The Semantic Dance Of Pantheism
John Love-Jensen

From: “Love-Jensen, John”
To: “’Positive Atheism’”
Subject: RE: Positive Atheism, Cliff’s Writings — Which 10 Commandments.
Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 2:18 PM

Dear Cliff Walker,

I hope you enjoyed Solon’s 10 Commandments. :-)
 

Any form of atheism has more similarities with any form of pantheism than either have with any other form of theism, with the possible exception of Deism — but even Deism is a far cry from atheism or pantheism.

On my soon-to-be-put-up webpage, I try to distinguish between theism (belief in one or more gods) from [for lack of a better term] “Deus-ism” (belief in a supreme being deity / deities).

Specific forms of theism: monotheism (which refutes the existance of other gods), ditheism, tritheism, henotheism, polytheism.

Monotheism is a lot like panatheism (strong atheism), except that panatheism doesn’t make an exception for the last god.

One of my favorite quotes...

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“I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”
     — Stephen F. Roberts

 

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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Love-Jensen, John”
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff’s Writings — Which 10 Commandments.
Date: Wednesday, July 19, 2000 5:48 PM

Would you help me on the Pantheism section in our FAQ?
 

Well, theism generally means belief in one or more gods. Some Christians tend to differentiate between Theism (belief in a personal god) and Deism (belief in an impersonal god). I forgot the cute little book put out by Inter Varsity Press in the late 1970s that made these distinctions.

I agree that we ought to distinguish between the notion of a supreme deity and the notion of deities who are subject either to the elements or to other deities (or are co-equal, etc.). However, it may be easier simply to describe these differences rather than trying to train the English-speaking cultures to redefine these terms.
 

Where did this come from? I’ve heard it for years, and would like to verify that Roberts originated it (or at least was the first to publish it). I know that at least the idea has been floating around for a while.
 

This is where I would urge caution in coining Deus-ism: Precisely how is it not a Deus-ism? I mean, if the universe (or Stenger’s super-universe, of which this universe is but a bubble) is “god,” then how is this “god” not supreme? Your “god” is all and all, and thus is supreme — or am I missing something?
 

To say “unsubstantiated” is to solve the argument before the argument starts. I satisfy myself by simply saying “claims.”
 

Johan Grahn suggested to me that “strong” or dogmatic atheism is impossible because of the Burden of Proof. We have since beefed up the language we use in our criticism of the “strong” position.

Panatheism? Again, the problem with coining terms is that you end up having to explain yourself anyway. Why not simply explain the situation in the first place?
 

So sorry! I’ll go back and change it in the previous sections of this letter.

Meanwhile, this question has been in our FAQ for almost a year. Note also that as far as I can tell, this question is original with me (I have studied language and semantics to enhance my writing skills). Someone else may have thought of it before me, but I have not encountered that quote.
 

Okay, then my question remains a semantic one: why confuse the issue by using a term (“god”) that conveys, to most people, something completely different from what you mean? In other words, why do you need a term to describe this sense? Why not simply describe it as you have done here, and avoid using a unique and unfamiliar definition for the word?

At the risk of offending, I’ll ask: Could it be that you seek to start a religion or to further a religion that has already existed? In other words, is there a connection between your use of the word “god” and a possible desire to practice religion?

Meanwhile, I have a similar sense of awe and wonder and respect. The most profound writing I’ve read in a long time was the first chapter to Richard Dawkins’s “Unweaving the Rainbow.” His views of time and the unlikelihood of even existing coincide with my thoughts and ponderings that I had as a child of about ten. In fact, this view is so “awe-some” that to think in terms of a “god” or “God” is, to me, almost tantamount to blasphemy.
 

Your concept of pantheism may fit snugly within the range of the “strong” definition of atheism, but I think “strong” or dogmatic atheism encompasses many more outlooks.

Meanwhile, I’ll have to think about panatheism for a while.
 

I don’t understand what you are saying, here.
 

If mine sound unfriendly, it’s my “down-to-business” side showing through. My approach is always from a sense of wonder and respect for the art of discussion. I am awed by the fact that we (sometimes) can actually communicate complex ideas to one another — and occasionally change one another’s minds.

Occasionally, I am being unfriendly, in a way, but only when my opponent in the discussion is lying or playing some other game of dishonesty. Then, my frustration comes through and I get a little hard-nosed. I do this deliberately in such cases because this is how I would come off in conversation with such a person. Most of these opponents have been Evangelical or fundamentalist Christians, but a few of them have been dogmatic agnostics (how’s that for an oxymoronic concept?).
 

I strongly advocate being sure of the terminology and also the game rules for the discussion. When I ask a question, it is usually to gain further insight into what the person is saying.

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Love-Jensen, John”
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff’s Writings — Which 10 Commandments.
Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 2:11 AM

No insurmountable schism exists as long as we both agree that humans have what they see as perfectly valid reasons for believing the way they do. This is the crux of my approach to anybody’s religious beliefs.

However, I’d go so far as to say that we’re less than a gnat’s ass apart in the cosmology sections our core philosophies. I merely ask why you insist on your use of this one word: “god.” I will continue to probe, simply because I want to exhaust all the questions I have about this matter while you are still willing to talk about it.

Though I offer some suggestions later in this letter, these are merely rhetorical; I do not seek to change you, I merely wish to probe possibilities. I sorely wish to see some specific language developed to describe what you call scientific pantheism, but I wish to replace the religious terminology with language that more people can accept.
 

This is precisely why so many Christian apologists who write to us immediately (and without even looking) launch their tirades against us — as if we held the “strong” position.

Meanwhile, I hold the “weak” position precisely because it is virtually unassailable. While I would never root for a sports team that is the guaranteed winner, but I will go with a philosophical outlook that I think is most likely to withstand scrutiny. This, I think, is the nature of the quest for truth.
 

First, I recommend getting the Microsoft Encarta dictionary set and loading the CD-ROM onto your hard drive. Then, if you suspect someone will have to look up a word such as alethiology you will be able to see that it returns an error in Encarta and you’ll need to simply explain what you’re talking about. (Ahem!)

Secondly, the dogmatic agnostics I’m thinking of take Robert Anton Wilson way too seriously — more seriously than Wilson takes himself! I know this from having met Wilson on three occasions: some of what he’s doing is pure satire.

What the dogmatic agnostics are doing is fighting dogmatism, so they portray all traditional religion as dogmatic and all Randi-type skepticism as dogmatic. They then raise questions based upon anecdotal accounts of seemingly supernatural and just-plain-weird occurrences and say, “See? Can you explain that?”

Unfortunately for this position, very few theists are as dogmatic as these agnostics portray them, and hardly any atheists are as dogmatic as the agnostics claim.

Likewise unfortunate for this position, the “weak” atheistic position eliminates agnosticism as a “middle ground” between theism and atheism, because the “weak” position sees the world as a varied range of ideas rather than a binary set of two extreme dogmas. True, the “weak” position is binary, but it is binary within a wide range of forcefulness — from dogmatic theism to theistic agnosticism and from dogmatic atheism to simple I-don’t-know agnosticism.

One agnostic even spent several letters needling me as to why I bother using the term atheist at all, since it has a specific meaning to most theists. Why don’t I simply abandon the moniker “atheist” and start calling myself what I am: an agnostic?

(Sound familiar?)

The answer is that I call myself what most people who have thought the way I do have called themselves: an atheist. I call myself an atheist because this is the term we have used to describe ourselves. I’m sorry that theists and self-proclaimed agnostics use a different meaning for his word; unlike “God” and “god,” it’s our word, dammit! (to quote Johan Grahn).

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And to think I so carefully differentiate between natural law (which is not the result of any divine decree of any kind) from what my opponents call “Divine Law” (such as “Don’t put a rubber on your willie” or “Vote for George Dubya for President”).

This is my biggest problem with much of pantheism is that it takes language usually reserved for religion and applies it to nature.

In fact, I think the only difference between pantheism and atheism is that atheists admit we are talking about nature. Neither believes there is some guy up there — some Oriental Despot, Only Bigger, And Invisible — who coos and purrs over our praise and prayer, and who has an unhealthy interest in how we conduct our sex lives. Both of us have a sense of awe and reverence toward the universe and toward nature and reality (and I’ll bet neither of us expect the universe to appreciate our sense of reverence).

