What is Ambiguism, you might ask?
Well, start with any religion you want, then ignore the parts you don’t like and add what you feel it’s missing. You have just created a new sect of Ambiguism, though we all know it will be called by its parent religion (though it will bear only a superficial similarity).
This trend is nothing new. It’s really how all followers handle religion to some degree, as none have the will or perhaps even the capability to live by such an arbitrarily contradictory ethos as presented by any of the major religions. The perfect follower simply doesn’t exist, perhaps because the perfect religion doesn’t exist.
However, Ambiguists take it a step further. Perhaps those who first did this consciously in modern times were the Deists. Scientific understanding had largely explained simple aspects of nature and disproven many of the traditional foundations of religious cosmology (e.g. the Earth is not flat, nor is it the center of the universe). To the Deist, the old religions seemed an inadequate set of beliefs that were slowly dying at the feet of scientific inquiry.
No one self-identifies as a Deist anymore. Okay, maybe a few pretentious, over-read pricks do… but nobody respectable identifies as a Deist. And why would they? Deism as a movement died out around the time atheism appeared, because atheism is what Deists had been waiting for. The only real differences I see in Deist and atheist thought is that Deists are not opposed to using divine nomenclature, and atheists don’t capitalize “Nature.”
But here’s the rub… when a transitional group disappears, that doesn’t mean the transition disappears as well.
Without “Deism,” religious people lack that safe, semi-familiar stepping stone to atheism. Instead, formerly-religious people are compelled to outwardly proclaim themselves as “Christian” or “Jewish” simply because “atheist” is such a frightening term to all but the most openly rebellious. “Deism” was the philosophical stepping stone to atheism, and without it, a new exodus from faith is all the more difficult.
Which leads me to Ambiguism, a strange set of faiths that I have noticed emerging among the semi-religious. You can identify an Ambiguist by their buzz words. They like to mention how the Bible is “poetic/poetry,” which implies that they see metaphor where the fundamentalist sees a command to act with incivility.
The Ambiguist knows the Big Bang occurred, but they insist there had to be a vague “something” before, a something which they capriciously term “God.” They see evolution as a real phenomenon, but insert the unnecessary idea that “God” is somehow steering it. They see “God” as the author of the laws of physics, and I imagine many of them are really hoping this “God” will be judging them favorably and rewarding them forever in the afterlife.
If that isn’t a Deist, I don’t know what is… but good luck trying to get anyone to self-identify that way. I don’t think anyone would want to be called an “ambiguist” either, but it’s more of a term of endearment on my part than a terminology that I believe will ever catch on among those who waffle about on matters of faith.
Philosophically, I have no respect for ambiguists. I see them as intellectually lazy cowards, as spineless halfwits who lack basic critical thinking skills. But I like them. It’s important not to scare them off, I think. I’d like to imagine them as on the road to atheism, but they’re equidistant between the faithless and the faithful. They are by no means beyond the point of no return, so why bug them?
Well, these semi-nonbelieving religious people are largely still affiliated with the traditional institutions. Just as one example of one such community, the gap between what the Catholic Church says and what nearly all Catholics actually believe and do is about as wide as that which is between me and the Catholic Church. Most Catholics are one opinion away from religious at all.
While growing up Catholic, I knew plenty of adults who were essentially Deists/Amgibuists. Even now, they support gay marriage, they believe abortion should be legal, they believe in the value of contraception, they think good people who aren’t Catholic will still go to heaven… that sort of thing. And yet, all of these people go to Church and put money in the collection plate, which goes to help fight against the rights of gays and women, with a significant portion going towards mission work with poor and desperate people where they advise AIDS ridden villages not to use condoms.
And yet, these “Catholics” – who aren’t really – allow their affiliation to religious scoundrels to taint their own actions. It’s unfortunate, because I know that in a world where people give money to religious organizations hoping it will go to help people, very few people will get helped… while many grand and lavish houses of worship will be newly erected.
Here’s the secret about religion: they thrive on suffering. Religion has no vested interest in ridding the world of pain and anguish. If anything, religion must foster that which causes difficulty in order to maintain dependence upon the institution of religion. Those who have plenty, those who never had to go to a church for a hand out, those who never relied on religion… these are the people who feel no compulsion to remain religious. Religion holds people down so that they can look like the hero when they lift you back up.
When you give to a religion or religious group, you are not making a charitable donation. There are corporations that do more charity work than major churches, and that’s a fact. I don’t particularly like corporations, but at least corporations (in theory) pay their fair share to the public good. Religion sells lies and hope tax-free, all while pushing a political agenda that assures their relevance through the proliferation of poverty and crime.
This is why it would be nice if there were more secular charities, because a person ought to be able to donate to or volunteer for an organization that only wants to help people, not sway public officials or feed people a bunch of nonsense. A robust secular charity system is a major part of making the non-religious environment appealing to those who still convince themselves that religion offers something that being non-religious cannot provide.
Charity is an important thing to atheists, I know that much, we just lack the actual organizations. With rare exceptions, most atheists are more or less socialists, who see the government as needing to play a significant role in providing for those in need, but that will never be enough. Atheists need something they can actually point to and say, “We did that,” because the government belongs to everybody and atheists can’t really take any credit for it.
And yet, “atheist” might not be the best banner to run under. Terms like “secular” have even been somehow demonized by the new conservative media. Really, I am not sure there needs to even be an ideological brand on a charity, and it will be, by definition, unaffiliated.
These are the kind of neutral organizations that fulfill both needs for atheists: they are an outlet for atheist charity that avoids marginalizing itself by remaining open to the wider public, and this in turn can put those who are on the cusp of overcoming their religion in contact with a community that isn’t centered on religion or on bashing religion.
These kinds of charities can be safe zones for those coming from any direction, and would fill a gap sorely lacking in modern American society. Maybe I’ll start one…