‘Agnostic’ – what the term actually means

Today, I got an interesting and thought-provoking comment from JR (as a response to my reaction to a comment where I declined to participate in celebrating ‘Agnostic Month’ on the grounds that I found ‘agnosticism’ illogical and arrogant).

JR managed to ‘hit’ one of my really, really ‘big buttons’.  So, I thought I’d best answer him in a full-fledged post of its own…..because I suspect that philosophically, we are close.  It’s those danged ‘labels’ that are all over the place.

Which, of course, is the above-mentioned ‘button’ of mine….

JR’s comment was:

Have to disagree, Xanthippa. Of all the philosophical positions one can hold on religion agnosticism is the most rational. Based on what an agnostic rationally ‘knows’ about the world s/he forms an opinion that the objective evidence available to date does not conclusively prove the existence of a supreme being who consciously and deliberately created the universe as we know it and now, in some fashion or other, watches over and/or guides its existence. That last part would be my definition of “God” which I think covers most others’ definition also (if you can propose a more satisfactory one, please do).

Those who worship God, or just “believe” in God’s existence, do so based on their own objective knowledge of the world plus subjective internal “feelings” which are not directly accessible to anyone else. Their subjectively formed convictions are, by definition, unconvincing to non-“believers” who, clearly, have no similar “feelings”. A weak agnostic is one who is not convinced yet, but who thinks it possible that some time in the future, through new knowledge or, who knows?, even a religious experience or revelation, God’s existence will be satisfactorily proven (to him/her). A strong agnostic, on the other hand, believes that knowledge of the existence of God is forever beyond the human mind to grasp – it can never be objectively “proven”. Neither form of agnosticism constitutes atheism which I understand to require an absolute conviction or “belief “ in the non-existence of God – no “maybe” about it. The atheist requires an extremely strong faith – because there can never be any objective proof of a negative.

Your notion of a “militant agnostic” is interesting. I’ve never encountered one of those. It sounds oxymoronic. Is there an on-line example?

The problem, of course, is the disconnect between the popular use of these terms and their actual meaning.

THAT is my ‘big button’ that JR managed to really ‘push’!

Luckily, most of the terms to describe forms of belief or non-belief in all kinds of ‘thingies’ regarding God(s) have been artificially created, so we have their actual (i.e. correct) definitions and need not rely on the inaccuracies of their vulgar use…

Aside:  ‘vulgar’, of course, means ‘common’ or ‘as popularly used by ‘common’ people’.

Another aside:  Wikipedia used to actually have the correct definitions of these terms.  However, a few years ago, they changed them to reflect the vulgar usage of them rather than their accurate meanings.  Disappointing!


The terms ‘agnostic’ and ‘atheist’ do not refer to the same aspect of belief:  one addresses ‘BELIEF’ while the other addresses ‘KNOWLEDGE’.  Perhaps I should go back to the beginning….

First, there was the term ‘ATHEIST’.  It was specifically designed to express NON-BELIEF or NEGATIVE BELIEF regarding the existence of God(s).  Literally, ‘ATHEIST’ = ‘apart from the belief in the existence of God(s).

By definition, an ‘atheist’ does not hold the positive belief that God(s) exist.

The term was ‘coined’ with specifically THAT meaning:  it expressly did not address the PRESENCE of ANY specific belief – only the absence of belief in the existence of God.  Of course, the term became misused almost as soon as it was engineered…

The second term to have been ‘coined’  was the term ‘THEIST’ = someone who holds the POSITIVE BELIEF that God(s) DO exist.  It was designed specifically to be the opposite of the term ‘ATHEIST’.

‘Theist’ describes someone with the presence of belief in the existence of God(s), ‘atheist’ describes someone with the absence of belief in the existence of God(s).

The term which properly describes a person who holds the positive belief in the non-existence of God(s) is ‘ANTITHEIST’: though, naturally, this term, too, became misused shortly after it was invented.  Currently, the most popular usage of the term ‘antitheist’ is to describe a person who is opposed to all forms of organized religion.

It appears to me that JR has mistakenly used the term ‘atheist’ to label the positive belief system of the ‘antitheist’.  Common, if frustrating, mistake.

To recap:  we have visited the core definitions of three terms, two of which describe holding ‘positive beliefs’ and one which describes the absence of a particular positive belief:

  • ‘theist’ holds the positive belief that God(s) exist
  • ‘anti-theist’ holds the positive belief that God(s) do not exist

Thus,  the ‘theist’ and ‘antitheist’ both hold positive beliefs as to the existence of God(s) – just opposite positive beliefs.