The only difference is that you use religious language to describe your otherwise atheistic outlook, and I admit that I have found no language to adequately describe my outlook — particularly my sense of awe — but I reject religious language because it already has solid precedence as meaning something other than what I am trying to communicate.
 

And:

I don’t blame them for not getting it: y’all have absconded with their word — not vice versa — and y’all have given it a different definition from that which they are used to pondering.

This is precisely why I prefer to admit my atheism; I am an atheist in every sense, both strong and weak, when it comes to the Christian god-claim. After admitting that I don’t believe in any “God” (in the traditional or popular sense of the term), I then accept the challenge of expressing my awe and reverence for the universe, for reality. Methinks that this will require complex language, that it cannot be boiled down to a single term already in use, and that it is complicated enough to prevent it from being reduced even to a bumper sticker.

For now, if someone asks me whether I hold the universe in awe, or if they falsely criticize me for lacking wonder about “creation,” I simply point to the Dawkins piece I mentioned earlier. This does a better job at touching the sense of awe that I had as a child, when I realized that I exist only through the remotest of luck and the most unlikely of good fortune, that these twists of luck are multiple, ranging from the fact that “time” happens to be “now” while I am currently alive (and not a thousand years from now when I’ll be long dead), to the fact that life may not have ever evolved anywhere on any planet, to the fact that all someone had to do was sneeze way back then and my ancestors would never have met and procreated. I am a monumentally unlikely long-shot, and so are you. I thought this way as a kid of eight or ten, and Dawkins is the only one who has yet been able to put my childhood sense of awe into writing.

And no, I cannot reduce any of this to a single term: pantheism is close in some senses of the term, but it also misses the mark in other ways. Also, it is easily misunderstood by those who don’t know what I am thinking, or who wouldn’t understand even though Dawkins says it so clearly.
 

I can see using the term “god” poetically, in order to express this point, buy you are taking it much further (not unlike the creationist who takes an obviously poetic passage from Genesis or Psalms and wants it taught as science in the public schools).

I would go along with calling the universe “god” if it were clear that I was speaking poetically in order to convey my sense of awe and reverence (though I have done just that, spoken of the universe poetically and use the term “god” in my presentation to convey my awe, and some people have balked at hearing my lips pronounce the sound “god” without stopping to think about the context of what I was saying — “Oooh! Cliff said ‘God’! Did you hear that? Cliff the atheist said ‘God’!”).

However, y’all go much further than poetry, and are using the word “god” where most listeners hear the word “God” (capital “G”) which has, for most, a specific and entirely different meaning.

I wouldn’t mind seeing a movement which openly accepts that the god-talk is poetic and which strives to find ways to express what you are saying without resorting to the word “god.” I’m even willing to become involved in such a project. I’d even like to see a way developed wherein one could reduce this idea to a single word, but I am skeptical that such thinking could become widely accepted by the public.

Meanwhile, you’re going to have to get used to the fact that people such as Christians and atheists are going to misunderstand you and are going to balk at your use of the word “god” to convey something completely different from the majority of our experience.
 

So, then, you seek to further a religion?

In other words, what role does loyalty to the religion play in your decision to defend your use of the term “god” to denote the universe?
 

I don’t think it’s blasphemy against the concept of “God” or “god” (though some Christians might think this way). I do think that to use the term “god” to describe the awesome wonder that I feel toward the universe (and toward reality) is to demean my feelings toward the universe. No concept of “God” or “god” holds a candle to what I feel about the universe — unless I were to call this feeling itself “god” — as you have done. All other definitions for the term “god” or “God” would cheapen how I feel about the universe if used to describe the universe.

Only the poetic sense of the term “God,” describing how someone else (but not me) would feel toward a deity (but not the universe), would convey how I feel toward the universe (that is, how some feel toward their respective conceptualized deities).

For this reason most of all, I think your energies would be better spent discovering or developing some different language. I mean, most of us who study and discuss different religious and philosophical movements are by now used to the term Gaia and know approximately what it means to those who use the term. (I am not here suggesting any similarity to your movement and the Gaia movement, I am simply using it as an example of a coined term (idea, if you will) that has actually caught on.

You see, at this point in our conversation (and correct me if I’m wrong), I get the impression that you are virtually indistinguishable from me in philosophical outlook in that you are an atheist who simply uses the term “god” to mean something different from what I mean when I use it. If I’m not mistaken, that is the only difference between our philosophical outlooks — at least in the major points (though we may differ on this or that minor element, such as an ethical point or a mode of expression).

In other words, I would call you an atheist (and correct me if I’m wrong) in that you lack a belief in any of the deities commonly endorsed by humankind, and your concept of “god” is unique in that it is only a “god” because you choose to use this label for what the rest of us would call “the universe in all its awesome splendor and majesty.” You use the term “god” more strongly than we would, though we might be tempted to use this language if we could be assured that the listeners could recognize that we were waxing poetic.

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This is more confusing than it is amusing. Let me tell you my not-so-amusing story.

“Positive Atheism” is a term that I grabbed during the approximately two hours I had available to me on October 4, 1998, between the time I found out I had been driven out of United States Atheists during a political grab, and the time I had to scramble to find a new name for my website (formerly “Critical Thinker”). I had deleted the index.htm file in the interim and opened the site up with a new name placed onto the Return Home link of each file within about three hours of grabbing all my possessions from USA Headquarters.

I was fortunate enough to be able to catch Lavanam in his office in Vijayawada, India, during this brief window of time (it was nighttime here, and Vijayawada is 13.5 hours ahead of us). During this conversation, I requested his permission to use this phrase that was coined by his father Gora in a context similar to the one Gora used it. Gora uses “Positive Atheism” indicate a proactive ethic wherein (among other things) humans deliberately and actively interfere with the natural order of things in order to make better lives for themselves and their fellow humans.

I was only dimly aware, at the time, that the phrase “positive atheism” also means dogmatic atheism (sort of). I had, long before naming this magazine, wondered if atheism could be a positive (as in healthy and constructive) force in our society (see my December, 1995 column, “Can Atheism Be Positive?”). I reprinted George H. Smith’s piece, “The Scope of Atheism” (the first chapter in his wonderful book “Atheism: The Case Against God”) as early as July, 1997.

This marks my introduction to the “strong” and “weak” distinction within atheism, though I had previously cringed whenever one of USA’s leaders, usually Jerry Billings, would defend the “strong” position before the group by stating that he knows for a fact that no gods exist. It was Smith who showed me how to see and describe what has always been my position: I have never been convinced by any god claims, but it is stupid for me to think I know there cannot possibly be anything that the term “god” or “God” describes. I have since learned a lot.

Even so, Smith’s ideas did not make their way into my editorial column until January, 1998, “Atheists In And Out,” where I discussed the “weak” position for the first time since the article appeared. I did this deliberately because the discussion leader at CRT’s meetings (Jerry Billings) was were so outspoken in his dogmatism. (Perhaps nobody bothered to read the article I’d reprinted? Perhaps since Jerry did almost all the work, he was allowed to have almost all his opinions go unchallenged? Come to think of it, this coincides with the beginning of the end of my friendship with Jerry; he tended to take his atheism very personally, whereas I only tend to take personal matters personally — such as did you steal something from me or defame me through the use of falsehood?)

I used the “weak” definition as my default definition for atheist in the May, 1998 column, “Reflections On The ‘A’ Word.” In December, 1998, two months after leaving USA and forming Positive Atheism Magazine, I devoted the entire “Atheism: A Primer, Of Sorts” piece to advocating the “weak” position. The “weak” position also makes its way (obliquely) into the April, 1999 column, “Why Err, If You Don’t Need To?” in the sense that I speak from the perspective of hearing god-claims, rather than from the perspective of whether or not gods actually exist.

To me, the “weak” position is right in line with Korzybski’s General Semantics and post-Einsteinian “English Prime” in that the “weak” position speaks from having encountered god-claims and whether or not those claims are believed, whereas the “strong” position (on the surface) speaks of what “is” and what “is not.”

