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Where are all the unbelievers?

According to a 2003 Harris International survery, there are about 63 million atheists and agnostics in the United States. That’s about 20% of the population. This is somewhat higher than many other polls, but I think it’s more accurate. (For more on various polls, see this article from the Secular Coalition for America.)

I live in a reddish-purple town in Northern Colorado that has the proverbial “church on every corner.” And I meet atheists and agnostics all the time. I’ve met them while taking German classes, I’ve met them in writer’s groups, I’ve met them at knitting shops, at work, at coffee shops, at computer clubs, and (needless to say), I’ve also met many unbelievers online.

It’s not like I wear atheist T-shirts or drive a car plastered with anti-religious bumper stickers. I don’t. I look, according to my hairdresser, like a normal, conservative (ack!) woman.

A few days ago, I was talking to a young guy who works at my local bookstore, and I mentioned that I write for Skepchik. I told him that I write about atheism. He asked, “Are you an atheist?” When I said “yes,” he blurted out, quite loudly, “All Right! Me too.”

Almost every time I mention that I am an atheist, someone else comes out and owns up to not believing in God. If I wasn’t willing to say something first, however, I’d never realize that there were so many other unbelievers around me. I don’t recall ever having anyone tell me they didn’t believe in God before I outed myself as an atheist first.

Does anyone else think we just don’t find other unbelievers in our area becuase we are too silent about our identity?


Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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  1. Yes I think so. For while I live in the UK, where this is much less of an issue, the only reason I know for definite that many of my acquaintances and friends are atheists is that I have always been very open about my atheism for the last 40+ years, probably prompting others to feel comfortable about 'coming out', at least to me. Though I do find that once someone has admitted it openly to a fellow atheist, all things being equal, they are then usually far happier to be more open about it in future to all. Hence the value of campaigns by such as Dawkins and Harris about raising the profile of atheists in general so that those who may be isolated because of their circumstances know that they are not alone.

  2. No..

    I think somewhere in our society,the Marilin Manson crew

    decided to make it a fad to be anti-anything.When I was growing-up,

    it was the demonic Satanist,who were the cool kids,that seemed to be

    desperately reacting for some attention..

    It's also common in our society to retaliate toward our upbringing,

    and often rebel against our parents most desired interest.

    Whatever the believe,usually religion.

    Yet,I don't understand the correlation you emphasize with

    agnostic teachings and principles.Although Agnostic seldom

    fix themselves to anyone one ideology,

    They're not Atheist or decided God doesn't exists.It has been my

    experience and understanding that they infarct support a god-like

    concept,just unsure how to define it..

    Don't take my word for it,here's a dictionary definition to help you

    agnostic adjective

    1. of or pertaining to an agnostic or agnosticism

    2. uncertain of all claims to knowledge [ant: gnostic]


    1. someone who is doubtful or noncommittal about something

    2. a person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)

    WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University.

    So please stop lumping agnostics,and atheist,in the same

    broad category.There's a fundamental difference between

    the two ideologies,and although you may share a similar

    relationships,this really doesn't make them identical,

    To throw them in the same camp..

  3. infarct support a god-like concept


    Obviously:I meant THEY IN FACT support a god-like concept..


  4. than you're saying agnostics have concluded

    God doesn't exist,which makes them Atheist not agnostic.

    Agnostic DO believe in an existence(how it's defined)

    but just wont call it Jesus,Allah,ect…At least how I understand it

  5. Put it this way,Sylvia Brown is also Agnostic

    Browne does not hide these opinions. After all, they are expressed

    in some of her books. But she seemed to avoid mentioning them when discussing her book The Mystical Life of Jesus – An Uncommon

    Perspective on the Life of Christ on the Montel Williams show.

    "I am an agnostic (meaning that I do not claim to know whether

    or not there is a god or gods), and so, for me, her views on religion

    have no bearing on what I think about her purported "psychic abilities."

    So are you sure this is the camp you wont

    to place yourselves into? I'm I wrong for pointing this out?

    I wouldn't wont to be banned for being honest..