  • ‘atheist’ does not hold the positive belief that God(s) exist

In this way, ‘theist‘ and ‘atheist’ are opposite:  one is the presence of a positive belief in the existence of God(s), the other is the absence of such a belief.  However, the term ‘atheist’ does not address the presence or absence of any other belief regarding the existence of God(s).  Thus, antitheists are one of the many sub-groups of atheists.

All these terms are focused on the belief in the EXISTENCE of deities – exclusively.

It would be ‘an error of omission’ it it were not mentioned at this point that ‘monotheism’ is actually a special case of ‘antitheism/theism’, as it is a positive belief that ALL BUT ONE Gods and Goddesses do NOT exist.  As such, it is a positive belief in the non-existence of so many deities, the belief in the existence of one last remaining one of them is so illogical as to defy comprehension.  That is why so many professionals in the field think that ‘monotheism’ can only be achieved through serious brainwashing during early childhood or through mental illness.  I am not a professional in the field, so I merely report this, without commenting on the validity of such an opinion.  (Note:  Christianity, Islam and Judaism are all forms of monolatry, not monotheism, and thus do not fall into this category if practiced according to their scriptures.)

In contrast, the term ‘agnostic’ addresses something quite different.

A‘ means ‘apart from’.

‘Gnosis’ means ‘knowledge’.

Aside:  It is important to stress that the Greek term ‘gnosis’ means ‘personal knowledge’ and has, throughout the millenia, been used to also denote ‘mystical knowledge’ when it has been used in the context of religion or religious experiences.  ‘Gnostic Christians’, for example, were a sect of Christianity which rejected imposition of the structure of The Church in favour of ‘personal knowledge’ or ‘gnosis’ of the divine.  Until the ‘Conversion of Constantine’, ‘Gnostic Christianity’ was the ‘norm’.  Several Crusades were authorized by various Catholic Popes to suppress Gnostic Christianity: ‘the Albigensian Heresy’ (Cathars), ‘Bogomils’ and Hussites, to name just a few.  (Reformations introduced by Martin Luther were a watered-down bastardization of the teachings of the Hussites, a century or so after the Hussite teachings went ‘underground’.  But, that is a different ‘button’…)

The term ‘AGNOSTIC’ refers to a person who holds the positive belief that it is impossible for us, puny humans, to ever achieve KNOWLEDGE whether or not God(s) exist.  It thus corresponds to what JR identified as ‘strong agnosticism’:  there is, by definition, no such thing as ‘weak agnosticism’ (according to JR’s description thereof).

In other words, an ‘agnostic’ believes it is UNKNOWABLE whether God(s) exist.

This positive belief does not address the actual existence of deities:  just our ability to ever KNOWfor sure, one way or the other.

As such, a person who believes s/he can never know if God(s) exist can still hold positive beliefs as to their existence itself! After all, these are beliefs regarding completely different aspects:  one is ‘belief’, the other is ‘knowledge’.

Thus, an agnostic can be a theist or an atheist (of the antitheist type or otherwise)!

As for the ‘militant agnostics’ I have encountered – I am sorry, but it was in ‘real life’, not online.  However, the vast majority (though not all) of them fit into the logical fallacy of ‘Pascal’s Wager’:  “we cannot KNOW if GOD exists, but I am safer/can’t loose if I believe in God, so I do!”

When I would point out to these people that this does not constitute actual ‘belief’ and is both a moral and logical hypocrisy (if I chose to use kind terms), these militant agnostics got downright crotchety!


13 Responses to “‘Agnostic’ – what the term actually means”

  1. JR Says:

    Heh, I knew that would push a button or two:) You’ve provided some excellent food for thought. I’ll reply when I have more time. Ciao for now.

  2. Kaffir_Kanuck Says:

    You either have faith or you don’t.

    Most agnostics or atheist don’t realize that their set of social beliefs were born of mores established from social behaviour modified through religious beliefs.

    You can be a good person and not believe in God, but how one became good, or established those parameters came from a belief in God, or Gods if you’re a trinity kind of person.

    That’s why folks like James Clark who call themselves secular humanists drive me bananas with their narcissistic drivel fearing Judeo-Christian values, symbols and houses of worship, or their influence on society, which do more for communities than any group which insist on the elimination of religious influence.

    Xanthippa says:

    Well, this is fodder for a long discussion.

    In short, perhaps, people could ask themselves: which came first – man or religion?

