Words that divide us

The problem of "meaning"

When it comes to abtract ideas, particularly religious ideas, meanings are not defined in dictionaries.

A word that leaves my mouth may mean something completely different when it reaches your ear.

For example, take the word "need".

You will see below that we define both theist and atheist in terms of "need" in the sense of a rational requirement for an argument.

The other meaning is more subtle, it implies a personal emotional or psycholgical requirement - a "neediness".

Some religious people become very upset about this interpretation of "need", they feel it implies they are lacking in some way. Others are very happy with using "need" in this way - see the "Fact Is, We Need God" section in this article,

So, a single word with at least two very different meanings depending on the listener's point of view.

George Bernard Shaw supposedly said that "the USA and the UK are two countries separated by a common language."

The same could be said when atheists and the religious discuss religion because words divide us when we can't agree on their meaning - and dictionaries don't help.

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

"The question is," said Alice, "whether you can make words mean so many different things."

So, if you wish to engage with us, it would be helpful to know the meaning we place on certain words.

Our definitions

  • Theos: god - from the Greek.
  • Theist: someone who believes in one or more gods.
  • Theism: no such thing since there is no set of beliefs shared by all theists.
  • Atheist: someone who sees no need for the god idea and no evidence for it.
  • Atheism: no such thing since the only thing atheists share is rejection of the god idea.
  • Apatheist: someone for whom religion has no meaning or use in their day-to-day lives. They have given it little thought and don't see any need to label themselves as anything. Their position can best be described as "a plague on both your houses" - though they are overwhelmingly in favour of ending taxpayer support for faith schools.
  • Religion: a set of beliefs involving belief in one or more gods and some form of life after death.

"Religion" is an awkward word because Budhism is accepted as a religion but doesn't require belief in a god.

Not being able to define "religion" clearly means that almost anything can be called a religion - thus making the word useless in discussion.

Obviously "atheism" can't be a religion as made clear in the definition above and we would be very upset if anyone claimed that we atheists are members of a religion!

We stick to religion as defined above and we would define Budhism as a philosophy since it doesn't require belief in a god.

Words we ignore

There is no point using religious words in discussion with us because they have meaning only in the context of religion, "inter faith dialogue" or ritual.

Religious words

Please don't sprinkle your argument with words such as:

angel, annunciation, ascension, baptism, blasphemy, catechumen, chasuble, communion, confession, confirmation, consecrated, crosier, dalmatic, deity, demon, devil, divine, ecclesiastic, engolpion, eucharist, evangelical, evil, gartel, ghost, heaven, hell, holy, incarnation, kittel, kippah, limbo, liturgy, mass, metaphysical, mitre, nabedrennik, omophorion, orthodox, panagia, prayer, profane, prophet, purgatory, reincarnation, resurrection, righteous, sakkos, sacrament, sacred, saints, satan, sin, soul, spirit, spiritual, shtreimel, supernatural, tallit, transcendent, transubstantiation, tzitzit, ultra-orthodox, zuchetto etc.

Words in holy books etc.

We are happy to discuss matters with religious people but we are often staggered at how much they quote their holy books, their "Early Church Fathers", their prophets, their saints, their scholars, their theologians and their authors.

Using words from sources within your own belief system can't help when discussing things with us because we don't accept any of it.

Flat Earthist arguments

  • "The Earth is flat - look at the evidence of your eyes!"
  • Flat Earthist holy books say so.
  • Flat Earthist theologians say so.
  • So, it must be true.

Are you convinced?

Of course not - because the sources are all internal to the Flat Earthist belief system.

For a much better, and beautifully crafted, example of this we suggest looking at the sophisticated and comprehensive arguments of Hippoism.

Why should we be convinced by arguments from one religion rather than another?

We are happy to discuss things from first principles, things that you (as an individual) think about and things that we (as individuals) think about.

We are secure enough in our beliefs to resist quoting from books or scholars - and we hope you are the same.

Holy dress

Some people are happy with the formality and predictability of ritual, others, like us, find it very odd.

We don't see why so many religions need a hierarchy (usually male) - and what is it with the dressing up?

Christian bible: Luke 20:45-47

Jesus said to his disciples,

"Beware of the teachers of the law. They like to walk around in flowing robes and love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets.

They ... for a show make lengthy prayers. These men will be punished most severely."

Christian bible: Mark 10:25

"It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God."