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Friday, January 09, 2009 

post-atheism: a definition of sorts

The adoption of the term post-atheist as a self-description springs from a determination to name myself. I had a conversation with my cousin Todd over the holidays last year (he's a brilliant geneticist who I do not get to see too often) and he asked why I didn't just use the term "agnostic."

First, that term is often misused and misunderstood. It carries with it some cultural understandings that do not apply to the strict definition of the word.

After a period of rather pointed, barbed atheism (what theyblinked referred to as my fundamentalist atheism), I discovered that it was arrogant and off-putting to simply exchange one fundamentalism for another.

One reason I've been uncomfortable with the term "atheist" is that it involves identifying oneself negatively in regard to the other. It establishes and validates the other as the norm. Attempts of atheists to rename themselves have thus far been lackluster (any one remember the Brights?). All of this said, I did identify as such, so as I pursue a more nuanced theory of the creeping metaphysic and allow space for the mystery, "post-atheist" seems like the most appropriate term.


In addition, I am enamored of the connotations that the prefix "post" contains. The term "post" indicates that something has come before, that this thing is a part of one's personal contingency that cannot be effaced. I am post-"many things" -- it just so happens that atheism is the most recent and pertinent. I still consider myself a self deconstructing text (like all texts). I'm definitely post-Christian. All of that is kind of personal history business that may or may not be of interest. (For me the theoretical is inextricably tied to one's experience -- I am by default contingently interested in theory.)

So why post-atheism? It does not shut down the possibility of the mystery (to borrow process theologians' languagwe), the oceanic (see Freud and otr psychoanalysts*), metaphysics of varying degrees, etc. Even for staunchly atheist thinkers such as Richard Rorty one can detect a "creeping metaphysic" (I'm working on tweaking a paper on the the creeping metaphysic in his work).

Labels are always already inadequate pieces of shorthand, but as we are linguistic creatures (see how even that word presupposes a creator?) it behooves us --well, me, anyway-- to select carefully the language we use. The term post-atheist is an honest attempt at self-description. That I still eschew invisible sky king religion riles some people up. The contingeny, identity, social location, whathaveyou, that is particular to the person Shanna Caughey can bewilder some (especially some of my peers at Perkins School of Theology, where I'm pursuing a Masters in Theological Studies). My motivation for pursuing this degree is another topic, and I have thai food to plan out, purchase, and cook....

**I found this while poking around the internet this morning

I appreciate your perspective. I heard an interview with Matthew Chapman last year in which he described himself in similar terms. Mr. Chapman is a film director, screenwriter and author and the great-great grandson of Charles Darwin. Though he doesn't believe in God, he calls himself post-atheist.

I found an excerpt from another interview on a humanist web site:

"....that's how I look at religion. I think it's time to start attacking the many serious problems we have, some of which are political and have to do with the democratic process, which has replaced the royal system. And you just have to deal with them in a rational and humane way, and be forgiving."

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