    If religion came first, why is it not the same everywhere? (Not just ‘details’, but the core substance.)

    If man came first, where did religion come from?

    If there is only one God, did religion come from Him? If so, why do so many of the prophets of God disagree with each other?

    I do not mean to attack your belief system. However, I disagree with your premise that morality came from religion. Rather, I hold that all religions are man-made tools which were meant to describe morality which existed in the human society before the religion came about. The original purpose of religions was to pass down the lessons of morality learned through generations of social life in a human group and teach it to next generations: unfortunately, just about every religion ‘out there’ today has been used as a tool of oppression by some human or group of humans at one point or another.

    So, I think it is more accurate to say that morality influenced religion, which then re-influenced morality: this kind of set up a bit of a feed-back loop, if you will. But I am firmly convinced that morality predates religion.

  3. derek s Says:

    i applaud you for writing this. more people need to know the distinction between agnosticism and atheism/theism.

    agnosticism regards knowledge/epistemology.
    atheism/theism regards religion.

    society is often like pavlov dogs. when two things are often associated with each other, people tend to regard them both as the same thing. just as the words “mad” and “angry” actually mean two different things or how right-wing does not mean social conservatism or fascism.

    i am a theoretical agnostic but a practical atheist.

    theoretically, i cannot be exactly sure if there is a certain god or not. there could even be a magical pink unicorn or a flying spaghetti monster. theoretically, i may be false in believing that there is a such thing as water, but practically, i will drink water.

    practically, i do not believe in god and i will live my life as if there is no god. i think the idea of a personal intelligent god is nonsense and i condemn it. the idea of an impersonal unintelligent god is an oxymoron; a better definition of that would be nature.

    the biggest problem i have between people confusing the two is not that people think knowledge is belief, but that people think belief if knowledge. i tell religious people often, “you believe in god, but you cannot know for sure”. of course they always say something along the lines of “you may not know, but i know. speak for yourself”. either all human beings have knowledge or they all don’t. it’s not as if only human beings who say they have knowledge have knowledge.

    Xanthippa says:

    I agree with most of what you say.

    However, I would like to draw a distinction between two similar things which really are not the same. This is at the core of why I disapprove of agnosticism…

    It is one thing to say that currently, there is no objective knowledge of something. No problem there. But that is not the agnostic’s belief!

    In order to be accurately labeled an agnostic, a person must believe that it is impossible for this knowledge to ever exist: past, present and future! That is why I prefer the ignostic position to the agnostic one.

    You see my problem: while I have no idea what shape that knowledge would take, I have a real problem with the absolutism regarding future events…. I may THINK such knowledge can never exist, but, to BELIEVE it is just too much of a leap of faith for me!

    By the way, I really like how you phrased the thing that many people consider belief to be knowledge. Excellent! (And, yes, it also is one of my ‘big red buttons’, along with people considering ‘feelings’ to be ‘knowledge’ and/or ‘opinions’.)

    • derek s Says:

      you are right.

      philosophy discussions often turn into a game of semantics. many philosophical words have contexts that are used outside of philosophy. when i refer to myself as agnostic; i mean it as an adjective and not a noun.

      i am agnostic (as an adjective) when it comes to some issues the subject religion. i’m not AN agnostic (as a noun). similar to how i may be liberal on some political issues, but i’m not a liberal.

      it may be etymologically unfair to define lack of certain knowledge as having the quality of agnosticism, but that’s the most concise way to put it.

      i dont define myself publicly as an atheist (even though i practically am). people have neural associations which automatically link the words “sociopath” and “pessimist” to the word atheist, and unfairly and illogically so. religious people are far more hostile to atheists than those of other religions than them, even though both are saying “your belief is wrong”.

      my religious views are very complex (they will take a 200 page treatise to explain fully), but the one word i now use to describe my religious views when people ask me is “non-religious”. the word doesn’t exhaustively describe my beliefs, but it does so optimally.

      i am going to email you about a different topic, but you can include your response to this post in the email.

      Xanthippa says:

      Agreed. It is unfortunate that people have irrational connotations with words they use incorrectly.

  4. JR Says:

    I see you’ve stimulated some interesting discussion. The comments are excellent.

    So, here’s what I think. First, you are correct when you say we’re not that far apart philosophically. The problem seems to boil down to what label to apply to non-believers.

    I accept your formal definitions and original root meanings of terms. Most seem reasonable. Though some seem to make things muddier than they have to be.

