Here an Ist, There an Ist, Everywhere an Ist-Ist

The other day I got a subscription offer from a magazine called Free Inquiry, a publication of  the Council for Secular Humanism. I’d been thinking about ordering the magazine. Well, here was my chance:  a “special introductory offer for blasphemers only.” Got to love the marketing department. That’s no magazine for me. Though I am “godless”–in the sense that I doubt the existence of anything that human beings would wish to call “god” and I don’t think a religion is a place any decent god would be caught dead in–I’m neither “blasphemous” nor “sacrilegious.” If I don’t believe in “god,” how could I be? Those are words with meaning only in God Land. See, I’m a “humanist.” But a “religious” one, not a “secular” one. (What the heck does that mean?) Oh, that labeling thing! Why do we have to be an “ist” this or an “ist” that? I don’t want to be an “ist.” Being an “ist” is about being a follower. I don’t have any interest in that. Sure, I get it: some religious people don’t like what I believe. Some even insist upon forcing their isty god on me. I get it. But to somehow think that I’m blaspheming about it makes me a reflection in their mirror. I don’t want to live in that musty old antique shop. There’s just too much out under the blue sky to enjoy. Which makes me a Transcendtal-ist! Except when I’m in a Logical Positiv-ist frame of mind. And then there’s always . . . You get the idea.  The Twentieth Century was the Age of Labels. Perhaps in the mobile societies created by industrialization labels made some sense, with so many people displaced and wandering the earth to find work. Just in the art world there were Futurists, Fauvists, Voticists, Imagists, and Capitalists. Labels don’t make sense anymore. Isn’t everyone displaced now? Seriously, folks: why does anyone need to be an “ist” at all? There’s just too much fun stuff to think. Therefore, pietists and sacrilegists, listen up! Lose the labels and get a life. If I’ve got to be something, I’ll take “everythingist.”

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  • Woodstock Churchlady

    I am a Christian, but I am a Whateverist. Apart from revering the two great commandments, my attitude is “I don’t know! I don’t care! It doesn’t make any difference!.” I do think, however, that labels help us clarify our beliefs until we can get to Everythingism or Whateverism.
    By the way, I have a very nice life.

  • Y. A. Warren

    I’m with you. I refuse to be any definable form of “ist.”

  • Guest

    I believe Paul Tillich would agree with you – in his Dynamics of Faith he writes that true atheists should not be concerned about whether God exists at all, ie they should have no “ultimate concern”, which rather discounts Richard Dawkins whose “God” is proving God does not exist…

    “and I don’t think a religion is a place any decent god would be caught dead in” – i disagree with you here, however. Although UU plainly works for some, I found it wanting precisely because of its religious vacuum – the signs without the symbols (not me, more Tillich). It provided few answers to those difficult questions. Christianity meanwhile delivers a meaningful (in the ontological sense) narrative – precisely the kind of thing a God (or “God above God” since I’m on a Tillich jag, this from The Courage to Be) would come up with. It’s easy to chortle at the formulations of Christianity but when understood as symbols of deeper truths they have a lot more import, from suffering through acknowledgment of sin to forgiveness. These all receive due time in UU practice, but not (IMHO) as part of a truly coherent pathway to, for want of a better word, salvation – the humanism (which is derived from atheism) that appears to underpin UU now does not really accept the deep truth of this because it is fundamentally focused on a denial of God (the God it worships – denial of God – is a “false idol”). And without God there can be no true salvation.

    • Scot Nattrass

      Salvation from what?

      • nanomanoman

        Good question. Like Buddhism, Christianity tends to view this life as marked by suffering. For the Buddha, the underlying cause of this problem is desire or grasping after things. For Christians, the cause of humanity’s problems is sin.

        Put simply, sin is the failure to live up to God’s standards. It is the disobedience of both God’s external commands and one’s internal awareness of good and evil (Romans 2:14-16). But it is more than just breaking rules – sin’s roots lie in one’s character, so that one not only commits sins but also has a sinful nature. Sin results in separation from God.

        Salvation to what? The nature of salvation has been understood in various ways throughout Christian history. Certain interpretations have held more appeal for certain cultures or Christian traditions, but few Christians would argue that there is a single, “true” understanding of the nature of salvation.

        Personally I think it is best summed up by the handshake toward the end of the church service when we ask for the “peace of Christ” – the peace of mind and soul that comes from communion with Christ. As mere humans, we can hardly ask for more.

