On Theism, Atheism, and Apatheism: Labels and the Spaces Between Them

When it comes to the concept of deity, I have neither certainty nor conviction. I'm an agnostic in the literal sense: I don't know whether there are deities or not, and I'm just fine admitting that. In the course of my life, I have been strongly convinced on both sides of theism divide. These days, I just do my best to follow my convictions without stressing overly much about deities. I'm happy with where I've ended up, but it was one hell of a bumpy ride getting here. I have joked with Allyson that, where people stereotypically have an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, I instead have a Southern Baptist evangelist on one shoulder and a tiny Richard Dawkins on the other.

As I've discussed (at some length) in other posts, my beliefs aren't particularly focused on the supernatural. I am far more comfortable talking about the majesty of our complex universe, how inspiring a dip in the ocean can be, and even philosophical approaches to pre-linguistic morality than I am with talking about gods, the soul, and the afterlife. For a time, this led me to identify strongly with atheism.

But now, I'm not sure that "atheist" is quite the right word for me anymore. I can say with a great deal of certainty that I don't really believe in a transcendent monotheistic god. However, I do sometimes invoke deities or spirits in my private rituals or meditation because they put my brain in the right frame of mind to feel my connection to the universe. If pressed, I might say that I believe that all concepts of deity are on equal footing and that all such beliefs are equally "valid" or "real". I see no difference between praying to Yahweh, thanking a rosemary plant for the herbs you harvest, invoking Artemis at your esbat ritual, or even praying to a "fictional" deity like Kahless.

Where I feel uncertain has to do with the nature of existence. When I invoke something in my mind and put my all of my will into it, does that exist on some level? Do the concepts in my mind "exist" if I feed them with belief and a healthy dose of my personal will/energy? When I call to the guardians of the north, the spirit of fire, or the color green am I creating something on a different level of reality than the material world? If something exists in very detailed fashion only within the confines of my mind, does it exist? If several people believe in a personified concept of the divine that is nearly identical and they all focus on visualizing that god in their minds at the same time, is that god real on some level? This might seem like an overly philosophical point, but my personal religion and my approach to life are intensely philosophical. My relationship with the very concept of deity is very complex, and these days, I'm trying to just not stress about it.

In much the same way that we have to regard light as both a particle and a wave because the concepts of neither "particle" nor "wave" fully explain the nature of light on their own, its difficult to say whether my beliefs are theistic in some fashion. My personal religion is the first instance I can think of where I can genuinely understand on a personal level why people say things like, "I'm not really comfortable with a label." I'm not sure that I will ever have a description of my beliefs that isn't an extremely dense and sometimes contradictory paragraph.