Four thoughts on atheism/agnosticism and one on religion
Based on my personal experience:
*Most people who don’t believe in God (or gods or …) aren’t too caught up what word to use to describe that. “Atheist” and “agnostic” are more likely to indicate degrees of emphaticness than actual beliefs. (In theory “atheist” means holding the belief that “God doesn’t exist” and agnostic means the belief that “nobody can know whether God exists or not”. I don’t think I know anyone who uses the term agnostic that way; mostly people calling themselves agnostic are functionally atheist — they do not have a religious practice and do not actively believe in God — but don’t want to get into arguments with people who are religious.)
*Most people who don’t believe in God don’t actively reject the idea of God or spend a lot of time thinking about religion. It’s less “this is absurd and illogical and inhumane, and here’s why” and more “this doesn’t seem terribly important,” perhaps with a side note of “and some people who believe in God are really scary”.
(I tend to take this concept for granted. But sometimes I read things written by the more evangelical sorts of Christians who seem to be genuinely under the impression that no one could be an atheist unless they had something horribly traumatic happen to them and are constantly thinking about how angry they are at God … so apparently this “indifference not anger” concept is pretty alien to some people.)
*Most people who don’t believe in God aren’t particularly interested in organizing around the concept, because there’s nothing there to organize around. It’s like trying to bring people together over a disinclination to go skydiving or a distaste for olives. There’s nothing there.
Or rather, there are two potential things: feeling left out because other people believe in God and wanting to talk about that feeling of isolation; or an active opposition to organized religion. (Which is not intrinsic to atheism: disbelief in God and objection to organized religion are discrete concepts. You can believe in God and detest religion, or be disbelieve in God and but think that religion is basically positive anyway.) While it’s hard to organize around a lack of interest in something, as a personal preference or even a rationally justified conclusion, it’s easy to organize around an opposition to something seen as bad or harmful.
*Humanism is a positive concept (not based on absence or opposition) that can be organized around. However, humanism is not incompatible with religion, and not all atheists are humanists.
*Having been raised without religion myself, I had some impressions about religion that I no longer think are accurate.
For one thing, I assumed if I were to choose a religion, the decision would be based primarily on rational agreement with the religion’s tenets of faith. In practice, it seems like people tend to be at least as motivated by the “feel” a congregation (friendly vs hands off, worship style, how important the congregants consider religion to be in their daily lives) as the congregation’s official beliefs. Beliefs within any given congregation can vary considerably, even if theoretically everyone’s supposed to ascribe to the same doctrine. But a very quiet person who likes a lot of personal space is never going to be comfortable in a boisterous, huggy congregation and someone who likes a lot of closeness and connection and who wants to be actively involved throughout the week is going to feel alienated in a congregation where people come in for an hour on Sunday and that’s it.
To a certain extent, religions are more social clubs than they are accumulations of people who share the same philosophy.
This is … I used to think ideas (truth!) were of supreme importance, and how people relate to each other was not that important. Great minds discuss ideas and small minds discuss people, and all that. Now, I don’t know.