Shedding the ‘Agnostic’ Label

Troy Fitzgerald just published a book last month called Cults and Closets in which he referred to himself as a “devout agnostic.”

And now, in the span of a few weeks, he’s ready to shed that label, too:

… when atheists would tell me I was sitting on the fence by calling myself agnostic, I just didn’t get it. It ticked me off, just like when gay guys would say I was fence-sitting by calling myself bisexual… even though I’ve just published the book, I’m already finding myself compelled to come out of, yet, another closet. Not because I never acknowledged I was an atheist or that because I am ready to come out as an atheist now. I already have. But I’m “coming out” because I’m ready to give up the title “devout agnostic” and even just “agnostic.”

So, I now get why atheists would get annoyed when guys like me would call ourselves “agnostic atheists” just as I get why some gay guys would get annoyed when I — a guy who almost never thought about women sexually — could call myself bisexual. I believe the possibility of a God or a deity existing is about as likely as a Flying Spaghetti Monster or magical purple ponies. So, I am truly without a belief in God. I am by definition an atheist. And I’m no more agnostic about God than I am agnostic about my sexuality. I am no more agnostic about the existence of God than I am agnostic about magic purple ponies.

Troy’s whole story is fascinating — it’s about how he grew up the son of a pastor in a religious cult, and how he came out as gay after being married and having three sons. As his book’s subtitle notes, he came out of chaos and it feels exhilarating. His post and book are definitely worth checking out.

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • shockwaver

    I still fail to see why gay guys would get upset at someone calling themselves bisexual. If you feel like you fall under that label – guess what – you do! For as long as it suits you. Sexuality can be fluid. But I swear sometimes it seems like you killed someones grandmother if you say you’re bisexual.

    Edit to add: I doubt this was intended – but what Troy said can easily be read as “Agnostic == Bisexual” and “Atheist == Gay” where Agnostic is a stopgap to avoid saying atheist and Bisexual is a stopgap to avoid saying gay. Which erases bisexual as a valid sexual identity.

    • GubbaBumpkin

      It’s the trisexuals who upset me.

    • baal

      As a kinky bisexual male in an open relationship (with a more or less happily married wife 20+ years), I think I have an idea. I get some amount of gay guys saying that they don’t want to deal with a ‘virgin’ (or newbie). A similar idea gets expressed as, “you’re not gay enough for me”. The same idea shows in a similar way from poly folks that don’t want a poly relationship with me until I’ve had at least one poly relationship. There’s a lot of adjusting or figuring out where societal norms are not helpful. I’ve also seen it on the kink side where folks rather not play with folks new to kink. I’m busily gaining experience in all three from the folks who are ok with playing (all three categories!) or mentoring folks like me who are newish.

      • shockwaver

        There is that aspect for sure (though the local kink community here was very welcoming at least while I was a part of it). But it doesn’t really account for the amount of vitriol you can see coming from the homosexual community towards bisexuals. Just look at Dan Savage or others basically proclaim en masse that any guy claiming to be bisexual is lying.

        • jfigdor

          Except that Dan Savage publicly retracted this view and apologized at AHA CON 2013.

          • shockwaver

            Every apology I’ve heard from him has been sort of a non-apology “I’m sorry you were offended but my views aren’t really biphobic and here is why” type response. It bothers me because studies have shown that yes there are people who identify as bi and later identify as gay – but there are also studies that show people who identify as gay later identify as bi (this is often times because they are told their whole lives that bi either doesn’t exist or they’ve never heard of it as a valid identity).

            …Naturally now that I’m looking for the study where I saw that I can’t find it – so take it as anecdotal evidence.

    • rhodent

      Not just the gay guys, either…I’ve known numerous bisexual women and dated one, and most of them have commented on a similar thing from lesbians. One of them explained that although she had a preference for women, she wound up dating more men than women because there was no shortage of straight men willing to date a woman who’s bi, but in her experience most lesbians wanted nothing to do with a bisexual woman.

      • The Other Weirdo

        Wait… Are you saying that not content with the abuse and discrimination they receive from the prevailing religious culture at large, they have invented more detailed forms of discrimination?

        • shockwaver

          Wait – are you saying bisexuals are inventing discrimination against them? Or am I just reading this wrong.

      • Intelligent Donkey

        When you’re bi, everyone thinks you’re a pervert.

    • Anna

      I think it’s more of a tribalistic thing. People like to put other people into boxes. “You’re either with us or against us!” “Pick a side!” etc.