By the time the controversial December, 1999, column, “Atheism & Fundamentalism,” came out, I had described the “weak” definition and announced that “this magazine holds” this view. This column marks a drastic change in my focus, and the beginning of what would eventually progress into my open criticism of the “strong” position. Another big change in this respect is the July 7, 2000, letter from Johan Grahn where he clearly shows me that the “strong” position is logically untenable — at least in terms of the Burden of Proof as pertains to empirical proof. I had suspected this before, of course, but he is the first to show this to me in English, and thus to allow me to state it with words.

But in the February, 2000, column, the very intimate look at Cliff Walker called “Monument To Lost Faith,” I describe my rejection of several ideas in very “strong” language; however, the ideas I reject are specific ideas (that a “God” who looks after us; that I can influence situations through prayer; that I am part of a greater whole in the “metaphysical” or “synchronistic” or “New Age” sense). I have rejected these particular beliefs, and am a “strong” atheist when it comes to these specific ideas (though I am a “weak” atheist in general, and when I am first encountering anybody’s god-claims).

Since the middle of June, when I began to spend lots of time in the Letters section, I have escalated my criticism of the “strong” position to being open and unashamed about it. All this time since Smith’s introducing me to the concept, you will notice, I am very stern with theists who come on and insist that I hold the “strong” position, and then proceed to ram “strong” atheism up my poop chute (even though I don’t hold this position, and state as much in my writings and in the FAQ).

It appears that the current changes my views have been undergoing are nearing completion. Yesterday, began work rewriting the “What Is Atheism” section of the FAQ. I will work some more on it tonight if that Guinness I just poured (Dublin-style) doesn’t do me wrong. (Too many of those and the Pookah pays a visit.)

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to tell the history of how I developed my current position in regards to the “negative atheism” versus “positive atheism” versus “Positive Atheism” discussions. Hope this part didn’t weary you, but I wanted to get this out for the record so I can post it. (I’ve also been listening to the new Mojo Nixon MP3 Set live from Colorado on July 7, 2000, all day while I’ve been writing this, and Mojo always inspires me toward fiercely independent thinking. I, “The Doc,” helped Mojo get his career off the ground in San Diego during the mid-1980s. At one point, he and I were the only two that thought he’d ever make it. Today, he’s still a man after my own heart in that he allows free trading of his MP3s on the Internet.)

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This is why I prefer simply to describe what I am saying rather than trying to use a term to say it. When I worked with addicted people, I refused to use the term alcoholism or alcoholic in my presentations, because they mean so many things to so many different people. So, I spent over seven years walking completely around the word alcoholism mainly because I saw the entire concept as folkloric. There certainly is no medical data to back up the claim that it realistically describes the situation.

I assume that pantheism means that the universe is god, and that polytheism means belief in more than one god (Trinitarianism excepted, which also describes one god as well as three, which qualifies it as monotheism; I don’t want to make the Christians any more mad at me than they already are, so I will usually respect their insistence that Trinitarianism is a form of monotheism). One fellow I know coined omnitheism to describe his belief that the claims of all religions are true. Paganism is varied and is either polytheism (many gods, usually subject either to the elements or to a superior or supreme goddess or god) or one god being the universe itself. Sometimes paganism is indistinguishable from atheism (“strong” or “weak”). Paganism seems more descriptive of a particular approach to the various -isms than descriptive of any one of those -isms. The phrase “all things and beings are modes, attributes, or appearances of one single unified being called God” describes the pantheism that I understand to be the Hinduism advocated by the Krsna Society; this pantheistic deity appears to be seen as a personal being, rather than impersonal as you suggest. “New Age religions” seems to be even more of a catch-all even than paganism, which is why I usually joke that “New Age” rhymes with sewage — but this is more my reflection of New Age music than of New Age philosophy (but only slightly more)!
 

Well, atheism has meant many things in the past, but usually means one of two things now: dogmatic atheism (“No gods exist”) and “weak” atheism (“I lack a god belief” or “I have encountered no god-claim that holds water with me”). Before, it has meant wickedness (see Mirriam-Webster’s Tenth Collegiate) and it has also meant “You don’t believe in the same god I do, though you may believe in some god.”

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It only ticks you off because you appear to prefer precise terms. I am more of a realist than a semanticist, except in the sense that I respect (and often actually practice) Korzybski’s General Semantics and post-Einsteinian language ideas (wherein one speaks only of one’s observations and measurements, never pretending that any “ultimate reality” exists). I met Robert Anton Wilson in about 1990 and his works have influenced me since the early 1980s, after I ducked out of a brief fling with Evangelical Christianity. Thus, I realize the limitations of language, and the need for precise descriptions.

The problem of the multiplicity of god-ideas reminds me of a passage from Paul Krassner’s Confessions of a Raging, Unconfined Nut: “Indeed, one of LBJ’s favorite jokes was about a popular Texas sheriff running for reelection. His opponents had been trying unsuccessfully to think of a good campaign issue to use against him. Finally one man suggested spreading ‘a rumor that he fucks pigs.’ Another protested, ‘You know he doesn’t do that.’ ‘I know,’ said the first man, ‘But let’s make the son of a bitch deny it.’”

In a similar way, by insisting that the Christians and other fundamentalists qualify their respective gods (so we can distinguish them from other god-ideas), we force them to unwittingly admit that they are (at minimum) dealing in a very pluralistic culture and (at most) admitting that they are making this stuff up as they go along (usually in response to the various and sundry “pluralistic” god-definitions that those of us with a sense of humor keep imagining).

I have, on occasion, deliberately misunderstood the Christian god-claim during conversations with Evangelists (though not in this forum). Every time the Evangelist says something about “God,” I respond as if I were thinking of a pantheistic or a polytheistic “god” or some other typically non-Western or non-modern god-idea. The Evangelist then must back up and “correct” me. It’s fun to watch this pan out (they take themselves so seriously, and it’s hard to get them not to take you seriously).

What I intend to show by doing this (though they might not get it right away; they may never get it) is that I think they might be making up their specific god-definition as they go along (or at least choosing one specific god from among a whole menu of options), in response to my misunderstanding. Only the most honest Evangelists (or the most lazy) will admit that they don’t know. Once they admit that they don’t know, then my question is, “They why are you telling me about it if you don’t know?” But Evangelical Christians are up a creek because their god allegedly commanded them to tell me about Him.
 

Unfortunately, language in practice can never be as precise as we would want it to be in theory. Thomas Paine recognized this in refuting the notion of divine revelation as written word:

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“...the Word of God cannot exist in any written or human language.

The continually progressive change to which the meaning of words is subject, the want of a universal language which renders translation necessary, the errors to which translations are again subject, the mistakes of copyists and printers, together with the possibility of wilful alteration, are of themselves evidences that human language, whether in speech or in print, cannot be the vehicle of the Word of God. The Word of God exists in something else.
               — The Age of Reason
 

 

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Since this whole thing is a discussion (since I am asking the theist to see this as a discussion and not a decided matter), it’s only fair that I refrain from calling their claims “unsubstantiated” at least until I have given them the opportunity to try to substantiate their claims.

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

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From: “Love-Jensen, John”
To: “’Positive Atheism’”
Subject: RE: Positive Atheism, Cliff’s Writings — Which 10 Commandments.
Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 1:17 PM

Hi Cliff,
 

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“I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E.”
~Frank Lloyd Wright

“It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.”
~W. K. Clifford

 

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It is wrong always, everywhere and for everyone to believe anything upon insufficient evidence.
— W. K. Clifford

I disbelieve in the Christian god (and all other imaginary gods) based on the reasonsing in Clifford’s well stated proclamation. I don’t disbelieve because I think that they are all fucking made-up, pretend and imaginary. I disbelieve because there is insufficient evidence.

 

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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Love-Jensen, John”
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff’s Writings — Which 10 Commandments.
Date: Friday, July 21, 2000 9:23 PM

I would appreciate simply taking what I have and both correcting it and adding to it in a very basic sense. I am shooting for the basics common to all pantheism, and the few major sub-categories within this bigger category. This is not a philosophy volume, but is intended to try to briefly show where pantheists are coming from on the big issues. I am particularly interested in SciPan (and would welcome a section that compares SciPan to other forms of pantheism because it seems to be catching on (at least many are giving lip service to it as an alternative to traditional theism). Of course, I would need to address the traditional forms of pantheism which I think Hinduism (at least as expressed by the Krsna Society) qualifies is a form. I would also appreciate a brief run-down of the argument over language we have been having, and if you know of some objections I’ve missed, that have been aired within your congregation, I’d appreciate those as well. As always, I will take what you write and rewrite it to fit my style and intentions. I’d be glad to give you credit for your assistance, though, by linking to your site (and to this discussion) from the Pantheism write-up.
 
