Why I am not an Atheist

I don’t care for faith. I came to this realization toward the end of High School, during that weird period of time when I was really questioning my beliefs and trying to figure out what it is I believed personally. I went through a bout of self-motivated, self-centered depression as a sophomore, and then an identity overhaul or two the following year, so my religious beliefs were naturally in flux a little.
Of course, “in flux” suggests that they were ever really solid. See, the church I grew up in was a little off the beaten path. My religious education was pretty light; I never learned a lot of the stories that the more devout kids hear, and some of the stories I did hear didn’t have the ring of truth. Even as a kid, I thought “man finds special magic breastplate and seeing stones, which allows him to read a holy book written on golden plates” was farfetched. As I grew older, I found out that the official church history didn’t exactly jive with the official historical history, and that really didn’t sit well with me. So, while I’d play in the handbell choir and whatnot, I don’t know how much I ever bought into all of it.

Anyway, by the time my third year of high school comes to a close, I’m not really buying any of it. I still prayed, and I still believed in God, but I quickly realized that I didn’t believe in the god of any extant religious tradition. The one thing I felt certain of in those days was that the universe had a distinct sense of humor, and that such a thing wouldn’t occur naturally, therefore god.

Yes, my spiritual beliefs were rooted in the comedic principle.

As time wore on, as my god donned and shed traits with the shifting winds, and as I toyed with calling myself a panentheist, I realized that I really didn’t have a clear concept of my personal beliefs, except that I didn’t like organized religion. This didn’t necessarily bother me; I was able to say “I know what I personally believe, and it doesn’t fall in line with any one religion. It’s a personal thing,” but the situation seemed to warrant further attention and self-examination.

I wasn’t an atheist. Maybe for a short time, but I couldn’t bring myself to really call myself that, and I couldn’t figure out why.

Ultimately, sometime during my first year of college (or thereabouts, I can’t recall the actual date of epiphany), I realized that my problem wasn’t with what I believed, but with belief itself. I realized that I couldn’t handle faith, that I really didn’t like believing in the unseen, belief without evidence. Once I figured that out, everything else kind of fell into place.
In those early days, I’d wax philosophical and say “I don’t like faith, I don’t trust it, and it’s just as much of a faith statement to say ‘there is no god’ as it is to say ‘there is a god.’ So, that’s why I’m not an atheist.”
And so I decided that I was an agnostic. I might have some beliefs some days, other beliefs other days, but all my spiritual beliefs were based around one very important caveat: I don’t know. Any spiritual beliefs I had, one way or another, were predicated on the fact that I didn’t have any evidence, and that an influx of evidence could overturn whatever beliefs might be hanging around at any given time.

But, I started hanging out at atheist websites, and reading that argument I presented against atheism, and recognizing the subtle difference between “not believing” and “believing a negative.” There are atheists who claim that “there is no god,” and I continue to assert that that’s a faith statement. And I’m sure that a significant portion of atheists will continue to regard agnosticism as a wussy position.

But as far as “not believing”? I don’t really have an answer for that one. Not yet anyway. And maybe that’s why I don’t feel so bad for siding with the atheists about most everything.

But I’m not an atheist. Maybe it’s not because I “don’t believe” in god, but that I do believe in my own lack of knowledge. I can be pretty certain about that, anyway. My beliefs about faith haven’t changed any; I don’t trust it any more now than I did a few paragraphs ago. No, I am an agnostic, and I plan on remaining agnostic until there’s sufficient evidence to suggest a better alternative.

Next up: why I am not Bertrand Russell.

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12 Responses to Why I am not an Atheist

  1. Agnosticism is not a wussy position. Admitting that you don’t know and don’t have proof is only realistic.What’s really wussy is being afraid to ponder the possibility of faith…OR being afraid to ponder the possiblity of doubt.

  2. MegLogan says:

    Nicely said Tom. Takes alot to admit you don’t know everything. Sounds like you grew up Mormon?Mrs. Meg Logan

  3. Doubting Tom says:

    Nope, but close enough to spit.

  4. Anonymous says:

    God loves you. Agnosticism is not a wussy position, because it is humble to say you don’t know when you don’t know. It’s blasphemy when you do know, but refuse to believe. If there is willingness to believe, open your heart and pray earnestly to God to reveal Himself to you. I pray He will Tom. But like when you meet any new person, you won’t know Him well. It takes a long time of friendship with anyone to know the person enough to really love Him or Her, or invest trust and faith in. it is the same with God. If you have willingness to believe, my friend, God can use that. Just make sure you are sincere and you are willing- because miracles can happen all the time, and you may not believe and say future scientific developments will explain the phenomenas. I am not saying that some things that appear supernatural are not that extra-ordinary. Be willing Tom. Please. You don’t know what you are missing.

  5. Dikkii says:

    Nice post, Tom.It actually goes a long way towards some of the things that I plan to put in my next post on the matter – like where I show that Schrodinger’s Cat can be used as a metaphor for agnostic (dis)belief.Or something. I really haven’t got it fully planned out yet.