      • Mick

        “You’re either with us or against us!”

        Matthew 12:30

    • David Kopp

      It can be tribalism for sure. Probably is a lot of the time, but not necessarily how it appears. I can also understand that if someone only thinks about men sexually and doesn’t spend any time thinking about women, but calls themselves bisexual it can be offensive to self-identified gays because of the stigma attached to being gay that is not attached to being bisexual, and you’re basically gay but keeping yourself out of the firing line of the vitriol against gays. If you’re actually bisexual, cool. Go you. Same thing with an agnostic. But for many, it’s a way of being an atheist (or gay) without all the cultural stigma being attached, which can be offensive to those that fight for our right to be accepted and treated equally and fairly. Hence why they get so upset.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

      I don’t like when people identify as bisexual just because they could, in principle, be attracted to X gender. It’s too much like saying that everyone is really bisexual, which is a hurtful idea.

      But generally I assume people identifying as bi have good reasons for doing so. Troy definitely had good reasons, even though he eventually concluded that he was not bi.

      • AxeGrrl

        I’m actually tired of the naïve/unfair assumption that when you self-label as bisexual, it has to mean that you’re attracted to both genders equally. And that unless it’s an almost 50/50 proposition, one is ‘lying’ about it…….

        I describe myself as an ‘equal opportunity admirer’ and leave it at that. I have no idea what will happen in the future (in terms of what relationships I might have or not have), all I can describe is what potential attractions/relationships I could have, based on my past experiences.

        • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

          I’m primarily attracted to men, yes, but I’m also attracted to women. I’m kind of between a 2 and 3 on the Kinsey scale, or a 70/30 according to this scale

        • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

          I’m not assuming that bisexuals have to be 50/50. Actually I was thinking of a time when a friend had a crush on a girl who identified as bisexual. But then her crush said she had never been attracted to women, she just was open to the idea that it could happen in the future. I will gladly acknowledge that she is bisexual because that is her chosen identity, but I don’t have to think her rationale is any good.

          I am ace, and the possibility that I will be attracted to someone in the future would be a stupid reason to identify otherwise. If and when that happens, I will change my identity.

          • AxeGrrl

            I’m not assuming that bisexuals have to be 50/50

            I apologize if I wasn’t clear, trivialknot, I wasn’t suggesting that you were making that assumption, just that it’s something that many people seem to do.

            And what is “ace”, if you don’t mind me asking? I’m not familiar with the acronym (if it is one :)

            • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

              “Ace” is short for asexual, but also has the connotation of being a bit broader, including people who are not strictly asexual. I’m not sexually attracted to people, but maybe I am, depending on how you look at it.

      • shockwaver

        I’m not willing to be the bi police and say one persons rational for saying they are bi (or gay, or straight, or anything else) isn’t good enough. In a world were sexual identities are fluid and changing you can be bi for one period of your life and gay or straight for another.

    • tyler

      it’s unfortunate but bisexuals really do get the short end of the stick in the lgbt community (whose lgbt is it anyway?, where the b is fake and the t doesn’t matter)

      i think it’s more complicated than the “gays gotta stick together!!” mentality that is getting thrown around here though. i know many, or even most gay men and women tend to go through a “bisexual phase” i.e. they label themselves bisexual either in an attempt to soften the blow of coming out of the closet or just out of an attempt to convince themselves that yes they really do like the opposite sex. so, a lot of gays hear “i’m bisexual” and think “actually gay but afraid to admit it.”

      there’s also a lot of stereotyping going on regarding bisexuality. you’d think queer folks would be better at understanding that a non-hetero sexuality doesn’t equate with just wanting to have lots of sex, but. there’s a lot of distrust there with the belief that your bisexual significant other will inevitably cheat, or is unable to be monogamous because they absolutely must have the dick and the vag, or whatever. further complicating that is the tendency as noted above for people that are confused about their sexuality to take on the label. plenty of people have tales about their bisexual boy/girlfriend that turned out to be straight after all (heck, i have two such tales–gaydar’s busted, what can you do right) and in a community where unrequited love is the norm, that can have a lasting effect.

      and yes there’s a lot of that tribalism going on, with a lot of people mistakenly believing that bisexuality is a sort of “accommodationist” position. the parallel between agnostic/atheist and bisexual/gay is very apt in that regard.

      then you throw in the t q i a and that’s when things get really complicated.