 

You’ve only been looking in the sci-fi section, not the philosophy, occult and metaphysics, sexuality, drugs, or other sections where his nonfiction might be found. Illuminatus! is a satire, spoofing the fact that there are so many vastly different world views coming from a single species. In it, Wilson and Shea took all the different paranoid conspiracy theories that came into the Playboy “Letters To the Editor” forum over the course of the six years Wilson worked there and tried to weave them into a fictionalized unified theory. Of course, in order to do this, the book must be classified as fiction. Hell, it’s gotta go somewhere!

The book you might find interesting is called Quantum Psychology wherein Wilson tries to incorporate the revelations and enigmas of Relativity and Quantum Mechanics into a basis for understanding how the human mind works (or should work). It’s real fun, intended to be read by small groups, and has group exercises that you do at the end of each chapter. It’s similar to his earlier book Prometheus Rising except with the latter he admits that it is contrived. Quantum Psychology is serious in that the author actually believes what he is writing.
 

I was hoping you’d catch the fact that I’ve been needling you to abandon your use of the word god just as this fellow needled me to abandon my use of the word atheist.

The only difference I see is that atheist is our term, whereas your use of god is (as I see it) an intrusion.
 

You’re still missing my point: I’m trying to distinguish what is commonly seen as Divine Law from what is commonly seen as natural law. To do this with any other theist is sometimes a tedious job indeed. To do this with a SciPan is, I suspect, impossible, because what you say unravels all this work I’ve done with the regular theist.

And now, you dismiss what I was trying to say by taking cover in what your specific religion of about 800 members teaches. Could you at least have stepped outside your worldview long enough to acknowledge what I was trying to say?

Again: My opponents (all except about 800 of them) have a tough time distinguishing between “natural law” and “divine law.” This is a source of unending pain when discussing these matters with them, requiring that I type tens of thousands of characters of text in order to even get anywhere with them (though you’d think this was not necessarily the case).

Now you come in and dismiss the whole thing with a turn of semantics and by fleeing to your own world view, rather than acknowledging that I am speaking of their world view.

Finally, you turn around and accuse them of absconding with their terminology when, in fact, I think SciPan has absconded with traditional theism’s terminology. I mean, even when Joseph Smith announced that he had the original, uncorrupted Christian Gospel, he at least used the motif of angels and golden plates and a new (that is, recent) revelation in order to give his case at least some credibility among the more gullible. You haven’t even done this, but simply declare that our culture has been “inundated” with the long-standing traditional views dating back over 15 centuries.

Are you even recognizing that yours is just one viewpoint among many? or are you insisting that view is intrinsically true?
 

So what? They have historical precedence in their use of the terms, and they are the majority in our neck of the woods. You’re not going to get very far by coming in and accusing them of co-opting your terminology when it is y’all who have come in (recently) and co-opted terminology that has had a specific meaning for the majority of people over the course of a thousand of years. This is why I am asking why you even bother? why not simply come up with some new language so that the rest of us who aren’t in this group of 800 can understand what you’re saying.

True, you are welcome to make any word mean anything you want within the context of the 800, but you are now speaking with a member of the general population, who deals with hundreds of different people, and who has noticed that almost all others use this language to mean one specific thing (with very minor variations). Your use of the same terminology is a whole new ball game from what has been done all these centuries.

Of course we will be inundated with their terminology: it’s their terminology. This is why I only use their terminology to speak in terms of their world view. I will not use their terminology to describe my own world view unless my world view at least somewhat coincides with the world view that their language describes. And since my world view is almost diametrically opposed to theirs, the least I can do is leave their terminology alone and find some words and concepts that better describe what I’m talking about.
 

Again: I am talking about your version of pantheism, not just any “whacko” version out there somewhere.

I will repeat: my biggest problem with the pantheism you advocate is that it takes language usually reserved for religion and applies it to nature.
 

This is the same as what we’ve been discussing: You are taking something natural (human ethics, etc.) and creating an artificial boundary between what you call “nature” and what you call “spiritual” — but it’s all still squarely within the realm nature!

When regular theists say “spiritual,” at least they are talking about something they say is not natural but supernatural.

Why not simply use terms like ethics and aesthetics instead of risking confusion by using terminology which, for the vast majority of Western people and for almost two dozen centuries, has indicated the supernatural?

I say this as a copy editor whose job it is to take unintelligible writings and change them so that a diverse readership can understand what is being said. The problem with your copy is that you insist on doing the equivalent of using the word apples to convey the message “oranges.” In your case, I would go so far as to suggest that you use the term apples when you want to say “not apples.” At least when Lenny Bruce used the term apples it was clear to all listeners that he meant “breasts.”
 

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“I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E.”
— Frank Lloyd Wright

 

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We wouldn’t know this to hear to the language you use.

True, Wright appears to have been defending himself against an Evangelist of some sort. I can relate. I was court ordered to practice this religion known as Alcoholics Anonymous, and I had to be there for three years. I started off going, “I don’t even know what spiritual means!” but soon realized that I would be rejected and ostracized for these views. So I changed my tack and pointed to a passage in the literature which listed “spiritual principles”: honesty, open-mindedness and willingness. So, I changed my tune (only so I could survive in this subculture) and started saying, “I don’t know what y’all mean by ‘spiritual’ but the book says that ‘honesty, open-mindedness and willingness’ are ‘spiritual principles’ and this is good enough for me, because these are ethics and values — and I can get behind ethics and values real easy because they are human inventions and do not necessarily come from the realm of the supernatural.” (See my article from that era called “Completely Realistic” for my attempts to describe trying to survive in a world that was entirely foreign to me.)

You can rest assured that the moment my three years were up, I stopped using the term spiritual to denote naturally occurring phenomenon and went back to my normal use of language by simply calling these things ethics and values. Because these things are ethics and values. No terminology relating to the supernatural is required to explain or describe them.

By the way, my crime was illness, physical debilitation, disorientation, poverty, homelessness, and keeping myself alive by shoplifting tins of oysters, clams, and sardines. I had no drug or alcohol related charges or convictions, but was ordered by a court to undergo religious instruction nonetheless. In fact, I initially balked by calling myself an atheist, and the judge ordered me to be held in jail for 30 days for refusing her order to get some religion. Believe me: such an experience would make an activist out of anyone. This was 1988 and I’m still fighting strong.
 

Sagan had enough of a respect for human language that I suspect he might have taken the position I’ve been presenting here.
 

Yes, and the main way we do this is through language. This is why I urge you to begin using language that is less likely to be misunderstood by your fellow humans.
 

Is not claiming their terminology as your own, though, a bit extraordinary?
 

One either has a god belief (is a theist) or one lacks a god belief (is an atheist).

Since you say that you believe in a “god” we must acknowledge that you have a god belief (however unusual) and are thus a theist.

However, since your “god” is something that the rest of us have perfectly good language to describe (the universe), your philosophy is indistinguishable from atheism. Nevertheless, you choose to use the term “god,” and since we observers have no business telling you what the word “god” does and does not mean to you, you are a theist (though I would say a dishonest theist because you are giving meaning to language that is other than its conventional meaning).

Your pantheism is only a third alternative in the context of the semantic dance you choose to engage in (but that the rest of us choose to avoid). It is not an alternative in any real sense because it is atheism cloaked as theism. I’d like to classify it as atheism because that’s what I think it is, but I must call it “theism” in the atheism-theism duality simply because we observers cannot cross that line and tell you what the word god means. You choose to use the term, and though your philosophy fits squarely within the realm of atheism, your use of the term god makes you a theist in the atheism-theism duality.

There might be other uses for the terms theist and atheist but we are talking about theism versus atheism, and this, to us, is a duality. Agnosticism is not a third alternative but is neatly divided along these lines as theistic agnosticism (“There is a god but I cannot or do not know more than this”) and atheistic agnosticism (“I don’t know if there is a god, so I lack a god belief, and thus qualify as an atheist”). I may be doing a semantic dance with this duality, but there is solid precedence for this duality, as explained by George H. Smith in his works “Defining Atheism” and “The Scope of Atheism.”
 

