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Thread: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

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    Member CottonIchor's Avatar
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    are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    this is NOT an attempt to question or challenge anyone who identifies as atheist or agnostic

    I know a bunch of people who self identify as atheist and agnostic - but are they really?

    here is my point - for example my partner is a self proclaimed atheist - and yet he spends his entire life building grand landscaping/gardens surrounding our home - I half joking always say that he has a pecking order "the puppies - the garden - and then me - and I'm good with that" but there is a LOT of truth to it - he spends endless hours and days creating environments to nurture birds and butterflies - we live in South Florida so it is year round - I live in a tropical paradise because of what he has created - there is even a built in fire pit and altar for my practice - it's like living in Eden - he is more Pagan than anybody I have ever met - he is the biggest worshipper of the earth - Mother Nature - than anyone I know...

    my bestie is the same - he is from a middle eastern descent - most people would classify him as Muslim - but he is a diehard self proclaimed atheist who always refers to anything religious as "fairytales" - he spends countless energies nurturing stray cats - his home is PACKED full of religious icons from around the world as he travels 75% of the time for his profession that he will adamantly argue are just objects of art and relics of culture - his garden to is adorned with statuary of Quan Yin and the likes - elaborate garden formations anchored by religious figures - again - he spends endless amounts of time nurturing the earth with his free time - second only to the time he spends nurturing the lives of the people he calls friends...

    are these guys not Pagans - are they not dedicants of/to Mother Nature - if you are a worshipper of the earth are you not atheist ?????

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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    If "aitheist" is defined as "disbelief or lack of belief in a God or gods," then devotedly working the earth, expressing compassion for sentient beings (cats, in this case), or even a deep appreciation for the symbolism and/or aesthetics of religious art does not change the disbelief or lack of belief in a deity.

    Even a "belief" in non-physical entity like forces would not change that - such things ( should they exist) are not necessarily "gods."
    Last edited by B. de Corbin; 29 Sep 2020 at 06:48.
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    Kick Ass Little Crow Corvus's Avatar
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    Strictly speaking, atheism and new age spiritual practices aren't incompatible. Our notions of atheism are largely impacted by Christian cultural norms, which in turn are impacted by greater trends in the near east. Literal belief in a god or gods is a relatively small part of many religions. It's Christianity and our western cultural notions that inform our beliefs about religion in general. Christianity, especially protestant branches, puts greater emphasis on belief than practice; this is how we all know the Christians who believe, but don't attend church or otherwise show outward signs of that belief.

    If we examine some religions that do the opposite, we find some interesting differences. I enjoy using Japanese's native religion as an example here. Shinto practice is engrained in Japanese cultural practice and it informs many aspects of "what is done" despite the majority of people identifying as nonreligious. Shinto puts great emphasis on practice over belief, and it might be said that belief is of little actual importance. It's about the ritual, what is done in the culture, and the community element. While I think it's somewhat important to make a distinction between religion and superstition, it's very common for these nonreligious Japanese to visit temples, buy charms, and engage in cultural practice which to an outside observer seems, in all practical terms, to be religious behavior. Foreigners are welcome to Shinto shrines, encouraged even since it's a major component to tourism, and the priests don't particularly care what religion the visitors are, only that they follow the correct practices.

    We can see similar notions in other culturally linked faiths, like Judaism. A Jewish person does not stop being Jewish if they lose faith, it is an ethno-religious status which encompasses not only the literal religion, but the cultural practices. As a result, many nonreligious Jews continue with quasi-religious practice, often for the benefit of family. Judaism is an example of an Abrahamic faith which follows this practice over belief notion, perhaps moreso since theism v atheism, or more broadly, the place of humanity in existence, is a central notion to the religion. We can see strings of this general theme even in our western culture as practices that were once religious have been divorced from their spiritual connotations; for example the worldwide celebration of Christmas.

    However, I don't feel that's what is occurring in your examples. As modern pagans it can be difficult for us to see adoration of nature as something other than worship, but loving nature and working to improve it doesn't need to have a religious or faith based connotation. As an example, there are ethical and practical reasons to engage in environmental conservation beyond any religious ones. Ethically, it is proper to cultivate nature because many cultures believe life to be inherently good and by cultivating nature one is both caring for and providing a better existence for life. Practically, conservation is part of a common good for oneself and potential descendants/relatives. I do not need belief in God to tell me I should try to help others.

