Talk Back 28
Agnosticism verses Atheism
by Mark Richardson
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Reading through the meditations on Church of the Apathetic Agnostic web-site I am struck once again by the fact that many people who call themselves agnostic have a very odd view of what atheism is.
This often presents itself in statements such as "I am definitely not an atheist, I am an agnostic".
To someone who knows what the term atheist means this is rather like saying
"I am definitely not blond, I am over 5 foot tall".
The fact is that being atheist and agnostic are not mutually exclusive.
In fact the vast majority of agnostics are also atheists.
I am an atheist.
What this means is that I have no god. (a theos)
I worship nothing as a god.
Note that I made no claim at all about what may or may not exist.
It simply doesn't matter what exists - I don't worship gods.
What has "worship" to do with atheism and agnosticism I hear you say?
Well everything - It is the central issue - because the meaning of the word "god" is the central issue.
What is a god?
A god is an entity believed to be divine.
What is divine?
It means holy, venerated or worshiped as a god.
Belief makes a god a god.
The emperor Augustus was a god.
That isn't a metaphysical statement or a "supernatural" claim - it is simply a fact of history.
He was worshiped as a god, temples were built to him, priests were appointed to his service and sacrifices and prayers made to him.
He is as much a god as God, or Jupiter, or Apollo.
The only difference is that Augustus definitely existed whereas people disagree as to whether or not God or Apollo exists.
Personally I don't care if God exists or not - what I care about very deeply is the fact that I don't "believe in" or worship either God or Augustus.
What I care about deeply is the fact that belief in gods is foolish, often dangerous and destructive.
So while I believe the "existence of God" is a profoundly unimportant and uninteresting question. I believe passionately that the question of whether or not people should or should not believe in gods, whether or not people should have gods at all, is a very important question.
So I am an atheist and an apathetic agnostic.
Another important point, which needs to be made about agnosticism verses atheism, is that agnosticism is entirely about God and whether or not God can be known to exist, whereas atheism is about generic disbelief in all gods.
That is, to the atheist, God is simply one more god out of tens of thousands and not deserving of such special consideration.
It seems strange that the agnostics identity is bound up in the existence or non-existence of God - why not Zeus or Loki?
Why not the divinity of Caesar Augustus?
Why this apparent obsession with one particular god?
I hope this is fuel for thought.
Mark Richardson. 27/3/2003.