An ISM is defined as “a distinctive doctrine, cause, or theory”. And in this week’s episode we explore just that. Everything from Theism to Nihilism to Absurdism and everything in between. What Ism’s do you ascribe to and how useful are the labels known as Isms.

Isms – 

Is there a God? Theism, Deism, Atheism, Agnosticism

Theism – Belief in a supreme being, especially a belief in one supreme entity as a creator of the universe intervening intentionally and having a personal relationship with humans.

Three Abrahamic religions Judaism, Christianity, and Islam

Bill: – A Need to explain the three questions (Where did we come from, why are we here, where are going) while also dealing with our sentient consciousness

Deism – Popular in the 17th and 18th century, deists insisted that religious truth should be subject to the authority of human rather than divine revelation. Rejected the Bible as the word of God, rejected supernaturalism and superstition like miracles and prophesy. For Deists, God was a benevolent, and distant, creator whose revelation was nature and human reason.

Bill: – Omnipresent, Omnipotent, Omniscient – When we boil God down to this base level of agreement of what God is such easily fits within the atheist view of the universe.   (Analogy – blood cell in the body)

John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Paine

Thomas Jefferson: “Question with boldness even the existence of a God; because, if there be one, he must more approve of the homage of reason, than that of blind-folded fear.” 

You can be a Christian deist and believe in the moral teachings but not divinity of Jesus. 

You can be A-deist which is that you don’t believe in a creator of any kind. 

Atheism – Not a belief structure, simply is familiar with the arguments of theism and is not convinced.  

Agnosticism – Agnosticism in our culture kind of means I just don’t know, but from a philosophical definition kind of place its the idea that we can’t know. Some people say that agnostics are then by definition atheists because they are not convinced by the theist and just say we can’t know, but that is a semantic argument that is up for debate. 

Picture 1 – There is a scale of agnosticism. Agnostic Atheist – doesn’t believe in God but also doesn’t claim to know there is no God. Agostic theist, believes a god exists but doesnt claim to know the belief is true Gnostic atheist – does not believe any god exists and knows that. Gnostic theist believes a god exists and claims to know. 

Picture 2 – Scale of theistic probability which is in The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins

1 – Strong theist 100% probability of God. I do not believe, I know.

2 – De facto theist very high probability but short of 100%. “I dont know for certain but I strongly believe in God and live my life on the assumption that he is there.” 

3 – Leaning towards theism. Higher than 50%, I am very certain but I am inclined to believe in God.”

4 – Completely impartial. Exactly 50% Gods existence and non existence are e ually probable. 

5 – Leaning towards atheism, more than 50% believe there is no God. “I do not know whether God exists but I’m inclined to be skeptical.”

6 – De facto atheist. Very low probability but short of zero. “I don’t know for certain but I think God is very improbably, and I live my life on the assumption that he is not there.”

7 – Strong atheist. “I know there is no God.” 

Dawkins argues that while there appear to be plenty of individuals that would place themselves as “1” due to the strictness of religious doctrine against doubt, most atheists do not consider themselves “7” because atheism arises from a lack of evidence and evidence can always change a thinking person’s mind. In print, Dawkins self-identified as a “6”, though when interviewed by Bill Maher he suggested “6.9” to be more accurate.

“Once you assume a creator and a plan, it makes us objects in a cruel experiment whereby we are created sick and commanded to be well, and over us to supervise this is installed a celestial dictatorship. A kind of divine North Korea.” – Chris Hitchens

We will include quiz in the show notes

What Kind of God? – Monotheism, Polytheism, Henotheism, Pantheism, Panentheism, Animism 

Monotheism – Belief in one God 

Is Christianity tritheistic? 

Polytheism – Belief in many Gods 

Bill: Allows us to separate good and bad, various skills, different and contradicting but also important values

Tribal religions in Africa, some folk religions in China

Henotheism – Worship one god but recognize many Gods

Most forms of Hinduism for example, are not polytheistic where there’s a bunch of Gods like in Greece, these are all manifestations of the same God that they worship. There are very few Hindu atheists and I think that’s because there’s just a high level of choice. One worships the god that one chooses. There are no rules in this regard. All gods yield the desired fruit, if properly worshiped. There are some guidelines in the form of class or sex or if you’re a leader or king but these are all manifestations of the same God that people come to know by different names. 

Is Mormonism technically henotheism? Eugene England thinks so. 

