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No Religion? 7 Types of Non-Believers

Religious labels help shore up identity. So what are some of the things non-believers can call themselves?

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Agnosticism is not a creed but a method, the essence of which lies in the vigorous application of a single principle... Positively the principle may be expressed as ‘in matters of intellect, do not pretend conclusions are certain that are not demonstrated or demonstrable.’  

These three definitions of agnosticism, though different, all focus on what we do or can know, rather than on whether God exists.  This means it is possible to be both atheist and agnostic.  Author Phillip Pullman has  described himself as both. 

The question of what term to use is a difficult one, in strict terms I suppose I'm an agnostic because of course the circle of the things I do know is vastly smaller than the things I don't know about out there in the darkness somewhere maybe there is a God. But among all the things I do know in this world I see no evidence of a God whatsoever and everybody who claims to know there is a God seems to use that as an excuse for exercising power over other people, and historically as we know from looking at the history in Europe alone that's involved persecution, massacre, slaughter on an industrial scale, it's a shocking prospect. 

4. Skeptic.  Traditionally, skeptic has been used to describe a person who doubts received religious dogmas.  However, while agnostic focuses on God questions in particular, the term skeptic expresses a broader life approach.  Someone who calls him- or herself a skeptic has put critical thinking at the heart of the matter.  Well known skeptics, like  Michael Shermer, Penn and Teller, or  James Randi devote a majority of their effort to debunking pseudoscience, alternative medicine, astrology and so forth.  They broadly challenge the human tendency to believe things on insufficient evidence.  Australian comic Tim Minchen is an outspoken atheist who earns a living in part by  poking fun at religion.  But his most beloved and hilarious beat poem,  Storm, smacks down homeopathy and hippy woo.

5. Freethinker.  Free-thinker is a term that dates to the end of the 17 th Century, when it was first used in England to describe those who opposed the Church and literal belief in the Bible.  Freethought is an intellectual stance that says that opinions should be based on logic and evidence rather than authorities and traditions.  Well known philosophers including John Locke and Voltaire were called freethinkers in their own time, and a magazine,  The Freethinkerhas been published in Britain continuously from 1881 to the present.  The term has gotten popular recently in part because it is affirmative.  Unlike atheism, which defines itself in contrast to religion, freethought identifies with a proactive process for deciding what is real and important.

6. Humanist.  While terms like atheist or anti-theist focus on a lack of god-belief and agnostic, skeptic and freethinker all focus on ways of knowing— humanist centers in on a set of ethical values.   Humanism  seeks to promote broad wellbeing by advancing compassion, equality, self-determination, and other values that allow individuals to flourish and to live in community with each other.  These values drive not from revelation, but from human experience.  As can be seen in two manifestos published in  1933 and 1973 respectively, humanist leaders don’t shy away from concepts like joy and inner peace that have spiritual connotations. In fact, some think that religion itself should be reclaimed by those who have moved beyond supernaturalism but recognize the benefits of spiritual community and ritual.  Harvard Chaplain Greg Epstein dreams of incubating a thriving network of  secular congregations.  

 
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