      • AxeGrrl

        Great post, Tyler :)

    • JohnnieCanuck

      I read an explanation once that it was because a bisexual could always take cover in an heterosexual relationship and avoid the persecution if it got to be too much. A sort of a ‘you can’t trust them to stand with you when you need them’ resentment by homosexuals.

      Given that the Kinseys found 12% of males to be 3 on their scale (equally attracted) it’s not that bisexuals don’t exist.

      • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

        No, but we get erased.

      • shockwaver

        I know you probably don’t intend this – but that’s actually very erasing and hurtful to say. As a bisexual I’m never in a heterosexual relationship because I’m not a heterosexual. Just because I may be in a mixed gender relationship doesn’t change that.

        Also, saying that a bisexual could just go in to a mixed gender relationship and get straight privileged or “hide” is really no different then saying a gay or a lesbian person could be single and get the same privilege or “hide”.

        Another thing – the Kinsey scale does serve a purpose, but it also leads to equating bisexuals as only being really bisexual if they are a perfect “3″ on the scale – if you have a preference one way or the other then you aren’t really bi. Which leads to a ton of internalized guilt and self doubt since very few people can say they are exactly as attracted to one gender as another.

        • UWIR

          “I know you probably don’t intend this – but that’s actually very erasing and hurtful to say.”
          Johnnie isn’t saying that’s what he believes, simply reporting what one view is.

          “As a bisexual I’m never in a heterosexual relationship because I’m not a heterosexual.”
          It is perfectly reasonable to refer to a relationship involving two people of different sexes as “heterosexual”. Baseless attacks on other people’s word usage really isn’t helpful. And it’s a bit hypocritical to be criticizing other people’s usage when you’re misspelling “than”.

          “Also, saying that a bisexual could just go in to a mixed gender relationship and get straight privileged or “hide” is really no different then saying a gay or a lesbian person could be single and get the same privilege or “hide”.”

          No, it is different. Anti-gay discrimination means that a bi person is being precluded from half of their potential relationships, while a gay person is being precluded from all of them.

        • JohnnieCanuck

          As UWIR says, I was reporting one reason some homosexuals give for resenting bi’s. I agree it’s not nice, but I can kind of see how a siege mentality would come to apply for many gay activists, making them put things in terms of friend or foe.

          Personally, I’d assume anyone who identified as a 2, 3 or 4 would tend to call themselves bisexual, but they are going to be subjected to all the social pressures from the anti-homosexuals and anti-bisexuals, so probably not.

          Myself, I’m on the low side of 1, so barely a bi and probably never will act on the occasional impulse towards a man. Also means I’m not as well informed as I might be. Getting there slowly.

      • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

        But bisexuals don’t have complete control over who they are attracted to at any given time. Also, bisexuals perform worse than GL people on most measures of quality of life (eg suicide rate, income), so the idea that they are better equipped to avoid persecution just doesn’t play out in reality.

    • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ trivialknot

      No, that’s not what Troy said. He said that agnostic/bisexual *can be* stopgaps. Of course, this is something the individual should decide for themselves.

  • ShoeUnited

    I don’t get the gay correlation, but I understand the steps of growing to atheism.

    • Nancy Shrew

      Some people identify as bisexual before they figure out they are more comfortable with identifying as gay or straight, just as some people identify as agnostic before settling on theism or atheism. People who don’t “settle” tend to be viewed as wishy-washy, in denial, taking advantage of the more safe option, etc.. Obviously I’m simplifying for the sake of brevity, but that’s more or less where the parallels come from. People want pat answers.

  • Michaela Samuels

    I had never realized the occasional animosity held by atheists towards self-proclaimed agnostics before I frequented patheos. I consider myself agnostic because I am actively searching for a definition/understanding of ‘god.’ I have ruled out nearly every conventional concept and now find myself considering ideas as out there as a spaghetti monster.

    I don’t feel like I’m an atheist, despite relating to the plight of the person who does not believe in a personal god. I don’t rule out eventual progression to atheism, but at this point, I guess I’m just not ready to go there.

    • ShoeUnited

      Some get upset because to them agnostic is a copout. And a lot of the time, agnostics on the internet do tend to act superior when they’re merely betting on Pascal’s Wager.

      Any animosity seen is a result of declaring the higher ethical/moral/philosophical ground based on “We can’t know everything.” And ignoring the preponderance of lacking evidence. If the argument is that we can’t know everything, then how do you know any combination of X where X isn’t certain? How do you know you won’t win the lottery? How do you know gravity won’t stop in 15 minutes? How do you know the sun hasn’t gone out 3 minutes ago? I understand being unsure and wanting to err on the side of caution due to fear of damnation.