  6. I am so sick of the discussion about what we non-beleivers call ourselves. If you are an atheist, agnostic, bright, freethinker, skeptic, humanist, or nothingarian, then I'm including you in my definition of non religious people. If I left out any other names, it's not intentional.

    If this turns into an argument about names, I will just delete the comments. I am tired of interesting discussions getting hijacked by off-topic comments.

    If you have anything to say in answer to the question "Does anyone else think we just don’t find other unbelievers in our area becuase we are too silent about our identity?" then please feeel free to chime in.

  7. mimic,

    That's not what the definition you quoted says the word means.

    1. someone who is doubtful or noncommittal about something

    2. a person who claims that they cannot have true knowledge about the existence of God (but does not deny that God might exist)

    An agnostic says that God (any god, take your pick) might exist, but that they can't tell for sure one way or the other. "Maybe nobody can tell," they might even say. This is not the same as believing that some kind of god exists but not knowing what name to call it. It's not the same thing at all.

  8. As to the topic of the post itself, I'm afraid I don't have too much actual data to contribute, but based on my (limited) personal experience, I'll sound my agreement with John Phillips.

  9. “Does anyone else think we just don’t find other unbelievers

    in our area because we are too silent about our identity?”


    If an agnostic believer,found another agnostic believer,

    they did not find an unbeliever,who's silent about their faith..

    If an atheist finds a agnostic believer,they also did not find

    someone silent in their faith.

    If an atheist finds another atheist,then yes,they both are

    unbelievers,perhaps silent in their faith.

    But just to be fair,

    how often do you find an atheist,silent about anything?

  10. Dear Blake,

    It certainly doesn't suggest a agnostics believes in nothing,

    which is the definitive distinction between the two separate ideologies

    But as I said,if you like to be in the same camp with Sylvia Brown,

    and can share mutual grounding,that's very Oprah of you,I'm quite

    sure,she'll enjoy your company..

    Have fun..

  11. I'll just have to quote Monty Python:

    "Anyway, when I get my membership card and blazer badge back from the League of Agnostics, I shall urge the executive to lodge a protest against that religious racket! Pass the butter knife"

    The whole point of being agnostic or atheist is that there isn't a pre-established identity to cling to. I'm an atheist because I believe

    1) If there was a "god" in the Jewish/Hindu/Greek/Christian/etc sense, we'd know. It'd be constantly involved and screwing up the statistics of everything.

    2) If there is, but it's evil, we'd probably know that too. Wait… maybe we do ;)

    3) If there is a being THAT powerful, why would it give two bits about US? It has a galaxy of individual atomic structures to personally attend to.

    4) Religions differ so greatly as to who/what this god (or gods) is like, there would be tons of separate pantheons. All fighting on behalf of their followers against everyone else. You'd have people lobbing holy hand grenades and what not.

    So therefore I believe there is no way that we can sure there is a god, but the chance of there being one you could call a god is smaller than the chance of finding a planet identical to earth with humans on it.

  12. I say "Bravo" to Sylvia Browne if she has indeed publicly stood up as an agnostic. I have an atheist friend who believes in homeopathy and karma. Oh well.

    Most atheits and agnostics seem to be less susceptible to superstition than the average person on the street. But we're not immune. I don't even care about much of the dumb stuff that people believe in because it's not tied to political power and violence. I do care about religious nonsense because of the current political power of religious extremists in the U.S., the Middle East, and elsewhere. I also think it's important for all non-God-believers to speak out (even if we believe in other nonsense) becasue if we are silent, we don't count in the public arena.

    That said, I would prefer that all people — especially those who don't believe in God — learn to use reason to determine what's true because making decisions based on garbage information is ultimately bad for individuals and for society. Wishful thinking, I guess.

  13. Sorry, writerdd, it was before my morning cup of coffee, and I forgot to not argue with silly trolls. The lack of spaces after commas should have given it away earlier.

    In my day-to-day life, I generally assume everyone around me is non-religious; as an academic surrounded by academics, it's a good enough assumption that I'm surprised when it doesn't hold. It's nice living in a hole sometimes :)

  14. Mimic says Put it this way,Sylvia Brown is also Agnostic and says this even though the link he provides for support shows that Sylvia Browne believes in gods, but is simply not a conventional Christian. That isn't being agnostic. And the quote mimic provides is not Browne talking, but the guy who's doing the web site criticising her.

