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Non-theistic beliefs, spiritual paths, etc.

Apatheism: "Do god(s) exist?
I don't know & I don't really care
"

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Terminology:

The term "Apatheism" is a portmanteau 1 -- a combination of two words. They may be considered a fusing of:

bullet"Apathy" and "Theism" or
bullet"Apathy and "Atheism."

When spoken, the emphasis is on the "pa," as in the word "apathy."

Apatheism is more an attitude than a belief or belief system. An Apatheist is a person who regards the question of the existence or non-existence of a god or gods to be essentially meaningless and irrelevant. However, some define the term more broadly to refer to apathy towards all religions or belief systems, not just toward a belief in god.

Unlike most Theists, Agnostics, Atheists, etc, an Apatheist doesn't really care whether it is possible to prove either the existence or non-existence of a god.

Apatheism is a.k.a. pragmatic Atheism, and practical Atheism.

An associated term is Apathetic Agnosticism, a.k.a. Pragmatic Agnosticism. This is the view that millennia of debate has neither proven nor disproven the existence of a god or gods. However, even if one or more deities exist, they do not appear to be concerned about the fate of humans. Thus, their existence has little impact on humanity and should be of little interest.

The origin of "Apatheisms" is unclear:

bulletAccording to the Wikipedia article on Apatheism, 2 the website titled "The Church of Apatheism" went online in the year 2000. 3 The latter is believed to be a satiric web site, although it is often difficult to determine which religious web sites are satiric and which are serious.

bulletAccording to the Global Oneness Commitment Foundation, the term was used on message boards as early as 2000-JUL. 4

bullet Johnathan Rauch wrote an article on Apatheism in the 2003-MAY edition of The Atlantic magazine. 5

bulletAccording to the Urban Dictionary, it was coined in 2004 by Grayson Scantelbury in Vancouver, BC, Canada. 6

A possible benefit of Apatheism:

Johnathan Rauch, who describes himself as "... an unrepentantly atheistic Jewish homosexual," wrote an article in The Atlantic, saying, in part:
"Apatheism -- a disinclination to care all that much about one's own religion, and an even stronger disinclination to care about other people's -- may or may not be something new in the world, but its modern flowering, particularly in ostensibly pious America, is worth getting excited about."
 "Apatheism concerns not what you believe but how. In that respect it differs from the standard concepts used to describe religious views and people. [Strong] Atheism, for instance, is not at all like apatheism; the hot-blooded atheist cares as much about religion as does the evangelical Christian, but in the opposite direction. "Secularism" can refer to a simple absence of devoutness, but it more accurately refers to an ACLU-style disapproval of any profession of religion in public life -- a disapproval that seems puritanical and quaint to apatheists. Tolerance is a magnificent concept, John Locke's inestimable gift to all mankind; but it assumes, as Locke did, that everyone brims with religious passions that everyone else must work hard to put up with. And agnostics? True, most of them are apatheists, but most apatheists are not agnostics. Because -- and this is an essential point -- many apatheists are believers. ..."
"Religion, as the events of September 11 and after have so brutally underscored, remains the most divisive and volatile of social forces. To be in the grip of religious zeal is the natural state of human beings, or at least of a great many human beings; that is how much of the species seems to be wired. Apatheism, therefore, should not be assumed to represent a lazy recumbency, like my collapse into a soft chair after a long day. Just the opposite: it is the product of a determined cultural effort to discipline the religious mindset, and often of an equally determined personal effort to master the spiritual passions. It is not a lapse. It is an achievement." 5
In his article he refers to the well known fact that about 40% of American adults tell public opinion pollsters that they attend religious services weekly. However, when nose counters actually try to verify this number, they find that about half of Americans lie about church attendance. Only about 20% actually go. Canadian statistics are similar: about 20% say they go; 10% do go. He concludes:
"A great many Americans ... apparently care about religion enough to say they are religious, but not enough to go to church."

