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Meditation 28
On Weak Atheism

by JT

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I received a message from someone claiming to be an atheist saying in part "Not Sure why you are an agnostic. Why not just come out of the closet and admit you don't believe, that you are an athiest?" (sic)

The answer is very simple. I will not admit I am an atheist because I am not one. I am "out of the closet" as an open, proud, full fledged, convinced and proselytizing agnostic. Ask me if a supreme being exists, and I will respond with absolute certainty, honesty, and finality: "I don’t know."

In Meditation #27, one of our members made a plea that Agnostics not be confused with Atheists. I think he was directing his comments towards believers. But, one of the reasons believers are confused on this issue is that many Atheists, particularly so-called weak Atheists, don’t understand the difference, because they do not understand what Atheism really means. And in promulgating their own view of atheism, they obfuscate the underlying philosophical difference. And the message I referred to in introducing this meditation is typical of weak atheist thinking. (Double meaning intentional.)

Most Agnostics are very clear on what atheism means. We hold to the historic definition that atheism is a positive claim that god(s) do not exist. And until very recently, this was the generally accepted definition of atheism, and it still is in the non-atheist community.. However, amongst Atheists, the traditional concept has come to be known as strong atheism, and the concept of something called weak atheism has been introduced, which is defined as "a lack of belief in the existence of god(s) ." The difference may be subtle to outsiders, but the interesting thing is that a weak atheist will object most strenuously to being lumped in with those who firmly believe there is no god.

And weak atheists like these fine distinctions. I once corresponded with one who claimed he was a strong atheist with respect to the Christian version of god, and a weak atheist with respect to all other varieties of god. That's a position which suggests he considers the Norse pantheon to be at least a remote possibility. Another weak atheist wrote me stating that my definition of atheism was wrong because, as you cannot prove a negative, no-one would claim absolutely that gods do not exist. Consequently there were no atheists at all who would made such an extreme claim. Thereby he threw out several thousand years of atheist thought.

Atheists like to claim that Agnostics are cowards in their religious position and that we like to keep one foot in either camp. They are wrong. We are not afraid to clearly state "We don’t know." We are in neither camp. Neither has proved its case. We are not vacillating between belief and disbelief. We are firm in our agnosticism.

If there are any cowards in the picture, it is the weak atheists, unwilling to accept true atheism, but incapable of stating their true position, which is that they really don’t know.