The best suggestion I can give you is to abandon the use of language that (to most listeners) already means the opposite of what you intend to convey.
 

This is only half the problem. The real problem with your SciPan is its unfamiliar use of familiar language.
 

You might have better luck with these types than with thinkers, because I suspect most thinkers would bump up against the language barrier as I have.
 

You’ve already told me that you use the term divine to mean something other than what its widely accepted meaning states.

And you have already admitted that your “god” does not even detect the “homage” you pay to it, unlike regular theistic homage wherein the god sits up there and coos and purrs over our praises to Him.

Now I suspect that you might have a different meaning for sacred than the rest of us have.

To me the Earth is sacred in the poetic sense, not because it has any intrinsic value that earns it my homage but because it is our home and because it has done a bang-up job at supporting life for lo these many billions of years. Thus I treat it as sacred (as a religious person would view sacred) in that I do what I can to protect it from the destruction that is human progress and population growth. I vote as if the Earth is “sacred” and I consume as if the Earth is “sacred” and I live as if the Earth is “sacred.” However, I admit that my use of the term sacred is poetic metaphor because I acknowledge that the Earth has no intrinsic “holiness” but is just there.
 

If by “conversion” you mean that I would go along with your use of language (what I see as abuse of language), then you’ll never convert this writer. And I suspect that this is all that a conversion would entail here, because apart from the language, we are indistinguishable.
 

All these subcategories fall within a larger generic category. They are gods and goddesses within the traditional, widely accepted use of the term. The only real differences lie within the specific loyalties of the various adherents.

Of course, when one of these theists comes up against me in a discussion (usually in the context of their wanting me to believe with them), I must first ask them to describe what they mean when they use the term “god” because I am not a “strong” atheist in respect to the generic meaning of the word god but I am an extremely dogmatic “strong” atheist when it comes to specific god-claims such as those of Bible-based Evangelical Christianity. When it comes to the big category of “gods and goddesses” into which all these other claims fit, I simply lack a god belief and fit the “weak” definition for atheism. But when it comes to the claims of the Evangelical Christians, it is their specific description of their “God” which I assert cannot be true: I fit the “strong” definition for atheism with respect to their specific god-claim.

But your category is different in that as far as I can tell, you are using the word “god” to mean something it has never meant before.
 

And I would suggest that the absence of light is coming as much from your end as from theirs: you are giving terms like god and spiritual and reverence meanings that it has for only about 800 people.

If you want to have a lively and fulfilling discussion with a Christian, then you have a choice: either (1) admit to the Christian that you are speaking Chinese and he or she is speaking Latin, or (2) tell the Christian that “the cosmos is the one and only true reality that we can verify, and is not in any sense pretend, imaginary or make-believe — like your god appears to be” and let the Christian be the one who uses the terms “god” or “God.” Explain your reverence in terms that the Christian will understand, and you will get somewhere with the Christian. If you simply want to do a semantic dance, and you don’t really want to communicate anything, then I would liken your approach to masturbation. If you really want to engage with someone, if you really wish to impart some information, then figure out how to express your idea in language that others can understand.
 

So you’re even a minority within this small group! I’m tempted to say, “Get a clue!”

(By the way, how do we distinguish other half [who eschew the language] from atheists?)

It wouldn’t matter if you kept this language within your own mind, or within the context of the half of your group that is either apathetic or embracing of this use of language. Since you tell me that you engage with traditional theists (and since you are now engaging with a traditional atheist), it becomes important to justify your use of this language.

I have asked you to justify this use of language, carefully phrasing the questions that are raised in my own mind, but you continue to simply say, “That’s what I do” without offering a persuasive case for this practice.
 

But the most effective way to be a real “pain in the ass” is to have a point. I still fail to see your point unless your point is to be a pest (as opposed to a “pain in the ass”). In order to make your point (and become a bona fide “pain in the ass”), you need to make a solid case that it is the Christians who are improperly using religious terms. You also must show that your use is proper in that it is (1) a valid and proper use of the terminology (which should be an easy case to make, though I think you’ve only done a half-assed job here), and (2) using this language is the best way to express your ideas (that is, the most likely to be understood by others — a big problem for your position, I fear), and (3) no other language even approaches your goal of communicating your ideas (which is my point entirely: methinks we could come up with some excellent ways to express what you have been describing to me).

However, I cannot help you when you admit that you wish to further a religion; I can only tip my Chicago Cubs cap and wish you luck. I would hope that one would seek to discover truth and enter the discussion and change and grow with the rest of the scientifically minded communities, but this sounds like an attempt to further a dogma (in this case, rather, a dogmatic approach to expressing a set of ideas that is not itself a bona fide dogma).
 

I’m sorry. Let me go back and see if I can figure out what I might have been trying to say, there.

I had said,

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[Dawkins’s] views of time and the unlikelihood of even existing coincide with my thoughts and ponderings that I had as a child of about ten. In fact, this view is so “awe-some” that to think in terms of a “god” or “God” is, to me, almost tantamount to blasphemy.

 

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By this, I meant to say that to use the term “god” or even “God” to describe my awe for the universe is to demean my awe for the universe. The “blasphemy” is against my understanding of the universe, not against the word “god.”

No understanding ever conveyed by the term god (or God) is grand enough to contain the awe I feel toward the universe. Even your SciPan use of the term would degrade my awe, if for no other reason than that it is, in my opinion, a misuse of language; also, you admit that your motive for using of this language rests, in part, on your desire to propagate a specific philosophy — a religion, if you will.

So, I said that the term god, when applied to my sense of awe, is not grand enough and would demean (or “blaspheme” — to wax poetic) my sense of awe. Then you said:

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My use of the term “god” indicates my exaltation and regard of the cosmos in all its splendor, awe, and wonder (those feelings it stirs within me).

 

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I’d hope that my use and thinking in the terms of “god” in that context isn’t tantamount to blasphemy, in your judgement. But maybe not, I dunno.

I was still hoping you understood that my use of “blasphemy” was poetic, and that I was referring to the concept of god metaphorically “blaspheming” my sense of awe for the universe. Nevertheless, I suspected that you thought I may be referring to “blaspheming” the concept of “god” or “God,” or perhaps even just the word god. So, I tried to clarify myself in the first part of the paragraph:

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I don’t think it’s blasphemy against the concept of “God” or “god” (though some Christians might think this way). I do think that to use the term “god” to describe the awesome wonder that I feel toward the universe (and toward reality) is to demean my feelings toward the universe. No concept of “God” or “god” holds a candle to what I feel about the universe — unless I were to call this feeling itself “god” — as you have done. All other definitions for the term “god” or “God” would cheapen how I feel about the universe if used to describe the universe.

 

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Okay. I mistakenly called the feeling itself “god” rather than saying what I should have said, that the result of this feeling is that you call the universe “god.” I’m sorry.

I don’t know how I would word this; what I meant to say was:

Unless I could get away with what you are doing (which I would never do because it is deliberately a poor use of language), all other definitions for god or God that I have encountered describe concepts that are much smaller than the grandeur I feel for the universe.

Later, I said that even doing what you do would demean the grandeur I feel simply because I know there must be a better way to express these feelings (I simply haven’t applied myself toward finding or developing this language — I am still reeling over Dawkins’s piece). But I already know, from the other uses for the term god or God, that it would express, to the minds of my listeners, a smaller concept than I would intend were I to try to express the awe I feel for the universe.
 

This is good.

Unfortunately, it is less than I feel toward the universe.

It also seems contrived in that it bases itself on the models of the traditional concepts of deity. If I get around to putting my feelings into words, I will need to start from scratch — much like Dawkins did in the first section of “Unweaving the Rainbow.”
 

I only challenge it to gain a better understanding of your argument for doing this.
 

We are quibbling over semantics; that is the gist of this discussion: your use of language and my wondering why you do this.
 

I don’t recognize that as a serious definition for atheist; it is more of a humorous twist of semantics than anything else. This does not mean I won’t use this twist (I have), it just means that when I do use it I must use caution and be sure that the listener or reader understands that I am using an unorthodox definition. In this sense, I would enclose the term atheist in quotation marks, which is a literary device to indicate that I mean something different — usually ironic — from its ordinary and accepted meaning.