    No, mimic, you're not "wrong for pointing this out", you're wrong because you have your facts wrong.

  15. @writerdd: my, yes, that happens a lot, one of my most rational friends surprised me with believing in homeopathy and when I asked her on what grounds she said:'well, the chinese have been doing it for 2000 years!'. I think it might just be that belief wire in the human brain that defaults to believing SOMETHING and if you tell it, well, religion is out, it just moves to the next thing, and it's kind of hard to make it stop.

    Maybe we should start wearing T-Shirts saying 'non-believer' instead of 'atheist', then it counts for everything, as well as being a great conversation starter to meet others :)

    @mollishka: yep, even people you've known a while can surprise you- they looked like perfectly sane human beings, too ;)

  16. naomi,

    I worry about that "conservation of credulity" problem every once in a while. "How good a job am I doing keeping the woo and the nonsense out of my head?" (I've only got the one brain, and it has to last me a while longer.) "If I shut the door, will it just come in the window?"

    A friend of mine says that when his rational-thinking centers finally burn out and he turns to conspiracy theory, he's going to become one of those people who think Christopher Marlowe wrote the plays of Shakespeare. "It's a nice, safe loony belief," he says.

    I figure that's a good tactic. If I need to believe in something, I'll shift that need onto my art-and-music thinking and believe Björk is awesome beyond all awesomeness. (Two days until Volta!)

  17. "Does anyone else think we just don’t find other unbelievers in our area because we are too silent about our identity?"

    Not for me, but Australia/New Zealand is pretty secular by comparison to the US. In fact its often more a case of going 'oh, so you're a christian' with people assuming people are more non-religious than they turn out to be. In general people seem to wear thier ideology less publically than they do in the US, its just the odds are more with you, so 'oopses' are rarer.

    But of course we dont have the obvious gathering places that religions do if you're wanting to meet other keener non-religious types. So its still easier for religious people to meet up with each other here than non-religious types maybe? Of course anyone who's not strongly identifying with their religion is in the same boat, I've had religious friends who seem to have trouble meeting people from a similar religion because they dont like the churches and dont want to publically broadcast thier beliefs.


  18. I feel like certain of my friends from my old high school youth group are probably far less religious than they used to be/not religious anymore. But I have no way of knowing for sure, because I'm one of the ones who are too damn chicken to 'come out' to family and religious friends. (I am working up the courage though… probably this summer?). Anyway, when/if I do, I expect there to be a lot of controversy and flat-out shock in that group, but I also think there just might be a few people agreeing with me…

    In other words, yes, I think that in general people in the US assume you're Christian, at least nominally, unless you state otherwise, which too few people do.


  19. Kelly, do you live in the Bible Belt? Just curious. I moved away from my most of my family and my religious friends before I became an atheist, so I was able to come out slowly, one at a time. The first step is the hardest, especially if word will spread through your social network via gossip.

  20. I was born to atheist parents and have been an atheist all my life. In my private life my family and close friends all know of my atheism (my husband and adult children are all atheists too.) In my professional life I must keep my beliefs to myself, otherwise I would probably lose my job. I am a school librarian and the parents at my school would not look kindly upon an atheist choosing their children's reading material. That's so ironic because I am very popular with my students and their families – seen as a loving, supportive, kind and trust-worthy mother-figure.

    I have read how atheists and other non-believers in Europe can freely and safely express their beliefs without fear of the consequences. How lovely that would be…I wish I could do the same here in the U.S.

  21. mimic,

    I know a number of agnostics. In my years of friendship with many such folk, I've never heard them espouse anything which remotely resembles a god-like concept. Sounds like you are projecting your worldview on others. Every conversation I've ever had with an agnostic on the subject of God goes something like this:

    me: So, do you believe in a god or other supernatural force?

    agnostic: It's really impossible to say either way whether such an entity exists. Therefore I just don't think about it.

