Monday, October 03, 2011

Strong vs Weak Theism

My last post covered the agnostic and gnostic positions. It also covered the differences between the two atheist positions. However, there's also a distinction between two theistic positions. Just as there are strong and weak atheist positions, there are also strong and weak theist positions.

The strong theist position is "I believe god exists." It is so common that it is unjustly given the privilege of the default position. The default position should be either weak position, "I do not believe...".

Alternatively, we have the weak position "I do not believe that god does not exist." This seems to be so pathetically weak and negative that no one could ever hold it, but I suspect that many, perhaps even most, theists are in fact weak theists.

I offer into evidence the Biblical verse, "Lord, I believe, help thou my unbelief." In context, it's the desperate cry of a father that his son receive miraculous healing, because only believers could get that (*cough*blackmail*cough*). But more generally, many believers wrestle with a lack of faith. They pray for help with their faith and their doubts. The correspondence between Mother Theresa and the Vatican showed that she had her doubts, had wrestled long and hard, and faith had lost. If so venerated a figure (sainted, even) can have doubts, why not Joe the plumber or even Joe the pastor?

More tellingly, some people, when questioned about their faith, reply "I don't want it to not be true", "I don't want to believe their is not heaven." Theirs is not a positive affirmation of belief, but a desperate fear of the unknown. They maintain their faith because they cannot bear the consequences of its falsity.

Of course, when asked if they believe, theists will reply with the affirmative "I do believe that god exists", but how many of them are secretly weak theists? How many of them, plagued by doubt, in fact hold only the position that they don't want to believe in nothing? How many of them fear that the alternative to god is nothing, that without theism, all that is left is nihilism?

In truth, there are many godless alternatives. Creative humanity has built a great many houses of non-worship, ways to find truth and beauty and meaning even in the absence of a creator.

Unfortunately, nihilism gets a bad rap. There are two positions there, as well. More on that later.
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