No Christian is a “weak” atheist in the accepted and traditional sense of the term: no Christian “lacks a god belief”: all Christians have a god belief or they would not be Christians. They all believe in at least one god, and thus are not atheists.

What I was saying is that I would call you an atheist in the traditional “weak” sense in that you lack a god belief. However, as I stated later, your use of the term god makes you a theist — simply because the observer has no business second-guessing your use of this language, and thus you are a theist in that you assert the existence of a “god.” But, almost all other gods that people have endorsed have very similar traits; your “god” is in a category all its own because you admit that you are using the word as a synonym for a word (universe) that no others would designate with this synonym (“god”). So, I would say that philosophically you are indistinguishable from an atheist except that you tell people that you believe in “god.”
 

In the theism-atheism discussion, your pantheism differs from atheism in that you tell others that you believe in “god”; therefore, you disqualify yourself from being called an atheist.

In the theism-atheism discussion, your pantheism differs from other forms of theism only in that most of the other forms of theism endorse gods that have characteristics similar to one another. Your “god” lacks almost all of the main characteristics that the others gods have in common. Your unique concept of “god” does not remove you from the camp of theism, because each “god” or “God” that people claim has at least one unique characteristic (though most of them share a specific group of common characteristics that your “god” lacks).

For example, the fact that the “Jesus” of Evangelical Christianity allegedly said, “Thou art Simon the son of Jona” (and I doubt no other god is alleged to have used these words) does not disqualify Evangelical Christianity from being called theism any more than your unique definition of “god” disqualifies you from being called theism. Just because your definition for “god” is unique (as all definitions for god or God are unique in some way) doesn’t mean that you are not a theist. Your cosmology may be indistinguishable from mine, but it is your use of the term “god” to describe your cosmology that makes you a theist.

This is what a theist is, in the theism-atheism discussion, and no amount of semantic gyrations can rescue you from the theism-atheism duality. You either have a god belief (and what you tell us is all we have to go on) or you lack a god belief (and again, what you tell us is all we have to go on). Since you tell us you believe in “god,” we must see you as a theist.
 

The term alcoholic describes a type of beverage. It has nothing to do with the person doing the drinking (except that our culture has adopted this term in order to denigrate certain people).

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Love-Jensen, John”
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff’s Writings — Which 10 Commandments.
Date: Monday, July 24, 2000 9:10 PM

I have been contacted by another pantheist, Trene Valdrek, who has sent some much-needed analysis of the FAQ on pantheism. I have also discussed your pantheism in the letter from Bill Garrett.

Also, please don’t mind some of my intricate discussion here. I am hammering out some new elements of my philosophy and am, if nothing else, practicing how to think it and, ultimately, how to say it. The first section is essentially one piece, written after the second part. The second part contains several short portions, and some of it is me railing on the semantics bit again, but expanding to include your use of traditionally theistic concepts in addition to traditionally theistic language.

None of this is to be taken personally, it’s just me trying to understand and learning to express my understanding (or lack thereof).

And I am not telling you what to do. Ever. I don’t care what anybody believes, and I truly think that everyone has valid reasons for believing the way they do. I am merely trying to find out what it is you believe and where that fits within the framework of my world-view.

Also note that I missed some of the parts toward the end. If there is anything crucial I missed, please re-ask.
 

I found the original three-book set in a bookstore for a dollar. (This is the set I had during the early 1980s as I was coming down from Christianity, not the single-bound volume on sale today.) I took it home and put it on the shelf. Years later, I opened it to the second page, and voila! It was autographed by both authors! The bookseller didn’t even notice it or he probably would have placed it under the glass counter for three figures (knowing this bookstore)!

Though I come on here and refute much of what he advocates (the details, anyway), I appreciate his views on agnosticism and have adopted much of his outlook into my personal philosophy. His other “deserted island” work is called Cosmic Trigger (reprinted as Cosmic Trigger I). Masks of the Illuminati is a fine mystery novel, and The Historical Illuminati trilogy (The Earth Will Shake, etc.) has many of his characters practicing various occult crafts and apparently reveals lots of occult secrets that one would have to spend numerous lifetimes in various groups to learn.

The most important thing I learned from Wilson actually came from Aleister Crowley:

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In this book it is spoken of ... Spirits & Conjurations, of Gods ... & many other things which may or may not exist.... Students are most earnestly warned against attributing objective reality or philosophical validity to any of them.”

 

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Translated into my then-Christianity-diminished fog of a mindset, this meant: If I pray to Jesus and what I prayed for comes to pass, this does not mean that Jesus answered my prayer — or even exists. This was a major revelation for me, and is probably the single most important point that helped me keep from “relapsing” back into the church.

Wilson admits, though, that much of what he writes about the occult is more a reflection of how the human nervous system works than of any “deep” reality or anything that is “really” happening. He cloaks a lot of what he says within occult terminology and imagery. The rest of what he writes is pure agnosticism — or, as he puts it, “aggravated agnosticism.” By this he means that he has diligently sought answers only to become more baffled with each step of the quest.
 

Essentially the same thing. You’ve still taken their concept and applied it to something entirely different: homage and worship is an Oriental Despot thing: new wine in old wineskins, you know, and all that jazz.
 

So, if they see a volcano and call it a god, are they theists? If a Christian or a Rastafarian reads a story about a man long dead and calls him a god, are they theists? If a man sees the universe and calls it “god” and describes it with language that the others use when describing what we all would call a deity (whether or not that deity actually exists), do I rightly call that man a theist?

My current position is that if they say they believe in a god — whatever that god (or “God” or “god) may or may not be — they are theists. This prevents me from having to judge whether their god is real or their concept is valid or their application of terminology is proper use of language. If they take something and describe it with language that some have applied to deities or gods (or “God” or “god”), they are theists. That’s my current position (though I’ve only held this position for a few days, now.)

My only other alternative, really, is to say that their gods don’t really exist, so it’s impossible for them to actually believe in them, so they are actually atheists, like it or not. I’d just as soon the bulk of them not become allies, so I’ll satisfy myself with defining theism in terms of the belief — however wrong-headed that belief may be.
 

But you and I can make strong cases that the objects of their beliefs are not actually supernatural but are figments of the imagination at best. The believers only think they are supernatural, but in actuality, they are not. We still call them theists.

In the context of the theism-atheism discussion of the “weak” definition for atheism, I have decided (for now) that since you say you believe in a “god” I best call you a theist — even though your philosophy and cosmology seem essentially indistinguishable from my materialistic outlook. To do otherwise would require that I second-guess everybody’s god-claim (because I have second-guessed yours), that I judge whether the object of each claim was valid. For example, since I can invalidate the Jesus claim, I can say that the Christian does not actually believe in a god, but only thinks (or rather, says) that he believes. Taken to it’s logical conclusion, this position would require me to call a Christian an atheist.

However, with my current position, yours is the final word on what is going on in your mind, and I must take your word for it if you tell me that you believe in “god”; thus, since you tell me you believe in “god” I am obligated to call you a theist regardless of what I think about your god claim.

Remember, this is in the context of the theism-atheism discussion, as viewed from the perspective of the “weak” definition for atheism. If you are not a theist, then I am not an atheist. Theodore Drange would call me a noncognitivist in regards to your viewpoint, simply because I cannot understand what you’re saying. I simplify this and say that I lack your perspective when it comes to your use of the term “god” and thus, lacking your god belief as well as all others, I am an atheist.

Another pantheist who wrote here recently says that many deliberately fall short of using the god language and applying the god concepts (such as “intrinsic ‘holiness’”). Perhaps they do this specifically to avoid being called theists (or to avoid even seeing themselves as theists). In any event, he says that they see themselves as an atheistic religion, of which there are many.

Speaking of atheistic religions, Raelianism comes to mind: Raelians are atheistic creationists. They do not believe in gods but believe that an extraterrestrial species settled this planet and tinkered with DNA throughout Earth’s history. They do not worship this species and acknowledge no Ultimate Being. the don’t even revere the planet or universe as having any intrinsic qualities, but if they do revere the planet at all, it is in the same sense that I would in that I love my home and stand in awe that life could possibly exist here or anywhere. Their only god-language at all comes when they are defending their position against theism: “God’s an ET,” they say. This is not unlike when Frank Lloyd Wright said: “I believe in God, only I spell it N-A-T-U-R-E.” Methinks both were simply responding to an anthropomorphic god-claim by saying, essentially, there is no god, but I do have an explanation for our existence, and for your ears, I’ll use the word God as part of the equation.
 