    A person who "just doesn't think about it" doesn't frame their worldview in terms of a supernatural boojum who might or might not be out there.

    I'm not foolish enough to say that my sample of agnostics is representative, but I've certainly never met one who fits your description.

    Oh and for the record:

    (1) atheism is not a "faith"

    (2) agnosticism is also not a "faith"

    (3) I never liked satanic rock music

    (4) I didn't become an atheist because I was rebelling against my parents

    (5) I didn't become an atheist because it was "cool" or "to get attention"

    Stating that atheism spawns from juvenile rebellion against Mommy and Daddy, or trying to be "cool", or seeking attention, grossly trivializes the decisions and thought processes that lead people to become atheists or agnostics. In fact it grossly trivializes the people who make those decisions. Most nonbelievers I've met didn't come to their philosophy lightly. I wouldn't expect this to gain you a lot of traction here, since trivializing people and their philosophies is the sort of thing a jerk would do.

    Anyway… back on topic: a resounding YES. Of course people are quiet about their disbelief in public, generally. Here in the USA, anybody you meet is likely to be a Christian and likely to assume you are a Christian. It can be very awkward/upsetting to associate with someone for a long time and then have them cut you off (or worse) when they find out you're an atheist. Most people are just fine with it, but you never know. Religion makes people do funny things. The path with the fewest landmines is to just keep quiet about it and go about your business and try to ignore the somewhat insulting assumption that you share the Christian delusion.

    So my policy is to not really talk about it unless (a) someone asks me directly or (b) someone is harassing me with their faith. The most annoying question to be asked in the (a) category is "So, what church do you go to?" Not only am I assumed to be (1) a theist, and (2) a christian, but also (3) a churchgoer. That's a lot of assuming. I almost want to respond "What porn shops do you frequent?" Of course I don't do that, I just politely say "I'm an atheist, I don't attend a church." The response is usually a wide-eyed surprised "Oh!" and that's the end of it, but sometimes not. Then again I live in a very blue part of the country so people tend to be of the live-and-let-live persuasion here.

  22. Last Thursday night at work there was a pretty bad storm. There was a whole lot of lightning, some flooding, and even a couple of tornado sightings. It was close to quitting time, so the entire workforce was gathered around the time clock. So I stood just outside the doorway as lightning repeatedly lit up the sky, tapping my chest and shouting, "I'm standing right here, God, you pussy!" I know it was juvenile, but I had had a good day, and lots of sugar.

    In the two working days since then, I've seen a noticeable change in the way my coworkers treat me. I knew most of them were religious, and they now suspect me of being a devil worshiper. But two guys came up to me on Saturday, and asked me about my beliefs. They seemed to really listen, and to agree with most of what I said. After the conversation, they thanked me because they thought they were the only ones who believed that way.

    So I guess that was a long way of saying that I agree (as usual) with writerdd. I think many more atheists and other free thinkers would come out of the woodwork if, instead of fearing being ostracized, they could count on some support. I guess that supports the idea of the pamphlets mentioned in another thread.

    I find it hard to believe, and quite hope-inspiring, that 1/5th of our population are at least agnostic. My friends and family definitely swing the average the other direction!

  23. writerdd:

    I'm from Minnesota originally (a suburb of Minneapolis), and I'm in grad school in Chicago now. All my friends and family back in MN would find out via gossip, once one person knew, I'm sure. My main problem is that I highly respect most of the people in that group (esp. my parents and a couple who includes my former youth director), and I'm afraid they would either think less of me, or try to convert me back if/when they find out. But I'm planning on telling my mom next time I visit, and seeing what happens from there.

    I know it may seem kind of weird for an atheist to highly respect their former youth director, but as I've stated elsewhere, I think I had a rather unconventional run-in with fundamentalism. I actually respect the majority of the people at my old church, and my heart breaks at the thought of them worrying that they did something wrong and feeling responsible for failing me in some way.


  24. A friend once called me to rush him to an hospital because of apendicits. When he signed in, at the question of Religion he wrote "Christian". I asked why, as I "knew" otherwise, and he told me "so as not to have any trouble" (sic).