    Maybe a generalization of the situation will help resolve things. Consider two mutually exclusive hypotheses A and B about the state of the world. Only one can be true. For a variety of psycho/social reasons some people believe A to be the truth, while others are convinced B is true. Neither group is able to produce real evidence and/or logic that objectively proves either case. So both must “believe” or “have faith in” their favoured “truth”. Meanwhile, the mushy middle from Missouri, quite rationally accepts the absence of sufficient knowledge to satisfactorily resolve the issue and remains unconvinced of the truth of either hypothesis.

    Based on the above I think that the distinction drawn between positive (presence of) belief and negative (non- or absence of) belief is a distinction without much of a difference. Ask an atheist whether God exists and the answer might be: (1) No! or (2) I have no such belief! or (3) I believe not. All three answers are essentially the same, and identify the respondent as an atheist. Answer (2) pays homage to some atheists’ assumption that, tactically, it’s important to deny or to avoid admission of “belief “ in anything. Many atheists bristle at the suggestion that their conviction that hypothesis B is true is based on belief or faith, presumably because it puts them on a kind of par with those who believe in hypothesis A (unacceptable!).

    I have no problem with the notion that agnosticism is about the state of our “knowledge” of the existence of God. I can also see that an agnostic can, strictly speaking, also be a theist or an atheist (I “believe” A (or B) but admit there’s no rational proof). However this seems to rather limit the usefulness of the term “agnostic”. What does one label those who “believe” neither A nor B? They’re strictly “from Missouri”. Perhaps that’s why most people (we vulgar peasants) just call ourselves “agnostics”.

    And while the definition of “agnostic” you quote may be technically, historically accurate it leaves out those who don’t “believe” it’s necessarily “impossible” to ever know. So I prefer to have a sub-category of agnostic that acknowledges this differentiation. Maybe it will catch on.

    Antitheist. The term must be a relatively recent invention – it isn’t in my spell checker – or my Oxford dictionary – and it gets relatively few Google hits. Perhaps it’s because it’s formal definition as a positive belief in nothing (non-existence) is a poor one – it seems redundant. The current popular usage, anti(=against)theism, seems much more appropriate. It certainly fits rabidly arrogant opponents of theism, the militant atheists of the Dawkins/Hitchens variety. Maybe it’ll eventually become the official definition.

    Re the “militant” agnostics who you quote as saying: ”we cannot KNOW if GOD exists, but I am safer/can’t lose if I believe in God, so I do!”. I’d say anyone who would admit that’s why they “believe” in God is more stupid than militant. Perhaps their “crotchety” reaction was just an understandably hostile reaction to your accusation that they are immoral hypocrites:)

    To conclude, my personal position, if it’s not already obvious, is that I’m a weak agnostic who, on rational grounds, “believes” neither A nor B. That said, I have a much greater affinity for theists than for atheists. All of the horrendously bad actors and most of the misguided thinkers in recent history have been atheistic: the likes of Marx, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro and assorted proponents everywhere of totalitarianism, communism, socialism, and statism, including, for example, the sponsors of the recent 10/2 One Nation rally. I’ll throw my lot in with a theistic Glenn Beck any day. My affinity for theists, however, is limited to those who also strongly support individual and economic liberty which excludes many if not most mainstream Christian Churches and most certainly, Islam.

    Happy Thanksgiving! And God (if You exist) bless!


    Xanthippa says:

    A few minor points – like that only SOME of the militant agnostics go for the Pascal’s Wager, and that in order to be ‘an agnostic’, a POSITIVE belief in the ‘UNKNOWABILITY’ of existence of God(s) is required and therefore a label ‘weak agnostic’ is simply wrong, and, yes, there is no specific word that means ‘a person who holds no belief regarding the existence of a deity/deities, one way or the other’ – and that is only appropriate….because if we tried to create a label for each thing some person(s) lack(s) a belief in, the dictionary would get rather long. It seems simplest and most accurate to use the catch-all term ‘skeptic’: someone who does not hold positive beliefs without conclusive proof.

    Then – a few major points.

    First and, perhaps, most emphatically: Hitler was NOT an atheist – in ANY sense of the word. He was a Roman Catholic, was baptized as such, attended church as such, and was buried as a Roman Catholic in good standing with the Church. The war he sparked was not religious in nature – but that does NOT make him an atheist. I truly do not understand why so many people insist of categorizing Hitler as an atheist when the only solid evidence on the topic shows him to be anything but…

    Yes, there were members of Hitler’s administration who subscribed to Gnostic Christianity mixed with Norse religious traditions. But this was a small enclave of people who believed in a non-standard form of Christianity – still Christianity, though – and not Hitler himself. The Third Reich was a thoroughly Christian country: not a hint of atheism about them!