  6. Filby says:

    That’s a very reasonable position, and it takes a lot to come out and say it. I’m an outright atheist — I deny that God or gods exist — but you’re right: it’s totally a statement of faith. I can’t prove it, it’s just what I’m most comfortable with.Anyway. Keep it up, I love your writing.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Ah, the labels. I want to be accurately labelled too, but it’s difficult to find one that fits just right. Maybe we should all just go with “hellbound heathen.”I just say I’m an atheist, because for all intents and purposes it’s close enough. If anyone cared to question me, though, I’d point out that while I don’t think there is a god, I would never say that I know for certain there isn’t one. And it is a knowable thing, at least in the positive. If the Big Dude shows up and starts smiting and slinging thunderbolts or whatever, man, I’ll know. Heck, I don’t think there’s a Bigfoot either, but if I sat next to him on a flight to Chicago I’d change my tune.In the meantime, though, I don’t believe in God, just the same as I don’t believe in the island of Atlantis or a giant floating banana. I will if I ever see some solid evidence of their existence.So I dunno what that makes me. An athenostic?

  8. Randy Kirk says:

    I liked this statement, also, Tom. I appreciate that you are seeking, and I suspect you always will be. I get more frustrated with Christians or atheists who think they’ve got it all figured out, and there is no longer any reason to “think.”Keeping yourself open to every possibility would even include keeping open to the possibility of miracles. God revealed himself for the most part through miracles until the end of the first century. I haven’t actually attended any of the revivals in 3rd world countries where claims of miracles are still bringing millions to the faith, so I can’t say they are real or fake. But I am open to miracles and to angelic intervention, and I have seen things happen that are just too hard to explain by coincidence. And by now you know I’m a pretty skeptical sort.

  9. bernardo says:

    As you probably know, Randy Kirk’s “God Vs No Gos” blog mentions this post, which is how I ended up over here. Nice place, Tom. I’ll have to set some time aside to read your other posts.I guess I’m agnostic too. I don’t claim to know that there is no God, and I have never met an atheist who strongly believes this negation. I called myself an agnostic for years, until I understood that atheism does not mean you say “There is no God, no way, I know it” – atheism just means you say “I don’t think there is a God, and I live my life as though there is no God”.Heck, even Richard Dawkins’ most direct essay against theism is called “Why there almost certainly is no God”. If Dawkins does not have the ability to say “There CERTAINLY is no God”, then neither does any other atheist, I’d guess.So it’s not that agnosticism is a wussy position. It’s just that atheists are pretty much the same as agnostics, but aren’t afraid of calling themselves “atheists”. So to an atheist who is honest enough to call himself an atheist, an atheist who calls himself an agnostic might appear as somewhat of a wussy.I would be curious to meet an atheist who is sure that there is no God. (I mean this; If you know one, send him my way). One can find the God of a certain religion self-contradictory (and thus logically impossible), and one can point out that there is no evidence for God… but one can’t know that the universe WASN’T deliberately created.(Then again, one also can’t know that there ISN’T a teapot orbiting Pluto, so while most people are technically teapot agnostics, for practical purposes they act as though there is no Plutonian teapot, and don’t think that a Plutonian teapot makes much sense or is very likely).Could there be a God? Sure, I guess. But I’ll assume that there isn’t and act accordingly, since I have no reason to do otherwise, and since to me this feels like the more natural, right, and simple thing to do.

  10. bernardo says:

    I have one more thing to ask, though:People who read and contribute to Randy’s “God vs No God” blog understand my position pretty well. I basically think that certain kinds of people, who are compelled to ask certain kinds of questions, end up believing in God because there is no way to answer those questions without God. Other people, though, don’t think that those questions are very meaningful or answerable – they don’t need the universe to have an overall “Why” – so they don’t need to believe in God, and many of them end up atheists or agnostics. I don’t think one side or the other is “right”. I think you believe what works for you. We all make assumptions/axioms and rationalize them using logic and interpreting observations, but neither the logic nor the interpretations can really justify the axioms. I also think that many theists support their beliefs using “the God of the gaps”, so most of what I do in this blog is respond to theist arguments with my views on why those arguments are not “proof” of God. Despite this, I think that people can reasonably believe in God, but that they do so because they need the universe to have a purpose – the other reasons are just added to the structure in order to justify the conclusions one gets to given this need.Anyways, the reason I explain my position here is… Do you guys think I should not be calling myself an “atheist”? Is “agnostic” a better label? The fact that I strongly suspect that there is no God, and the fact that I do not need (or like) the idea of God to explain the things I see around me, qualify me as an atheist in my opinion, even though I don’t know that there isn’t a God, CAN’T know that there isn’t a God, and don’t see anything wrong with people who believe in God because they need the universe to have a “Because”.Maybe I need a new word for myself, like nontheist or theorelativist or something.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I stumbled on this Blog randomly from Google.I don’t think that being open to new evidence makes you agnostic. Any athiest would change his tune they saw god come down from the sky and do the impossible.The difference between an atheist and an agnostic is that an atheist is basically certain that isn’t going to happen.Sure it could happen, if our understanding of the universe is really flawed. We think we know a lot of stuff but over time even the firmest of scientific ideas give way to better ones. Is it possible that religion is true too?I suppose, theoritically it is possible.Is it more or less possible than there being 15 invisible alien ships floating about your house right now?If you don’t believe something for which there is no evidence for, and you don’t think there is any evidence for god, then you are an atheist. If you think there is some small evidence for god, then you are an agnostic.All ‘regular’ atheists are open to have their minds changed if something incredible happens.I myself am an atheist. Holy texts, temples and rituals all appear to be created by humans and have no supernatural element to them. There is no evidence of a supernatural hand at work, only people who do good (and bad) things all on their own.Nice post by the way. I felt compelled to comment because I found the post interesting.

  12. Theriomorph says:

    A question from a fellow agnostic:why are you not Bertrand Russell?

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