    I say crap him, and statistics too. I'm sure that's more than 20%.

  25. Briarking, that's funny. I never would have said anything like that myself, because I think a lot of Christians translate "I don't believe in God" to mean "I refused to worship God, even though in the back of my mind I know he exists." But we all have our own styles.

    Kelly, good luck on your coming out. I have never had anyone (I don't think) respect me less for my disbelief, but I have had people try to re-convert me. Some probably thought I backslid and were praying for me. I don't consider that disrepect, but it was actual genuine (if misplaced) concern.

    Chupacabras, your friend could have easily written "none" and not had any problems. Really, they ask your religion at the hospital so they can get a priest to give you last rites, or whatever is appropriate in your religion, should you be about to die.

  26. I almost want to respond “What porn shops do you frequent?”

    I know it was juvenile, but I had had a good day, and lots of sugar.

    You people are funny.

  27. Does anyone else think we just don’t find other unbelievers in our area becuase we are too silent about our identity?

    I tend to think so, but it's not a significant number in my experience. My last job afforded to me to talk to hundreds and hundreds of people from all over the world, the US, and Texas (like I was a bartender at my desk), and the subject came up a lot because they'd invariably look at my last name and ask me, "Do you go to the Greek Church in Montrose? Do you go to the Greek festival?" (Which is very popular.) My answer has always been, "No, I'm not religious, but I've been there…" etc. etc. But when I first came to Houston I worked at a very conservative place and I doubt there was one non-believer there – I sort of avoided the subject, though had I ever been pressed I would not have been vague. A few times customers would bring up conversations that would force me to say I'm not religious, and then they'd tried to persuade/convert me (or in one case I had a very whacky, beady-eyed rich lady ask me, "If you were to go out on the street and get run over by a Mack truck, where would you go?") It was tricky to talk about these things at work, especially as it was one more thing that made me an "outsider" back then (besides being a New Englander.)

    The first time I "found" an atheist was when a religious co-worker and I were out with her old bosses, 30-something lawyers at the time, and we were talking about books; something one guy said prompted me to say "I don't believe in God," and he quickly said in a hushed tone, "I don't either." He didn't want Lisa or the others to hear. If I hadn't said anything I wouldn't have known.

    In recent years I've been more vocal if the conversation warrants it. A Muslim woman from India would always talk about every holiday with me, and I'd say, "I'm not religious but that's interesting to hear. Thanks for sharing." I didn't get many "I'm not religious either" replies.

    But two weeks ago in Border's I did! An employee was helping me in the comic book section – I'd say he was in his late 20's, unconventional-looking in his appearance, a nice guy. He was very knowledgeable and articulate about comic books and was trying to guage my tastes and when mentioning anti-religious content I said, "That's OK, I'm an atheist." He quickly replied, "Yeah, me too," in a manner that came across as 'that goes without saying, what other way is there to be?' He just went right on about comic books. My cousin, who is my age, was the same way. I never knew he didn't believe in God until I said something when we were talking about recent deaths of loved ones. That was bit of a shocker.

    It was interesting to see the looks I got from older customers when I said, "I'm not religious." A quick expression of disappointment. People prayed for me too. In some minds, the #1 source of any problems I had was not believing in God. I don't know how they explain away their problems.

    Because there are plenty of religious people who don't go to church, sometimes I think "I'm not religious" is translated to "I don't practice religion." Therefore I'm more emphatic these days outside of work. It's easier to be more emphatic when you don't feel you have anything to lose – that goes for politics, etc. That's why you see many 60+ people writing tell-all type books, I believe. When you have a mortgage and kids to feed, the average person still feels this is an area to tread carefully on, especially in conservative areas and industries. However, I can't say Connecticut was much different. It pretty much depends on the circles you travel in. I suspect some of my step-relatives are atheists, but I've never heard "I'm an atheist" outright. Hmm, I'll have to test that out when I go home in July. I'll carry around my copy of The God Delusion and see if that starts any conversations. :-)

  28. @Blake Stacey:

    Eek! I tried that exact same belief when I listened to the album yesterday- I must say, Ms. Gudmundsdottir tried my faith on one or two of those songs, but the rest was good… :)

    @plastered dragon: Wow, being cut off- or worse!- by your friends for not being a Christian? You have my sympathy.

