One question that popped up a few times so far is which labels I would now apply to myself. That is a fair question and a good opportunity to clear up some things that I confused myself over for years.
At first when I lost my BFF, I would call myself a Deist. Although I came to the conclusion that Jesus may not be the Way, the arguments for the existence of a ‘ground of all being’ were still there. The very existence of this marvelously complex and vast universe should leave us in awe and wonder! Deism is then the assertion that there is some creator “god”, but it doesn’t get involved in the universe. However I quickly realized that while Deism may be true, it is a rather pointless point of view because nobody can verify this position.
I would rather describe myself as an Agnost. What a most liberating thing to say: “I don’t know”! Who designed the universe? I don’t know. How will humanity end? I don’t know. Is there life after death? I don’t know (but it seems unlikely though). This is not a cop-out actually. It is in fact easier to have an answer to these basic questions even though the answer may not be found in reason, than to say “I don’t know”. People like answers. I like answers. There have been thousands of religions giving different answers to these questions, even though obviously most or even all of them are incorrect. In line with Socrates I find it much more courageous to say “I don’t know” when – in all honesty – these things are way over our heads.
Then there is the infamous Atheist word. This is the most tricky one, because it is often associated with angry people without morals. Picture Stalin, Mao or some serial rapist killer. Yikes! Even atheists themselves subconsciously consider other atheists to be less morally sound than other groups. But this is because it is such a meaningless term. Atheist just means “without belief in god(s)”. Many interpret it as “actively denying the existence of God” but this is not helpful as it is not in line with the meaning of the world. It just means ‘not a theist’, so somebody who lacks belief in a god, rather than beliefs there are no gods. Atheism is like saying you don’t play volleyball. That is not a sport. That is lack of a sport. It therefore doesn’t mean anything substantial, and it doesn’t provide much either (in terms of morals, bonding, group, etc). So, yes, technically I am an atheist and no, don’t assume stuff based upon that single word.
Those confused by how I could be an atheist AND an agnostic at the same time, watch this video:
A much more positive word that I now like to associate myself with is a secular Humanist. Rather than saying what I am not (a-gnostic and a-theist) this describes what I do believe in: the value of human life, of using reason, evidence and the whole of human experience to live ethical and moral lives. What I really like about it is that it is based upon reason: anything can be questioned, which leaves a core foundation so strong that anyone who is able to feel empathy for other human beings can easily benefit from the wisdom of humanism.
Then lastly I would be proud if somebody called me a Freethinker. I find it arrogant to apply the word to myself, as if I am the one thinking freely and others are not. Freethinking is thinking without dogma, without pre-written rules on what the conclusions of your thoughts ought to be. It is closely linked to the scientific method, using facts, evidence and reasoning to get to solid conclusions and good theories, and the courage to throw away anything that is not in line with any new findings.
There you go. An agnostic, atheistic humanist, with weak deistic tendencies who hopes to be seen as a freethinker. Shoot, that does not fit on a bumper sticker…