I have reached a point where I am done with atheism. This is no longer a label that I choose to identify with. I have had it with the arrogant certainty that I see plastered across the internet and uttered in the words of people in real life. I am tired of the Islamophobia, sexism, and racism I see appear in atheist spaces, day after day. I am tired of the bigotry of anti-theism that goes unchallenged in atheist spheres. I have spoken of these problems to others in these very same spaces, and for the most part, no one seems to care. I have addressed these issues in person and have in turn, received rationalizations and denial.

For me, this has been building for some time. The sheer ignorance I’ve seen displayed toward women, people of color, and people of religions that are oppressed in my country (the US) is incredibly angering. The vehemence of my response is one that has accrued as a consequence of this widespread ignorance. For a group of people who have declared themselves to be rational and deep thinking, there should be no excuse for this, yes?

Unfortunately, the albatross around new atheist’s collective necks is one of demographics. Atheists are largely white, male, and from previously Christian backgrounds (especially in the US). Atheists, like so many others in the Eurocentric West, are the beneficiaries of centuries of colonialism. So too are they the beneficiaries of current-day Western imperialism. In spite of the absence of religious privilege that is endured by nonbelievers, the demographic composition of atheism accords large degrees of privilege and ignorance. This produces massive blind spots in the movement.

New atheists want others to stop discriminating against their kind, but they have little appreciation for the forms of oppression that others experience. They want others to let go of their hurtful attitudes toward atheists, and yet, they call for mockery, ridicule and contempt toward others. New atheists think that they understand the workings of the world and yet, they have little understanding of those who live outside of their small, white, male, non-believing corner of Western culture.

Nothing blinds like privilege.

And so, I am done. I have tired of the violence of your ignorance.

I am not a part of your “movement”. I do not support you. I am not your ally.

.   .   .   .

I am trying to find a place of calm, now.

This contemplation is part of that process.

There is another reason why the label “atheist” chafes so. I do not live a life of certainty. My life is the product of myriad intertwining axes of oppression and privilege. As a product of this intermingling of power and want, I know that my understanding of the world is inevitably a mixture of bullshit and truth. I am responsible for the hurt of others as much as I am hurt by others. This realization is humbling, and so, I do not claim to know life’s answers. What I have within my grasp is partial knowledge, corrupted by my own power.

I am one small person, facing the inscrutable vastness of a universe that is beyond my full comprehension. What I see is nothing more than a window’s breadth of existence. I can not say with certainty that no aspect of this realm is aware in a way that is beyond human understanding. Nor can I claim with certainty that such an awareness exists.

And so, I assume the trappings of agnosticism.

I am tired of the arrogant certitude that infects those with power and authority. Let the unknown settle around my shoulders, as weightless and insubstantial as silk.

.   .   .   .

For quite some time, I have viewed the deities of the world’s religions as artifacts of human reckoning. For quite some time, I have embraced the notion that the less detail one ascribes to a deity or spirit force, the more difficult it becomes to prove or disprove the existence of such an entity. Such things might exist or they might not. There is no way of knowing.

Consequently, I have called myself an atheist with respect to the world’s religions and an agnostic with respect to undefined ethereal forces. What I have not realized is that both perspectives arise from my own deeply embedded agnosticism. I do not believe in claims made by the world’s religions because I do not believe that human beings can make such claims with certainty. The certainty of the world’s faiths triggers suspicion and disbelief. The same arrogant certitude that so often surrounds atheism also infects the world’s religions. They are reflections of one another. They reek of power and conquest. The stench of empire rolls off of these specters of control.

And so, I prefer the unknown.

I walk through a land without boundaries.

I cast my destiny into the void of formlessness…



PS: Carl Sagan was an agnostic, and he’s way the hell cool. So there.


~ by timberwraith on April 5, 2012.

15 Responses to “Agnostic”

  1. Ah I’ve found another one! Welcome to the gray side. I have a group that has some information you may like. feel free to stop by.

  2. So what made you become an atheist in the first place?

  3. It’s pretty simple, really. The concept of a deity presented in the bible is portrayed in a way that seems far too much like a human being to be believable. Intuitively, that doesn’t match the nature of the universe that we live in. When you scratch beneath the surface, and look at the oddity of quantum physics or delve into the supreme weirdness of the theory of relativity, the portrayal of god as human-like parent seems far too simple to be real. It stands out as a kind of anthropomorphizing of the universe.

    That is why vagueness is far more believable for me. However, I understand that human beings, being social creatures, connect with something they can relate to as human beings. Hence, we have the “god as father” imagery of the bible. Vague “universal awarenesses” or diffuse “spirit forces” don’t hold a lot of appeal. Nevertheless, I find the notions more believable, and hence, have no answer as to their existence.

    As an agnostic, the imagery of many religions is far to exacting and certain to suit my tendency toward vagueness and uncertainty. My switch in label doesn’t represent a shift in beliefs, so much as reflecting a desire to place a greater emphasis upon, “I don’t know and see no way of knowing.”

  4. By the way, TJ Bradders, thanks for stopping by. I checked out your Facebook group and it looks interesting. Unfortunately, I don’t really spend any time on Facebook. I directed another agnostic toward your group, however.

