Navigating the Compass of Belief
Written by Rev. Robert A. Vinciguerra Wednesday, 02 May 2012 20:39
It isnâ€™t a delusion for one to be an atheist; after all, simply not believing that deities exist is no less rational than not believing that Santa Clause exists.
The delusion, however, comes from religionists who seek to paint atheism itself as a religion.
â€śIt takes as much faith to not believe in God and it does to believe,â€ť they constantly repeat.
But no, it doesnâ€™t, just as it takes no faith to not believe that cats are an invading alien species whose mission is to pacify us with their cute YouTube videos before conquering our feeble planet. In fact, evidence suggests that cats are capable of no such thing and that they evolved right here on Earth with the rest of us.
Not believing in God (or gods, for that matter) is not the exact opposite of believing in them, which typically does require faith (but not always). For most atheists, there is no certainty that gods do not exist, merely the high probability. This concept is excellently illustrated by Dawkins Scale.
Unfortunately, Dawkinsâ€™ scale is only two dimensional and, like political ideology, religious belief is much more complex than that. Therefore, we need a compass to illustrate for us a third dimension.
The Compass of Belief
North and south on our compass are represented by theism and atheism, respectively. A theist is one who does believe in deities, an atheist is one who does not. Very simple.
East and west on our compass are agnostic and gnostic, respectively. This is where some people tend to get lost.
A person who is gnostic believes that they are in possession of special knowledge that perhaps only a select few can know.
In a religious sense, a person who is agnostic either doubts or denies outright that knowledge of the existence of a god is even possible.
On a map it is possible to travel both north and east and
the same time, and both south and west at the same time, and so on. But it is
impossible to travel both north and south simultaneously, and the same goes for
east and west. Our compass illustrates this.
Therefore, there are five possibilities for a person to fall upon on the Compass of Belief:
1. Agnostic Atheist
2. Agnostic Theist
3. Gnostic Theist
4. Gnostic Atheist
5. Absolute Agnostic
Letâ€™s examine each one.
Beginning with theists, by and large the most common form is the gnostic theist. The typical religious person believes, based on faith, that they have special knowledge of their godâ€™s existence. The feel the presence of their god in their life, they have conversations, perhaps in their minds those conversations are even two way. They love their god and they feel love back. For them it is beautiful and serene. They desire and expect to be united with their deity in some form of afterlife. In short, a gnostic theist believes with certainty
There are, however, agnostic theists as well. These are folks, generally driven by the fear of retribution exacted by God for nonbelief, and/or the genuine desire to be rewarded with eternal life after death if at all possible. In essence, they are subscribers to Pascalâ€™s Wager, figuring that there is greater risk to not believe, even though they have their doubts.
That brings us to atheism. By and large the most common form of atheism is agnostic atheism. Probably greater than ninety-nine percent of all self-described atheists (and most self-described agnostics) fit into this category. The agnostic atheist accepts that it is impossible to know whether or not gods exist, and yet recognize that in all likelihood that they do not, while at the same time admitting that thereâ€™s a possibility, albeit small, that they are wrong. This is the portrait of the typical atheist.
Gnostic atheists, on the other hand, disbelieve the existence of God with the same fervor that gnostic theists believe. They claim to know, to have some special knowledge that absolutely, without a doubt, no gods exist. Unlike the agnostic atheist, the gnostic atheist makes a leap of faith and stakes a claim to know something that is unknowable. Very, very few atheists fall into this category, yet this is the box that the proponents of faith dishonestly paint all atheists into.
That covers all four quadrants of the compass, and yet there is a fifth position not yet discussed; that position is absolute agnosticism.
An absolute agnostic, in practical reality, probably does not exist. This is a person who, after reviewing the physical evidence and philosophical arguments for and against the existence of gods comes to the conclusion that it is equally probable that deities do exist as it is that they do not. Even a person who has never heard of the existence of any religion cannot be categorized in this position because in order to arrive at it one must first be aware of the concept of god and then consider it. There isnâ€™t a reasonable person on Earth who could honestly fit into this position.
The True Delusion
The true delusion of atheism is that it somehow requires faith when, in fact, most atheists are of the agnostic variety requiring no faith at all, merely logic and reason that all manner of humans possess. Next time someone makes that faulty argument show them the compass and explain to them that not everyone follows true north or true south, but a path somewhere between east and west.
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