  29. This thread is great reading. Thanks to everyone thus far who has offered a story! I agree wholeheartedly that the more open (and openly positive) we can be about our nonbelief, the more fellow nonbelievers we'll find. It's a rare occasion that I feel I need to bite my tongue.

  30. Hello anthrosciguy,

    "No, mimic, you’re not “wrong for pointing this out”,

    you’re wrong because you have your facts wrong. "

    Actually the quote is in error, but it's a fact, that Sylvia Brown

    is Agnostic.This information is widely reported, and you can find

    it as simple as a goggle search.Please allow me to demonstrate:

    Browne has written a number of books. She is the head of the Sylvia Browne Corporation, and the founder of a church in 1986 in Campbell, California, known as the Society of Novus Spiritus. According to its website, the church employs forty ministers, and refers to itself as "Gnostic Christian."[12] It states that it follows the same traditions and teachings which Jesus himself followed, yet does not exclude Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, or Hinduism. The society teaches the Biblical works of Jesus Christ while also incorporating the Gnostic Gospels (ex: Gospel of Mary Magdalene), and says that while the Bible is a "marvelous book" and should be used as a teaching tool, it is not

    the "unaltered word of God".[20]

    The point(I believe) Mimic was trying to make was, the opening comment;"According to a 2003 Harris International survery,

    there are about 63 million atheists and agnostics in the United

    States. That’s about 20% of the population"

    This figure maybe based upon false data,when taken into

    considering,not every agnostic are atheist..

    Wikipedia list several types of variants,i.e..Strong agnosticism ,

    Weak agnosticism, Apathetic agnosticism,Ignosticism,

    Model agnosticism,Agnostic theism, and last but not least,

    Agnostic atheism..So a question becomes obvious,

    If you consider agnosticism into the that 20% equation.

    How many of that 20%, is actual agnostic atheist?

    I think you rejoice prematurely(I bet it's not the only thing)

    Sincerely Lisa..

  31. >This figure maybe based upon false data,when taken into

    >considering,not every agnostic are atheist..

    If anyone had bothered to click on the link in my original post, they would have seen that the poll showed 9% of the US population as being atheist plus another 12% as agnostic, which add up to approx 63 million people. So they were not clumped together in the poll.

    However, I agree with the Bard: "That which we call a rose By any other name would smell as sweet."

    Anyone who has the balls to question the existence of God and admit it in public in the United States gets my support.

  32. FYI, "Lisa," "Van Helsing," and "Mimic" are, of course, all "Mikal," the idiotic troll who swoops in now and again to stir up trouble with mindless blathering. I've just been continually banning him.

  33. Ah, that explains the shared, uh, unusual writing style (if it can be called that). Thanks for the tip.


  34. I seem to have lucked out in my work place, as far as religion goes. Most of my coworkers are at least functionally atheist, although I'm sure they'd still identify as Christian or simply "not religious" if asked, with two exceptions. Both of them are Jewish, but of those one is definitely non-observant.

    I went to a trade show recently with two of them, and over dinner one night one of the other guys mentioned thumbing through god is not Great in the hotel's bookstore. There was sound agreement with the book's premise that American culture needs to be less religious, certainly not more, although the guy who brought it up didn't think too much of the title in particular.

    He couldn't remember the title at first, though, so I went through a litany of atheist authors and books trying to jog his memory. I think they must suspect by now. ;)

    I don't usually come out directly as an atheist, though, for basically the same reason I haven't bothered to read The God Delusion or god is not Great or any of the other recent atheist books. The topic of religion isn't, in itself, at all interesting to me. I think it's just an annoyance, the less said the better.

    But even though I don't use the label I won't generally hesitate to express my views on religion or general skeptical topics. I think it annoys my coworker with the Wiccan roommates when I start dumping on psychics (which is odd, because she doesn't seem to believe any of that herself). C'est la vie, I suppose.

