conversations with a born-again atheist: a few definitions

faith and reasonIf you’re new to the party, HERE are the previous posts in this series. If you want to skip the history and prefer the twitter version, I’m having an ongoing conversation with a born-again atheist. When I say “born-again atheist” I mean he was a born again Christian, but is now an atheist.

Note: So far, I’ve been including the back and forth of these conversations in one post, but I think I’m going to shift and begin posting most of these emails one at a time. The fact that you don’t see my response to AtypicalAtheist’s email below is ZERO indication that I agree with the statements he’s made. Just means I haven’t responded…YET. Conversely, a post that contains only my statements is ZERO indication that AtypicalAtheist agrees with anything I’ve said.

… snip … (from the “ground rules” email):

JSM: “…your statement “It does not trouble me for people believe in god any more than it troubles me for people to believe in UFO visits, guardian angels, or Santa Clause.” leads me to conclude you don’t view faith as reasonable, logical or rational. Actually, I think you’ve used all three of those words. I’m curious as to why you believe faith in Christ is incompatible with reason and logic. And I don’t take it at all personally, that holding such a belief, you might view me as lacking in reason and logic because I myself have faith in Christ.”

AtypicalAtheist: Hey Julie,

I’m glad for your qualifier – people often take these things personally. Suffice it to say I don’t find it a reasonable belief, but I support your right to believe as you wish. As to why I don’t find it reasonable, I think we’d have to back up in the conversation to the beginning. You profess belief in a god (the Christian God). Before we begin a discussion, we need to agree on some definitions I think. First, let me start with defining atheism and agnosticism – I touched on this early in our conversation, but it’s important to me not to gloss over it. Then, I’ll ask you for a definition or two so we’re on the same page…

1- Theism comes from the Greek root ‘theos’ meaning ‘god’, and is the belief in the existence of a god or gods. Atheism literally translates into ‘without’ + ‘belief in the existence of a god or gods’ because in Latin, the ‘a’ prefix means without (other examples include asexual, amoral, anarchy, anhydrous, etc). So – atheism is simply being “without the belief in a god or gods” and nothing more. It doesn’t say why there is a lack of belief, it simply is the lack of belief. According to my readings, the lack of belief could be implicit (for example, a tribe of Amazonians that don’t happen to believe in a god or gods), or could be explicit (someone that is familiar with the concept of a god or gods, and rejects the concept).

2- Gnosticism comes from the Latin word ‘gnostos’ meaning ‘known’, or ‘posessing knowledge’. Agnosticism is then literally ‘without knowledge’ or ‘without ultimate knowledge’. As a general term, agnosticism now signifies the impossibility of knowledge in some area – commonly, a person who believes that something is inherently unknowable. Coined by Thomas Huxley some time in the 1860’s, it was his assertion that “anything beyond the material world, including the existence and nature of God, was unknowable”. Contrary to popular belief, an agnostic isn’t some kind of middle-ground between belief in theism and atheism.

3- Atheism does not imply any type of moral code or world view. In fact, it’s merely the absense of a belief. There is no positive assertion or statements in atheism, just a negative one (without belief in a god or gods). So, lumping all atheists together in one bundle is as wrong as lumping all theists together under a common label. There are plenty of theists that don’t believe in the death penalty, do believe in a womans right to choose, and even don’t believe in Jesus. There are as many varied and principled and unprincipled atheists as there are principled and unprincipled theists (think Jim and Tammy Faye). Bottom line here is that one cannot infer that an atheist subscribes to any particular positive beliefs. The failure to believe in fairies does not entail a set of principles or a code of ethics – merely that one is an afairiest. 😀

So let me get a couple of definitions from you…

* What is your definition of a god?

* What are the attributes of the Christian God?


Click HERE to see all “conversations with a born-again atheist” posts.
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