What’s in a Name?

I don’t believe in god (or God), and I’m pretty down on religion too. I’m Jewish by birth, but that’s not so much a faith as it is an excuse to eat kugel and go to therapy. As far as religions go, Judaism isn’t the worst. (Although going to Hebrew school instead of participating in normal after school activities puts it in the running for “Religion Most Likely to Ensure You’re the Last One Picked for Kickball.”)

I’m a little uncomfortable with Atheism; its members are almost as devout and insufferable as their religious counterparts. I don’t understand people who have a strong belief in disbelief. (I think that’s called Occam’s Razor. Or is it St. Elmo’s Fire? I always get those confused.) I really can’t fault the atheists though—it sucks being the most reviled people on the planet. Oh wait – no – that’s the Muslims. Never mind.*

I’m not a big fan of Agnosticism—it sounds more like an excuse than an identity. As far as I can tell, it’s a lot like kissing your sister. And not in a good way. That said, I do see its merit as a way of avoiding bar fights and conversations with libertarians.

I’m far too broke and lazy for Humanism, and while Nontheism is in the running, it doesn’t have quite the razzle-dazzle of “One Who Will Eventually be Burned at the Stake.” “The Cult of Weenie” has a nice ring to it, but the double entendre might confuse people into thinking I’m a Pagan, which has its own merits but seems highly unsanitary.

I come in peace. You come in pieces.

Naturalism seems like a good fit, but if I call myself a naturalist, people might think I’m a nudist or a park ranger. (For the record, my bear knowledge is limited to the following: There are three types of bears—the type you’re supposed to confront, the type you should run from, and the type that doesn’t give a shit about your strategy and will maul you on principle alone.)

As all searches do, my quest for a name invariably led to Google (a higher power I pray to regularly). Here are a few suggestions under the heading of “Nontheism:”

  • Skepticism won’t work because I drink decaf and believe my mother when she tells me I’m gifted.
  • Ignosticism is out because I don’t understand the definition on Wikipedia. Also, I’m pretty sure it’s not a real word.
  • Rationalism sounds good in theory, but if anyone checks my medical records or high school yearbook, I’ll be kicked out of the club.
  • Secularism is too political, and if there’s anything more annoying than religion and bears, it’s politics. And Snooki.

I used to become irate when discussing religion, but I’m trying to have a calmer approach these days. Don’t get me wrong—I will Kung fu your ass if you give me that patronizing look that says, “Well bless your heart, you just don’t know what it’s like to love the lord.”  I also don’t know what it’s like to eat baby raccoons or lick the UPS man (although I’ve tried). Poor me.

Baby raccoons are not kosher.

Things I do believe in:

  • Gravity
  • Dinosaurs
  • Cable TV
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Science-y stuff
  • Poodles
  • Birth control
  • Aliens
  • Spanx

So, what’s in a name? Apparently, a lot. Until a better one comes along, I’ll just continue referring to myself as the friendly atheist with a fondness for slimming undergarments and kugel. It could be worse.

*Note: I love Muslims. Some of my close friends are Muslim, and they have a good sense of humor. Please do not declare a Fatwah on me. This post was written in the spirit of fun and goodwill toward all people. Except for Mormons.


44 thoughts on “What’s in a Name?

    • 1. I believe nontheism is an umbrella term over several various theisms that are non.

      2. Well, I was kind of joking there. Apparently several of my jokes were bombs. My purpose was to reflect on my ill-informed definitions of various terms. In my little brain, I simplified to the extreme:
      • Humanism is for nice people who want to do good.
      • Ilene is lazy (and not all that goodhearted either).
      • If Ilene had money, she would alleviate her guilt at not helping others by giving money, thereby absolving herself of responsibility.
      • Ilene has the mental capacity of a 16 year old, so don’t take her posts too seriously.

      3. The Mahnamahnamunists are my favorite beings in the entire universe.

      Thank you for commenting on my post!!

  1. Ilene,

    Good read. Especially liked the comment about Hebrew School. Can’t tell you how I used to hate arriving late to youth league Football/basketball practice and have all the kids ask why I am always late on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Have a feeling my hard feelings about that have caused me NOT to have Zach experience the dreaded Hebrew School.

    Have to say for me that I can honestly separate Being Jewish with Being Religious. Although I grew up with you and have to say we both attended more than our fair shair of Friday night services and knew the words of all the prayers of the service better than we new the words of most “Cars” songs. I now would not consider myself very religious.

    I do however enjoy calling myself Jewish. One can be Jewish without being religious. I tend to call it……..Matzo Jews. We break out the Matzo on Passover, The menorah on Hanukka, and even make an appearance between UT games during late Sept. and early October for the High Holidays. If the Matzo Jews were Christian I guess we would be categorized as Methodists.

