A little while ago an atheist blogger converted to Catholicism publicly on her blog. It was mentioned on Blag Hag, which is the only reason I heard about it, then I guess there was a big media storm over it that the Friendly Atheist pointed out was nuts.
One thread that seems to be running through the conversion story is the subtle difference between atheism and agnosticism. I hear it an awful lot that agnosticism is the intellectually superior position because to dismiss the existence of a god entirely is arrogant. What I get from this is that agnosticism requires not only the expectation of a possibility, but that the possibility is also reasonable.
Here we are giving theism a position of privilege even in the reaches of unbelief. Perhaps agnosticism is the more correct term to describe someone open to a possibility, no matter how remote, but we don’t seem to be leaving enough room for shades of doubt. I, personally, am equally agnostic towards Norse mythology as I am towards the Judeo-Christian god.
Bertrand Russell, possibly the most quotable man in history, said it better than I ever could:
When one admits that nothing is certain one must, I think, also admit that some things are much more nearly certain than others. It is much more nearly certain that we are assembled here tonight than it is that this or that political party is in the right. Certainly there are degrees of certainty, and one should be very careful to emphasize that fact, because otherwise one is landed in an utter skepticism, and complete skepticism would, of course, be totally barren and completely useless.
As a philosopher, if I were speaking to a purely philosophic audience I should say that I ought to describe myself as an Agnostic, because I do not think that there is a conclusive argument by which one prove that there is not a God. On the other hand, if I am to convey the right impression to the ordinary man in the street I think that I ought to say that I am an Atheist, because, when I say that I cannot prove that there is not a God, I ought to add equally that I cannot prove that there are not the Homeric gods.
Both quotes are from Am I An Atheist Or An Agnostic?, 1947. Just because I am properly agnostic doesn’t mean I consider the possibility of a deity to be important enough to affect my life in any major way. So, effectively, I am an atheist, a label I happily apply to myself specifically to put distance between me and the co-opted notion of agnosticism as a spiritual position that’s become all too popular.