Tuesday, April 28, 2009

What Art Thou?

One of the topics I discuss quite frequently on TRT is...religion. It can be a difficult subject to broach and discuss because different individuals and groups employ different words and concepts to describe, sometimes, similar ideas. So, to attempt to get many of us on the same page, copied below are a variety of the terms used to define/describe how different people approach the concept of deity. This information is from the interesting site Religious Tolerance.
Beliefs about deity cover a wide range, including:
  • Agnosticism: having reached no conclusion whether God exists.
  • Animism: The belief that all entities have life force, a soul or mind. For example, rocks, trees and mountains have an awareness of their surroundings: (e.g. Native aboriginal religions).
  • Atheism: According to most dictionary definitions and general usage, Atheists totally reject the possibility that God exists. This would include many Atheists, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, etc. -- However, American Atheists, the largest group of Atheists in the U.S. define Atheism as having no belief in God. A newborn would not be considered an Atheist within the dictionary definition, but would be an Atheist according to the American Atheists.
  • Deism: The belief that God exists, but is remote, unknowable and uninvolved. They believe that God created the universe, set it going, left, but has not taken an active interest in it since. This was a popular belief among intellectuals during and after the American revolution. It shows up in the U.S. Declaration of Independence, and its references to to "Nature's God," and "Creator." It is a rapidly growing believe today.
  • Duotheism (a.k.a. Bitheism): belief in a dual divinity: (e.g. Wicca and Zoroastrianism). In the case of Wicca, one deity is female, the other male; in Zoroastrianism one is all good while the other is all evil.
  • Henotheism. belief in many deities of which only one is the supreme deity. This may involve: A) One chief God and multiple gods and goddesses of lesser power and importance. Ancient Greek and Roman religions were of this type. B) One supreme God, and multiple gods and goddesses who are all simply manifestations or aspects of the supreme God. Hinduism is one example; they recognize Brahman as the single deity. Some Wiccans believe in a single deity about which they know little. They call the deity "The One" or "The All." They recognize the God and Goddess as the male and female aspects of that supreme deity. C) One supreme God who rules over a country, and many other gods and goddesses who have similar jurisdiction over other territories. Liberal theologians believe that the ancient Israelites in the early years of the Hebrew nation were henotheists. They worshipped Jehovah as the supreme God over Israel, but recognized the existence of Baal and other deities who ruled over other tribes. The monotheistic concept of "Yahweh only" came later.
  • Monism: The belief that what people perceive as deity, humanity and the rest of the universe is in fact all of one substance - that divisions among the body, mind, flesh, spirit, material, physical are not real. All are simply aspects of one being.
  • Monotheism: The belief in a single God. (Examples include Islam, Judaism, and Sikhism). Within Christianity, most denominations consider themselves to be monotheistic, even though they teach the existence of three separate persons in the Trinity. Some believe that religiously inspired violence is often found among monotheists.
  • Panentheism: The belief that the entire universe -- substances, forces and laws -- is God; the universe is God's body. God transcends the universe as well. (e.g. some components of New Age belief).
  • Pantheism: The belief that every existing entity (humans, animals, etc.) together, is a part of God. They do not see God as having a personality, the ability to make decisions, etc. Rather, God is the very spiritual essence of the entire universe.
  • Polytheism: belief in many Gods and Goddesses: (e.g. various Neopagan religions. Hinduism is often looked upon in the west as a polytheistic religion).
  • Trinity: belief in a single deity who has three aspects (e.g. historical Christianity, whose members generally believe in Trinity formed by a Father, Son and Holy Spirit who they view as being a single entity). Christians often look upon God as being omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent and omnibeneficient (all knowing, all powerful, all present and all good.) Some liberal Christians believe that such a list of attributes is logically contradictory.
Many specific denominations and faith groups are difficult to categorize. For example, a religion might teach the belief in a single God, and a large number of minor deities, heroes, or saints who have some powers normally restricted to deities. It might be considered a monotheistic religion in theory or a polytheistic/henotheistic religion in practice.
Where do you fit along this spectrum?

Personally, I don't fit under any of the terms listed above. Like atheists, I don't believe in God, but I do believe there is something. Like deists, I believe the something is "remote, unknowable and uninvolved", but I don't call this thing God. In essence, my beliefs represent an eclectic conglomeration of animism, atheism, deism, monism, panentheism, and pantheism.

So, rather than refer to myself as anathdemopanenpantheist -- try saying that three times really fast -- I use a much shorter label, Taoist.


  1. I am atheist when it comes to all gods so far marketed in human history. But I have a hard time believing that we are alone in the universe--the rest of them, though, in my view, don't necessarily include gods. Perhaps a more advanced or less advanced civilization in another galaxy?

  2. Can I be Atheist Monist?

    If not then Atheist.

  3. If I followed a faith -- I'd definitely go with a cargo cult.

  4. Joking aside, thanks for the detailed post. One of my favorite books is "The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions" & I have read from it quite frequently.

  5. Oooh, the infamous cargo cult, eh.

  6. Tao asks, "Can I be Atheist Monist?"
    Tao, you can be anything you want, including a ham sandwich. :D)

  7. You know about those pesky cargo cults? Then Jon Frum sends his warmest regards.

    Think about it, the one deity who has actually *demonstrated* his power to deliver the goods. And more will be coming, more to come, some day.


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