        • Scot Nattrass

          Which has value if you are a Christian, I suppose.

          One of Tillich’s contemporaries was of course Albert Schweitzer, author of the Quest for the Historical Jesus. The Jesus Seminar, founded by Bob Funk and some of his colleagues, who were the translators of the Nag Hamadi Papyri, was inspired by Schweitzer’s scholarly work. They then redefined the person of Jesus to be an itinerant sage and preacher who was the first to successfully challenge the status quo in Jerusalem using parables to teach, which was unknown in that region. That is greatly simplified of course.

          Salvation presupposes ignorance or denial of their work and retains Jesus as risen deity, not only as the only begotten, but also as the self declared creator.

          KJV John 8:

          56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see my day: and he saw it, and was glad.

          57 Then said the Jews unto him, Thou art not yet fifty years old, and hast thou seen Abraham?

          58 Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Before Abraham was, I am.

          Supported by verse 3:

          3 All things were made by him; and without him was not any thing made that was made.

          Most scholars of the new testament don’t even believe that Jesus spoke those words, but Christians that are caught up in the story do, though when you try to help them understand that Jesus=Jehovah, many get persnickety.

          So yeah, salvation. I would certainly like to connect with Jesus because he stood for something that cost him his life and when I read the words that he actually uttered, as noted by the scholars who have made the study of him their life’s work without believing him to be a god, from what he taught, he is a person I would love to have a conversation with.

          But expecting him to be my salvation. Not there anymore.

          Does that make me a humanist? Nope, since I still believe in purpose. That also eliminates existentialist.

          But that is another post in response to David’s.

          • nanomanoman

            By “ignorance or denial of their work” do you mean the scholars? Certainly I have come to Christianity in a round about way – although I had a traditional “Sunday School” up-bringing the first Gospel i read as an adult was Thomas, one of the fruits of the Nag Hamadi work, and still one of my favourites. Beyond Belief and all that.

            I’m a lot less interested in the history than I used to be. I suppose most religions evolve. Even in the “official” gospels there is evidence (“crumbs from my table”) to suggest Jesus saw himself as the King of the Jews only. Christianity is a religion that has evolved out of Christ – a divine reflection on human experience perhaps – and as such I think scripture and “facts” will only get us so far.

            I think people come to God through Christ. I’m not particularly hung up on the whole deity aspect, but the Christian narrative chimes most with my experience. Buddhism has its practical applications but at the end of the day unless you are the Buddha it seems pretty unreachable, whereas Christianity accepts this from the beginning: life – and one – will never be perfect, yet we have the desire for perfection in us (maybe that purpose you talk of) which was exemplified in the life of Christ.

          • Scot Nattrass

            Well the denial comment was directed to anyone, but could be to them as well. I know that some people seem to come to God through Jesus, at least in western civilizations, and as a result of bloody conquest of Christian sponsored conquering armies.. but that is in the past..

            For some, like John Shelby Spong, the “God” experience is met in the personage of Jesus. He is an episcopal bishop in New Jersey and a prolific writer, and while he still denies the deity of Jesus, he is greatly inspired by the story. I had the opportunity to hear him at a Jesus Seminar function in 1999. Compelling speaker.

            For well over half the world though Jesus was either a prophet, as he is to Islam, or just somebody that the conquerors used as an excuse for their bloody work. Who is he to Buddhists? to Hindu’s? to Secular humanists or atheists? Not a pathway to God or at least any better pathway than any other.


            I think that if you find a personal connection with the story that fills you with joy and hope, then that is fantastic for you and I truly wish you well.

            But don’t forget that most of the 2.1 billion Christians in the world were not converted by the story, but rather by the sword, assimilated by the powerful and melded with their own stories which might address why we have decorated Christmas trees.

            Not so unlike the Necromongers of the Chronicles of Riddick.

            As you certainly know, I think I do not fit your model. At least not anymore. Used to. Read quite a bit. Studied more. Looked at the man behind the curtain and found a charlatan. Some well-intentioned, mind you, but still charlatans with an agenda.

            And a desire for perfection? Yeah.. not so much anymore since I cannot conceive of it in a way that doesn’t seem boring or vapid and Jesus isn’t around to ask and I don’t believe the translations of his life are without corruption or ill intent.

