Saturday, February 23, 2013

Irreligious Definitions

Because those of us without an organized religion don't have, well, an organization to label us by, the terms to describe us can be a bit nebulous and confusing.  As with most discussions, having common definitions is critical to moving on to the actual merits of your arguments, so here are some of the common terms that help define the landscape.  I've tried to keep them both accurate to both the academic and the common usage as much as possible.

God - A little-g god is, generally, defined as a being outside of space and time, and capable of inexplicable power.  Exceptionally hard to nail down a more specific definition.
God - Big-g God is commonly used to refer directly to the Christian or Abrahamic god.

Allah translates to English to mean "The god", making it also Big-g God.
Yahweh is old enough that we can't be certain, but current thought is that his name is actually more descriptive, coming out as either "The Creator" or "He who falls (storms and enemies)".  I think this is probably because he originated before monotheism was "a thing".

Theism - The belief in at least one god.  This also carries strong connotations of the god or gods intervening in our universe.

Deism - The belief in at least one god.  By contrast, this usually means that the god or gods are no longer around; they created the universe and then left.

Polytheism - The belief in at least two gods.
Monotheism - The belief in exactly one god.  Judaism, Christianity, and Islam all go here.

Pantheism - I got this one wrong when I first posted it.  It's the belief that the universe is the physical manifestation of God, rather than a separate creation by God.

Gnosticism - The belief that you can know and/or do know whether there is or is not a god or gods.
Agnosticism - The inverse, that you cannot know and/or do not know whether there is a god or gods.

Anti-theism - The belief that there is no god.
Atheism - Commonly means the belief that there is no god.  Since that's actually the definition for anti-theism though, atheism is a bit more subtle - it's the lack of belief.  If you think of Innocent or Guilty, atheism is "not guilty".  In short, there isn't enough evidence to believe that a god actually exists.

Most persons of strong faith are Gnostic Theists, where they 1) believe there is a god, 2) believe they can, and do, know that there is a god, and 3) that this god is a "personal" god, and has intervened in the universe, and likely, their own lives.

Irreligious - A person who does not follow organized religion.
Religious - A person who does follow an organized religion.

These have no distinction for a god belief.  If someone believes in a god and that Jesus was probably divine, but is separated from the codification of any particular Christian church, they are irreligious.
Buddhism, by contrast, is structured and codified and organized.  It does not, however, make any claims about a god at all, making it compatible with other religions.  This makes Buddhism inherently atheistic, though you can add theism to flavour.

Agnostic - A person who does not believe we know, one way or the other, that a god exists.  In my personal experience, including when I used this to describe myself, persons who use this label generally hold faith to be a deeply personal issue with no right or wrong, and say "to each their own".
Atheist - A person who doesn't believe in a god.  In my personal experience, persons who use this label generally hold the merits of faith to be open to debate and scrutiny, and find those merits lacking.
Arrogant atheist - Aside from being an ad-hominem attack (calling someone names, essentially), these are atheists as described above who feel the merits are so lacking as to deserve ridicule and mockery.

Superstition - A belief in the supernatural.  Atheism only responds to the god claim, so there are still atheists who believe in ghosts and such, but they are often among the minority for self-described atheists.

And now, a brief history lesson:

Christian is a relatively new term to be brought into common use.  While it had meaning, the term was largely empty and unused before the 1960's.  Prior to that time, Christians usually identified as their sects - Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, and so on.  As such, Atheism was actually one of the largest "religious" sects in the west, and politicians attempted to distance themselves from their religion and befriend atheists in an attempt to show that they would not mess with the other Christian sects.  With the 60's though came the fight against legalized abortion, and sparked the great reunification of Christianity.

Before the industrial revolution, atheists as we know them today were exceedingly rare.  Because there were so many unknowns even in day to day life, it was mind boggling how there could be no god at all.  The skepticism often took the form of deism, rather than atheism.  This conceeded that perhaps the universe was started by a god or gods, but that they have either left or choose to not interfere with our world.  As science has filled in many of the gaps, with sanitation and germ theory, up to geology and cosmology, it's no longer impossible to believe in no god at all.

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