  35. Not to feed the troll, but I just wanted to point out that "gnostic" should never be confused with "agnostic", and give a quick religious history lesson. Gnosticism is one of my favorite topics, mainly on account of it's sheer craziness. It was an early religious form that had a really elaborate and bizarre mythology that consisted of several "aeons" or gods. In this mythology, Jesus, Christ, Yaweh, and the omniscient, omnipotent 'father' god were all different characters. (Yep, Jesus and Christ were different guys). All sorts of groups had variations on this so much so that scholars have argued whether "Gnosticism" can be used to describe a religious movement, or merely as an umbrella term for several different movements. The common thread, though, was that each of these groups believed that one person (often Jesus or one of his disciples) was given the secret knowledge of God to enlighten humanity.

    Hey…. "gnosis" means knowledge! And "a" as a prefix usually indicates opposition. Hence agnostic means lack of knowledge. Which is just what agnostics claim.

    So, even though modern gnosticism is a re-interpretation (complete with bucketloads of philosophical nonsense and new-agey crap), it still claims knowledge of God. In fact, it claims SPECIAL knowledge of God that you can only experience by becoming a part of the movement.

    In case you're still confused, someone who defines themselves as GNOSTIC cannot simultaneously be AGNOSTIC.

    (Unless, of course, Sylvia Browne is lying to her followers about what she actually believes, and just founded a religion on the side to make a few extra bucks… but we all know that would NEVER happen…)

    Anyway, I really just wanted an excuse to spout off some random "gnosis" I have floating around in my head. Sorry for the off topic-ness!


  36. You gno we love it when you spout off random facts, Kelly. ;)

    For what it's worth, I think gnosticism and other early Christian schisms and heresies are pretty fascinating as well, although I'm not as well read in them as I'd like to be. Are there any books on the subject I should check the library for?

  37. Actually, the Wikipedia article on Gnosticism isn't too bad – might be a good place to start. It doesn't go into all the socio-political issues, though, which are really the interesting part.

    As for books, I recommend (with reservations) The Gnostic Gospels by Elaine Pagels.

    Pros: It's easily accessible to someone without a background in religious scholarship; it's tone is more 'interesting read' than 'history textbook'; it deals a lot with the political machinations, social issues, and controversies surrounding gnosticism juxtaposed with the growth of orthodox Christianity; it really is a great intro/eye-opener to someone who has little idea what early Christianity was like (and the great amounts of variation at the time among people calling themselves Christian)

    Cons: There are some serious bias issues at hand. First, Pagels herself adheres to some sort of neo-gnosticism. Sometimes the book reads as though she thinks the world would be much better off had gnosticism become orthodox. She's also a feminist, and some think this causes her to overstate/misinterpret various aspects of the Divine Feminine present in gnosticism, and minimize or ignore those aspects of gnosticism that she personally disagrees with.

    Overall, though, it's a great book, and enlightening about the state of early Christianity, as long as those biases are taken into account!


  38. Didn't a bunch of new books about the gnostic gospels come out after The Davinci Code movie?

  39. Borges wrote a few essays on Gnosticism and related topics which you can find in Selected Non-Fictions. The same book contains his reviews of Citizen Kane and King Kong.

    A monkey forty feet tall (some fans say forty-five) may have obvious charms, but those charms have not convinced this viewer. King Kong is no full-blooded ape but rather a rusty, desiccated machine whose movements are downright clumsy. His only virtue, his height, did not impress the cinematographer, who persisted in photographing him from above rather than from below — the wrong angle, as it neutralizes and even diminishes the ape's overpraised stature. . . .

    Borges is the only writer I've read who calls Cantor's set theory "heroic" and uses Yahweh's slaughter of Egyptian children as an example to illustrate a math problem. Of Hell, he says the following:

    I now reach the most incredible part of my task, the reasons contrived by humanity in favor of an eternal Hell. I will review them in ascending order of significance. The first is of a disciplinary nature: it postulates that the fearfulness of punishment lies precisely in its eternity, and that to place this in doubt undermines the efficacy of the dogma and plays into the Devil's hands. This argument pertains to the police and does not deserve to be refuted. The second argument is written thus: Suffering should be infinite because so is the sin of offending the majesty of the Lord, an infinite Being. It has been observed that this evidence proves so much that we can infer that it proves nothing: it proves that there are no venial sins and that all sins are unpardonable. I would like to add that this is a perfect case of Scholastic frivolity and that its trick is the plurality of meanings of the word infinite, which applied to the Lord means "unconditional," and to suffering means "perpetual," and to guilt means nothing that I can understand. Moreover, arguing that an error against God is infinite because He is infinite is like arguing that it is holy because God is, or like thinking that the injuries attributed to a tiger must be striped.

