“Are you really an atheist?”

said the friend sitting next to me at Christmas Eve dinner, with a vague look of disgust on her face, like I’d just admitted to enjoying self-flagellation. I was in the company of a number of people who had escaped Western religion (all some form of Christianity) and landed firmly in Eastern religion (all some form of Buddhism). With three beautiful dogs wandering about, Deva, Metta, and Gaia, this was a decidedly religious environment. And yet, there was no prayer before dinner, no implicit religion anywhere. There were buddha heads, mala, and yes, even crosses hung on the walls and displayed on shelves. But this was a place I felt at ease enough to say something atheistic enough to “out” me.

Later, another attendee told a story about a different dinner to which an atheist was inadvertently invited. One who waxed lyrical about the evils of religion and the stupidity of the people engaged in it. He was quieted with a “Yes, fundamentalism of all kinds is horrible,” and a glass of alcohol. This may or may not have been aimed at me, but was accompanied by shock that anyone could presume to know for sure what is or is not.

It is true, however, that my particular brand of atheism is less anti-Divine and more anti-Religion. As far as I am concerned, religion is objectively fucked up. But I believe that there is in all beings something special. Something worthy of awe, respect, love, acknowledgment, and equality. As a feminist, I can believe nothing else. I strive toward treating everyone with a namaste attitude. I feel filled with a sense of wonder when I walk in the forest, talk with good friends, or meditate. There is something out there, which name I give “the Divine”, that I cannot deny. Nor do I wish to.

And so I call myself an atheist to distinguish myself from any religionist who might make you uncomfortable by trying to convert you (or even just by talking too much about it). And while I have a great deal of respect for the hard-core, dyed-in-the-wool, fundamentalist atheists, I also don’t consider myself one of them. DH calls himself a “humanist”, though I’m not certain how he defines this, in order to avoid the atheism label (although he is the only person I’ve ever met who grew up completely outside of any religious influence).

I’m a dualist, a pantheist, a pagan, a feminist (in the religious sense, though not a Dianic), a meditator, a yogini, a post-Christian, an ex-Catholic, a Jino (Jew in name only); a pray-er to Bastet, Au-Set, Gaia, & Luna; a talker-with-animal-spirits and to trees; a student of Fire, a daughter of Earth, a foe of Water, a student of Wind; and an atheist. I meditate, I cook, I swim, I do yoga, I ski. I pray to the deities that strike me at the time, be they Mary or Skadi, Ra or Thor. I pray to the animals whose flesh I consume. I cast spells to help and to harm. And I reject the effect of prayer (whether as meditation, as supplication, or as spell) on anyone or anything other than the one who prays. I’ve seen and touched things that cannot be explained and which I cannot deny. But having no desire to foist them upon you, or to congregate with others in an effort to gain favor with a being who we cannot hope to affect, I reject the labels of religion. I refuse to allow anyone’s religion into my government and hope for a secular society, where all practice whatever they believe in their homes; whether that means meditation or family dinners.

“Yes,” I should have said, “I really am an atheist. But that makes me just like you.”


  1. I’m so glad you wrote this… your particular collection of belief resonates a lot with me and yet I find myself completely baffled as to what label to claim.

    I’m curious why you don’t call yourself agnostic instead, being as you don’t deny the existence of the divine.

    how did you come to claim ‘agnostic’ as yours? (i.e. did you sample other labels first? pagan, dualist, agnostic, etc… )

  2. I did go through pagan & dualist (though not dualist in the traditional sense) but I never really considered myself agnostic. I don’t not know. As far as I’m concerned the Divine is. But once that gets admitted, religions start baying and the desire to convert (or at least fight) seems to arise. I guess “atheist” is less accurate than “areligious” but still less offensive…

  3. … and does make for informative conversations. 🙂
    I love the way that you have taken the label “athiest” (that has all of it’s own baggage and assumptions) and made it your own.
    because I have had such a constant sense of the divine, “atheist” was a term that scary, the epitome of my worst nightmare. (see here).
    but your own brand of atheism, that makes sense to me. feels right. It may be less accurate, but I like that you use it.

  4. I’m coming to the point where I am starting to consider myself not so much an agnostic (I’ve never really self-identified as an atheist) as an areligionist, or at least an amonotheist. If those terms make any more sense than other labeling terms, all of which can seem wildly inaccurate in describing what I really believe…or don’t believe..at any particular time.

    I am curious, xJane, why you think “areligious” is a more offensive term than “atheist”.


  5. Elaine: that’s a good question, and I’ve thought hard about it. I guess I feel that people are more invested in their religion than in their god. If 10 people of different religions get together, they can agree on “god” but not on which god (religion). It also seems that “atheist” is a moniker that is known and in most circumstances a quick answer is better than a full blog post :-p

    I am willing to admit that I’m wrong and “atheist” is the more offensive term, but it also seems like I have more in common with atheists, who are more likely to be offended by the term “areligious”.