    Next big point: all kinds of people start wars. Some are theists, some are atheists. The big difference is that some people start wars simply because they are evil: both atheists and some fall into this category (the others start wars because the are forced by circumstances, or because they are idiots, or a combination thereof).

    These evil people start wars for selfish reasons or misguided reasons and the atheists among them understand that they bear the responsibility for what they caused. Most don’t care; some do and suffer pangs of conscience.

    However, most (not all, but definitely most) theists who start wars truly and honestly believe they have God(s) on their side and feel no personal responsibility for their actions or the evil done in the name of their beliefs. That, in my never-humble-opinion, is an extra dimension of evil…

    As for current ‘thinkers’ – I, too, find Dawkins and similar people unbearable. (OK – the Aspie in me especially deplores Dawkins because he is, to a great degree, responsible for the bastardization of the terminology regarding this issue – including that whole ‘weak/strong’ with respect to ‘agnostic/atheist’ crap. That, if nothing else, puts Dawkins on my ‘evil people’ list…and if you, JR, don’t like him – why do you propagate his non-sense by buying in to his misleading and demonstrably wrong labels?)


    Currently, it is still against the law in many US States for atheists to be elected into public office.

    MANY of the US Presidents (3/4 in the pre-Obama era – I don’t know where he stands on this) have stated they think that Atheists should be stripped of US citizenship….

    OK – I have NEVER heard an atheist who forbade a person to enter their home, on the grounds that the theist believes in a God or Gods. I, personally, have been forbidden entry to a friend’s home because her grandmother would not permit an atheist to enter her home. My younger son has, very recently, experienced the same thing…

    I guess what I am trying to say is that while many skeptics and antitheists are contemptuous of theists and regard them as either stupid or brainwashed or both, they do not discriminate against them with nearly as deadly ferocity as theists discriminate against atheists…. Throughout human history, there have been many more people who were killed for their disbelief (not believing in God(s) in the exact way the authorities wanted) than just about any other reason….which is why I find it difficult to trust the tolerance of theists of diversity of belief or lack thereof.

  5. Tim Johnston Says:

    I do enjoy these discussions! And I hadn’t seen it that way before. thanks.

    Xanthippa says:

    Thank you!

    While I try to write about the important things around, this type of topic is where my true interests lie.

  6. JR Says:

    Hitler’s religious beliefs. Not a bigee. Yes, he professed Christianity and Catholicism. Was he religious, a true believer, or did he just exploit it for political purposes? His behaviour would strongly suggest the latter. Anti-Semitism among Germans, justified on religious grounds, was part of the culture. Politicians of all stripes no doubt exploited it. And, as I understand it, he was a member of the Catholic Church in good standing – apparently until later in the war when he decided he’d rather establish his own brand of Christianity (good grief!) Did the Catholic Church realize that he was murdering people by the millions? Would it have kept up his membership if it had? So, yes there’s lots of evidence for his ‘profession’ of religious belief. On whether or not he actually “believed”, I’m agnostic; but for the shear scale of his evil he deserves a place with the evil atheistic totalitarians.

    I agree, sane people who refuse to take personal responsibility for their own actions, are scum.

    Atheists in the US. Atheism as a reason for political exclusion must be unconstitutional.

    Dawkins. If he’s responsible for coming up with those definitions of agnosticism, I didn’t know it, but good for him:) What I dislike about him is his style of argument, his rude arrogance. Oh, and there’s one other thing. He tends to talk a lot about “probability” and “likelihood” in connection with his discussion of the existence (or not) of God. This makes no sense at all. Otherwise, he’s entitled to his views.

    Xanthippa says:

    I’m sorry JR, but I fail to follow your reasoning about grouping Hitler in with ‘atheistic totalitarians’. He was not an atheist by any working definition of the term – so by what reasoning can you heap HIS crimes on the ‘atheist’ pile?

    The Roman Catholic Church was FULLY aware of the genocide Hitler was carrying out – and approved. There is solid evidence of MANY people ‘alerting’ The Church (including Edith Stein) who warned them. Some individual priests stood up against the Nazis, but they did so in opposition to The Church policy. Hitler’s people were in full contact with The Church during all of the war – and The Church was Hitler’s staunch ally.