Bill: Allows some individualism as we select the God we want to emphasize

Pantheism – Everything shares the same spiritual essence and individuals do not have distinct spirits or souls. Its the idea that God is one and its the collective consciousness of all living creatures. Richard Dawkins says pantheism is sexed up atheism. So there is a rejection of God but there’s still some romanticism around the universe or life or the earth enough so to still call it God. Mushrooms?

Bill: touch on again a connected universe and creative energy 

Panentheism – Picture 3 Pantheism is that God is the universe, they are identical, Theism is that God created the universe, and Panentheism is that there is a God, but God is a part of the universe. So you can still get the everything is divine or spirit, but there is also a God, and God is a co-creator or a part of the universe. The shocking thing is that Mormonism now is God to prophet direct line and just be obedient, but early Mormonism from the Pratts and from Joseph’s King Follett Discourse God was very much a co-creator. God didn’t create the universe from nothing. He awoke and Jesus awoke and they made plans to help others awake but God can’t make all the rules because God didn’t create the universe out of nothing. So one way that Mormonism was interesting at the time is that when everyone else in this second great awakening in America were fighting about the extent of God’s power and the fall, Joseph has a unique answer to that. He doesn’t believe in the Fall, he doesn’t believe God is just a distant spirit, and he puts everything on a path of eternal progression, even apple trees and animals. So everything is spirit and can progress and is part of the universe. Its one of the most interesting things about Mormonism, but its been entirely lost in the bureaucracy which if you want to learn more about that transition please see all of Bills other podcasts. 

Animism – The attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena and the belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.

Science that our organs have their own consciousness, Mushrooms, Twins.

Philosophies – Humanism, Nihilism, Absurdism, Existentialism 

Nihilism – Life is meaningless and to pursue meaning is pointless. You can get there with depression, you can get there with philosophy, you can get there just by thinking about how in the time span of 1,000,000,000 years nothing anyone does matters, or you can get there when you lose God. Philosophers call this place the void and I’ve talked about this on the podcast before because its something I struggled with and reached out to my own spiritual directors for help. It’s a black hole where you can’t make any decisions and its dangerous to individuals because its related to suicide. Its a hatred of being itself which we find in the Columbine killers if you ever read their journals. So you’re not just like there’s not God you’re just unimpressed with life itself.

Bill: If the only meaning is the meaning you make up in your head what does such mean
How important is any of us – Analogy with Presidents (zachary taylor, benjamin harrison, james buchanon, james polk), a speck of dust flying through the universe and some day humans won’t exist, and some day all life on earth won’t exist, and some day this galaxy won’t exist.  None of it really matters and in the effort to help life on earth within my realm of influence to have their trauma reduced and for life to have more pleasant moments and less unpleasant moments collectively, this very moment means everything..  

Active nihilism – Blow up the matrix so that you and other people could construct their own narratives and meanings. Nietszche wants us to erect our own values.

Bill: If the last 3 minutes of one’s life hurts beyond comprehension will it matter all the good they experienced prior?  Will that life have been worth living?

Passive nihilism – There will never be any meaning in the world so best you can do is separate yourself from your desires and reduce suffering where you can. You stay within the matrix of traditional values, but you have severe doubts about those values. 

Absurdism – Like the nihilism believes that the universe is absurd, but it embraces the absurdity and is open to the possibility of creating meaning, or enjoyment. Its like sunny nihilism. You want to spend your life surfing? Great life is absurd might as well. Want to collect cat posters? Cool why not? Embrace the absurdity and be free to do whatever you want to do with life as long as it doesn’t hurt others. So Absurdism is not about finding a meaning to life but about rebelling against the absurdity of life, it’s about standing aloof of the demand to find a meaning, rebelling against the absurd game itself and affirming life for what it is. 

Albert Camus 3 choices when you face nihilism

  1. Suicide but you add more absurdity to life so you become the thing you hate, and your life was a miracle to begin with
  2. Philosophical Suicide where you take a leap of faith and pretend there’s a higher power that gives our life meaning 
  3. Embrace the Absurd and realize that we’re truly free. From there, we’re free to pursue anything we want and try to embrace what life has to offer.

    Bill: I try to intentionally choose (No, I don’t believe in free will) 3 everyday.  

Existentialism – Existentialists also doesn’t believe that the universe has intrinsic meaning but insists we have free will, awareness, and personal responsibility to become everything we can be and create subjective meaning. No one else is responsible for meaning except us and it is created through our existence and the choices we make. So Kierkegaard who was the first existentialist philosopher believed that each individual is tasked with giving meaning to life. He was also Christian so there’s room to work within religion here if you think the best expression of yourself is on a religious path. 