    Enjoyed your post.



    • Rick – I too can separate Judaism as a religion with Judaism as a culture. I am culturally Jewish because I eat weird fish products and it would make my grandma cry if I claimed otherwise. That said, I don’t like a lot of things about the Jewish faith. Plus, there’s the whole not believing in God thing.

      That said, I enjoy going to my sister’s house for Passover Seder and seeing her kids open gifts at Hanukkah. I think I am the Jewish equivalent to the C & E Christian: The R & P Jew.

  2. I think it’s a truth universally acknowledged that atheists tend to not think about religion or God at all (or at least, as much as we think about unicorns or garden fairies) but the world we live in is FILLED with religious kooks. And I’m not talking about Episcopalians or Unitarians, who go to church on Sunday and generally STFU about religion even while they’re sitting in the pew. No, I’m talking about the ones who run for congress and try to take away a single mother’s lifeline because she’s a whore in some religious book. When that happens, unfortunately, I go a little postal.

    So, if the world consisted of just atheists (a dweam within a dweam) I’m sure I’d find something annoying about *each and every one of you* LOL but right now the singularly most crazy-making person for me is the religionist who uses political power to press their agenda and/or persecute others based on their particular dogma.

    Alas, maybe one day we’ll all go back to some kind of non-fundamentalist type of religionism here in ‘Merica, these things come and go.

    • Land animals must have cloven hooves and chew cud to be kosher, and raccoons don’t meet that criteria. Plus they have to be killed in accordance with Jewish law, and typically raccoons would be hunted or trapped; that would also disqualify them. Are raccoons tasty? They are kind of like tiny bears. But I don’t know how bear tastes, either, come to that.

      I will say that Europeans are on to something with mayo and french fries. That’s some really good shit there.

      • Mayo and french fries are awesome. And I think I agree that raccoons are probably *just like* little bears except maybe with a hint of marsupial sauce.

        Wait, did I just say “marsupial sauce.” MMMMM I LOVE EVOLUTION.

  3. It most certainly is NOT universally acknowledged that atheists don’t think about religion or God; if they didn’t they would never define themselves as atheists. But I don’t consider that a problem at all. A much larger issue is thoughtless believers who do little if any self-examination of their own beliefs. Pondering your beliefs (or lack thereof) is a good thing.

    I’m with you, Ilene. I’ve yet to find a satisfactory label, to the point where I’m not sure I even want one any more. I think I’ll keep going with believing in as many as six impossible things before breakfast.

    Oh, maybe we could go with something along those lines. Wonderians. Alicians?

    • I think the label of “atheist” is simply there to put a finger in the eye of the church. It’s outlived it’s usefulness. I sincerely do not believe in Santa Claus, but it would be silly to call myself an aSantaist or whatever. I also don’t believe in ghosts, but I don’t call myself an aGhoster.

      The only time I do think about religion/etc is when someone says something goofy or stupid or repulsive or looney-tunes, and they use religion to back it up, etc. So maybe what I am is anti-stupid.

      Meh. I dunno.

      • I think about the idea of God—generally in response to frustration with religious zealots. These thoughts usually revolve around the question, “How do otherwise sane and intelligent people believe this stuff??” But sometimes I think about it in times of tragedy too. When people I care about suffer from a terrible loss, fear, diagnosis, anxiety, etc., I find myself hoping they believe in something.

        That said, religious people without boundaries make me want to stab puppies. I seriously can’t handle it. And I agree with Tom’s first comment about religion in politics. That makes me want to stab puppies *and* hedgehogs.

        • Ilene, one of the interesting facets of US history is that we’ve gone through about 3 or 4 cycles of “quiet faith” and “revivalist faith” — every time we enter a revivalist cycle, the crazy amps up and we get people putting Ten Commandments statues on courthouses and everyone gets high ‘n mighty about the gays (usually the people doing that are closeted themselves, etc). I can only hope this whole thing blows up and we go back to a quiet period.

          Also, don’t stab puppies. Kiss them.

      • Here’s the thing though: a substantial portion of Americans – and our elected officials – don’t invoke Santa Claus on a regular basis. Nor do they publicly call on Santa for guidance. Nor do they try to impose their own “naughty or nice” criteria via legislation.

        • I see your point, David, but I think certain people in the right-wing do indeed try to impose their own “naughty or nice” agenda via legislation. Anti-choice and gay marriage anyone?

          • Now it’s my turn to say “I was being sarcastic.” Of course they’re trying to impose such a standard, but it’s not because of a belief on Santa. I was addressing Tom’s point re: atheism vs a-Santaism (side note: do not misspell Santaism. You will be misconstrued.) Atheism is a bigger deal than a lack of belief in Santa because we are not confronted with others’ belief in Santa on a daily basis.