      But there’s simply no evidence to support any god claims. And the likelihood of any good, loving, personal god existing is so close to zero as it may as well be zero. And any deistic god that merely started the universe or what have you, by definition wouldn’t care if you worshiped it or not, so why bother? If it’s as good as not being there, then for all intents and purposes it isn’t.

      And that’s all really.

      • Michaela Samuels

        Yes, that I do understand – the whole argument of “why risk it” is absolutely ridiculous to me and a total cop out – avoiding truth at best.

        What delays my willingness to throw myself under the ‘atheist’ label is what I would call (for lack of a better phrase) real spiritual moments that are (in my opinion) off our radar of understanding as humans. I think we know far too little of our existence to conceptualize much of what we attempt to define and – although I have no intention of sharing my theories online – I have a few ideas that strike me as realistic as the notion of there being no maker. My biggest frustration with communicating theories is the unwillingness of others to see human labels of non-human concepts as incapable of accurate depiction.

        I do wholly disregard any notion of a personal god who loves and cares for each individual. In the end, I find my own spiritual ideals simply undefinable. I say agnostic for lack of a better phrase, and I find that is what a lot of agnostics do.

        • David Kopp

          Atheism doesn’t mean you can’t be spiritual, or have moving experiences. It simply means that we don’t think it’s caused by the supernatural. My love, wonder and feelings are just as valid as anyone who is religious, as are yours. To think you have to give up those kinds of feelings to be an atheist might be part of the issue.

          • Michaela Samuels

            Herein lies my questions – what is supernatural? I mean, of course there are plenty of people who will cough up pretty little definitions, but I’m not entirely sure I can define these terms.

            Perhaps you’re right in that my hesitancy is a direct result of a lack of full awareness of what encompasses atheism in the first place.

            • Quintin van Zuijlen

              At the very least the supernatural, if it exists, has to be substantially and fundamentally different from nature.

              • Michaela Samuels

                Yes, this is an idea I find fascinating to explore, if in the very least.

            • David Kopp

              The supernatural is not natural, it is beyond physical reality and laws. It is not a synonym for “unknown”, though, as many people use it. There are lots of things we don’t know, many new discoveries every day. But those don’t break the laws of nature, they might simply transform our understanding of them. One can be an atheist and still find much wonder in the world, things we don’t know. But when we don’t know something, we go figure it out, we don’t just assume it’s the work of the magic man in the sky ;)

            • Bitter Lizard

              “Supernatural” basically means “contradicts what we know about the natural world”. Theists might object to the term “contradicts”, saying that God doesn’t contradict the natural world so much as he supercedes it, and because he’s outside of the natural world, our best methods of understanding the world (especially science) cannot be used to determine his existence.

              The problem with that argument is that God would only have one of two ways of relating to natural world:

              (1) God interacts with the natural world. Therefore, the natural world is different from how it would be if there were no God. Therefore, God’s influence is part of the natural world. Therefore, God’s influence should be detectable by science if he exists.

              (2) God doesn’t interact with the natural world. Since the natural world is the world we inhabit, this would be functionally exactly the same as there being no God in literally every way. Our experiences, from birth to death and beyond, would be exactly the same as they would be in a godless universe.

              (Edit: note that you can replace “God” with any “supernatural” entity and the reasoning is pretty much the same.)

              • Bitter Lizard

                I should add one more thought. A “supernatural” entity that fell into the first category would effectively be something that was completely natural–part of nature, measurable by science, and so on–even if it was beyond our current capabilities to understand. An entity that fell into the second category would be effectively non-existent. So the notion of a supernatural entity that exists strikes me as incoherent and contradictory.

            • DavidMHart

              I always like to link people to my favourite definition of the supernatural, from Richard Carrier. It’s quite verbose, and it’s not quite obvious, but it does allow for what is in principle a clear either-or distinction between the supernatural and the merely unknown or mysterious (even if in practice it would be hard to figure out).

              Short version: a supernatural phenomenon is anything that has the property of minds, while not being made up of interacting simpler units that do not by themselves have mindful qualities. Thus our brains, being made up of neurons, none of which are individually self-aware, are natural, but souls, assuming a standard definition of an intangible, individual essence of you-ness that cannot be destroyed by removing part of it, would be supernatural.