    Following WWII, The Church set up an ‘underground railroad’ to smuggle Nazi officers and SS members out of Europe. I found out about this rather accidentally, when (as a teenager) I dated a guy… His dad loved talking to me. And, he told me stories…. He was one of those ‘smuggled out’ – The Church had him hidden in an Italian priest’s family’s home: to show his gratitude, he married the priest’s baby sister. The Church got him a new identity and, as a couple, they immigrated to Canada and had a wonderful life with 4 kids here.

    Anyhow…to re-focus: the Roman Catholic Church was fully aware and totally and actively supportive of Hitler and his actions during WWII. They had great diplomatic relations! WWII will indeed (in a couple of centuries, when the perspective is less emotional and more objective) be seen as a sectarian war between various branches of Christianity – the Jews just got caught in the middle.

    Political exclusion of atheists in the US: it is a reality.

    The individual states have the right to set this exclusion of atheists from public office as their law UNTIL somebody takes it to court, it works its way through to the Supreme Court and gets a favourable ruling stating this is unconstitutional. Until that happens, the laws stand and are binding…

    And, both the Bushes (while presidents) stated that atheists ought to be stripped of their US citizenship and must certainly never be placed into any position of responsibility or trust…

    Dawkins: anyone who pollutes the English language is contemptible…plus I find his ‘style’ counter-productive.

    To sum it all up: theists are not friends to atheists (or non-theist agnostics), no matter how you slice it.

  7. JR Says:

    This could become a never-ending comment thread;-)

    My position is fairly straightforward, Xanthippa. Given his crimes I’m unconvinced Hitler was a Christian “believer” in any meaningful sense of the word. And if anyone in the German Catholic Church knowingly aided and abetted Nazi murder then neither were they. I’m similarly unconvinced that the opportunistic pedophiles who infiltrated the Catholic Church are believers. There’s no way to know for sure what’s in these criminals’ hearts and minds but, as I said, their behaviour strongly suggests they were not acting on Christian beliefs. Though it just occurred to me that perhaps they worshiped Satan or some similar deity – if so, I’d revise my position (slightly). It seems that Pope Benedict has made similar arguments for linking the Nazis with atheism and lumping them in with the other professed atheist totalitarian mass murderers of the 20th century.

    American state laws excluding atheists from holding office? The Wikipedia entry for “Discrimination against atheists” says: “ … seven state constitutions officially include religious tests that would effectively prevent atheists from holding public office, and in some cases being a juror/witness, though these have not generally been enforced since the early nineteenth century.“ (Translation: there are outdated statutes still on the books.)
    And, “ … In 1961, the United States Supreme Court explicitly overturned the Maryland provision in the Torcaso v. Watkins decision, holding that laws requiring “a belief in the existence of God” in order to hold public office violated freedom of religion provided for by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution.” So atheists are free to practice their religion and run for office just like everyone else.

    About the Bushes’ statements – possibly so – got any refs? Anyway, they might truly wish that were the case but saying so would just be political posturing because they would know it ain’t gonna’ happen – it’s unconstitutional.

    Xanthippa says:

    Yes, JR – it could very well be a never-ending thread…

    So, I’ll do my best to be brief (a skill I have never quite mastered…)

    First and foremost – I bow to your research on the 1961 ruling – I should have googled it instead of relying on reports of the existing state laws and extrapolating from the judicial process without checking to see if the precedent had been set already. I really should have done more specific research before opening my mouth (or typing…)

    As for the Bush-atheism thing: the quote by the father is here and the younger, George W’s activities (just a small example) are here.

    As for the Vatican…. Following WWII, they have gone to great lengths to hide their own collaboration with the Nazi regime – and describing them as ‘atheists’ is no more than part of this effort.\

    Plus, it is true – and I had stated so – that a portion of the Nazi leadership (excluding Hitler) – practiced a different form of Christianity, somewhat influenced by Norse mythology (their specific brand (to the Nazis), not that branch of Christianity in general).

    I speak specifically of Arianism (named after the 3rd century Christian leader Arius who is regarded as having formulated them in this particular form – and not to be confused with the term Aryan which is ancient Sanskirt for ‘honourable, noble’ and applies to a race, not to a set of religious beliefs). The Church had never quite forgiven the Nazis that a small but highly positioned enclave within their leadership dared practice a different form of Christianity than Roman Catholicism!