Your unique definitions for “god” do not absolve you from theism, in my opinion. Every alleged god (or God or “god”) has some unique point, and who am I to determine which ones are within the realm of qualifying as valid god-concepts and which ones lie outside that realm? I’ve gotta draw the line, and I say you’re a theist if you say you believe in a god (or God or “god” or whatever).

Since I lack your beliefs, I am an atheist when it comes to your concept — but this is not a very good use of atheist. Better, I lack beliefs in all god-concepts that I have encountered (including yours, which might better be termed an abstraction, but it is a concept nonetheless) and thus am an atheist. This is a better use of the term atheist.
 

Since you tell me that you believe in “god” and you use typically theistic language and some theistic concepts to describe your outlook; since my definition for atheism means the lack of a god belief; since as an atheist I have no business second-guessing anyone’s god claim, since as a human I treat everyone by the same standards; therefore I must go along with the language of your claim wherein you talk of believing in a “god.” Thus, from my perspective, you are a theist.

I think that in your case, it is only your use of language that nudges you into the category of theist; the other members of your church who don’t use this language, I think, should be called atheists — at least from the perspective of the theist-atheist dichotomy within the “weak” definition for the term atheism.
 

Yes. I only need to define it in the context of the theism-atheism dichotomy contained in the “weak” definition for atheism. With most people, I can do this within a few sentences of dialogue. Yours is a very unique viewpoint (are there any others?) and besides that, yours has been an extremely difficult one for me to pin down. In addition, we have the added complication of my needing to define your position in terms of a preconceived dichotomy called “theist or atheist” (that I have defined), and you thinking that you do not fit within a dichotomy called “theist or atheist” (even though you probably define this dichotomy differently from the way I do).

Apart from the context of the theism-atheism dichotomy as it relates to the “weak” definition for the term atheism, I am only interested in your descriptions of what you believe — not whether it is theism or atheism. The description is the bottom line for me — except when it comes to this one dichotomy (and only as I have defined it). But, one thing that I do want to understand (this one small thing is very important to me because I am testing part of my world-view with it) is where various people fit within this dichotomy that I have defined through my world view.

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I am not here disqualifying your concept from being a god-concept. I am only distinguishing it to compare with it what you mean when you talk of “paying homage.”

What is the object of your reverence, here? Certainly it is not the God of Mark Twain’s satire, who sits up in the clouds and coos and purrs over our praises of Him! So, then, what do you mean when you talk of paying homage?
 

So, then, is it sacred only in your mind? or is it essentially sacred in “deep” reality?

If the latter, how would one demonstrate this? What would we do to determine that the Earth is essentially sacred?
 

For yourself, within your mind? or essentially?
 

So how do we differ? or do we differ?
 

It’s “holiness,” for me (in the poetic sense), is because I naturally revere it and because I choose to revere it — I choose to encourage and nurture these already innate feelings of awe that I’ve had since childhood. It’s “holiness” is entirely a product of my imagination, as the result of the values which I have chosen to nurture. Apart from my imagination, the Earth has no intrinsic “holiness” because “holiness” is a value that I have placed upon the Earth in my mind. I see the Earth through “holiness”-colored glasses.

I suspect that only a theist could speak of “holiness” as being intrinsic — that is, as being an essential element apart from human value, the value of the beholder.

I got much of this approach a long time ago when I read Quantum Psychology by Robert Anton Wilson and conducted some of the exercises at the ends of the chapters. I wager that after reading this book and doing some of the exercises, your use of language will change dramatically.

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Some more railing on the use of language, and several other matters. This (below) will fill in some of the gaps above, which is essentially one solid piece. This (below) is the first part I wrote (the above part came later, after I’d read your entire letter). You might find some of this fun and/or interesting. You might not.

It sure seemed as if you were taking “natural law” and calling it “divine law.”
 

See what I mean? I can’t tell the difference from what you say!

Is it a “misnomer” to distinguish “divine law” from “natural law” or do you refrain from using the terms as synonyms? What is the difference between indistinguishable and synonymous?
 

No need to apologize unless you’ve lied to me or been rude. I am merely trying to understand your god-concept, and our only method for communicating is language. Here goes:

Is this a form of solipsism? Are you not really talking to yourself? If so, then I have no qualms with your use of language.

However, unlike a true solipsist, you are holding dialogues with others and trying to present your viewpoint to us. This being the case, I still don’t understand why you apply radically different meanings to words that already have firmly established meanings in the minds of most listeners. I mean, I am thinking of “commissioning” you to help me rewrite the FAQ for gaud sakes! And remember, I am a writer and a copy editor, so any use of language that does not accurately communicate the intended message *will* raise flags in a mind like mine.
 

Wouldn’t it be a classic example of cosmic irony if the FAQ, because of the limitations of language, ended up portraying your version of pantheism as the “whacko” version!?

The above attempt at humor is not unrealistic, which is why I keep hammering on this same point about language: it is our only method of communicating beyond personal, intimate contact. It is the only crack we have of sending a message to generations to come or of expressing ourselves to those who speak different languages.
 

Even Lenny Bruce can pronounce the word apples in a sentence in such a way that we all know he means to say “breasts” — or, more specifically, in this case, “the budding breasts of an adolescent girl.” This is precisely what Bruce meant when he said “apples” in the homosexuality bit at Carnegie, and anybody listening could see this is what he meant.

See what I’m trying to get at? If you are going to use a term in a different sense than the accepted ones, you must make it clear that you are doing this and you must make it obvious as to what you mean when you use the term. I’m not even asking or expecting you to do it with the flair of artistic genius that Lenny Bruce demonstrated, but I am wondering why I am having such a hard time figuring this one out. In other words, I still don’t quite know what you’re talking about, and the file for this conversation is the second-largest in our Letters section — second only to the Mike Boston fiasco (although the “Intellectually Dishonest Thinkers” bit is broken down to five files that, at over 300kb, total about twice the length of the Mike Boston exchange). But your letter file, after I append this response, could easily become the second longest of over 400 letters — and it has been going on for less than a week — and I’m still not clear as to the nature of your point or why you insist on expressing it the way you do. And I’m a copy editor. Trying to make sense of written material is my specialty and my training.

Now, I’m not telling you what to do or how to think or how to express your thoughts. I don’t care what anybody thinks about anything. I fully respect the situation that everyone, in my opinion, probably has valid reasons for believing the way they do. (Giving the benefit of the doubt, I assume they have valid reasons I sincerely believe they do, in any event.)

However, I am offering my professional opinion by laying down the situation as I see it: I don’t get it. In other words, I am falling short of saying, “Please explain.” Take it our leave it, I don’t care: this is my honest opinion that I offer to you as a gift with no strings.
 

I think we’re on to something — but I’m still not sure what.
 

That’s the problem: they can’t kick you out, they’ve gotta take you as you come. It’s in the Traditions and they tend to be fundamentalistic about their Traditions if not toward their Steps. Not only that, they allow the courts to force people into the groups: go to AA or go to jail (or lose your kids or your professional license, etc.). However, if someone such as yourself went to AA seeking help you’d be in a world of trouble because they would probably shun you (although they might elevate you to a position of AA Patron Saint because I noticed a lot of garbled language being used there to express various concepts of spirituality. You might fit in just fine; they might actually understand what you’re saying — even if you don’t understand it yourself! This is a drug program, remember!
 

Just don’t get caught.

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

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From: “Positive Atheism”
To: “Love-Jensen, John”
Subject: Re: Positive Atheism, Cliff’s Writings — Which 10 Commandments.
Date: Tuesday, July 25, 2000 4:52 PM
 

I’m not kidding: I just linked it to the Front Page as the “Hot New Discussion.”
 

I need to stick with the lack of theism.
 