        • Bitter Lizard

          Pascal’s Wager also fails logically, because a god who rewards atheism is no less substantiated than a god who rewards Islam/Christianity/etc. So the odds of getting rewarded or punished are the same regardless of what you believe.

        • Beet LeRace

          As an atheist, I have experienced ‘real’ spiritual moments, felt fully transcendant… but even if I if I’m unable to explain or define such experiences, I wouldn’t feel that called my atheism into question. I guess that’s where we diverge (?). I suppose what I’m asking is, even though there are things we just don’t know or can’t know, why do you feel that leaves a door open for a supernatural explanation?

          • Michaela Samuels

            This is the furthest I have come spiritually – accepting a lack of importance of a god figure, or even existence. My resistance to adhering to atheism is probably my cultural bias showing, but I ultimately feel mostly too overwhelmed by potentials to have a definitive belief, hence agnosticism. This is not a stopping point, although I guess by how this conversation has gone, most would read my thoughts and say I’m hiding behind the wrong label.

      • CanadianNihilist

        Thank you, This sums it up my feelings towards agnostics better then I could articulate the point; Or at least more politely.

    • Art_Vandelay

      I think it’s important to understand that “atheist” doesn’t at all imply an absolute certainty. Atheism and agnosticism certainly don’t have to be mutually exclusive either. I don’t think agnosticism is a cop-out…I just think that once you understand that atheism doesn’t make any claims about knowledge, agnosticism becomes an unnecessary term.

      • Michaela Samuels

        That is a marvelous point – I certainly agree that atheism is a highly misunderstood term (I know, I know, I just blew your mind with that statement, didn’t I?).

        • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

          I personally wear both the atheist and agnostic hats and which one I most identify with depends on whether I’m thinking about what I believe or what I claim to know. When considering belief, I consider myself an atheist because I don’t personally have a belief in God. When considering what is knowable, I take the agnostic stance because I believe if there were some kind of supreme being, it would be of such a nature that our monkey brains would not be able to even conceptualize it. (I think all supernatural references in scripture is just made up). We would only be able to claim almost complete ignorance. I view this claim of ignorance (or not knowing) as agnosticism. Both atheism and agnosticism exist quite peacefully in my mind.

          • Michaela Samuels

            This is the most accurate description of my own belief system, which is continually adjusting, and so far, difficult to describe even to my loved ones.

    • Bitter Lizard

      There are a lot of semantics that one has to go through regarding the differences between “atheism” and “agnosticism” depending on who you’re talking to. Most atheists prefer atheism by its literal meaning, which is simply “nontheism”, and can encompass both disbelief (God doesn’t exist) and nonbelief (I have no reason to believe God exists). By this common terminology, self-identified historical “agnostics” like Ingersoll and Einstein would be atheists. The difference between disbelief and nonbelief is significant philosophically, but often the same in practice–whether you “disbelieve” or simply “lack belief” in something, you’re probably going to live your life as if it doesn’t exist.

      I self-identify as an atheist, partly because I don’t like the view that some “agnostics” seem to have that we should regard something completely unsubstantiated as being something like a 50/50 proposition. Many agnostics take the position that both belief and disbelief in God are equally rational or irrational viewpoints, but would not say the same thing about, say, the Easter Bunny, which means they abide by a double-standard. I have a firm disbelief in the conventional monotheistic God, who is omniscient, omnipresent and omnibenevolent, because those properties create logical contradictions that make the deity impossible. Such a being is actually less plausible than the Easter Bunny, because the Easter Bunny is a concept with more logical consistency with itself. I might be a little closer to “nonbelief” on god conceptions that do not have those properties, like polytheistic gods, but as I say above, nonbelief and disbelief are pretty much the same in practice. Comparing the plausibility of different gods is just an exercise, like comparing the plausibility of Tolkien characters.

      It sounds like your reasons for not “going there” yet are largely emotional, but you also sound like someone who strongly suspects you’re going to get there. I’d recommend Michael Martin’s book on atheism and Victor J. Stenger as well for clarity of thought on the subject.

      • Michaela Samuels

        Thanks for recommendations! And yes, I think my hesitancy stems from both a lack of education on the terminology (or ability to catch on to changing definitions, as you suggested) and the emotional struggle that coincides with delving into new, potentially overwhelming concepts.

