A continuing problem of labels

After all this time, I keep coming back to the question of how to describe myself at the moment. I know who I am and what I believe, but it’s hard to put a name to it that I feel comfortable with.

I am a Christian because that’s both my upbringing and the entire background to where I am.
I’m not a Christian because there’s next to none of it that I still believe in.

Sun RaysI am an atheist because I don’t believe in any form of deity.
I’m not an atheist because it implies a degree of confidence I’m not totally ready for.

I am an agnostic because I haven’t reached a firm conclusion, and suspect the nature of the question means there will always be uncertainty.
I’m not an agnostic because despite that uncertainty, my thoughts all seem to point in one direction.

I am an ignostic because I believe the concept of God needs to be properly defined in order to be meaningful.
I’m not an ignostic because I doubt that my answer would be different for any non-trivial definition of God.

Running through all this, there’s the fear that identifying with a label puts me in a box, and will ultimately result in me conforming to others’ ideas of what an X should think, rather than following my own thoughts wherever they lead me. Depending on your point of view, that might be cowardice or caution. I like to think of it as being individual.

The nearest I’ve come to a label I’m happy with is heathen, which conveys the important details with a dash of self-deprecation without tying me to a whole lot of things I don’t accept. It’s not perfect, but it’s good enough for now.

Image courtesy of Robert Michie, used with permission


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About Recovering Agnostic

I'm Christian by upbringing, agnostic by belief, cynical by temperament, broadly scientific in approach, and looking for answers. My main interest at the moment is in turning my current disengaged shrug into at least a working hypothesis.

5 responses to “A continuing problem of labels”

  1. Neil Rickert says :

    I more-or-less settled with the idea that I don’t need a label.

  2. unkleE says :

    Yeah, labels are convenient, but they are a compromise most of the time. Perhaps “ex-christian” might suit you? Or perhaps avoid a label and use a description, something like: “I’m unsure how much of my old christian faith I still believe, but it’s not much.”

    I’m curious about your statement: “I believe the concept of God needs to be properly defined in order to be meaningful.” I feel this is limiting for two reasons:

    (1) We seem all to be able to talk about belief in God, disagree, and draw conclusions, so surely the word”God” has adequate meaning?

    (2) I wonder if you could define “ethics”, “freewill”, “consciousness”,
    “rationality”, “self”, “love”, etc, any better than you could define God?

    What do you think?

    • Recovering Agnostic says :

      I could get behind “ex-Christian”, but I think I prefer “post-Christian” if I’m going in that direction.

      I think we all know roughly what we’re talking about with God (more or less “I know it when I see it”), but the details are subject to change. One person believes in a traditional “Omni” God, another is into Process Theology, another is apophatic, or sees God as an impersonal force.

      That’s just about who God is, without dealing with how He interacts with us, which is the subject of much more disagreement. Without a fully defined hypothesis, it becomes effectively impossible to disprove, or even to criticise adequately, because any inconsistencies are effectively suppressed. If it’s not properly defined, you’re not testing a hypothesis so much as inviting post hoc rationalising.

  3. unkleE says :

    Yeah, I think post christian is better too. I’m not sure many people believe in process theology, though I agree a lot think of God as an impersonal force. They would have to be distinguished from those who believe in a personal God, but I think all the monotheists can be grouped, because they all think such a God exists, they just disagree about some of their description. Grouping is good for general discussion, but of course for individual discussion, it’s clearly best to ask “what exactly do you believe about God?”.

  4. jasonjshaw says :

    “Human” is a good label. Kind of like “Son of Man”, as we are all children of humanity. And according to the Bible, we are all created in the exact likeness of God, which would make any labels beyond “human” irrelevant, wouldn’t it?

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