It is a trivial difference — were it not for one thing: Many theists and many agnostics portray atheists as stating “There are no gods.” This is the minority view, and I seek to publicize the traditional view that is popular among atheistic philosophers and among atheistic activists. Perhaps then, theists will have a tougher time getting away with lying about our position.
 

True. When we call ourselves atheists, we mean a specific thing, “Lacking a god belief” or “Without theism,” that we must constantly distinguish from such definitions as “Belief that no gods exist” and “Wicked” and “Belief that a certain god exists, as in ‘Atheist with regards to the Christian claim.” Crucial to this meaning is an understanding of what theism means. Thus, we need to be able to pin down what we aren’t — because were it not for the claims of theism, we would not be atheists, we would simply be humans.
 

So I need to remind myself and my readers that I am speaking in terms of the theism-atheism dichotomy implied in the “weak” definition for atheism.
 

Then I would have to come up with a multiplicity of terms to describe my single position: I lack a belief in all of the vast and varied types of god claims.

No. When I am talking to a pantheist, I must be vary careful about my use of language (particularly the word pantheism and especially the word god), because I realize that certain specific terms mean something completely different from what they mean when I talk to most others.

In the same way, when someone talks to an atheist, one best understand what the term atheist means to that atheist. You need only peruse our Letters index and read the ones with the more arrogant sounding titles to see that most of the arrogant theists start out holding us to a viewpoint involving a definition for the word atheism that we actually reject.
 

In the context of a philosophical discussion within the parameters of Liberal Scientific Method, you can be king if you only come up with a method or viewpoint that prevails against public scrutiny and work toward popularizing it. This is what I am trying to do with the “weak” definition for atheism within the atheistic communities (not become king, but see this definition regain wide popular acceptance).
 

Unfortunately, in order to make this point, I must put on my Dogmatic Atheist cap.

In reality, I see them as having valid reasons for believing what they do.

But, in order to argue that the validity of a god-claim is irrelevant to categorizing a given person as a theist, I have chosen to bark like a Dogmatic Atheist for a few seconds. I must make this clear in future presentations of this point, or I will be quoted out of context! I promise you that!
 

Cool! At least someone understands what I am saying.
 

This is the one advantage of the noncognitivist approach. However, I like to place noncognitivism within the theism-atheism dichotomy in that I lack a god belief simply because I do not understand what they are talking about. In other words, noncognitivism’s proponents seem like they’d be stumping for noncognitivism as a third alternative besides theism and atheism — and some do.

The reason I like the “weak” definition so much is that it neatly assimilates the agnostics into theistic agnostics and atheistic agnostics. It neatly assimilates noncognitivism as a form of atheism similar to atheistic agnosticism. And now, it appears to neatly assimilate your version of SciPan as a form of theism, while leaving the SciPan that shuns religious language in the realm of atheism.

This sounds like I’m boasting, but the latter two I have worked out on this forum (though either may have been covered by Smith or others and I just don’t remember it). The first one came from Smith who made such a lucid and compelling case for this view that I immediately accepted it. I have been testing it ever since and still think it is the best way to describe this situation. As anyone else but me might say, “Smith is God!”
 

None of this means a thing to me — beyond establishing that you fit into the theist-atheist dichotomy implied by the “weak” definition for atheism as a theist.
 

Without looking ahead, pantheism is like agnosticism in that it can be either theistic and atheistic depending on the language and concepts used by the pantheist.

Perhaps I will eventually grapple with a pantheist who completely walks around the term god and will need to decide if what he or she is saying is synonymous with “god” in the way you and the other “theistic” pantheists use the term. If so, I will need to be able to make a strong, carefully worded case that that person is either a theist or an atheist. Or, the dichotomy falls apart.

For now, I have settled with the definition that allows the language to indicate the theistic distinction — at least in your case and similar cases (if there are any).
 

Do you think that for my purposes, dividing pantheism across the theism-atheism dichotomy implied by the “weak” definition for atheism (in much the same way that Smith did for agnosticism) is simpler than making either or both third alternatives to any theism-atheism dichotomy?

What I am trying to do is come up with the simplest description of this and other situations. This is what science does when it tries to favor the simplest explanation. I try to apply Liberal Scientific Method to my meager and sketchy studies of the philosophy of religion.

In any event, Robert Anton Wilson and Count Alfred Korzybski taught me to shun the use of the term is and any form of the verb to be in serious philosophical discussion.
 

It is precisely a Roman Catholic apologist that prompted Smith to enunciate the “weak” definition that I have found so useful. By offering agnosticism as a third alternative in their theism-to-atheism spectrum (no longer a dichotomy), atheism was relegated to the “strong” position that most atheistic philosophers and writers have rejected. They do this to make “atheism” easier to “refute” (straw-man style) and end up making “agnosticism” easier to refute. Unfortunately for the Roman Catholic position, agnosticism divides itself into a theistic-atheistic dichotomy any way you look at it, because some agnostics think there’s a god but know no more than the “fact” of God’s existence, and the others don’t know if there is a god or not. So, even if agnosticism were a third alternative to the Roman Catholic theism-to-atheism spectrum, it would need to become third and fourth alternatives in order to be precise. This only further complicates the discussion, whereas the “weak” definition simplifies both the agnosticism question and the pantheism question.
 

I don’t follow.

I have defined theism in terms of the claim made by the theist. Even most traditional Invisible Oriental Despot-type theists place emphasis on a member’s confession of faith. I agree with them, though perhaps not for the same reason: I think the claim or “confession” is all we observers have to go on. (I use observer as if I were an anthropologist observing the religious views and practices of various people and groups.)
 

A Samoan, for example, would have no interest in how an anthropologist sees him or her or what categories (if any) his or her race fits into. As a patient, I am only vaguely aware of what my doctor it thinking about me.

If I were a Republican seeking the companionship of a fellow Republican and I was a sucker for long dark hair on a woman (hey! I am a Republican and I am a sucker for long dark hair on a woman!), then the latter distinction would not be trivial.

It’s all in how you see it and what you want. I want to reduce the amount of misrepresenting and marginalizing of atheists by the non-atheistic communities. I have recently suggested that one answer to this (not “The Answer,” mind you) lies in popularizing the “weak” definition for the term atheism.

So, if you come up to me and tell me that there is a third alternative, this challenges the validity (or the truthfulness) of the “weak” definition. Thus, I must test the “weak” definition against your claim and see if my viewpoint is still valid. It is still valid (for now) — if I can distinguish between theistic pantheists and atheistic pantheists in a way that allows them to fit neatly into the theism-atheism dichotomy implied by the “weak” definition for atheism. It wouldn’t be valid if I had to contrive and force them to fit into my definition, but I am satisfied (for now) that this is no contrivance, but is the simplest way to see it, thus validating the “weak” definition.

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Good. I thought I heard you use the term divine law (or “divine law”) and apply it to your approach to pantheism.
 

I still see this as harkening from the Oriental Despot thing. Perhaps the term worship is getting in the way of me understanding what you mean.

 

So again, why not work to come up with some different language to fit the different concept?
 

Good for you! You’re much closer to the edge than I’d initially thought — the edge of the theism-atheism boundary, that is!
 

Is the bug sacred? If so, then what’s the problem?
 

But if I choose to go along with this or that aspect of your argument, we have accomplished more than our stated goal.

Part of what’s happening is that I am entering into your mindset for a moment, in hopes of accomplishing my goal of finding new language to express what I feel and how I see things. One thing we have done is to admit that we both feel a similar sense of awe toward the universe. Our only difference is that you choose to use language that, for me, is inadequate. If I can, for a moment, see things in terms of your language I might discover a way to find it acceptable. Or, I might see more clearly why it is inadequate, and use that vision to develop language that I am more likely to find acceptable; by this I mean that I can at least work toward avoiding the pitfalls I see in your approach.
 

I am an atheist, and could be considered pantheistic if the concept of “poetically” could be seen as valid: I stand in awe poetically, and in that sense, I could be called an atheistic pantheist, of sorts.

However, I would prefer to come up with new language to describe how I feel toward the universe.

Here’s a bold thought: Perhaps popular opinion will one day abscond with the term Positive Atheism and, using it differently from the way I now use it, will use it to describe (among other things) that sense of awe that I have for the universe.

Perhaps this would not be a bad idea! Let me think about it a while.

Cliff Walker
“Positive Atheism” Magazine

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