Tip of the hat to "Big Religion and Spirituality Blog" for pointing out a new term for me to add to my lexicon: Ignostic.

Ignosticism is the position that all other theological positions, even agnosticism, assume too much about the concept of god.

In plain English, what ignostics are saying is that before we can argue if god(s) exist, we need to define the god concept in a clear and specific manner. Before we do, asking questions of existence is futile because the term "god" is meaningless.

I fully subscribe to this idea, and I'm glad I now have a term to sums it up.

Let's forget all other world religions and pick on Christianity for a minute. It's estimated that the nearly 2.5 billion Christians in the world are split amongst 38,000 denominations, each with their doctrines and views about what "god" is or how to properly interpret his "word." Additionally, in the United States alone there are over 30,000 Christian churches that list themselves as non-denominational and therefore do not subscribe to any particular doctrinal definition of "god" but their own. I'll be generous and make the assumption that all laity of a given non-denominational church defines their god in the same way (even though by definition these churches anticipate slightly differing views amongst their congregation).

A quick note: I'm including all churches and denominations that label themselves Christian, because each and every one has a different definition of what a Christian is. As a non-believer, it is not my place to decide which one is correct. Please don't include any arguments for who should and shouldn't be considered a Christian in your comments. The topic is ignosticism, not what makes a real Christian, and I don't have any patience for those claims anyway. Besides, Christians are inclusive of all varieties whenever they argue that we should be considered a Christian nation, they can't have it both ways.

This means that, on average, there is only a thousandth of a percent (0.001%) of Christians who agree on any one doctrine or any one definition of god, about 36,000 believers per doctrine. Remove the Catholic Church (nearly 1.5 billion believers) and you have only about 15,000 believers for each of the remaining doctrines (this doesn't alter the average percent for the remainder). This is of course a very rough average, but I'm using it to demonstrate how great the variety on definitions of god are, even within what we pass off as a single religion.

Some concepts include Jesus as being perfect and sinless, others say he committed a single sin (not respecting his parents when he stayed behind in the temple). Some say he returned to heaven fully divine, others say a piece of his divinity was sacrificed and can never be recovered. Some say the Christian god is jealous and vindictive, others say he isn't. Some believe the Christian god requires works, while others believe ultimately faith is the only thing their god counts for or against their tickets to heaven. Some say all of his laws are unchanging, others say the brutal laws of the Torah were overturned when Jesus came. Some believe he allows or is incapable of stopping a devil from manipulating and tormenting people in this life, others claim evil is possible and man-made because god made a decision to allow free will.

And this is by no means where the differences end. This is just a small sampling of beliefs I personally have encountered from American Christians in the short time I have paid attention to doctrinal differences.

So if you're a non-believer, remember when you're asked "do you believe in god?" or "why don't you believe in god?" that the person asking the question first needs to define what they mean by "god." There are three questions I think are a valuable starting point for this kind of conversation:

"What do you believe?" Please define what you mean by god;

"What do you do about it?" How do you live differently than if you didn't have that belief;

"Why do you believe it?" What are your reasons for believing (I like this better than "why should I believe" because I often get answers that have nothing to do with why the person I'm talking to believes, but if the reason they give isn't good enough for them to believe in their god why should it be good enough for me?).

Remember, if you're being asked in the first place that person is working from an assumption that a god exists and implying that you are wrong for not sharing that assumption. The burden is on them to explain what god they think you should believe, and why.

As a personal aside, I've been proselytized several times both before and after I stopped believing. I admit now that my concept of god was no better defined than most others. However I find it odd when people try to 'bring me back' to belief. Not one of these people that have proselytized to me have shared belief in a god that matched my own, or matches the definition of god and the meaning of the Christian bible held by my family. They're preaching a different god, one I didn't accept even when I believed in my own.

And it's not just minor differences, the very character of these other Christian gods are foreign to me; intolerant, jealous, and spiteful; so vague and nebulous that I'm not sure what my "What do you do about it" answer would be if I converted; or one who interacts with his chosen few in such insignificant day to day affairs, that I have to wonder - if he exists then what does that say about the millions of sick and suffering believers crying out every day, and never receive any sign of hope? What does it say about him?

I've been picking on Christians because they're the group(s) that my readers are likely to be most familiar with, and it shows how complicated and unclear the question of god's existence is. When public figures talk about "God" or our "Creator" they're talking about an amalgamation of beliefs so contradictory as to be completely meaningless. And yet somehow the unbeliever that recognizes no one is talking about the same thing is despised and mistrusted for not going along with this charade of shared belief?

So remember, before the question of belief or existence can even be considered, what you're being asked to believe in must first be defined. It must be defined clearly and specifically, and if it is not a definition that can be scrutinized and falsified, then asking the question becomes useless. No more picking on Christians, this goes for all world religions and all god concepts.

So what kind of non-believer am I? Until someone clearly defines the god concept we're talking about I'm an ignostic atheist.

In search of reason,



  1. Does the non-believer really need a new term to categorize their non-belief? Is it necessary to define which god or god-concept I don't believe in, when "all of them" is my answer?

    Agnosticism makes no theological claim, only a knowledge claim; you said so yourself in your definitions page. (I'm aware that that's copy-pasted from the Wiki) As an agnostic, I claim no empirical certainty in my atheism - disbelief of the supernatural or higher powers. Put short, I simply reject the claims that have been made by others concerning god-concepts and the supernatural.

    The only place I see a necessary distinction is on those that are putting forth those god-concept claims. As you say, it's a good path to turn the conversation when being proselytized. In fact, I believe that this staggering number of differences in opinion on the definition of god is one of the largest hurdles theists would need to overcome before I'd accept their claims.

    For agnostic atheists, I don't believe it is a point so important as to define yourself by it. It's an excellent in-road to understanding those that do believe, and that sort of introspection - "What do I believe, specifically? Why do I believe it?" - is important. Asking those questions you posted above would give me valuable insight into the person hypothetically proselytizing me; however, it would not change my response in any meaningful way.

  2. I agree with you, I won't go around calling myself an ignostic all the time (people wouldn't know what I meant anyway). But I do like having a specific term for the idea. Agnostic doesn't make any knowledge claims as you said, but ignostic goes a step further and says "it's impossible for me to even evaluate the idea before you define it."

    I was excited to find this word because every time I can more precisely define my thoughts I find my ability to articulate them is improved. Also, I knew those questions before I found this term, but having it helps me to better understand the purpose of asking them. Better knowledge of their purpose will aid me in using them to guide the conversation.

  3. Whooh, I've been looking for a name for this. Whenever I state my beliefs to anyone, atheists say I'm an atheist, agnostics say I'm an agnostic, Christians say I'm a monotheist and Hindus say I'm a polytheist.

    I've been stuck claiming different beliefs to different people depending on their view of God.


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