  40. Yes, a bunch of books on Gnosticism did get written after the Da Vinci code. But the Da Vinci Code is ahistorical nonsense for the most part, and in my experience most of the "Unlocking the Da Vinci Code" type books downplay that in favor of the sensationalism surrounding the whole concept.


  41. The best thing I've ever seen written in response to The Da Vinci Code is Geoffrey K. Pullum's essay "The Dan Brown code". Excerpt:

    Brown's writing is not just bad; it is staggeringly, clumsily, thoughtlessly, almost ingeniously bad. In some passages scarcely a word or phrase seems to have been carefully selected or compared with alternatives. I slogged through 454 pages of this syntactic swill, and it never gets much better. Why did I keep reading? Because London Heathrow is a long way from San Francisco International, and airline magazines are thin, and two-month-old Hollywood drivel on a small screen hanging two seats in front of my row did not appeal, that's why. And why did I keep the book instead of dropping it into a Heathrow trash bin? Because it seemed to me to be such a fund of lessons in how not to write.

  42. I was thinking of the books about a couple of books about the Gospel of Judas that I saw a while back. I didn't read them… I saw The Da Vinci Code movie, because of Tom Hanks, and it was OK. I had no desire to read the book, though. I prefer Dan Simmons for travel fiction. (Besides, he's my neigbor.)

  43. I propose some sort off secet identification like a rose on the left shoulder or something. Maybe just for one day a year.

  44. Well, if people were already in some secret organisation in order for only them to find out about the sign, I guess it wouldn't be hard to find ou how many there are, or to arrange local introductions.

  45. Ok, I'm late but I figured I would chime in. I can honestly say I've never given that much thought before. A good number of my close friends are atheists or agnostics, some are Christian of varying degrees of belief, and the rest…I don't really know what their beliefs are because I don't recall it ever coming up in conversation. In fact most people that I interact with at work or in shops or elsewhere I have no idea what their beliefs are, it just isn't that big of a deal with me I guess.

    I'm an atheist, have been since my teen years, and I live in Houston, Tx. I've not really felt the need to go out of the way to advertise my non-belief since I was a teenager. If it comes up as part of the conversation I've never shyed away from clearly expressing my beliefs (or non-belief in this case). When I've made note of the fact that I'm an atheist I have gotten the occasional reaction of shock, surprise or disappointment as well as the "I'll pray for you" lines, but I've never felt intimidated or "oppressed" because of my non-belief.

    To reference some examples others have given above For me, I'm much more likely to have a "Oh! You too? Thats cool!" type of moment when I meet someone that likes the same author or played (plays) the same games as me. It certainly lends itself to much more interesting conversations about a shared interest.

    My atheism is a part of who I am and it informs and effects some my opinions, ideals, etc. But it doesn't define who or what I am as a person. I like to think of myself as a bit more complex and multi-dimensional than that, in fact I think most people are. I've met a few people whose identity is totally wrapped up in their religious faith. It seemed to totally define them as a person. Everything they talked about everytime I spoke to them was in context of their religion. It didn't take long for those conversations to become tiresome and I stopped engaging them in conversation. But to be fair, I've met some of my fellow atheists who are just as bad.

    So I guess to conclude my ramblings, I'd answer the topic of this thread by saying that I think alot of people who are "non-believers" probably also don't feel it's something they need to wear on their sleeve. They are who they are, their non-belief is just one small part of who they are as a person, and so it doesn't even occur to them that it's something they would spend any effort to advertize in the way they might a sports team preference or a favorite movie or something.

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