Humanism – Rejection of the divine and putting prime importance on human matters. 

Ten Commandments of Humanism: 

  1. Promote the greater good
  2. Be curious
  3. Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Do no kill, rape, rob, or victimize anyone.
  4. Treat all humans as equals
  5. Use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action
  6. Do not force your beliefs onto others or insist that yours is the only way to live happily
  7. Govern with reason not superstition, religions should have no place in any government
  8. Act for the betterment of your fellow humans ans be altruistic in your deeds
  9. Be good to the earth and its bounties for without it humankind is lost
  10.  Impart your knowledge and wisdom gained in your lifetime to the next generation so that with each passing century, humanity will grow wise and more humane. 

Secular Humanism – Rejection of all supernatural, most popular form of humanism. 

Religious Humanism – Atheist but finds value in congregational rites and community activities. Self-described religious humanists differ from secular humanists mainly in that they regard the non-theistic humanist life stance as their religion while organizing with a congregational model. Religious humanism is sometimes referred to as non-theistic religion or congregational humanism. 

Difference between empiricism and rationalism for Atheists 

Rationalism – knowledge comes from reason and logic

Empiricism – knowledge comes from experience and experimentation 

The best example I’ve ever heard of this is that an empiricist would say that it would be valuable for the President of the United States once a week to walk up to a statue of George Washington and tell George what you did that week for the country. A rationalist would say George Washington is dead and there’s no reason this. But an empiricist says true but there’s something valuable in the experience. So Richard Dawkins is a rationalist, he read Alain de Botton’s Religion for Atheists and thought it was stupid. Steven Fry is an empiricist, he’s an atheist the problem of evil doesn’t make sense to him but he loves story and allegory and myth and symbolism and sees something valuable in those things on the level of experience. 

A few last isms that come up in modern conversations there’s hundreds of isms but some ones that are interesting:

Panpsychism is all the rage right now. Anciently it is an old idea from early Greek philosophers that there was an element of mind to everything that is physical. We would instead use the word consciousness today instead of mind. This theory says that consciousness does not emerge from matter, which is the hard problem of consciousness, but is a fundamental character of the universe. So the lights are on for everything. You’ll hear Sam Harris and especially his wife Annaka Harris discuss the possibility of panpsychism. The problem is we can’t test for it. If the universe was alive, if the sun was alive, everything would act how it acts now so its not currently falsifiable. But one way to solve the consciousness problem is that maybe everything is conscious.

Bill: It is this battle of whether Consciousness can only be born of itself or could it have been created for the first time out of a universe that is unconscious (And happy a billion times in a billion places in the universe)

Daoism – Daoism sometimes its pronounced Daoism or Toaism it depends when you’re translating from Chinese, but its become an increasingly popular ism because of Star Wars. The easiest way to describe it is that yoda is a taoist. Daoism is a Chinese philosophy of living simply, honestly, and in harmony with nature and with the flow of life. In balance with the flo of life. So when Luke is teaching ray about the force, this is what she says and its so close to Daoist scripture its unbelievable.

Luke Skywalker: What do you see?

Rey: The island. Life. Death and decay, that feeds new life. Warmth. Cold. Peace. Violence.

Luke Skywalker: And between it all?

Rey: Balance and energy. A Force.

Luke Skywalker: And inside you?

Rey: Inside me, that same Force.

The yin yang symbol which is popular enough in America that you see it everywhere has its roots in Daoism. Its this balance. In Star Wars you would say its a balance of the force, but in Daoism you would say the balance of the Dao. The yin, which is the dark swirl, is associated with shadows, the feminine, chaos, creativity…and the yang is the light swirl which is masculinity, passion, growth, strength. So even if you go down to your local yoga studio there is yin yoga which is softer and more flow and easier, and there is yang yoga which is like we’re going to kick your ass yoga. 

The purpose of daoism is to recognize opposing forces and recognize which side of the coin is needed in that moment and flowing with that energy so to speak. 

Doaism through Star Wars became so popular that in 2015 Jediism was recongized as an official religion by the US government. These are people from what I understand who know that Star Wars isnt real but find the life of a jedi and the meditation and balance of the force and simple life of service to be a moral life worth living and they take it to heart. 

