04 January 2007

Nontheists?

I'm skeptical that any American refers to himself as a "nontheist." Bring back Bright!

16 comments:

Bret said...

I consider myself a nontheist. Why are you skeptical?

Hey Skipper said...

David:

I'm not sure there is any difference between dunnoist and nontheist, save for spelling.

Enquiring minds want to know: why are you skeptical.

David said...

My main point was purely semantic: I had not previously run across the word "nontheist" and doubt that it is a word by which people actually refer to themselves.

If I were pushed to have a deeper point, I would note that this sort of euphemism switch happens when speakers feel that the euphemism has become unfairly pejorative and a bright new untainted word is needed. Usually, though, the perceived taint is intrinsic in the reality being referred to and soon will affect the new word. See, e.g., colored -> black -> African American -> person of color.

Duck said...

I think David is right. It's a way to avoid the 'A' word. I guess it is supposed to sound less threatening. But there is no semantic difference between the words. The prefix a means non.

Bret said...

Well, I've considered myself a nontheist for a long time.

Why not just atheist? Well, there are weak and strong atheists, and for weak atheists, there are implicit and explicit versions. My beliefs are radically different than a strong atheist so I'd rather not be confused with that. I guess I'm an implicit weak atheist, but that is quite a mouthful - nontheist is easier.

Why not just agnostic? Well, I'm told that it is possible to be an agnostic theist (or that some people think that there are agnostic theists). That would be one who doesn't know whether or not god exists, but believes in god anyway. I'm definitely not that.

Skeptic has alternate meanings and I don't think it possible for one to consider one's self to be an infidel.

At least some others that I know who have my beliefs also consider themselves (and me) a nontheist. So that's what I do.

You can consider me anything you like, even infidel, I don't care, but to me, I'm a nontheist.

joe shropshire said...

Just another fancy word for heathen, if you ask me.

Peter Burnet said...

Darn right, Joe, and hypocritical heathen at that. They think they can pick and choose what to believe from the materialist canon. They insist they can hold to the soft, gooey sides of atheism, like sexual liberty and existential meaninglessness, but then they insist that it is "wrong" to pummel the neighbour because you don't like his face or that Bach is better than rap. And they whine something awful if you don't give them Christmas presents or let them marry in church. They need to go back and read their scriptures, be true to their beliefs and start killing a few believers.

Brit said...

Oh well if we’re talking about having your cake and eating it, there’s plenty to go round. We’re all Judeo-Christians here, dontcha know – yes, never mind that Jews by definition reject the very basis of Christianity and we’ve spent most of our history happily slaughtering them left right and centre - hey the Muslims are on our side too – all Abrahamics here – oh, except when we aren’t and we’re crusading against them. Never mind what they say about women – we know they’re wrong NOW about stoning and witchburning and whatnot but civilisation had nothing to do with the Enlightenment and the diminishing power of the Church –purely coincidental, what it really is, is just God Revealing Himself Through History – and if you’re wondering why he took so bloody long about it and We the Believers stood in his way every painful step of it, don’t blame us, blame God, except you can’t blame God, only thank him, and anyway we can never know him, but we can’t admit we can’t know him to a dunnoist because they’ve already claimed the dunnoist ground and by admitting God is necessarily unknowable you’re admitting you’re a dunnoist. The swines!

David said...

So, now you guys are confusing me. Is there a difference between "nontheists" and "atheists?"

Peter Burnet said...

David:

Just as I've long suspected, the only thing comprehensible about dunnoism is the "duh".

Duck said...

Yes, thank G-d that the Bach/Rap controversy was clearly prophesied and decided for us by Scriptures.

Yeah, it makes me feel dumb to always have to admit that I dunno. If only I had faith, I could revel in all those mysteries, and I'd feel much smarter.

Hey Skipper said...

David:

An atheist is someone who has arrived at the conviction there is no such thing as G-d, in any form whatsoever (I'll ignore the strong - weak distinction).

An agnostic is someone who has arrived at the conviction the question is undecidable.

Nontheism is the absence of belief in both the existence and non-existence of a deity (or deities, or other numinous phenomena).

There is a clear difference between atheist and nontheist (someone who had never been exposed to the idea of God would be a nontheist); between nontheist and agnostic is more subtle, and, beyond the notion of exposure, may be limited to the more general usability of "agnostic." E.g., it is possible to find the question "Which is better, rap or Bach" undecidable, if for no other reason than it is badly formed -- comparing a class against an instance practically guarantees undecidability.

However, while your post has no specific instance, my bet is that nontheist is more likely used to denote someone who is not religiously observant.

Functionally, though, there is probably darn little difference between atheist, agnostic, nontheist, non-religious, and deist save for spelling.

David said...

I don't think I mention often enough how much I love human beings.

Brit said...

I would define the terms thus:

An atheist is someone who positively believes that there is no god, under any definition, however vague. There aren't many around.

An agnostic is someone who doesn't positively believe in any of the religions he's come across, but neither does he positively disbelive in them - he's hedging his bets.

A Dunnoist is someone who disbelieves in all the religions he's come across, but on big questions such as: "why is there something rather than nothing?"; or "What caused the Big Bang?"; or "did something create the Universe for a purpose?" freely admits that he cannot provide an answer, and probably never will be able to provide a sensible answer, and who further suspects that such questions are in fact unanswerable.

My observation is that a very large number of people signed up to various faiths, especially Jews and Christians, are Dunnoists when pushed philosophically, but who are too keen on the relgious trappings and perceived benefits of being signed up to abandon them. Which is up to them, of course: it's a free country...

Duck said...

Brit,
I've always identified atheism with your description of dunnoism. Just about every athiest, when pressed, will admit that there is no way to disprove the existence of God.

Agnosticism also fits the dunnoist description. I called myself an agnostic in the past, and then somebody asked me "yes, you don't know that God exists, but what do you believe about God's existence". So in that sense many believers are agnostic. The opposite of agnostic is gnostic. The opposite of atheist is theist. Atheism and agnosticism are answers to two different questions, do you know that God exists, and do you believe that God exists.

I agree with your last point. As far as I'm concerned anyone who says that God is an impersonal "ground of being" is a functional atheist. Calling God the "ground of being" is meaningless, because it is just answering a question with a question. That's what we want to know, what is the ground of being? What is the source of existence? Thats like a detective saying "the killer is the person who pulled the trigger".

Brit said...

One thing that is clear is that the term 'atheist' is too ambiguous amd lumps together too many shades of thought.

Language hasn't really caught up with it yet, so those are just my attempts to separate some of the strands.