  4. I always liked the term “freethinker.” It’s really a free thinker but when you run the two words together it looks official. I think there may actually be an organization or history to this term, however, so I propose “freedthinker.”

    • Doesn’t Stoicism mean you have to be stoic? Because I’m definitely not that. I’m too much of a drama queen.

    • I knew I could count on you, sister. Yeah, I know I don’t HAVE to label myself, but I’d kind of like to know what I am. Then again, maybe that’s just asking for a lot of trouble.

  5. As a person of great faith (hard to believe with my scandalous ways) I tend to avoid the ugly parts of religion. Most of my “bless your heart” faces are directed at the zealots and fanatics that are all too common in organized religion. I am not proud of the political things my religion does (please stay out of my birth control decisions Catholics) but I am proud of the work that the men and women of faith do to help the poor and the needy. I’ve watched my family members and dear friends serve selflessly and whole-heartedly out of devotion and kindness and a desire to bring the true spirit of faith to those in need. My great aunt was a nun from the time she was 15 until she died in her late 70′s. Never once did she feel the need to preach to anyone – her actions and her quiet faith were more than enough to show her love of God. That is the faith I aim for. The kind that needs no words, no preaching, no condemning; just the desire to live a life full of love and kindess and compassion…… and puppies :)
    Cathy Benavides recently posted..My Monday Shopping Cart – More Maxis

    • Cathy – I really, really wish I could’ve met your great aunt. Thanks for your take on this–you know how I struggle to fit into a size 8 box when I’m actually a size 12. Whatevs. xoxo

  6. Why call your self anything at all; identify with any classification/ school of [non]thought? Why not just Be?

  7. > I’m not a big fan of Agnosticism… As far as I can tell, it’s a lot like kissing your sister.

    Help me connect the dots here, please; I’m not seeing it.

    Also, regarding agnosticism. It doesn’t mean I’m not sure, or I haven’t decided yet, nor is it as you suggest, an excuse not to commit to one answer or another. It is the idea that whatever it is holding up all those turtles is completely unknowable to us as humans standing on the turtles’ back. Whether or not we prefer to live as though there is or isn’t a god is another matter. Many people are both agnostic and atheist, which just means that while I can’t with 100% certainty prove there is no god, there seems to be no reason to live as though there is one, and until such proof comes along, I’ll assume there isn’t, because that is the simplest explanation. Agreed though that a certainty in no god is just as flawed as a certainty in god, which leads me to this good advice from god, on South Park: “You should try spending some time alone, find the middle ground. That’s what I do, because I’m a Buddhist.”

    and btw…you were right the first time, it is the atheists: http://life.nationalpost.com/2011/11/30/religious-people-do-not-believe-in-atheists-study/

    • Andrew – Let me start by saying my post was written tongue-in-cheek. My (evidently poor) joke was meant to indicate that being unsure is like abstaining during a vote–not committing to one side or the other. “Like kissing your sister” was my way of saying, “Aw man, don’t cop out–do you or don’t you? Come on!” (as a joke, of course) What can I say… I find ridiculous simplification of heavy topics to be funny. Clearly not everyone has the same sense of humor.

  8. Holy crap, y’all – I didn’t see all the unapproved comments waiting. So sorry – I’m new to the internets. Yowza – time to respond…

  9. So what do you have against Mormons? My childhood best friend and first boyfriend were Mormons and some of the nicest, most giving people I know are Mormons. (I was raised Catholic, but my personal beliefs are probably more aligned to Budhism though you will never find me at a temple…) I married into a not very religious Jewish family (Matzo Jews as one of your friends called them) and raised my kids quasi-jewish but celebrating the major Christian holidays too, just making sure they knew what we were both raised as and they had the freedom to choose whatever religion they wanted when they grew up as long as it was not a cult. My daughter has remained Jewish (but she lives in NYC where she feels at home with this) and my son is dating a religious Methodist girl. Religion is complicated…At this point in my life, I just believe there is a higher power and that I should treat others as I want to be treated and do acts of kindness whenever possible…

    • Kat – I was joking about the Mormons. Did that not translate? I’m sorry if I offended you. Anyway, I think it’s probably harder to navigate these waters with children. I’ve got it easy.

  10. As an unconfirmed Catholic who was married by Elvis and divorced by Perry, I don’t give god much thought unless someone else brings it up and then I’m pretty meh about it. My parents sent my sister and I to Catholic school more for the education than the religion and after it wasn’t part of the curriculum it just faded from my life.
    Corrin recently posted..Worthy of the Week

    • Well, at least Perry was good for something. I think Mr. Weenie’s parents sent him to Catholic school for both religion and education. Fortunately for me, he only took the education part with him. He’s very smart for a heathen.

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