Friday, August 1, 2008

Labels...labels...we got so many labels....

There's a BIG discussion going on over at one of my favorite sites about this graphic:

With maybe the exception of one* of these men, these are all individuals I greatly admire for their deeds and positions on matters political, religious and scientific. As little as a year ago I would have wanted this image emblazoned on a t-shirt I could wear or a poster I could hang in my office. makes me uncomfortable. I don't think any of these individuals would have self identified as an atheist. More to the point I see this as another attempt by otherwise well meaning people to ram what is more of a political statement down the throats of theistic-leaning people. This makes we who would honor these men little better than some of the theistic-apologists we are fighting against.

The identities of some of these men are obvious. If some readers cannot identify all of these men, don't feel bad, they are:

1. Albert Einstein
2. Samuel Clemens aka Mark Twain
3. Charles Darwin
4. Thomas Jefferson
5. Ben Franklin
6. Ernest Hemingway
7. Abraham Lincoln
8. Carl Sagan

I think we all get hung up on labels and claiming dead people as our own instead of leaving them as they are: individuals. It is true that like many things the meanings of words changes over time and what we define as atheism today is very different from the definition you'd receive from people of different times. Might be of some interest to my theist friends that Pagan Romans referred to early Christians as atheists, because the Christians didn't believe in the Roman Gods.

For my part I consider myself atheistic insomuch as I don't believe in the Gods as described by any of the religions of man. I share this characteristic with almost ever one of the names listed above. This not an arrogance! Far from it! It is because I feel the characterizations of God offered thus far by the faiths of men do a disservice to the very concept of God. Ascribing to God traits which are similar to the 7 deadly sins is anathema to me. God is far bigger and better than that. The agnostic part comes into play on the question of the existence of God in general. I cannot KNOW for certain whether there is or there is not a God. What sort of evidence would I consider acceptable and verifiable evidence of an eternal and omniscient and omnipotent God?

"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
- Arthur C. Clarke

Given that seemingly self-evident truism ... would God be capable of convincing me of his existence? I think He would be up to the task, as He would know me better than I know myself.

A fellow commenter reworked the above image in such a way that made me much happier and is much more in keeping with the spirit of the individuals represented. This one makes me smile and does my non-conformist heart proud!

Let's not label each other or history any more!


*Contest!!! Given what my faithful readers know of me; Name which one of these individuals, I think, does NOT belong there. For extra credit... why?


Anonymous said...

This was a cool blog Robert...a reminder to all of us that labels just do not work, even within our own belief systems.

Rip off the labels, really get to know one another, and so much more could be accomplished.

I think man has put God in a box. Conformed Him to's sad. He is so far beyond anything we could think, I really don't blame you for feeling the way you do. I hope more people will come and read this...

As for the contest, I would have to say Carl Sagan....he just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the thinking populous....heh heh...but I don't know...

SirRobert said...

Deb said:

I would have to say Carl Sagan....he just doesn't seem to fit with the rest of the thinking populous

My response:


Oh Deb I am heart-broken!!!

If I believed in things such as patron saints... Carl would be mine!!

I think I might have to send you copy of the COSMOS series on DVD...

I would say that Carl Sagan was the BIGGEST influence on who I am today.

If you have never seen Cosmos I implore you to find it through netflix.

Try again though! ;)


Anonymous said...

Dangit!!!! I would really be guessing at this point...uh...Abe Lincoln????? LOL

SirRobert said...

You are just indeed just guessing...

Honest Abe was (still is) a grade school hero of mine....

My Mom has a polaroid of me in a fake beard reciting the Gettysburg Address for a pageant in 2nd grade.

I can't read the Gettysburg Address with out a lump rising to my throat...

We don't make politicians like him anymore.


Anonymous said...


Faith like a child will get you past the Gap you speak of with God.

I wrote about Einstein and how he lost his ability to explore beyond his own mind.

That child like Faith is what every person has to find to take a leap of Faith into the arms of the Loving God

FYI...From our first encounter, I am still praying that you find that Faith.

Indian Lake Papa said...

My guess would be Abe Lincoln - I seem to recall he was a man of prayer.

Robert - it is natural to put labels on people - it helps us to identify people. it is cruel - unkind to say things that hurt or make harsh judgements. Refering to me as a 'Christian' is a label. Some comments have been good, some very unkind by others. We all have to be careful with our labels and our words.

SirRobert said...

cpk3 said:

"Faith like a child will get you past the Gap you speak of with God."

My response:

You assume that this GAP is a bad thing. I don't see it that way. If there is an ACTIVE, omniscient and omnipotent God then I have a role that He wants me to fill...

And I WILL fill that roll...HONESTLY

To quote Johannes Kepler:

"Hypocrisy I have never learned. I am an earnest in faith. I do not play with it."


