When someone asks me if I believe in God, they are usually expecting a one word, yes or no, answer, but I find this type of answer difficult to provide. If I answered “yes”, I would want to follow it up with “but”, and if I answered “no”, I would want to add a “if”. The question is not really that simple and often depends on how you define “God”. In fact there are several different possible views on this subject:
Theism is the belief in at least one deity, which is present and active in the governance and organization of the universe.
Deism is the belief that the universe was created by a God who does not intervene in it. They say this can be determined by reason and observation alone, without the need for organized religion.
Monotheism is the belief in one God or in the oneness of God, such as in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam (Deism is a form of monotheism).
Polytheism is the belief in multiple deities, such as in ancient Greek and Roman traditions.
Monolatrism is the worship of one God while recognizing the existence of others.
Henotheism, similar to monolatrism, is the worship on one God while accepting the the possible existence of others.
Pantheism, rather than having a personal, anthropomorphic creator, sees the nature of the universe and the divinity of God as one and the same.
Panentheism, while similar to pantheism, is the belief that God not only penetrates the entire universe, but extends beyond it through time and space.
Transtheism is another system of thought which is neither theistic, nor atheistic, and is too complicated to explain in a line or two so I’m not even going to try.
Atheism, a rejection of theism, is the absence of belief in any deity.
Agnosticism is the belief that the existence of a deity, as with any metaphysical claim, is unknown or even unknowable.
Apatheism considers the question of the existence of a deity to be irrelevant and meaningless. Apatheists are apathetic towards belief in general and are likely not reading this blog.
I was raised Roman Catholic but began to question many of the church’s teachings around age 12. My growing knowledge and understanding of science eventually led me to a complete rejection of all things religious later in my teens.
Later on, as I was exposed to more spiritual ideas, I began to take on a more open-minded approach to the whole question. I started taking many of the teachings from scripture, which I saw as no more than mythology, as metaphor and analogy rather than a literal depiction of history.
On top of this, my continued studies in science, especially psychology, made me realize that much is still unknown and can’t be fully explained by science alone. Some unanswered questions involve the origins of the universe and what, if anything, existed before the big bang. Also, the nature of consciousness and time itself are far from being understood.
Medical doctor and best-selling author, Deepak Chopra, thinks that science and spirituality need to be blended in order to have a full understanding of reality. While not claiming to have all the answers himself, he seems to believe in a sort of transcendent, conscious reality that exists beyond the physical world. This could be considered a panentheistic view.
Personally, while being open to ideas such as those of Chopra, I am not willing to adhere to any particular religious doctrine or way of thinking. Since I don’t actually believe in a deity, one could label me as an atheist. However, since I am willing to admit that there could be more to life than what science can explain, perhaps agnostic would be a better fit.
Actually, these categories aren’t as easily divisible as one might think. Within agnosticism, some people consider themselves agnostic atheists, who don’t believe in a deity, nor do they deny it as a possibility. Others would call themselves an agnostic theist, who believe in a deity, but don’t claim to know it as an absolute truth.
So, if I were to label myself, with the terms used above, I would have to consider myself an agnostic theist, who is open to pantheistic or panentheistic ideas. I worship nature and believe in the possibility of something that transcends our physical reality, that is, perhaps conscious, or even consciousness itself.
Just because someone identifies as an atheist, does not necessarily mean they have to remove themselves from all religious or spiritual ideas. In a recent TED talk, Alain de Botton describes a new approach to atheism that he calls atheism 2.0. He talks about incorporating parts of religious traditions into your life without having to accept the full doctrine.
While de Botton focuses on forms, traditions, and rituals that help satisfy the human need for connection, I believe it is also acceptable for atheists to study different religious or spiritual ideas, like you would study any kind of philosophical tradition.
I, for one, am fascinated by many different religious ideas from all over the world. There’s the nature worshiping of Paganism, the simple beauty of Taoism, and practices of Yoga and Zen meditation from eastern traditions, which have been shown to have many health benefits. Even the more dogmatic religions (Christianity, Judaism, Islam) have ideas that are worth studying, if not only for their cultural significance, then for their morals.
When it comes down to it, religion should be a personal thing. Everyone should have the freedom to believe what ever they feel works best with them. It’s not so much what you believe that matters, but that you are accepting of other people’s beliefs. It helps to be able to have an open discussion about these issues, so that don’t serve to divide us, but instead, bring us together.