X-Message-Number: 19625
Date: Sat, 27 Jul 2002 16:37:10 EDT
Subject: What is an atheist?

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Suppose someone says,

"What is your attitude toward X? Do you believe or disbelieve? If you 
disbelieve, you are an a-Xist."

Obviously, if you give any thought to it at all, you could neither believe 
nor disbelieve, without knowing what X is.

So I object to being called an atheist--one who disbelieves in God--because I 
can neither believe nor disbelieve in something or someone or some concept so 
varied and vague that it is too slippery to get hold of. I prefer merely to 
say, "I have no religious beliefs." Someone insists, "Doesn't that mean you 
are an atheist?" I insist, "No--it just means you have asked an unanswerable 

So how can there be believers? The answer is, first, that they either don't 
understand or ignore the areas of vagueness and uncertainty and disagreement. 
Secondly, they may not really believe in what they say they believe--rather, 
they are merely identifying themselves with a support group and giving it a 

None of this proves the believer is wrong. It is possible to be right, or 
mainly right, for the wrong reasons. It is also possible to have an idea with 
some merit, even though the idea is poorly articulated or even incoherent in 
concept. It is also possible to be right at the level of metaphor, or/and at 
the level of practical living, without being right literally or logically.

As for practical politics, I think a "march" of "Godless Americans" for 
political recognition is a really bad idea, for reasons many people have 
frequently expounded.
There are many religious people in cryonics, and they are just as smart as 
the rest of us. The Christian clergy, as far as I can tell, on balance are 
not less friendly to cryonics than the average American or the average 
irreligious American. 

We don't want, even indirectly, to promote the feeling that someone must be 
either with us or against us. Rather, the choice should be seen as approval 
or indifference.

Some politicians define themselves in terms of their enemies, in terms of 
what they are against and whom they hate. We want to define ourselves in 
terms of what we are for and whom we love--life, ourselves, our families and 
friends, and an expanding sphere.

Robert Ettinger


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