In my past religious life, I used to work in ministry at a small-ish American Baptist church in the town where I grew up. Despite being fairly similar in many ways to the Southern Baptist churches that my minister father used to lead during my childhood, this church was unique in one way: They were ambitious. More specifically, the church’s senior pastor at the time was very ambitious, probably a bit too ambitious in the long run.
Part of the ambition came from the fact that some younger congregants had grown up and moved off to work in ministry in other places, and one of those young people ended up at Willow Creek. (In case you’re unfamiliar, Willow Creek Community Church is a massive Chicago-area evangelical megachurch with a number of satellite churches, and the affiliated Willow Creek Association produces a frankly ridiculous amount of materials and resources for its associated churches.)
I’d never really been that interested in megachurches at this point — this was around ten years ago — but one of the things I started hearing as I stepped into a larger role in our music ministry was the term “seeker-friendly.” No one ever really explained what they meant by this, but it kept coming up in the discussions about worship formats and such.
From the beginning, I found this term weird. Who are these “seekers”? Wasn’t everyone who came to church seeking something? Eventually, I figured out: “Seekers” in this context just meant nonbelievers who were “unchurched” but maybe interested in or curious about religion or spirituality in more than just an academic sense.
Now that I’m on the other side of religion, I sometimes wonder if people think I’m a “seeker” now.
I obviously don’t quite fit the above profile, but I get the feeling that many people have taken my diplomatic approach toward religious people and cross-perspective dialogue to signify that I’m open to religious ideas. Some people have even gone so far as to recommend Christian books for me, not the standard apologetic fare but ones that carve out a bit more space for atheists or nonbelievers. (I do appreciate these recommendations and take them seriously. In fact, I’m currently reading one such book that was recommended to me in this way.)
Similarly, an atheist commenter recently claimed that, pace my own self-identification, I wasn’t really an atheist but an agnostic. This appears to have been predicated almost wholly on the fact that I don’t think all theists are idiots.
Is it any wonder that I sometimes feel a little like I’m stuck in the middle?
Interestingly, there is also precedent for this kind of terminology in atheist circles. The 2013 Silver and Coleman study cataloguing six types of atheists included a designation of “Seeker-Agnostic” (SA). A few relevant descriptors:
- “They keep an open mind in relation to the debate between the religious, spiritual, and antitheist elements within society.”
- “Seeker-Agnostics recognize the limitation of human knowledge and experience. They actively search for and respond to knowledge and evidence, either supporting or disconfirming truth claims. They also understand, or at least recognize, the qualitative complexities of experiences in the formation of personal meaning.”
- “They may be intrinsically motivated to explore and seek understanding in the world around them. The diversity of others is accepted for the SA and co-existence with the ‘others’ is not only possible, but also welcomed.”
- “Some Intellectual Atheist/Agnostics or Anti-Theists [other typologies in the study] may accuse the Seeker-Agnostic of avoiding responsibility or commitment to a more solid affirmation of atheism. In other cases, outsiders may see it as an ontological transitional state from religion or spirituality to atheism.”
Some of this undoubtedly fits my approach (and some of it could have practically been taken straight out of my introductory post or About page). But I would personally characterize myself as neither a “seeker” nor “agnostic.”
Yes, I do seek the truth, no matter where it comes from. But I’m not searching for the truth of religion or evidence of the divine or spiritual or numinous, and I’m not especially agnostic about the conclusions I’ve drawn about gods or the supernatural except maybe in the most technical sense (that I lack complete certainty and accept my own fallibility).
I’m not on a journey to atheism. I am an atheist and comfortable enough in my beliefs that I’m not seeking to resolve some sense of uncertainty or some longing for the spiritual. I don’t even see myself as being on any particular path, just as I never saw myself on a path to atheism when I was still a Christian trying to work out a rational grounding for my faith.
I became an atheist because I was willing to follow the evidence to the best conclusion I could determine, irrespective of what ideological destination I had in mind.
So am I a seeker? Maybe, but chances are that I’m not the kind of seeker you think I am.
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