    It is important to remember that when Europe became converted to Christianity, it was Arianism – not the RC doctorine – that did it (majority, not all, of course). By the time of Dagobert II, Arianism was ‘the norm’ as the form of Christianity practiced in Western Europe. (Yes, I am leaving the Orthodox forms – so dominant in the East – out. Perhaps this is a geographic prejudice of mine – but it ought to be declared here.) It was not until the Catholic Church began to spread through the sword (and by deleting whole sections of the Bible because the Arians and other gnostics were using them to support their version of Christianity) that Arianism became a minority form of Christianity, often practiced till today in great secrecy by people who were officially ‘Roman Catholics’.

    In the article you quoted, I could not find any argument that would imply that Hitler was an atheist. He lashes out at ‘Nazi Leadership’ – a small-but-visible segment of which was Arian Christian, not Roman Catholic – which implies that the visibility of the Arian Christianity was unpalatable to his Roman Catholic parents. Still, both are forms of Christianity – historically documented and all that.

    The serial-child-rapist-protector, aka Pope Benedict, did not (according to the article you linked) say anything to even suggest that Hitler was not a Christian – much less an atheist.

    This is where you also open a whole new tin of sardines: self-identification vs your assessment.

    If I understand your criteria correctly, you would define the vast majority of all of priesthoods throughout human history as ‘atheists’. After all, they constructed and used wonderous machines that simulated ‘magic’ in temples and churches wherever these are to be found!

    For example, in order to be a Roman Catholic (their rules, not mine), a person must literally believe that the sacrament is the actual, physical flesh and blood of Jesus Christ – transformed into this by the magical incantation the priest says over them. Now, any priest who did not literally believe this would – according to your reasoning – be an atheist. (Remember, you are the one who equated absence of very strict adherence to RC doctrine by Hitler to him being an atheist….) But, it is late and I am muddling two points together here….one about Hitler and the other about the beliefs of priests and priestesses throughout human history.

    I would also question your assertion that “their behaviour strongly suggests they were not acting on Christian beliefs”. To the contrary: the behaviour of Nazis exemplifies the type of behaviour required by scripture of ‘proper Christians’ throughout Christian history. Did you know that throughout Central and Northern Europe, the word ‘Jesuit’ is pretty much synonymous with ‘book burner’ and ‘evil incarnate’?

    If they found that a house had even one book in it (yes, it is this history that Ray Bradbury was drawing on in Farenheit 451), they would take the whole family (from infirm elderly grandparents to newborn infants and everyone in-between), lock them in their home, nail shut the doors and all windows and set the house on fire! Why? Only The Church had ‘the right’ to read and to interpret scripture! Owning a book was an open challenge to The Church and an offense against it!

    You are committing a common mistake of considering the dominant post-renaissance forms of Christianity to be somehow ‘typical’ of Christianity in general: they are not, and their teachings are unsupportable by the Christian Bible. So, do not make the mistake of confusing the principles openly preached by some of the modernized Christians to be an accurate reflection of Christianity, their teachings or their scriptures: they most certainly are not!

    Don’t forget that the Christians had tortured to death many more women in Europe than Hitler ever killed Jews…and they persecuted and tortured to death men and women and children….so you can extrapolate the figures!

    OK – I’ll shut up now…it’s getting a bit late and I am ranting….sorry.

  8. JR Says:

    Oops, I goofed that link. It should have been Benedict links Nazis with atheism.

    Xan says:

    OK – I followed the wrong link…

    Still, the only evidence ‘the Rat’ quotes is that it is ‘self-evident’.

    What eloquence!

    Not much of an argument, though…and certainly not ‘evidence’.

  9. JR Says:

    I’m certainly no expert on the history of Catholicism and its past barbaric practices but when I refer to Christianity here I mean the modern, supposedly kinder, gentler, wiser version operating in a political situation where there is separation of church and state. If I’m not mistaken, the Catholic church in the bad old days wielded great political power (much like Islam today) and was in a position to abuse that power (and often did). But I think true, believing Christians in the 20th century, including German Christians, held the modern view of things and would never have countenanced the mass murder committed by the Nazis. So, I find it difficult to conclude that Nazi mass murderers were Christian. By their totalitarian ideology and behaviour they fit better with the other totalitarian mass murderers of the 20th century.


    Perhaps a little study of current activities of the Vatican would help you see what Christianity truly is. (Remember, the Vatican is BOTH a State and Church…..and far from what moral people would call ‘good’.)

    UPDATE: Christianity is based on Scripture – and Jesus is quoted as saying he has not come to abolish any of the bits from the Old Testament. Here is one site which gives a good guide to what Christianity truly means: check it out.

