I’m a bit of a definition junkie. I think it comes from studying philosophy. It seems that most of the big questions are difficult to answer because the terms involved turn out to be so ill-defined. Thus much of the efforts in philosophy is not really aimed at answering the big questions, but precisely defining the words and concepts in the question. If that is achieved the answer usually falls right out.
So I’ve recently been thinking about the term “Godless” – often used as a derogatory term for agnostics and atheists. Literally it means “without god” but carries with it a very negative connotation. It suggests non-believers lack something or are missing something desirable. Think of the term ‘penniless’ for comparison.
That doesn’t accurately describe an atheist’s feeling on the matter at all. We do not feel like we are lacking anything for we don’t desire a god at all (such would be pointless as they are almost certainly fiction). I wanted a better term and found it in an unlikely place.
It turns out, couples who do not want children are in a similar situation. They are often described as being ‘childless’ though they don’t feel they are lacking anything. Thus they’ve adopted the term ‘childfree‘. Similarly, I’ve been using the term ‘godfree’.
Strictly speaking, ‘Godless’ and ‘godfree’ mean the same thing: “without god(s)”; though the capital ‘G’ implies monotheism and the lowercase is exclusive of polytheistic deities as well. Yet they have different connotations. Being something-less means one is without something desired. Being something-free means one is without something undesired. People who do not want caffeine in their soda will drink ‘caffeine-free’ soda, those who want children but are unable to have them are ‘childless’. Atheists, by and large, do not want any gods and do not have any. Thus the term ‘godfree’ is more appropriate.
It has occurred to me that precisely defining these terms in this way has a very interesting consequence. To understand it, you’ll have to adopt my point of view for a moment. Go ahead, it won’t hurt… There! A little uncomfortable, I’m sure, but you won’t have to wear it long. Now notice that there are no gods. Good. What’s that mean for religious people? They are without any gods for none exist but they desire a god (or gods). Which term, ‘Godless’ or ‘godfree’ is more appropriate? Using the definitions described above, you’ve guessed it….
…Religious people are the Godless ones!
Thanks for reading whether you’re godfree or Godless.