On The Divine Right of Kings

Atheism is an empty word. A word so completely devoid of content that it implies nothing more than it’s most basic claim: I am unconvinced.

Characterizing a worldview in the negative is fraught with unfortunate and unnecessary problems. How often do we take up a position by stating what we do not believe? It requires of the listener to make a host of assumptions and inferences in order to finally arrive at whatever the speaker is getting at – and all of this easily avoided if only the speaker had spoken in the positive.

I do not believe in the divine right of kings to rule. On the surface, such a statement seems reasonable enough, but is unfortunate in its wording for failing to imply whatever alternative system of government the speaker does support. The speaker could be a democrat, communist, anarchist, oligarchical theocrat, or simply indifferent to all forms of government other than monarchies. It should be plain, that by stating what one does believe, such as “I believe in democracy” allows for both natural and highly accurate assumptions about the balance of the speaker’s worldview. If one is a democrat, one does not believe in having a king.

I am an atheist is an unfortunate sentence construction. It spreads confusion for being a statement in the positive that contains a word which is an assertion in the negative. By claiming to be an atheist, one says very little beyond: I do not believe in God. One could possess a litany of reasons and supporting logic that lead to atheism, or one could have thought very little about the subject and simply think atheism perfectly natural. Yet again, someone could be an atheist for all sorts of very poorly thought out reasons, or for no reason whatsoever, and be an atheist arbitrarily. Finally, one may not have even been exposed to the concept of God, and might be an atheist by default.

An atheist might be a racist, astrologer, communist, utterly incapable of rational thought or a supremely talented logician. An atheist might be anything. Unlike a self identified democrat, who must reject and embrace a host of concepts in order to meaningfully call themselves a democrat. The same can be said for a Christian, Muslim, or Jew.

I believe in rational inquiry. In fact, when it comes to what I can honestly say I believe in, I only believe in rational inquiry and the natural inferences (a respect for logic, evidence, etc). Because there is no proof that one should have respect for rational inquiry (rationality cannot justify itself) I think it appropriate to call my respect a belief, much like a Christian believes in the divinity of Jesus Christ. However, what is also true, is that the Christian’s belief in the divinity of Jesus Christ, and my respect for rational inquiry are at odds, and there the conflict lies.

So, while I am an atheist, my atheism is simply a tiny component of a worldview that is rooted in a respect for rational inquiry. I reject a biblical (et al) god because such a belief does not mesh with the one leap of faith I do take. Much like a democrat probably believes in a secret ballot, I reject God. No biggie.

Robin Lindsay



16 Responses to “On The Divine Right of Kings”

  1. mycentralhubsy Says:

    Be careful about statements like the following:
    “Characterizing a worldview in the negative is fraught with unfortunate and unnecessary problems”

    Your usage of negative is already a little suspicious. Negative What? Atheism literally means No belief in God. Your usage of the word negative implies that one who possesses a Weltanshuauung not involving an anthrocentric deity has got it all wrong.

    I enjoy these debates and hope that not all who hear the term atheist automatically make associations like “no morals” or “devil worshipper”

  2. rockrobinoff Says:

    by negative, i mean a statement in the negative, as opposed to a statement in the positive. not a “negative” statement in the sense that it is wrong. As you said, atheism literally means “no belief in god.” so that is a statement in the negative.

    and i am at a loss as to how you arrived at:

    “Your usage of the word negative implies that one who possesses a Weltanshuauung not involving an anthrocentric deity has got it all wrong.”

  3. mycentralhubsy Says:

    Lets replace negative with postive in
    “Characterizing a worldview in the negative is fraught with unfortunate and unnecessary problems”
    to get
    “Characterizing a worldview in the positive is fraught with unfortunate and unnecessary problems”

    Now think about Paul Hill (killed abortion doctors)
    Paul Hill positively believed that killing abortion doctors defended the lives of the unborn which thereby justified murdering abortion doctors.

    Apolgies if I am taking you to task over semantics. Perhaps, I just misconstrued your usage of negative. It just struck me as a tad bit too evaluative. Paul hill “positively” believed in what he was doing.

    Thanks for taking time to sustain this thread. 🙂

  4. rockrobinoff Says:

    I am utterly baffled by the confusion i seem to have instilled. Negative and positive are not value judgments in this case. Negative means “no” or “against” and positive means “yes” or “for”. that’s all. this is pretty standard terminology in philosophy.

    Bertrand Russell’s “you cannot prove a negative” was not a value judgment but a logical argument about the literally infinity of things one may posit, and therefore the onus is always on he who makes the assertion to prove the case, not on he who denies it to demonstrate why something isn’t so.

    at any rate, i am not trying to convince you of Bertrand Russell’s assertion, but again, please understand me, the terms negative and positive are meant very specifically, and have nothing to do with value judgments.

    my problem with atheism is not in the outlook or with people who are atheists – in fact, i can safely call myself an atheist. my problem, is that the term is confusing, because it is a label that states what someone does not believe, which is unlike just about any other label you care to name, and for that reason creates unique problems.

  5. Ben Says:

    I wonder if a tidier definition of atheism may be ‘the belief that the laws of nature cannot be broken’ which is more positive than not-believing something. It also helps rule out not only the Biblical god, but also plurality of gods, supernatural forces, and possibly Buddhist transcendence ….

  6. Andrew Fraser Says:

    i don’t see atheist as a negation per se. It isn’t relevant unless talking about divinity. to my mind it is a positive assertion that the god chair is empty.

    By the way, incase you were cringing upon seeing i’d commented, I have no problem whatsoever with anyone saying ‘I am an atheist’. What gets me is hearing ‘YOU should be an atheist’

  7. rockrobinoff Says:

    “to my mind it is a positive assertion that the god chair is empty.”

    that’s just word play. its still an assertion in the negative.

    you should be an atheist. for the same reason you should be an a-fairyist and an a-leprechaunest.

    • Andrew Fraser Says:

      i don’t think it is just word play. don’t confuse etymology and meaning.

      why should i be an atheist? why should i not beleive in fairies while we’re at it?

  8. rockrobinoff Says:

    i am not confusing etmyology and meaning. i was merely pointing out the confusion caused by a label which states “i am a person that does not in believe in X.” it causes all sorts of weird accusations like ‘atheism is just a kind of religion’ or ‘just another leap of faith’ etc. the problem, is that the word is devoid of absolutely all other content except its basic statement about a lack of belief in god. this is entirely unlike states in the positive like being a democrat, etc. was that not clear from my blog? do you have a counter to that that directly addresses the points i made?

    i am not going to bother to try and convince you again of merits of atheism. i will say, however: what is so wrong about someone or some people thinking that what some other people think is potentially dangerous, anti human, and silly, and wanting to do something about it?

    • Andrew Fraser Says:

      sorry dude. you are confusing the two. the difference is between ‘i don’t believe in X’ and ‘I believe there to be no X’

  9. Andrew Fraser Says:

    because you can’t engage something that you a) don’t get and b) lies outside the boundaries of the grounds you criticize it on.

    and for the record I had to read that last paragraph three times to know if you were talking about atheists or people who beleive in X as i engage you in this for EXACTLY those reasons.

  10. rockrobinoff Says:

    a) nobody gets it, and anyone who claims he does, is deluded or a liar.

    b) i dont accept Gould’s non overlapping magesteria. i.e. science and / or reason and religion/ faith are addressing different things.

    a supernatural creator god exists or it doesnt exist. it is a potentially testable yes or no question.

    other notions of god like “god is love” or “the capacity for goodness” or “the lifeforce” or whatever, are fine. i really don’t have much of a problem with them. i think they are a bit flakey and have no pull with me, but those are not the god of abraham, even amongst so called “sophisticated” muslims, christians, and jews.

    “and for the record I had to read that last paragraph three times to know if you were talking about atheists or people who beleive in X as i engage you in this for EXACTLY those reasons.”

    i dont know what the above means.

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