5 last isms that come up in popular culture 

Asceticism – Severe self discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence. This happens in America mostly in the exercise world. Christian asceticism is not as common because right now in American history you’re more likely to get prosperity gospel Christianity which is the opposite of asceticism. But if you know someone who does long periods of fasting, limits social media, very strict diet, never any sugar or alcohol, takes cold showers, exercises obsessively, its kind of like a religion because it puts aside pleasure in order to strengthen your discipline and its a way to a kind of enlightenment or self transcendence. Sometimes it mixes with religion directly, like this link here:

Or in certain cults like this new cult movie I saw on HBO The Way Down where it was a whole cult that was Christian but also a weight loss club where you give up all your temptations for Jesus. 

Buddha started out as an ascetic just long time fasts he was skin and bone, but then the story goes he heard someone playing music and the string was strung so tight that the string broke so walked away from that life and developed “The Middle Path” that wasnt so extreme.

Bill: I find the juxtaposition between indulgence and restraint deeply interesting.   

Hedonism – The ethical theory that pleasure and satisfying desire is the proper aim of human life. What do you think? Charles Darwin was a fan of motivational hedonism which is that our behavior is founded on avoiding pain and pursuing pleasure and we should build lives that intentionally increase pleasure. Pleasure not just as sex and heroin but actually looking at ok what seems to be a life that has the most pleasure? It seems like being married gives you a built in safety net, my husband took care of me all week with my knee surgery, being 600 pounds doesnt look pleasurable so I’ll eat as pleasurable as I can while remaining relatively healthy, having friends both extends life and improves pleasure in life, so its building up a life of pleasure intentionally not because its the right the to do but because that’s what we are as creatures and you can study the science of happiness and pleasure and build your life on it to enjoy life as much as possible. 

Philosophical weakness – people who choose more suffering in their life for more meaning

Bill: I am drawn to the ying/yang of the two extremes and finding balance and a middle way.  Not forcing indulgence but allowing oneself to enjoy the good that comes one way and to allow and be present with the things that hurt or are uncomfortable.

Materialism – Nothing exists except matter and its movements, everything is matter. Richard Dawkins is a materialist. He argued that human beings are nothing apart from a body and physical matter consisting of atoms. He denied the existence of both a soul and the idea of consciousness. Dawkins also claimed that we are each the total sum of our DNA.

Bill: Consciousness is an illusion?

Determinism – The idea that all events, including human action, are ultimately determined by causes external to the will. Some philosophers have taken determinism to imply that individual human beings have no free will and cannot be held morally responsible for their actions.

Stoicism – The Daily Stoic is a very popular influencer on Instagram and stoicism is very popular right now as an ism. Its a 3rd century philosophy made popular by Marcus Aurelius, we should review his book Meditations a lot of the people we listen to really are inspired by his book Meditations. There are four virtues in stoicism Courage, temperance, justice, wisdom. Stoics live by the phrase memento mori, remember that you will die, which I love, and that remembering that because you will die focus on what you can become. And stoics are very suspicious of emotions. Just notice the emotion, decide what you want to do with it, make a correct choice, and move on. So in popular culture if someone says that person is very stoic, its kind of come to mean that person isnt very emotional. A Stoic lives well through having a good character, and death is the final test of it. While every death will be a bit different, the Roman Stoics believed that a good death would be characterized by mental tranquility, a lack of complaining, and gratitude for the life we’ve been given. 

Marcus Aurelius. “You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” 

Tom Brady, Tim Ferriss, Anna Kendrick, Arnold Schwarzennegar, Bill Belechick, are modern stoics

George Washington inspired by stoics, Thomas Jefferson had a bust of Seneca on his nightstand, 

Transhumanism – a philosophical and scientific movement that advocates the use of current and emerging technologies—such as genetic engineering, cryonics, artificial intelligence (AI), and nanotechnology—to augment human capabilities and improve the human condition. Basically they are on board with the idea that we can become Gods, but what’s going to get us there is technology. Surprisingly enough, many man post Mormons find themself in this ism because its there’s a lot of still talk about progression and progression as a human society, but its not through temple ordinances its done through genetic engineering and curing cancer and living 500 years. 

Should we associate with isms? “Not that I condone fascism, or any -ism for that matter. -Ism’s in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism, he should believe in himself. I quote John Lennon, “I don’t believe in Beatles, I just believe in me.” Good point there. After all, he was the walrus. I could be the walrus.” Ferris Bueller 

What’s your ism?

Bill: I deeply relate to or even believe or subscribe to most of these even as I recognize they sort of contradict each other 


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