“The atheist, by merely being in touch with reality, appears shamefully out of touch with the fantasy life of his neighbors.”
– Sam Harris
Understanding the aspirations of an atheist can be aided by considering the spirations of a theist. In the English language, a periodic convention is to use the prefix ‘a’ to designate ‘anti’ which means ‘against’ or ‘opposed to.’ For example, the word ‘amoral’ would mean anti moral, opposed to or against morals, or simply not moral. The word ‘asexual’ would mean not sexual. Asymmetrical is not symmetrical. In a similar vein, atheism is opposed or against theism; it is not theism. And, in the same vein, aspiration is not spiration. Not all words prefixed by an ‘a’ is indicative of anti, opposed, or not. English has numerous oddities and is considered by some to be a crazy language.
To spire is to sprout. Spiration is the process of sprouting, unfolding, becoming. To spire is to spiral, upwards, or downwards, either of which is relevant only to the current position and distant target. The ist is one of the many ‘ists,’ like the many ‘isms‘ that plague thinking and language. The ‘ist’ in question here should more accurately be theoist, or atheoist. Theo is a Greek word that translates as ‘god.’ The technical name for chocolate is ‘theobromine’ as the plant from which comes the cocoa bean is from the genus Theobroma, which translates from Greek as ‘food of the gods.’ Does a theoist spire towards believing there is a food of the gods? Does an atheoist spire for the taste of chocolate? To taste is to know. To believe is to think.
There is a difference between an atheoist and a theoist. The crux of the matter for both atheoist and theoist is….evidence, or lack thereof. A theoist believes, has faith, without evidence, or experience, as a basis of ‘knowing.’ An atheoist spires towards rational evidence as a basis of ‘knowing.’ For an atheoist, the issue of ‘God’ is secondary to the issue of objective evidence, which includes repeatable experience. For a theoist, the issue of objective repeatable evidence is far less important than belief and faith. An atheoist does not aim to disprove or dispute belief and faith, as a personal choice. An atheoist simply does not accept belief and faith as a substantial foundation for a life of expanding knowledge.
The same kind of division exists between ‘gnostics’ and ‘agnostics.’ Gnostic is a Greek word, from the root ‘Gno’ and translates as ‘know, knowing, good at knowing, able to discern.’ Presumably, then, an agnostic is against knowing, not good at knowing, not able to discern. The word agnostic also comes from Greek and translates as ‘unknown, unknowable.’ A gnostic is into experience and critical thinking as a way of knowing, including knowledge of ‘theo.’; an agnostic posits that ‘theo’ is unknowable. A gnostic spires to taste chocolate; an agnostic aspires, i.e., does not spire towards it, holds that it cannot be tasted, cannot be known.
It could perhaps be said that an atheoist is like a gnostic, and a theoist like an agnostic. On one side is it can be known, eventually, and on the other, it cannot, ever. The clash between the two can generate a collective emotional conflagaration. For example, the ‘Copernican Revolution’ pit collective belief against evidence-based information, i.e, fact, that the sun does not revolve around the earth but that the earth revolves around the sun. A dramatic shift from a ‘geocentric’ understanding of one’s place in the cosmos, to a ‘heliocentric’ view of one’s place in the cosmos. Science is often denigrated because it shatters the security and comfort of long held and deeply entrenched beliefs.
The spirations of an atheoist are to understand, to know, without the many filters of distortions such as beliefs, assumptions, biases, prejudices, superstitions. For this, science is applied which is an approach to understanding based on observation, experimentation, trial and error, learning, gathering data, and formulating hypothesis rather than blindly accepting hand-me-down beliefs and myths. An atheoist, relying on facts, finds an almost ‘religious’ excitement in discovery. A theoist, relying on second hand stories, finds comfort in the maximum security of sclerotic belief.
Whether a theoist, an atheoist, a gnostic or an agnostic, any human understanding about ‘Theo’ and the natural world invariably falls short of the whole story, simply because human understanding is an ongoing unfolding process of becoming. The appeal of belief and faith is a sense of certainty and hope. The appeal of science and evidence is a sense of revealation and understanding. There may be no better indicator of the mind of man as the capacity for cognizance, insight and comprehension. Whether exploring with the naked eyes, or through electron microscopes or massive telescopes, the unknown becomes known even as the horizon of knowledge ever expands. The drive to know propels us beyond the known while the drive to believe keeps us trapped in the known. Life has been, and continues to be, an adventurous expedition into that which is presently not known. How do you approach the unknown? As a child. Curious. Inquisitive. Alert. Responsive. Playful. Intrinsically open to learning and growing in understanding.