    Gardening is enjoyable, it's a hobby to many people. I've seen some shitty thinkpiece comics making jabs about millennials worshipping television and phones because use of the devices is central to their lives. Obviously, no one is doing that, but consider an impartial and distance viewpoint where one doesn't realize that. Divorced from other context, an alien civilization might consider that televisions do have a ritual use, it's clear that from a sociological standpoint many people do watch tv as a social ritual. In the same way gardening is just an enjoyable hobby for some people. Christian monasteries were a bulwark for classical documents in the medieval period. They preserved "pagan" knowledge and beliefs in texts, not because they were secretly pagans, but often because they believed the pagan knowledge to have inherent value. We also know that monks were among the most innovating gardeners and botanists, they loved and appreciated the beauty of nature while maintaining a fervent Christian devotion. The explicit doctrine for these monks being that one should not worship the creation of God over God, and with the knowledge that their God was not within nature. Their love and adoration of nature was not meant to constitute a worship of nature, though sometimes it was a glorification of God through his work of nature.

    It's very possible to find nature beautiful, to be in awe of it and consider it to be some true thing that is far above and beyond human existence. Personally, I feel that is objectively true. However, no part of that implies a belief in something religious. Maybe it includes some spiritual connotation, but some sort of loose animistic association does not create a religion, nor does it inherently preclude atheism. Humans attribute meaning to symbols, this meaning is not necessarily supernatural, even if that symbol is religious in nature. Why do I own a statue of the Buddha even though I do not engage in anything close to a Buddhist spiritual path? Well, there could be a lot of reasons. I may find it serene, making an implicit association between the symbol of the Buddha and ideas of tranquility, but divorcing it from religious practice; I may find it aesthetically pleasing, perhaps I'm engaging in some sort of appropriative decoration, attempting to exotify or connect to a spiritual symbol in an aesthetic manner; The statue may serve some other nebulous symbolic or totemic purpose; or maybe I just like how it looks and think its cool how it means something. I any case, I am not Buddhist nor do I consider the Buddha a part of my spiritual practice and yet I own a Buddhist symbol.

    We can apply this thinking more broadly to the supernatural in general. Belief in bad/good luck or ghosts, for example, does not imply religiosity. This could be considered a spiritual belief, or it could be considered a pseudoscientific belief. If one wants to avoid cognitive dissonance, there should be a cohesive view between ones religious beliefs, if any, and their secular ones. So if I believe in the standard Catholic Christian God then I may engage in charity because my faith would encourage good works, however not all people who do charity are doing so because of a religious obligation. Our beliefs necessarily should impact our lives across many levels, but going backwards isn't necessarily causal because we cannot know internal states based on external practice.
    Last edited by Corvus; 29 Sep 2020 at 09:23.
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    The Gaze of the Abyss B. de Corbin's Avatar
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    As usual, Corvis is dead on precisely correct.

    Regarding the issue of Christian-based society's viewpoint on belief/practice, and non-Christian-based society's viewpoint on this, here is an interesting article from Aeon.co:

    Religion without belief: Most Japanese reject religious belief while embracing multiple forms of ritual practice. Are they religious or secular?
    Those who have suffered understand suffering and therefore extend their hand.

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    Member CottonIchor's Avatar
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    great commentaries - very enjoyable reads


    Quote Originally Posted by Corvus View Post
    however not all people who do charity are doing so because of a religious obligation.
    this sentence really stood out to me - religious obligation - do people who do charity work out of obligation really do charity work?

    it is kind of like a cornerstone for the conversation I was presenting - who is more religious the person who glorifies a God from the sofa or the atheist who cultivates mother nature from their brow... that was my point in a nutshell - the cultural examples given in the above conversation really give me some things to think about...