            Remember, the bible was commissioned by Constantine, who like so many used religion as a means of control. He was not a pious man, nor even a good man. But he was a powerful man and a shrewd man, and Christian beatitudes allow despotic rulers to oppress, since the meek are promised great inheritance in the hereafter.

            wow.. I am way off the “ist” base now aren’t I?

          • nanomanoman

            I’d only say I think you rather conflate Christianity and Islam. One can speak of the Crusades of course (and one does and does) but it’s often forgotten these were a reaction to 600 years of Islamic Conquest, with a capital “C” as proudly displayed on boards at an open day at my local mosque recently charting the spread of Islam alongside all the battles won. No religion is without blood on its hands, as it is spread one way or another by Man, but I think it’s a bit harsh to characterise Christianity simply thus – it was mainly spread by evangelisation, even if the priests focused on the Kings who then converted on behalf of their people.

          • Scot Nattrass

            Conflate the two? Nope. The Crusades did not enter my head on that last reply. I was thinking more of “post-Constantine” Rome taking Christianity to Spain and Portugal.

            So I was thinking more about South and Central America, parts of Northern Africa and maybe the Philippines. Conquest with Catholicism. Conversion by conquest was first, and the gentler missionaries followed after. I think its kind of cool that the first decent Pope in a generation comes from Argentina, a place descended from Spanish conquest.

            How it was then is obviously not how it is now, but lets not be fooled into thinking that the world most numerous religion became such by evangelism. It just is not true.

            Conflate the two? No. I have no great love of Islam, but that is due to my personal morality which is in opposition to Sharia law.

            Jesus had a wonderful message, but it seems that it is embodied more by secular humanists than by historical Christians. Like Mahatma Gandhi said, “I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.”

          • nanomanoman

            Spain and Portugal were already Roman, no? There are plenty of examples of conversion through evangelisation, from Russia to Britain (Irish monks) and the German tribes. There was conquest too – Africa, South America – but it’s mixed. In any case, in the race for moral superiority – secular humanists, okay, but where did humanism come from? And what have these secular humanists achieved? Atheists often bang on about bad religion, but Hitler and Stalin were atheists and Gandhi was of course a Hindu, a believer in a religion specifically designed to oppress the original inhabitants of India. You can make the argument work all kinds of ways – there were Unitarian slave drivers too.

            People are people – sinners one and all! My view is play the Idea not the Man.

          • Scot Nattrass

            Well there you go, Nano! I think we have come to agreement with your last statement.

            The ideals of Christianity are certainly positive, Man has in the past and continues now to sometimes corrupt or ignore those ideals and yet claim Christianity. We are not talking grey area here. We are talking Spanish Inquisition and the like. Twisted minds doing twisted things in the name of Jesus, who I think we could agree would be shocked and dismayed at the practice. I think that is what Gandhi was referring to.

            I believe this can be applied to many religions, organized or not, where the ideals which are positive become twisted. That is the root of my cynicism about religion in general.

            Love the ideals, but the interpretation to exert control? Not so much.

            So where does that leave me for a label? somewhere between ideal-admirer-ist and hypocrisy hater-ist with some still a seeker of truth-ist, wherever it can be found.

          • nanomanoman

            You might like this then… ;-)


  • Scot Nattrass

    I kind of like “everythingist” concept. However, it doesn’t roll off the tongue very well though, does it. How about “Everist”? Cognates are always good. Large Mountain overseeing great swatches of…. ok ok.. of other mountains, but you get the drift (of snow that is ;-) moving on.. or maybe “Allist”? Go ask Allist.. when she’s 10 feet tall. Or Allist Cooper.. “School’s out! for summer!” It has promise!

    We digress yet again.

    One of the problems of “ist” is a question of allegiance. Once you say, “I am a…” what ever comes after that is a statement of your allegiance. How limiting. To David’s point, once you affix a label you can get caught up in whatever the prevailing voice is that controls the culture that tribe.

    No. I am a sentient biological entity (a.k.a. a person), who gladly considers himself a member of many tribes based on the situation, or some common values, like I have found so far with the UU’s, or due to my focus of thought at the moment.

    Like David who was attracted to the title but not the subtitle of that magazine I too tend to steer clear of labels.. or rather steer into them to see if they scatter.

    Or so I like to believe.

    And don’t even get me started on “ism’s”