    • Anna

      I think maybe there would be less animosity if we had an established definition of “agnostic” that people actually stuck to. Currently, people use it in all sorts of ways, ranging from those who adhere to the “official” definition, to those who use it as a synonym for “I’m confused,” “I’m spiritual, but not religious,” etc. It can be frustrating to work out what someone even means when they use the term.

      • Michaela Samuels

        Yes! The labels are the most misleading aspect of it all.

        • Bad_homonym

          I used to identify as agnostic because I was essentially apatheistic. I really didnt think about god or care one way or another. Only after examining evidence because I finally became curious did realize I was an atheist. Labels are tough when we don’t all use the same definitions.

          Cheers

          • bdallmann

            “Apatheistic”…I like that.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      I find this idea of “actively searching for a definition/understanding of ‘god.’” quite starteling. To me it’s quite clear that god , though not perfectly defined, certainly already has a clear definition. One of something I do not believe in. Could you try to explain what you mean?

      • Michaela Samuels

        Your response poses the exact question I am often asked. I have come to refuse traditional definitions of god. I don’t even particularly like the word “god.” I don’t, however, refuse existence of a thing? …this is where my search has come so far.

        Honestly, ever since I left Christianity, I took the emphasis off of figuring out what/if god was and put it on other deeply ignored character issues. I find myself avoiding answering that question based on overwhelming possibilities. The potential of earth and life being accidental is as likely as any other idea I consider, but I haven’t tied myself to any.

        • Quintin van Zuijlen

          But you see, this is what I find so puzzling.
          Perhaps I’ve just done more “research” so to say, or at least been presented so many concepts of a god that I’ve got the idea that by now I have a comprehensive list of all the posdibilities, all of which I am unconvinced of.
          But I think taking your mind off of thinking about the existence of gods of any kind, since none are evident, and on to more real issues is a good thing.
          Regarding origins, I think it’s the task of science to investigate the world we inhabit, and so also to determine how it came about. I also think laymen should accept the scientific concensus, though anyone is free to discus and speculate.

          • Michaela Samuels

            This could very likely be the case. It was not long ago that I overcame the question of a personal god. Part of the draw to this community is plethora of intellectual discussion on topics I have only ever delved into on my own previously. I am by any account, a novice.

    • rhodent

      In fairness, it does go both ways. I used to identify as agnostic and hang out on agnostic message boards, and a lot of agnostics looked down on atheists for being so sure of themselves on an issue they couldn’t truly be sure about.

      I think the friction between atheists and agnostics often boils down to little more than semantics. The difference between a so-called “strong atheist” and “weak agnostic” is considerable, but the difference between a “weak atheist” and a “strong agnostic” is so small that I’d guess that most people falling into either of those categories probably falls into the other as well. In those cases, the question of what they label themselves probably depends more on personality than worldview. Little wonder, then, that people with such different personalities would so often have personality conflicts.

      • David Kopp

        I think a lot of it is more that atheists have a stigma attached, and many times it feels like agnostics are atheists in all but name, so they have all the benefits that the group has worked for for recognition and so on, but don’t have to take the personal risks of identifying with a still culturally maligned group. Then you have rationalization rearing it’s head, saying it’s actually perfectly logical to not be sure, because we can’t really be sure. But that’s being dishonest about atheists and to themselves. I think that’s where most of the atheistic anger comes from… benefits from the community without taking the risks of the community. It’s tribal, sure, but it’s also a reasonable feeling, when someone takes benefits but doesn’t give back.

      • Michaela Samuels

        I would agree on the semantics. I feel completely at ease in the presence of atheists, discussing spirituality and life with them, mostly because I find my priorities and atheists to be generally the same. I have before felt as though there is just one long sliding scale, starting with “weak agnosticism” and ending with “strong atheism.”

      • Bitter Lizard

        I remember the terms “strong atheist” and “weak atheist”, where “strong atheist” basically meant “what most people think atheism means” and “weak atheist” basically meant “what most people think agnosticism means, except maybe leaning more towards the no god side”.

        I’ve never been crazy about those terms, especially since I deviate between “weak” and “strong” depending on what particular god concept I’m talking about (the difference between impossible and merely unsubstantiated). I have never heard the terms “strong agnostic” or “weak agnostic”, which makes it likely that very few people have.

        • rhodent

          The terms “strong agnostic” and “weak agnostic” float around agnostic circles quite a bit in my experience. The tl;dr version is that “weak agnostic” means “it’s possible to know if a god exists, but I don’t”, and “strong agnostic” means “it’s not possible to know”.

