, “The Recovering Christian”. Should it be ‘Heretic’? ‘Heathen’? Worse yet, ‘ATHEIST’!

It’s really just been in the last few years that I’ve actually even begun considering giving myself such a label as “atheist”, although most technically, I’m more “agnostic” than “atheist”.

Quick little aside…I recently learned that the word “agnostic” is a “coined” term that T.H. Huxley employed in the late 1800’s to encompass his belief that you couldn’t prove or disprove the existence of a supernatural, all knowing, all powerful being. He put together the Greek word “Gnosis” meaning knowledge, and added the Greek prefix “a” meaning “without” or “not”. Interesting. So whether I say I’m an “atheist” or an “agnostic”, the end result is the same; I am someone who does not look for the supernatural explanation of things in life any longer. I always look for naturalistic, scientific explanations.

I think words carry a lot of power. The two I just mentioned, “atheist” and “agnostic”, have incredibly negative connotations in our current culture. The former carrying way more negative gravitas than the latter. Even today, I find myself still cringing when I say it to people. I also haven’t forgotten my days in the church where it was trumpeted from the Jewish and Christian sacred texts that atheists are ‘fools’ (Psalm 14:1 and 53:1, respectively).

“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they have done abominable works, there is none that doeth good.”
“The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God. Corrupt are they, and have done abominable iniquity: there is none that doeth good.”

I have to be honest and say that I completely reject these two verses in their logic. The verses are very shortsighted, and incredibly dichotomous in their treatment of human beings. Atheist = Fool = Corrupt = Abominable = Doeth No Good. There is very little room for middle ground in these two verses. Sure there are people who reject God because of something bad that happened to them, and some of these same people do bad things to others. But there are other people who reject God based on what makes sense to them, and their own review of the evidence in the natural world, and they end up doing good things to and for others. I like to count myself in this latter group.

Now what I am about to say has taken me a very long time to get comfortable with, and I imagine for others in my same situation it will have been equally difficult.

Here goes…

If there is a God (I can neither prove nor disprove this), and he/she/it cannot allow latitude from the human beings that he/she/it created to not believe in him/her/it, then I frankly prefer not to serve such a God. Let me say that again…I would prefer NOT to serve such a God.

I used to not feel quite right about making such a bold statement against God. I wasn’t fully prepared for the consequences spoken by Jesus, yes, Jesus, on numerous occasions in the New Testament that someone like me is doomed to spend an eternity in Hell. Fortunately, I have moved past this hesitancy and fear.

We’ll get into the places in the New Testament where Jesus is not exactly espousing loveable peacemaker language next time.

Until then, thanks for stopping by!


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Justin permalink
    February 2, 2011 12:23 pm

    I always thought of the word agnostic like you said, one who couldn’t prove or disprove the idea of god. Atheist means to me, without god, or one who does not beleive in a god. It’s more of a feeling than a knowledge. I don’t feel that there is a supernatural being that created all life and watches over everyone, therefore I am an atheist. I can’t prove whether or not there is a god, therefore I am agnostic. I don’t however try to prove or disprove god, therefore I call myself an atheist.

  2. Anonymous permalink*
    February 4, 2011 10:28 pm

    Thanks for your commnet, Justin. Since I wrote that post in 2009 I’ve come to a better understanding of these two terms. As you so rightly state, agnosticism is not something you are necessarily trying to prove, so rather than call yourself an agnostic, because your day to day belief system is such that a god or gods are not required, you call yourself an atheist. Thank you for making that distinction, and it is something now that I am much more fluid in describing to people. Atheism to me is a way of looking at the world, whereas agnosticism is a statement about what particular knowledge bases there are for claims, any claims.

  3. Eric permalink
    August 27, 2012 11:06 am

    The Psalms that you quoted are frequently interpreted as saying “The atheist is a fool” however, I believe they are better understood as saying “The fool, though he may not know it, is a practical atheist.” In this interpretation, one should consider that the Hebrew concept of a fool is not the same as that used by a modern English speaker. A fool was a person who does not live wisely. An adulterer and someone who ignores others’ instruction are called fools in Proverbs.

    Psalm 14 is mainly an indictment against the wicked (the fools from the first verse), explaining that their exploitation of others ignores the punishment that God will eventually inflict and the good that he will bring to the righteous. Psalm 53 is a variant of the same poem, with only slight differences.

    This interpretation makes sense in the historical context. Everyone believed in gods; an actual bronze-age atheist was very rare. Most people would never meet one. No one would go to the trouble of condemning atheism. In the last few centuries, however, due to the threat that atheism presents to Christianity, I believe that the interpretation has shifted; when people read this passage they read into it their own fears and problems and thus interpret it as condemning atheists.

    Of course, you don’t care about this now. But the common interpretation has always bothered me, so I took this opportunity to share my alternative.

    • Anonymous permalink*
      September 13, 2012 7:10 am

      Eric, many thanks for your post explaining the context of that quote I used. I will have to look into that further and respond back in more detail soon. Again, many thanks for your post and checking out the website. Have a great Thursday! TRC

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