Almost a couple of years after I started this column, I have finally gone further than atheism.
I no longer consider myself an atheist.
Fear not, I haven't converted to any religion. I still think that the idea of God is pretty silly. I am not a theist.
"Hold on a minute," says the logician within. "If you're not a theist, you must be an atheist, because to be an atheist is to be someone who is not a theist. 'Atheism' means 'without theism', and if you're not a theist, then you're without theism."
"Shut your yap," I say to the logician. "Are you an ajacobite?"
"What's an ajacobite?" asks the logician. "I can't find that term in the Oxford English Dictionary."
"An ajacobite," I respond, "Is someone who lives without being a Jacobite. So which one are you, a Jacobite or an ajacobite?"
"I don't know," admits the logician. "I don't know what a Jacobite is. Besides that, why are you capitalizing one word and not the other?"
"Capitalization is the refuge of scoundrels," I explain. "A Jacobite is someone who supports the claim of Roman Catholic nobles to the English throne or a member of a Monophysite church."
"What's a Monophysite church?" asks the logician, desperately searching for a solid premise to work from.
"Beats me," I say. "So which are you, a Jacobite or an ajacobite?"
"I can't answer that question without knowing what a Monophysite church is!" screams the logician, and runs off down a dark alley, his head jerking to the right every few seconds.
There you are. The logician, as a modern American, is neither involved in questions about what religious affiliation the British Royals ought to have nor interested in the subtle issues that determine who is and who is not a member of a Monophysite church, whatever that is.
In the same way, I have realized, I am not really concerned with the question that concerns theists and atheists: "Is there such a thing as God?" I really don't care about it anymore. The whole issue is no longer central to my life.
It used to be. I used to be deeply attached to defending the idea that the existence of God is unprovable. John Lennon sang, "God is a concept by which we measure our pain." I used to find the concept of God very painful. The idea that anyone would waste their time believing in such a ridiculous fictition as God really got my blood boiling. I wanted very much to prove theists wrong.
I had made a mistake by getting angry about theism. By reacting so strongly to theistic arguments, I gave my energy to the idea that theism is a concept worthwhile of consideration. I let myself be defined in a negative way, as if the essence of my life was that I was missing out on theism. This made me look like little more than a refusnik of religion. Instead of just living free of theism, I spent my time objecting to theism and defending my right to be an atheist.
Of course I have a right to be an atheist, just as much as I have the right to be a theist. I choose to be neither.
I remove myself from the dimension of arguing about whether one particular fantastic creature (God) exists or does not exist. I don't waste my time arguing about the existence of unicorns or satyrs or griffons, and I'm not going to waste any more time arguing about the existence of God either.
So what am I? You might call me an Idon'twastetimeonsillyideasliketheismist. No, that doesn't sound right. Can I really put an apostrophe in the middle of that word?
The truth is that I want to spend more time focusing on the things that I do believe in. That's why I started the Further Than Atheism column in the first place. Now, this idea has come to fruition as I transcend an irrelevant debate about an outdated idea.
This transcendence started last fall, as I prepared to participate in an activist event called The Godless March on Washington. Organizations like the Council for Secular Humanism and American Atheists called on people who live without the concept of God to come together to protest the religiously discriminatory policies that the current Bush Administration has tried to enact in the last couple years. You'll find references to some of these policies in other installments of this column.
I believe very much that George W. Bush is spearheading dangerous measures that undermine the First Amendment's separation of church and state. I believe that George W. Bush would love to have Christianity recognized as the official religion of the United States of America. I'm frightened by Bush's zeal.
However, I have other priorities as well. I've discovered in the last year that I am much more of a pacifist than an atheist.
"What's that?" squawks the religious studies professor "Pacifism and atheism are not in the same realm of discussion. Pacifism is an ethical idea, whereas atheism has to do with religious ideas! They aren't comparable."
"Shut your yap," I say to the religious studies professor. "You can try to argue that religion is a central idea to life that's separate from other ideas. I understand that you need to justify your job, but I'm not buying into the idea that I need to define myself according to the way that you perceive the world. You see the world in terms of religion, and I don't."
The religious studies professor makes the sign of the cross in front of his chest and walks away quickly, muttering and clutching his Holy Bible with both hands.
While I was getting ready to participate in the Godless March, Bush started getting super hyper about Iraq. The more Bush babbled on about Iraq, the less sense he made, and yet he was proposing acts of mass violence against other human beings based on his babblings. To me, it was obvious that Bush's lust for a crusade into ancient Mesopotamia was much more of a problem than his efforts to get government funding for churches. One of Bush's efforts involved stupidity, while the other one involved stupidity and killing of tens of thousands of people.
My priorities became clear, and I got more involved in the anti-war movement. I marched against war, not against Bush's theocratic ambitions.
Don't get me wrong. I still believe deeply in the need to maintain a purely secular government. I still despise Bush's efforts to grant government subsidies of religious organizations. However, I also recognize that I am not centrally defined by my secular ideals. Rather, my attachment to secular democracy is one among many other ideals that motivate me. I am more a pacifist than a secularist.
What's my religion? You might as well ask an Argentinian who her representatives in the United States Congress are. These are things out of our concern.
So if I've gone further than atheism, if I'm not an atheist, then what am I?
I am a pacifist.
I am an environmentalist.
I am a Democrat.
I am a Yankee.
I am a husband.
I am a father.
I am lots of things. Aren't you?
Perhaps people would be more comfortable if I could come up with a single term to describe what I am and the place I make for myself in society at large. At present, I can't come up with any such term.
I'm close to being a secular humanist, but to be frank, I know some secular humanists, and they spend far too much time arguing about what the most rational thing is, in an irrelevantly philosophical obsession with ideas that never seem to get applied. That's not my path.
My wife calls me a naturalist. That's close to it, but of course, I'm certainly not a qualified biologist like Rachel Carson was.
Perhaps some time in the future I'll be able to find a handle which people can use to describe the ideas I hold. In the meantime, I'll just be me, thanks, without any single ID tag to confine me to the conventions of any particular sphere of thought.
That's pretty irregular, I know. Does that make me an irregularist?
Riled up? Don't let it bottle up. Talk back!
Got irregular thoughts of your own?