  5. […] over at Haunted Timber has had a few posts recently about falling out of atheism and into agnosticism. Her latest post describes the many ways in which the New Atheist movement in particular ends up […]

  6. So wait… you’re no longer an atheist because of the perceived bigotry and hate speech of fellow members? I can agree with a distaste for such things… but I really don’t follow the logic here. If you were an atheist it shouldn’t be because you liked the company (although I’d hope you would) but because you were dissatisfied with the atheist explanation of existence. So basically you don’t like the people, so you changed world views… still trying to wrap my head around this one.

  7. Snarks, the answer lies here:

    The certainty of the world’s faiths triggers suspicion and disbelief. The same arrogant certitude that so often surrounds atheism also infects the world’s religions. They are reflections of one another. They reek of power and conquest.

    As the years have passed, I have come to realize that the arrogance of certitude seems to exacerbate tribalistic tensions more than the actual answer to the question, “Do deities exist?” So much of the source of prejudice and us vs. them thinking that exists in both theism and atheism seem to flow from having a high degree of certainty that one is correct. It flows from knowing that you have the true way of seeing the universe and others see the universe in a way that brings evil and inferiority into the world. Because I’ve come to see this certainty as a central problem, I have chosen to step back, embrace a more humble position, and emphasize the aspects of my beliefs that say “I don’t know.”

    I have always said “I don’t know” when looking at the existence of deity-like phenomena that lack the rigid definitions of the world’s Abrahamic religions. I have been an agnostic at my core from the get-go, but have chosen to publicly adopt an atheist approach to the god question in opposition to the problems I’ve seen in some of the worlds most popular religions. Since I now see similar problems arising in atheism, I have come to see my public identity as problematic and consequently, I now choose to emphasize the uncertainty that lies in my agnosticism. I do not wish to lend support to a philosophical enterprise that is actively serving as an engine of prejudice and animosity.

    In short, the arrogance, hatred, and hunger for power that I have seen demonstrated on both sides of the god debate have lead me to value the humbleness at the heart of my agnosticism–an agnosticism that has always been there, but has been downplayed for activist/political reasons.

    I suspect that this will not make sense to a lot of hard-core “I’m an atheist because logic and scientific methodology dictate that I must be an atheist” type atheists. Understand that this is not how I approach the issues at hand. I don’t see this as the ultimate quest of logic, because I don’t think anyone can be certain what lies beyond people’s cultural notions of god-like phenomena. The positions I’ve chosen over the years have been driven by the effects that a belief or non belief in deities have had upon human relationships. Since I now see both belief in gods and non-belief in gods as creating problems in human relationships, my position has shifted once again.

    Put another way, in the face of not knowing the “ultimate answers” my position on the god question has defaulted to its effects upon tensions generated in society as a whole (the effect of human relationships on a macroscopic level). Consequently, my public position on these issues has been one that is a matter of practical consideration rather than empirical consideration.

    This might prove maddening for the sciencey folks in the audience (if I have any of those left, at this point), but a few ruffled feathers are inevitable. Regardless of what stance I take, someone is going to be bothered by my perspectives. Someone is going to tell me that I am a threat. And that, to me, is the whole point. Therein lies the impetus for a humble path in such matters.

    Be sure to read A Movement of Disappointment. There’s a little more background info there, too.

  8. Btw, thebiblereader, the response that I gave to snarks is also “part II” of my answer to your question, as well.

  9. As I’m sifting through years worth of memories, another thing is occurring to me. The people who I’ve had the most discussions of the god question with over the years have been with atheists. I’ve always felt an unease discussing my agnosticism and my sense of spirituality (see A Movement of Disappointment and Threads Of Connection) with those same people. As I have watched the problems within the new atheist movement evolve during these last few years, I’ve hit a point of wanting to be more public about my beliefs because I no longer care if I lose the respect of the atheists I know in real life (some of whom read this blog). I’m tired of giving in to a desire to conform around people of a particular ideology when that ideology has demonstrated that it is as flawed as others.

    In a sense, the articles I’ve written of late, have been part of a kind of coming out process on a philosophical and spiritual level. They have been my way of processing through the act of saying, “This is who I am. If you don’t like it,then whatever. If you don’t respect my position, fine, but know that your opinion is no longer relevant in how I guide my life.”

  10. I am absolutely sure that I am priviliged.
    The really strange thing about assertng my privilege is that I have ended up with lengthy rants about it by trolls.
    There are lot of people who really cannot handle the fact that I’m a white cisgendered woman living in a country which has free-at-the-point of use medical treatment, which is just as well since medical care is helpful when you are a physical wreck…

  11. Thanks for stopping by Stevie.

    No offense, but I’m not fully certain how your comment relates to the post or the comment thread.

  12. You may enjoy a Facebook site I’m working on — Defending Historical Agnosticism – I tend to use Thomas Huxleys arguments to defend his philosophy of agnosticism. Feel free to look it over – post some ideas.

  13. Beautiful post, Timberwraith. Atheistic fundamentalism is just as ugly as other forms of intolerance and fundamentalism. So much of this universe is a delightful mystery, one that science is gradually unravelling, but we are only touching the edges. Who is to say what is out there, what is truth and what is illusion? Hurrah for being comfortable in the not knowing!

    • Thank you for stopping by, MacLeod Inc. and thanks for the kind complements. I love your blog, btw. It’s nice to read the words of another agnostic.

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