Friday, December 28, 2007

The Post-Theological Era

Have you ever struggled to find just the right word to express a concept? Of course you have, and writers, especially, are familiar with that thrilling eureka! moment when The Precise Word presents Itself. (Oh yes, writers have thrilling moments, too.)

I've had a concept rattling around the dusty floor of my brain for at least a year now that I just couldn't adequately express. It concerns my atheism. Now see, right there? That word, "atheism?" It means "without theism," and that was the word I used for myself because it was the only one I knew. But it wasn't quite right. I toyed with "nontheist" for a while, but that didn't exactly fit the concept, either.

When you say you're an atheist, people immediately want to argue the existence/non-existence of deity(ies.) That always set off my unnamed concept. It would shake off the dust rhinos clinging to it and start rattling around rather loudly. "No, no , no!" it insisted. "Look at the big picture, look beyond the deity bit because that's only a small part of my conceptness." So, I would try to tell the theist, "Step way back and look at this whole dang thing in a larger context." I would say, "Look up." Meaning, realize that this planet is only one of billions of other waterworlds out there with sapient beings on it. Do you suppose they are all actually arguing over whether females can be in the clergy, or if it's okay to be gay? Don't waste your life on this crap. Broaden your outlook for ricecakes! At which point, I only annoyed the theist and got myself all worked up because I couldn't express my concept properly.

Until now. I may still annoy the theists, but at least I can clearly express my concept and move beyond the existence/non-existence thingy. I subscribe to The Humanist magazine, and in an article in the latest issue (Jan.-Feb. 2008) I found The Precise Word to express the concept. Okay, okay - it's two words, but it's hyphenated, so it's permitted, gimme a break.

The article is The Post-Theological Umbrella, by David Niose, board member and treasurer of the American Humanist Association. Niose's article focuses on the poor image we atheists have and how it adversely affects the advancement of humanism. At a recent conference, he met a woman who said, "When people ask me about atheism, I just tell them I consider myself post-theological."

Post-Theological. Eureka! [imagine my joy] Niose points out that (according to a 2001 survey) "over 13 percent of the population identifies as secular/nonreligious, but only 1 percent identify as atheist, agnostic, or humanist." It seems to be a question of labels, so if we put all of the labels under one umbrella, then probably more people would feel comfortable identifying themselves as post-theological.

My concept wasn't concerned so much with labels, though, but with how to say, "Let's move on to the big picture." The "big picture" is this:

The period before humans became intelligent enough to ask, "Why are we here, and Who's in charge?" might be called the "pre-theological" stage.

When we advanced enough to ask those questions, we began to speculate on the answers. Thus, the theology of The Big Hairy Thunderer evolved, as well as many, many others over time. This might be called the "theological stage." (The more knowledge we gained, the more our theology had to be altered. For example, we discovered that epilepsy is a disease, not a manifestation of demonic possession.)

Now, we are entering (just barely) the post-theological stage of our development. "By calling herself post-theological," Niose says about the woman he met at the conference, "she isn't making the rejection of God-belief the key ingredient in her identity; she is pointing out that, from a historical perspective, theological inquiry itself is no longer a valid means of finding truth or morality." This expresses that concept I had rattling around in my head perfectly. I am post-theological.

It is interesting to read about the various theologies that mankind has come up with over the eons. Interesting from a historical perspective, but not relevant because each theology was invented. Once we let go of our emotional attachment to whatever variety of Thunderer we believed in, we are truly free to look beyond what we have conjured and see what we can discover about what is. Now we are in the realm of science. We are free to look up, without bias, preconceived notions, or (if in a fully post-theological world), persecution. (As Niose suggests, "Given time, the image of atheism in America might improve, as people slowly realize that atheists are more likely to be found in research labs than in prisons or drug hideouts.")

I'll be writing more about this from time to time. I think it's important, especially now that it looks like another Fundie nutjob is going to be the Republican front-runner. We simply must move beyond the theological stage if we're going to survive as a species (it may already be too late.)

I leave you with this latest gem from Fundies Say the Darndest Things:

[> Right. We spend a few years growing a tree and all the Christians can
> think of is killing the tree, dragging it inside, covering it with
> unsafe electrical wiring, and then throwing it away after about a
> month. If I had my way, I would correct such ecologically incorrect
> bad habits and make Christians plant trees instead of killing them. ]

You didn't grow the tree. Show me a Jew that is anywhere near a
Christmas tree farm and I will show you a Jew masquerading as a

In any case, your interference with our rights is why you all ought to
be either deported back to Jewistan or sent up the smokestacks.