No Lincoln quite rightly belongs among the free thinkers....


SirRobert said...

Papa said:

it is natural to put labels on people - it helps us to identify people. it is cruel - unkind to say things that hurt or make harsh judgements

My response:

Welcome Papa! Glad to have you here...

Yes your point is well taken. Context does matter in how we use labels.

Sometimes though a label applied does not really fit and I had issues with the application of 'Athiest' to the men in the graphic BECAUSE I don't think any of them would have applied said label to themselves. That said, each of those men could be rightly said to have some atheistic beliefs.

I'm sorry but, I feel Lincoln does belong amongst those men.

Mr. Lincoln, a hero of mine, was something of a religious enigma. He was indeed a student of the Bible inasmuch as I am, but I don't think you could make a sound argument that he was Bible-believing. He made many contradictory statements through out his life!

Thanks for playing though!


Anonymous said...

R, that's another label...I consider myself a free thinker...

SirRobert said...

And it is one that I could rightly attribute to you Deb!

You do have an open mind.


Anonymous said...

First to the labels...I agree with you 100%. To label someone pigeon holes you into a certain way of thinking about that person.

Like as you said to say you are an "Atheist"..The relativism of this world has taken Atheist and Christian for that matter and redefined them to the point they do not mean what they were originally intended. Both were never meant to be adjectives.


The gap is what stands between the unbeliever and God. Good or Bad?

Christ said, "It is better to have never heard, than to hear and not believe."

So the gap is when a person has heard the Good News and has to make the step over the out stretched arms of Christ on the Cross.

Like I did, and allude to with Einstein, I got so caught up in my own way of thinking I missed God's Grace and Mercy stretched out before me. It wasn't tell I got out of the way so to speak that God broke through.

It was then that I realized I was on the bad side of the gap.

SirRobert said...


I respect your opinions on this but I don't see it as cut and dried as that.

As I have said many times there is definite Good and Bad in this world and for certain in humanity.

But, I do not that's wrong I do NOT accept that there is but ONE way to salvation.



b4d6uy said...

hey - I knew all the faces!

How about one way; but multiple (unlimited) paths to get to that one way???

SirRobert said...


Anonymous said...

ooooo bad, I like!!! ;)

Anonymous said...

Well played Bad... Well played..


I can only say and attest to what I believe...I know where I was before my Faith, and where I am now.

SirRobert said...


A point well taken...

And i know where I am now ;)


nate said...

Hey Robert...I'll take a crack at your riddle.

Darwin? It's only a guess. I know that Darwin seemed free as a bird in light of how his ideas clashed with the Church, but it I once read (and could have misinformed) that while he struggled with the the benevolence of God (the whole theodicy thing). Perhaps he rejected God, but he seemed to never be free from the idea.

I'm sure you'll give me a hearty rebuke here...

While we are talking about "labels" what about the whole "free thinker" designation. To be honest, assuming only that atheists are worthy of such a title is offensive to a theist as it connotes inferior intelligence. What exactly do you mean by the term? Thought free from the limitations imposed by accepting the existence of any deity? Free from pop philosophy? Free from suppositions in general?

I once worked with a guy named grant whose parents raised him atheist. He studied astronomy at SMSU. As a "free thinker?" his studies led him to believe in a God. He din't adhere to any particular religion, just the existence of a God. Did he stop belonging to the group of free thinkers at the moment he became a theist?

I am off to celebrate my fifth wedding anniversary with my gorgeous wife...I'll check back on this interesting discussion tomorrow.

SirRobert said...

Hi Nate...

I think some of you might have the impression that I am AGAINST God belief.

Not the case!!!

While Darwin may be the Antichrist to many a God-fearing people...

Mr. D was indeed a believer. However his ruminations and insights and free-thought changed the world.

He belongs!


Christian Beyer said...

Robert, you are a good husband, father and responsible citizen so I would have to say...Hemingway. A great writer - somewhat of a mess of a human being. (but so am I )

SirRobert said...



Robert has issues with unapologetic alcoholics and unapologetic drug addicts...

You aren't a mess as far as I can see!


Indian Lake Papa said...

That surprises me! Now I have to go back and look at all the "labels" I put on Hemmingway and probably make some major adjustments! And just when I thought my labels were right! lol

darla said...

too late to guess..but I would guessed Hemmingway..just from some of the things he wrote...or it could be the cat..oh thats the next post.. hahahaha

Anonymous said...

I've deliberately not read the other comment so as not to bias my wild stab in the dark. I'd guess Samuel Clemens. Hang on I'll have a read...

...drat.. completely wrong.

SirRobert said...

nice try Mr. Frog....

Though as a brit perhaps you can be forgiven if you are not aware of the radical nature of Mr. Clemen's writings.

May i recommend "Letters from the Earth". ;)