  10. JR Says:

    Not sure where this leads, Xan. Are you saying that Nazis may have been into Old Testament literalism? That they justified this on the grounds that Jesus was also an O.T. literalist? That this in turn justified the mass murder of Jews, God’s “Chosen People” of the O.T.?

    I suppose it takes all kinds, but I still have difficulty seeing modern, post-reformation Christianity justifying mass murder. That’s a pretty warped interpretation of the Christian “message”. Admittedly, the Nazis were pretty warped – doing a little “housecleaning” for Jesus perhaps.

    Xan says:

    What I am saying is that this post-renaissance, fluffy-bunnies-and-rainbow face of Christianity which we are presented with today is only skin deep…and that the underlying bones are where the core of the faith lies.

    And, like all things of ‘faith’ and not ‘reason’, it is a very short distance between the civilized-appearing patina that is displayed when there is no stress and a return to the ugly, violent core doctrine on which this faith is based. People who would never suspect it of themselves will leap this distance without even noticing they’ve done it, if they are stressed in the ‘right’ way!

    And, yes, I do think it was no coincidence that the gypsies – with their fortune telling – were exterminated first by the Nazis, followed by the Jews – the murderers of Jesus Christ. And, yes, the reason these two groups were targeted was precisely because the Christian population would willingly go along with the extermination of ‘witches’ and ‘Jesus-killers’.

    To be frank, I did not know there was ever a question about this!

    As it turned out, the Christian population not just of Germany, but other occupied European countries went along with the genocide quite willingly. And, the more Roman Catholic a nation was, the less they did to help the Jews (and nobody helped the Gypsies). Just look at Poland – by far the most RC of the Slavic nations and one of the most RC countries in Europe: the population was not just willing, but downright eager to hand over the Jews for extermination!

    This is history – not conjecture….

    Deep in its core, Christianity is no less xenophobic and militant than Islam is. A few cosmetic surgeries and stage makeup cannot hide its nature. And people who act based on blind faith – as their religion requires – are easily manipulated, especially if they believe the manipulator can affect the fate of what they believe to be their eternal soul. That is a motivator with great power, one most non-faith-motivated people have a hard time fully grasping.

    As for the Nazis – as I said earlier: the vast majority were church-going, believing Roman Catholics and a small minority which controlled some leadership positions within the hierarchy were Arian Christians. There is little left to the imagination here.

  11. JR Says:

    I must say that’s a very dark, scary view of Christianity, perhaps of humanity in general. On that second point have you considered the possibility that whatever beliefs people hold, including atheism, they capable of justifying great evil? Perhaps it all comes down to the generalized human propensity for corruption and power seeking. After all, the atheistic totalitarian left have a recent track record that is at least as dismal (for shear body-count much, much more dismal) as those you to whom your ascribe religious motivation.

    This is, indeed, the problem with ‘faith’-held beliefs.

    Now, here, we have a serious misalignment in our ‘generally accepted’ definitions to describe all this.

    The problem lies in that we make a distinction between ‘theism’ and ‘atheism’, not between ‘faith-based-system’ and ‘non-faith-based-system’. And let’s not make the mistake about the ‘atheistic totalitarian left’: just because their faith is not deity-based does not mean that the doctrine is not faith-based. It is.

    You can see it in the rejection of actual, real-world evidence that their ‘theories’ (these are not ‘theories’ in the proper use of the word, but it is the term they think of their ideologically based methods as) do not work is denied, censored and suppressed: the faith is stronger than reality.

    When you align things this way: faith-based and evidence-reason based, your ‘atheistic totalitarian left’ falls on the same side of the scale as theocracies. And, I have about equal respect for them. What is insidious about these is that most of the people who ‘do’ the initial ‘buy-in’ are attempting to ‘do good’. But, because their ‘buy-in’ is faith-based, their investment in it is so high, most people can be pushed to just about any atrocity to maintain it.

    This has to do with just how much of one’s self-identity a person must necessarily invest into a faith-based belief system. Psychiatry demonstrates how (and, yes, there ARE measurable physiological changes to the brain when one undergoes a conversion to a faith-based belief system) and history shows us the consistency…

    And that is why I truly and honestly fear all political faith-based belief systems – deeply.

    But that does not mean that one should classify the various faith-based systems inaccurately… Different pathologies require different weapons for one’s self-protection. Therefore, accuracy is essential.

  12. Page not found « Xanthippa's Chamberpot Says:

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