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    Kick Ass Little Crow Corvus's Avatar
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    Quote Originally Posted by CottonIchor View Post

    this sentence really stood out to me - religious obligation - do people who do charity work out of obligation really do charity work?

    it is kind of like a cornerstone for the conversation I was presenting - who is more religious the person who glorifies a God from the sofa or the atheist who cultivates mother nature from their brow... that was my point in a nutshell - the cultural examples given in the above conversation really give me some things to think about...
    That is an ethical and theological question that will vary depending on your specific practice and interpretation. Personally, I don't like scoring religious belief like that. While I consider gardening to be a devotional act, and may have common ground with other gardeners because of that reverence, I recognize that others engaging with nature in a reverential way may not consider it devotional. Depending on the view point ascribing religious significance to an atheist's actions could be offensive. As you say, the question of "is obligation actually charity?" can be inverted- that is, an atheist who does good works may find issue with ascribing a religious significance to it.

    Personally, it doesn't really matter to me why people do good things. The initial catalyst is largely irrelevant to me. What matters is if they intend to do good, and if they actually preform goodness. I don't think that zakat done by Muslims has some metaphysical attribute which makes the money substantively different from voluntary charity. Charity can be considered a universal human value, literally every large society values it, so any obligations present in religion are cultural manifestations of that universal ethical principal. When one is encouraged to do charity by spiritual leaders it is not different from one being encouraged to show good manners by their parents.

    Christian doctrine in general does provide for the argument that good works should be done voluntarily and not principally because one fears punishment. This doesn't necessarily make the works less valuable. While ethics can exist outside of religion, it's difficult to put aside their common association, and, at the very least, both deal in the utilization of subjective and culturally informed mandates for human behavior. If we consider religion in general to be a manifestation of a people's culturally informed values and laws, then we can consider things like zakat and other "obligatory" or encouraged good works to be an effort to curate the group's cultural values and behaviors toward an idealized norm or virtue. I don't believe this makes the end product intrinsically less valuable because the individual is of less importance to the group and why someone does something considered ethical is much less important than it being done in terms of social cohesion. The practice itself has value beyond the belief, however the belief exists to cultivate the practice.

    Another common notion is that making people do charity might make them more empathetic and result in them wanting to do charity- "fake it till you make it" to use a common idiom. In any case if they don't come around, it's not really relevant for the group in general. Many wealthy people of dubious ethics make large donations to organizations that objectively improve the world (and some that probably make it worse but lets ignore that for the moment) and that wealthy person's personal beliefs are of much less importance than the objective good which is done using their resources.

    Now these types of ethical arguments are complicated, and somewhat difficult to reconcile across all faiths since ethics, culture, and religion all contain subjective elements and are situationally informed, but in general, these questions are readily answered by viewing what the sociocultural role of religion is: to inform people on the methods and acts which keep them in accord with natural and communal laws, with what those laws are varying by society.
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    athiest to me means you do believe there is a supreme being that created all life, scientist have all but proven that life was produced by manipulation from other life forms.The simplest life started on its on naturally, but was altered by time and other beings.

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    Silver Member Bartmanhomer's Avatar
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    An Atheist is a person who doesn't believe in any deity. An agnostic is a person who not sure if a deity exists or not.

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    Member CottonIchor's Avatar
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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    another thoughtful and thought out commentary - thank you for your time

    there is no push by me to label someone - neither atheist or religious - it was more of a format in which to present the discussion - it is more about the energies that is presented to the universe - and how that is received - and that is just another layer of the onion skin peeled in this conversation - intentions - I have about 50 years of Christian theology ingrained that I prefer to view now a days as parables - I don't believe in the Bible as a historical document - but I can not forget how many passages call out intentions / motivations - the Bible is very cynical about the intentions behind deeds - there are much judgments - intentions are unseen to the human eye - but they are not unseen by the universe that receives them - right? thus doesn't the universe judge who is righteous - doesn't the universe judge who is an atheist...

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    Re: are atheist and agnostics really atheist and agnostic ?

    Atheism is a question of belief, agnosticism a question of knowledge. Most atheists are also agnostics.

    I've been super busy for the past few months working the land, as it so happens. My life's calling. The one thing I always enjoy. The thing I return to. The foundation of my entire worldview. My farm is a non profit, but I have no obligation to do it (and no financial necessity, either).

    -but I don't believe in gods - so that makes me an atheist....really, even though I'm also a pagan.

    I'm constantly frustrated that more pagans aren't like your life partner, OP - I get why, not a jerk about it, but I think about it, lol.

    -St. Pete boy stuck up in appalachia. I miss the Skyway. Used to work out in Parrish
    Last edited by Rhythm; 13 Nov 2020 at 23:56.

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