I’m reading ‘Farewell to God’ by Charles Templeton (don’t buy it, it’s rubbish), and one of the first things he does is point out that he is an agnostic, and then describes his position, that he’s not sitting on the fence, it’s just that he cannot prove there is no god, so he cannot be absolutely sure there is no god, therefore he cannot be an atheist.
This got me thinking. His is very similar to my own perspective (and I think the majority of non-religious people would put themselves there too), but when people ask, I call myself an atheist, not an agnostic. It’s not that I’m absolutely certain there is no god, but I have no reason whatsoever to believe there is a god, so I live my life assuming that there isn’t.
The reason I don’t call myself an agnostic is because to many people it implies that I’m 50/50, sitting on the fence, with no idea whether there is a god or not. This is not the case. In my own mind I’m fairly sure that there’s no god, I just can’t prove it.
Of course, as widely pointed out, ‘atheist’ is a term that should not exist. All it means is that you don’t believe in a god. We don’t have terms like ‘non-socialist’ or ‘non-racist’, or ‘non-postman’. It’s a negative term that doesn’t really mean very much at all.
When people ask me to define humanism, one thing that I invariably bring up is that, in a way, it is ‘positive atheism’, in that saying you’re an atheist is saying what you don’t believe, whereas saying you’re a humanist is saying what you do believe (skeptical inquiry, rationalism, objective morality etc). I think this illustrates that humanism is not just another word for atheism to escape the stereotyping often associated with the term. In fact in the strictest sense you don’t even have to be an atheist to be a humanist. I’ve yet to meet a single religious humanist, but I imagine there are some.