I've often been asked if I am an atheist and in some cases, simply branded as one despite any explanation on my part to the contrary. This has often confused me but I suppose that if you don't adhere to a label of some sort or fit into a person's specific definition of a label, people will inevitably give you one to classify you in their world of endless classification. So, I'd like to talk a little bit today about why I personally don't adhere to the label of atheism.
The first thing I would say is that atheism seems to sometimes be confused with being skeptical of religious (particularly fundamentalist Christian) claims. This is just plain silly to me. I don't think being a skeptic automatically makes one an atheist, I think it just means that you question popularly accepted ideas, specifically in the religious sphere of things. You are not easily swayed because you are after the truth or the best understanding of it that you can possibly have.
The second thing is that I don't find myself identifying all that much with what I see in atheism. On the one hand, I agree with questioning religious claims and thinking critically as well as not undermining or ignoring all the discoveries science has made. There is no reason to think that things like evolution or the universe being billions of years old is a bunch of nonsense simply because it seems incompatible with a literal interpretation of holy writ. On the other hand, the message I gather from the main spokespersons for atheism (ex. Richard Dawkins) is that religion is pretty much a bunch of useless nonsense and that we should solely rely on science for our answers about life. I realize that is not the feeling of all atheists but even so that is not something I wish to identify with. While I can agree that a lot of harm and ignorance has festered under the umbrella of religion, I simply don't think it is all bad and I do think religion has it's place. Even if those that adhere to religion don't always practice it, most of it's teachings are typically about peace, compassion and excelling our understandings --which is something the world can always use more of.
From my perspective, atheism seems to usually be about the disbelief in a magical male deity on a throne somewhere in the sky who sometimes intervenes in the affairs of man if they pray fervently enough and who will judge the deeds of mankind. Many atheists seem to have come from a judeo-christian background and now reject the "God" concept they were given within that, understandably. If that is what defines atheism then no doubt I am one or at the least, I am agnostic. But what if your concept of God goes beyond that narrow, popular view?
What if you use the word "God" to describe the feeling you get when you are in love or the sense of wonder you get from looking at beautiful mountains or the stars? What if you use God to describe the feeling of inner connectedness to all people and things? What if you use God as a place marker concept for a sense of yourself that goes beyond the flesh and blood body that you typically identify with? I have really nothing to back this up, but my thought is that a lot of people who claim to be atheists would be a lot more inclined to believe or at least entertain that type of God and probably already do even if they don't use the term. After all, what is "God" but just a word at the end of the day?
I guess all I'm trying to say here is that to have a label based on the disbelief in something as ambiguous as the concept(s) of God does not make a lot of sense to me and thus I do not hold to it.