    • Theory_of_I

      Perhaps you’ve heard the old adage *Fool me once, shame on you–Fool me twice… *?

      I wonder why anyone would follow that with *…oh, go ahead, fool me some more! *

      Throughout all of human history, of the untold billions of claims of the existence of untold thousands of gods, not a single one has ever been verified with a single shred of evidence. In other words, totally and historically, 100% unreliable. How can there be any value in that?

      It is utterly absurd to allow oneself to be perpetually fooled, and it is the sole intent of the Industry of Religion to perpetuate the ruse.

      • Michaela Samuels

        But you’re limiting the concept of god as tied to religion, are you not? Is there idea of a god figure outside of those parameters?

        • David Kopp

          Sure. We could make up any number of stories outside those parameters. Flying Spaghetti Monsters! Spider-Man! Doctor Who! But if there’s no evidence of it, it seems a silly thing to believe. Maybe look into Russell’s Teapot? Just because there COULD be a thing doesn’t mean that we should treat it as a serious possibility in any way. It’s fine (and wonderful!) to be open to new ideas. But you can’t give them equal footing as ideas that have actual evidence supporting them. All ideas are not equal, no matter what our culture has ingrained in us ;)

          • Michaela Samuels

            Yes, but using the spaghetti monster and doctor who as examples is trivializing what you could maybe refer to s conspiracy theories of life. Does this make sense?

            • David Kopp

              It does make sense if you look at religion through a lens of deference, from the assumption that there must be something there. The trivializing is there for a very important purpose.

              What difference is there between the Spaghetti Monster and god? Both are claimed as progenitors of the world, both with supernatural powers, etc. Why is one trivial, but the other isn’t? The only reason I can think of is a cultural bias, and I’m not willing to be beholden to other people’s imaginations.

              • The Other Weirdo

                Because no one’s in the believers’ camp had the courage to flat-out call god a joke and believers in god jokers.

        • Theory_of_I

          Well, it’s true that somebody invented each of the gods that have come along, are you saying you’ve had an epiphany?

          Then perhaps your next step is to start a religion–unless you decide your god prefers anonymity that is.

    • Michaela Samuels

      Shit, Guys. I was trying to kill the last thirty minutes of my work day. Way to push me out of my comfort zone.

    • onamission5

      My own process toward declaring my atheism followed a path that, publicly, went something like…
      Christian—>
      Not Christian, undeclared, any deities might be real—>
      Some sort of unexamined, new agey, paganish whatever—>
      Believes in supernatural but not deities—>
      Spiritual, but not religious—>
      Agnostic—>
      Waffling between agnostic and atheist—>
      Atheist, definitely

      I know I was an atheist all along, I mean hell, I was four when I first told someone I didn’t believe in Jesus! Internally I was atheist, externally, that was another matter, and it took me a long time to feel relatively confident in saying so. I think that many atheists see declarations of agnosticism as part of a coming out process they’ve already been through and not in and of itself an end line position, thus the impatience on our parts.

  • more compost

    I don’t believe in any god I have ever heard of. I don’t believe that I will ever know enough about the universe to know if there is a mind behind it.

    I don’t really care what label is placed on my beliefs.

  • Edmond

    As a gay man myself, I can say I’m not familiar with this supposed phenomenon of gays condemning bisexuals. I’ve heard stories about it (mostly online, on blogs like this), but never seen it in person. I certainly wouldn’t have any issue with someone calling themselves bisexual. I’ve known plenty of people who are truly oriented right up the middle, real “Kinsey 3′s”. Good for them, I think. Their dating pool is bigger than most.

    But, to be fair, the author in the article does say that he’s “a guy who almost never thought about women sexually”. I can see where it might be easy to jump to the conclusion that someone who never evinces sexual attraction for the opposite sex MIGHT simply be fearful of embracing the label “gay”, and is only CLAIMING bisexuality to avoid the label. This would certainly frustrate gays who have sacrificed much in embracing the label themselves, and who only want to see truly gay people admit that they’re truly gay. But, for my part, if someone calls themselves bisexual, then I’ll take them at their word.

    Agnosticism is another story. For me, it means being aware of the limits of knowledge and learning, and recognizing when things are outside our capability to perceive (as yet). It isn’t fence sitting. It allows me to demonstrate open-mindedness, and say things like “I don’t KNOW there is no god, there COULD be”. But it also allows me the leeway to say “Snakes and donkeys don’t talk”, or “a loving god wouldn’t build a Hell”, with no sense of ambiguity or uncertainty.

