Tags

,

Among my disparate friends I have some trouble defining my “god-belief” in such a way that doesn’t alienate them. I like almost everyone I meet, and it takes quite a lot of negative feedback before I get annoyed with them; so I make an effort to be friendly always, and then kind when I know better what those particular people want and need. I have friends that I value who stretch the religious spectrum from devout God believers to strident non-believers, even god haters, and I want to give a consistent statement to all of these extremes that all will accept.

In the book Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World by Tim Whitmarsh, on page 116, there is a paragraph which covers some of those issues. It is set back in the Classic Greek times of Socrates, but strangely those people actually had defined terms for those ideas that are more subtle than are now even considered.

The invention of atheism was, both etymologically and historically, the creation of a negative. The Greek word atheos, which first appears in the fifth century BC, implies the absence (a-) of a god (theos). The older meaning implies someone who has lost the support of the gods, someone who is “godless” or “godforsaken” in the archaic English senses. It was often used in a kind of hyperbolic crescendo along with other negative adjectives, in phrases such as “atheos, unruly (anomos), and lawless (adikos). This kind of phrasing suggests wild, barbaric behavior that is the very antithesis of proper, civilized Greek behavior (think of Homer’s Cyclopes: “arrogant, lawless [athemiston] men, who place no trust in the god, and neither sow nor reap vegetation”). Within the lifetime of the classical Athenian democracy, however, it came to acquire a second meaning, referring to someone whose beliefs or practices suggest a lack of commitment to belief in the gods.”I certainly do believe in the gods—I am not an out-and-out atheos,” said Socrates at his trial in 399 BC (according to Plato). From the 430s onward we hear of atheos being used as a surname or nickname attached to various individuals. The pre-Socratic Hippo of Samos, active in Athens in the mid-430s, was said to be “surnamed the atheos“; so were Diagoras of Melos (mid-420s onward) and Theodorus of Cyrene (late fourth century). In other words, if you said “Hippo the atheist,” everyone knew who you meant. A more powerful insult than atheos was asebēs, “impious.” It was potent because it was legally actionable.

For a long time now I have been using the word “apatheist” to describe my “god-belief”, and I immediately define it to mean, “I believe everyone has the right, actually the responsibility, to answer the transcendent questions themselves; and because their answers are so personal it isn’t important to other people what conclusions they have come to about these unprovable subjects.” Therefore, as an apatheist it is important to keep my religious beliefs private, and not bother anyone else about them. I respect other people to hold their opinions too, and they need not defend those beliefs to me. Also, because the most profound questions are ultimately unanswerable it doesn’t make any sense to me for them to try to convert me to their particular belief.

If I have anything that could be called a religion it is to pull back the veil so others can see what they previously did not see.

Advertisements