I’m a “faith-based atheist.”
What in the world is that?
It means that, unlike an agnostic, I’m certain about god: specifically, that there isn’t one. But such certainty isn’t something that submits to any kind of objective proof: just as the religious person must accept the existence of his or her god(s) as a matter of faith, so must the true atheist rely on belief over material evidence – after all, how do you prove god doesn’t exist? Anything short of this standard-of-proof makes one an agnostic, not an atheist.
What’s still more difficult, is to strive for an ethical existence when the most commonly invoked “cause” (or source) of human ethics (namely, the alleged “higher powers”) have been unequivocally rejected. It seems to me that the only ethical atheist is one who accepts that his or her belief is indeed just that – a belief, not a demonstrated “fact.” Atheists who assert some kind of exceptionalism for their own beliefs vis-a-vis the beliefs of non-atheists strike me as hypocritical. I’m profoundly uncomfortable with many atheists – of the secular-humanist stripe – who attempt to position themselves as rationalists – I think it’s not only philosophically perilous but ultimately unethical due to this inherent hypocrisy.
Despite this, I’m also displeased with the tendency of humanists (again, i.e. “secular humanists”) to categorically place human beings in the center of things. Such pre- (or even anti-) Copernican posturing is just as irrational as the traditional, god-centered systems they presume to criticize – in my judgement, anyway.
With the categorical rejection of the transcendental and god-centric, I believe that there must come a similarly vehement rejection of the anthropocentric. So… but what’s left, then?
Let me get back to you on that one. Does this make me sound like a nihilist? This is a possibility. I’m most comfortable with a sort of aesthetic take on the whole matter, a la Robinson Jeffers Inhumanism. But that doesn’t really resolve the epistemological issues – which are what seem to most interest me.
Another issue is how I can reconcile my committed atheism with my frequent self-description as a “Buddhist.” However, one has to understand that Buddhism, in most conceptions, is doctrinally agnostic with respect to the theist question. To attempt to paraphrase Gautama Siddhartha, as I have understood it: when asked about the existence of deities or God, he reportedly answered that, like everything else, it was both true and not true. Thus there is room within Buddhism for both atheists and theists, as well as whatever falls in between.