    Agnosticism doesn’t HAVE to be a cop-out, but it CAN be used that way. I can be both agnostic and atheistic. I don’t have to be uncertain about the immorality of substitutionary atonement, in order to be uncertain about the origin of the universe.

    • onamission5

      Biphobia is definitely a thing.
      My favorite experience with it was when a (former) friend who I had supported and encouraged on her own journey out of the closet informed me out of the blue one day that bisexuals were responsible for bringing AIDS to the lesbian community.
      Hi, bisexual here. So that was really fun. Yup.

      • Edmond

        Geez, how awful. I think I would have reminded her that it was actually unprotected promiscuity which brought it to ANY given community, and that the people who chose not to protect themselves have only themselves to blame. If you don’t want AIDS, it’s fairly easy to avoid. No one needs to blame other people for their own carelessness.

      • http://gloomcookie613.tumblr.com GloomCookie613

        Yep. Had a lesbian friend turn on me too, compliments of a new girlfriend that was super biphobic. I was told to “pick one and stop lying” to myself. Oh, and the classic “you’re just a greedy slut” got thrown at me too by said evil girlfriend. Gay men never really care or give me shit for it though, just other women. Not saying that means anything overall, but that’s what I’ve experienced first-hand over the years.

  • C Peterson

    Agnosticism is a highly abstract philosophical concept. In the wild, agnostics basically don’t exist. Until we get that straight, confusion will continue.

    Certainly, agnosticism isn’t an alternative to either theism or atheism. People are theists, or they are atheists. The small fraction of people who have no opinion on the subject are simply ignorant or stupid. Those are the choices.

    • Elddim Eman

      People with no opinion about whether god exists or not are “simply ignorant or stupid”? That’s pretty harsh.

      Or is that sarcasm about how stupid it is to make the choice about god-belief binary? If so, then that’s pretty funny, and you’re right, telling people they must avoid “highly abstract philosophical concepts” is indeed a pretty stupid thing for atheists to do.

      If not, however, do you think everyone must make a binding declaration of faith that only changes when incontrovertible evidence convinces them otherwise? Seems like an unappealingly rigid worldview to me.

  • Joe

    Seems a bit silly…agnosticism and atheism are not mutually exclusive. I am both: I don’t know if any god exists (or not) — that is knowledge — I *choose* a path that denies any such entities because it is consistent and useful within the parameters of the observable universe.

  • John

    I think a lot of people don’t realize that gnosticism and theism are essentially two different axes. Unless you’re exactly in the middle with regard to belief (i.e. “I have absolutely no position on whether or not a god might exist,” and I have met very few people who claim that), the two terms aren’t mutually exclusive.

  • Major Nav

    Atheist: There are no gods or supernatural entities. Pretty damn sure I won’t find any if I looked, so I’m not going to waste my time looking, leave me alone.
    Agnostic Atheist: There are no gods or supernatural entities. But I’m open to suggestion and willing investigate new evidence that may appear. (in other words, atheist until proven otherwise)
    Spiritual: Insert ones own definition here. Be assured that noone else shares that definintion. Very similar to Deism but in Deism a specific God has already been selected. (This axiom is proven by everyone who states they are spiritual, immediately attaching their definition or “feelings”, every time)
    Notice that none of these definintions are describing a particular religious belief. Religion is the set of dogma and doctrine describing entities and how the followers of that religion/deities must behave to avoid offending the deities.
    We know there are people that don’t believe in God but still believe in their religion. (I’m not claiming it is logical) What do we call them?
    Even if a supernatural entity made themselves known, it still would not solve the “Which religion is the “right” religion?” question. People would still claim that they know best. What are the odds that any one of our human created religions would match the reality of any deity that reveals itself.
    Pretty sure the scientists would blink for a second and say “Cool, something else to study and define” and go off in search of more grant money.

  • Michael Harrison

    Although I do not explicitly believe in a god or gods, I toy with the idea; and I have a history of credulity regarding some ideas which were pretty silly in hindsight. I call myself agnostic because I feel it would be dishonest, or at least very misleading, to call myself an atheist.

  • http://quinesqueue.blogspot.com/ Q. Quine

    I used to tell people that all agnostics are atheists, but not all atheists are agnostics, some really do know what they don’t believe. Then, someone told me that there were agnostic theists. These are people willing to admit that they believe in something that they don’t know. Now, I find myself agnostic about agnostics.


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