Saturday, May 9, 2009

Aweism [and labeling within the secular humanist community]

In the latest issue of Free Inquiry Phil Zuckerman seeks to create a new label within the Secular Humanist community: Aweism.

A brief overview of his thoughts:

"'Atheist Is Fine, But...

Of course I am an atheist; I don't believe that any of the gods that have been created by humans actually exist... But it's not [a label] I feel comfortable using when people ask me to label myself. Here's why. First off, the term is one of negation rather than affirmation... Second, the label 'atheist' doesn't adequately capture the joy of living that I often experience... I find that the self-designation of 'atheist' simply falls short....

'Agnostic' Is O.K., But...
"Is [agnosticism] really even a position? It is actually more like the absence of a position, for it entails nothing more than admitted indecisiveness or embraced fence sitting... In sympathy with the agnostic position, I believe that there are just some eternal unknowns out there. The God question is not one of them, but other questions do persist that may ultimately be unanswerable... But when I ponder the existence of certain existential questions and cosmic mysteries, I often have an emotional reaction beyond that of mere dry puzzlement or cold contemplation...

'Secular Humanist' Is Better, But...
I do find the designation of 'secular humanist' useful and appropriate now and then... [But] I find that that secular humanism is more accurately a position or agenda that I support... a set of values, ideas, and practices that I advocate... [But] when I first heard my eldest daughter's heartbeat in that small doctors office in Eugene, Oregon, I didn't feel like a 'secular humanist.' What I felt was a tearful joy and wonder...

Yes, I am an atheist. Yes I am an agnostic- at least the version that suspects that there may be limits to human knowledge. Yes, I support and advocate the sane and noble goals of secular humanism. But I am something more. I am often full of a profound feeling. And the word that comes closest to describing that profound feeling is awe...

Aweism
Aweism is the belief that existence is ultimately a beautiful mystery, that being alive is a wellspring of wonder, and that the deepest questions of life, death, time, and space are so powerful as to inspire deep feelings of joy, poignancy, and sublime awe... There are literally hundreds of words to describe the religious... and yet when we consider the labels and self-designations available to secular folk we can count them on one or two hands... We should not shy away from articulating the various shades of secularity that we may experience, for it is important to others as well as to ourselves, to accurately describe the numerous ways in which one can be godless..."

Okay, now that I have cut and spliced, sliced and diced Zuckerman's article for you, the reason it stuck out to me is that I am somewhat up in the air as far as a belief in deity is concerned and one of the reasons I have been conflicted about discarding a profession in the divine is that I experience moments of strong tangible physiological responses to certain situations that I have always associated as "Spiritual". So it was intriguing to read his thoughts (recounting experiences where he has felt things similar to what I feel) on how his "lack of theism does not render this world any less wondrous, lush, mystifying, or amazing."

Just something interesting to chew on.

Now I am curious to wait for the next issue and see the livid letters to the editor about his treatment of their various chosen labels.

5 comments:

flygirl said...

I really like this.

Chandelle said...

That's so great; thanks for sharing. Word for word, more or less, of my own dilemmas.

xJane said...

I like that—I think this will come up when I visit DH's parents this summer and I've been trying to figure out how to phrase it. I might steal this :)

djinn said...

Aweist is much better than "Bright" which I find offensive in oh-so-many ways.

Paul & Joyce said...

The further I get from religion the more I experience awe.