Some tentative conclusions:

bulletApatheism may well be one of the largest religious divisions in the U.S., although few people know the meaning of the term. To our knowledge, no public opinion pollster has ever attempted to measure the number of Apatheists.

bulletIf Apatheism became a dominant force in the world, religiously-motivated terrorists would have major recruitment problems. No Apatheist would be prepared to fly an airliner into a tall building in order to make a religious statement.

bulletMission programs would similarly suffer if Apatheism became dominant.

bulletA great deal of human suffering would result if Apatheism became prominent and was coupled with a lack of commitment to the Ethic of Reciprocity -- the Golden Rule regarding the treatment of other people.

A mixed view of Apatheism by a Unitarian Universalist minister:

The Rev. Mark Stringer of the First Unitarian Church of Des Moines sees positive and negative aspects of Apatheism. In a 2004 sermon he said, in part:

"On the surface, apatheism sounds like a good idea, and compared to the rigidity of fundamentalism, it is definitely a cultural improvement.  Certainly most of us would agree that, throughout recorded history, enormous amounts of damage have been done by humans wound too tightly in their own religious zeal.  An increase in the number of people who are committed to more relaxed religiosity, who do not see it as their religious duty to separate the saved from the unsaved, the sheep from the goats, the pure and holy heterosexuals from the wicked and evil homosexuals, just to name one currently pertinent example, can’t be anything but good, right?  The rise of apatheism, then, could be seen as a welcome indication that more and more people are not taking religion so seriously and frankly, in a world where those holding fanatical religious views can put entire countries on the defensive, it’s about time. ..."
"As I have pondered the concept of apatheism this week, I’ve come to see that I’ve moved away from it as a descriptor for my own beliefs because I now realize that there is too much at stake to be indifferent about matters of religion." 
"I recognize that I can’t be an apatheist because, while I don’t wish to deny your individual perceptions of the God you may follow, I do care and am affected by what you think the God you may follow feels about me, my friends and companions, and this earth we share."
I need to be something more than indifferent, for example, if your God is telling you to discriminate against, withhold civil rights from, or persecute people simply based on their gender or sexual orientation, class, race, or politics.
"I need to be something more than indifferent if your God requires you to support wide-ranging censorship or the disregard of scientific fact in favor of creationism."
"I need to be something more than indifferent if your God requires you to support unfair distribution of income or privilege."
"Or if your God sanctions misuse of the planet or doesn’t question a lack of environmental responsibility."
"Or if your God is calling upon you to take up a crusade or holy war against another people, whether the facts support this crusade or not."
"My ever-evolving Unitarian Universalist faith has helped me see that in all of these cases, and many more, I need to be something more than indifferent, something more than apatheistic." 7

YouTube entries concerning Apatheism:

bullet"Apatheism - the New Anti-Religion" at:  http://www.youtube.com/

bulletBill Maher - Apatheist - on Scarborough Country, Part 1 at: http://www.youtube.com/

References and notes:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. The word "portmanteau" has two unrelated meanings: a word made up from two other words fused together, and a suitcase.
  2. "Apatheism," Wikipedia, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
  3. "The Church of Apatheism," http://www.wunderland.com/
  4. "Apatheism," the Global Oneness Commitment Foundation at: http://www.experiencefestival.com/
  5. Johnathan Rauch, "Let it be: Three cheers for Apatheism," The Atlantic, 2003-MAY. Online at: http://www.jonathanrauch.com/ or http://www.theatlantic.com/
  6. "Apatheism," Urban Dictrionary, at: http://www.urbandictionary.com/"
  7. Rev. Mark Stringer, "The Good, the Bad, and the Indifferent," First Unitarian Church of Des Moines 2004-MAR-14, at: http://www.ucdsm.org/

Copyright © 2008 to 2013 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2008-AUG-22
Latest update: 2013-APR-03
Author: B.A. Robinson

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