    Certainly, it is a fine line.

  6. 1. If you’re a pantheist, you aren’t an atheist, although you could be a situational atheist, as in an atheist when it comes to some gods but not others.
    2. There’s no such thing as a “fundamentalist atheist”. Atheism is a position in response to a claim, a claim of deity existence, namely that it’s an unwarranted claim.
    3. When it comes to gods, we’re all agnostics, for agnosticism refers to knowledge. No one, believer or non-believer, has any knowledge of the existence of a deity one way or another.

    Now as for baggage associated with “atheist”, well, that comes from a cocktail of scorn and confusion, doesn’t it? Either way, I think it’s silly to run away from the term because of this, as Sam Harris suggested awhile ago. I also think it’s silly to redefine the term as you’re doing in this post, since you’re contributing to the confusion associated with the term and thus, also contributing its baggage.

  7. PhillyChief—
    (1) One of my major reasons behind writing this is that, objectively speaking, I do not (cannot) believe that there is Divinity in the asphalt under my tyres (or the tyres themselves). That said, I feel that which cannot be denied in moments of quietude: when I see a sunrise, take a hike, cuddle with kitties. There is Divine where we find it. And while I don’t believe in any kind of God that intercedes, I believe in the feeling I get when I feel the Divine. So yes, I claim atheist and pantheist and dualist as my labels. Because there are many times when it is easier to say “atheist” than any other label. And because there are times when that label is not welcomed.
    Also, while I don’t believe that any Name of the Divine is the Name of the Divine, I agree that I am “a situational atheist” (an entertaining label—I’m reminded of foxholes). But again, I don’t deny the Divine—only the Names.
    (2) I agree that “fundamentalist atheist” should not be a valid label, but a quick google search will disabuse you of the notion that there is no such thing. It is a useful term even if incorrect.
    (3) I could not agree more. If all people, atheist and religionist alike were to admit that we were all agnostics, the world would be a much better place. However, both atheists and religionists see “agnostic” as an invitation to convert.

    Whether or not it’s silly to run from the term atheist, the fact remains that atheists are, in many circles, not well regarded. I have to deal daily with people who would react viscerally, if not militantly, if I openly claimed “atheism” (or “paganism”, for that matter) as a label for me. It’s better to be quiet & unlabeled.

    At the end of the day, labels are used to help people who don’t know you put you into the appropriate basket. “Man”, “student”, “MacUser”, these are all labels that do not define a person’s entirety but aid the people that person interacts with in how to think about that person. Some labels can be reclaimed, like “gay” and “heathen”. No label describes a person completely.

  8. I can google “ghost” and get lots of hits too. Does that mean ghosts are real? I can google “holocaust denial” and find plenty of sources for denial of the holocaust. Does that mean the holocaust didn’t happen, or at least that denial of it is justified? Likewise, I can google “socialist” or Muslim” and get hits for Obama, does this lend credence to the claims that he’s a socialist or Muslim?

    Getting lots of hits for “fundamentalist atheist” does not mean there is such a thing. There is, of course, the label. THAT exists, despite how ridiculous it is, and perpetual use of it fosters a false sense of legitimacy to the label, like “socialist” or Muslim” to Obama.

    Now as long as you’re cool making up definitions for words, how about I call myself a feminist, and by feminist I mean I think women should be more feminine, you know, wear lots of make up, low cut blouses and short skirts and stick to doing strictly feminine things like stay home and cook dinner, clean the house and raise babies. How’s that sound? Yes sir, I like saying I’m a feminist, because, you know, chauvinist pig has such baggage.

  9. lama21

    this is so interesting.

    well, i don’t know whole lots, but i had a dream as a kid that god just smiled at me and said he lived. i was 6 years old.

    i felt good and i still remember what he looks like. he’s real young.

    he didn’t have to tell me who he was – i guess i just kinda knew.

    but, not much peoples believe mah story. but it’s the truth.

    when i wnted to cheat on important tests all thrgouhout my life, the feeling i got when i sees god in my dreams came back to me – i guess some kind of reminder (i never had that dream again) not to pull stupid shit or to get too angry (i can get angry – my pappy taught me that angry-ness and whipped me all the time).

    that is the same feeling i get when i nearly messded up my marriage with a work secretary way back when. i was a fool, and that’s why god made me had that dream when i was 6, and made me remember that feeling when bad times comes around.

  10. lama21

    but i believe he lives. there has been years in my life when i couldn’t care less about God because i was having such a rough time, or I was just plain bored in life, or church goin’.

    but i still believe – humor and old man, will ya? hah hah.

    but that’s my belief. maybe i shoulda gone to school. but then that mr. thom monsoon also went to college, and doesn’t seem people on this blog likes him very much…i can’t win, i guess.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *