Thursday, March 21, 2013

Polyamory and Skeptics

I have been observing and studying polyamory for about two years now.  Over this period, I have noticed that poly folks often come in one of two flavors: mystic or skeptic.  I am a Reiki master, practice sacred sexuality and attend pagan festivals, so you can guess my flavor.  For 15 years, I have studied and/or practiced differing aspects of nonphysical energy.  I'm certainly not an expert, but I do know a little about the mystic flavor.

Certainly not all, but some mystics are a throwback to the sixties and can accurately be called hippies, both in dress and attitude.  Religiously, mystics practice a broad range of paganism or attend the Unitarian Universalist Church, a denomination strongly committed to social justice.  Politically, many identify with the Green Party, consistent with their earth-centered religions.  On the other hand, it seems skeptics are atheists and often libertarian.  (I don't mean to imply an overly strict dichotomy.   As with most matters, there is a continuum of belief in the poly community.)

While somewhat knowledgeable about mysticism, I have to plead much ignorance about skepticism and atheism.  The study of atheism has been on my radar for some months, but I have yet to get around to it.  For this reason,  I was excited to find a workshop about skepticism on the Atlanta Poly Weekend 2013 schedule.  It was called Polyamory and Skeptics and proved to be the most interesting workshop I attended during the conference.

I have noticed that the poly skeptics who cross my path seem to be highly intelligent.  The workshop panelists did not disappoint in this regard.  All three were knowledgeable and very committed to skepticism, which they use as a philosophical approach to various issues and beliefs.  While the workshop centered on religious skepticism, one panelists gave an example unrelated to religion of how she used skepticism to solve a life problem.  I don't remember her circumstances, but I'm sure many examples unrelated to religion can be found.  For example, a scientist undoubtedly employs skepticism in the course of scientific research.  

Skepticism, as I understand it, is a process of seeking truth by using rational thinking and logic in search of evidence supporting whatever it is that is being tested.  If solid evidence is found, it is true; if not, it is untrue.  While often synonymous in common usage, skepticism and atheism are not the same.  Rather than blanket non-acceptance of the existence of God (or gods), skeptics apply reason and logic in the search for evidence that God exists.  In the absence of such evidence, skeptics become atheists.

I did learn some interesting nuances about atheism.  Theism is the belief in the existence of God; atheism is the absence of such belief.  Thus, those who have never been exposed to theism, such as newborns, are sometimes considered atheists.  I had never before given thought to the possibility of a newborn being an atheist. 

The difference between atheism and agnosticism was explained as the difference between belief and knowledge.  Agnosticism is the view that whether or not God exists is unknown, and probably, unknowable.  Stated another way, the knowledge needed to justify either theistic or atheistic belief is nonexistent.  Further, there are blended bodies of belief such as agnostic theism and agnostic atheism.  In other words, in the absence of knowledge, it is still possible to either believe or disbelieve in God's existence.

Sometime in the future, I will share my thoughts about atheism as a movement.  This was not presented at the workshop, but I have overheard atheist activists discuss the atheist movement at poly meetups.  But first, I have to educate myself on this topic.