Thursday, February 21, 2013

Varieties of Religious Indifference

Here we address no matters of faith, but merely clarify the philosophical terminology.  This is not theology;  this is lexicography.

Theism:   Behind or beyond or standing over the real world (both visible and invisible), there stands a larger pattern, one facet of which we could recognize as a consciousness.
If nothing is added to this minimal stipulation -- especially, if any such additions are denied -- such theism is known as Deism.   As more is added, you get the Abrahamic faiths.  (The distinction between Deism and full Theism is important to, say, Christianity, but not to philosophy as such.)

Atheism:  the denial of this.

Distinguished from this last, by those who are careful with words, is:
Agnosticism:  a wait-and-see stance.

These are the traditional termini;  yet, for the modern panoply of unbelief, more terms are needs;  which, as a licensced wordsmith, we duly coin. 

Thus, Stephen Schwartz, discussing the celebrated English serial-divorcé A.J. Ayer (he also played a philosopher on TV) writes (A Brief Introduction to Analytic Philosophy, 2012, p. 63):

Ayer insisted that he was not an atheist, because an atheist denies the existence of God, which of course Ayer claimed  was just as meaningless as asserting the existence of God.

This (philosophically sophomoric) position we may dub Ontological A-Theism, or (in a snappy style  suitable for headlines) Ayerism.

And here, you may aver, our spade is turned;  the bottom of the barrel has been sounded.
But alas:  there exists a sub-level, even below this -- lower than the paltering of Ayerism (which was fashionably in line with dismissing centuries or rather millennia of human enquiry as philosophically “meaningless”), there is the kind of mind that does not even realize that there is anything to be asserted or denied or artfully dodged.  Traditional terms for this are Indifferentism or  Adiaphorism (which latter word will set you back a fittybone).  But for a more contemporaneously accessible designation, we might dub this  WalMartism:  the attitude of those whose inquisitive spirit  rises no higher  than to wonder what is on sale at the Mall.

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