I am not ashamed of being an atheist. I'm ok w/being rational. But I had a discussion with my sister in law today regarding having been Roman Catholic. We both come from Catholic families -- she is SBNR (spiritual but not religious, a point of view that I find to be namby-pamby), and I am an atheist. I caught myself candy-coating my point of view. I said that I was extremely agnostic. And as I was saying it, I was thinking, "WTF? Atheist!". Now, to a degree, I didn't want to offend her. And to a degree, I didn't want to get into a discussion, muchless an argument, about it. But I do feel cowardly.
"Naturalist" is label I tossed around for awhile, in the vein of Thoreau minus the Transcendentalism. But there was something I read about a definition of it that struck me as wrong; I can't seem to remember what it was now.
In the past, I would avoid the label "atheist" for convenience as it is largely misunderstood and I don't have the patience to engage in semantic distinctions with strangers. (I suppose that my cowardice is eclipsed only by my laziness.) So I adopted "agnostic" for a long time. Of course, "agnostic" is not a distinctive description at all because we are all agnostic about supernatural matters; it really does not describe any unique facet about my identity moreso than if I were to say "humanoid" or "terrestrial."
However, even if I am amongst rational company who do understand the proper definition of "atheism," I am still unlikely to adopt the term as a primary description of my worldview because I see it as an inactive word. "Atheism" only describes something that I do not possess; it says nothing of anything that I do possess. Two atheists need not have anything more in common than two people who do not play tennis. By using an inactive term as a primary description, I am not really describing my actual actions (or active thoughts, if you will).
This issue presents itself when some atheists assume that fellow nonbelievers will necessarily share their views on other unrelated topics. For example, I have seen several instances where atheists think that marijuana legalization should be taken up by atheist groups. Why? What is the logical connection between lacking a belief in a god and the decriminalization of a drug?
This is why I try to use a label that accurately describes what I do think rather than simply one thing that I do not think. I really cannot find one single label that I truly espouse, however; there are pieces of different philosophies that I both adore and abhor. If I had a gun to my head, I guess right now I would choose "secular humanist."
Within the specific spectrum of belief or disbelief in a god, I have no problem labeling myself as "atheist." I just think that the term is far too limited for general description, and therefore I seek other means to describe myself.
However, even if I am amongst rational company who do understand the proper definition of "atheism," I am still unlikely to adopt the term as a primary description of my worldview because I see it as an inactive word. "Atheism" only describes something that I do not possess; it says nothing of anything that I do possess. Two atheists need not have anything more in common than two people who do not play tennis.
As I have said before, I only find the atheist label important as long as I find myself in a society full of theists. If theists represented a similar portion of the population as, say, believers in astrology, then I would find "atheism" nearly useless. Descriptions are useful because they usually point out what is different, not what is the same.
If theists represented a similar portion of the population as, say, believers in astrology, then I would find "atheism" nearly useless. Descriptions are useful because they usually point out what is different, not what is the same.
Yes! Exactly what I was thinking, about pointing out something that is different; because no one knows about the supernatural, humanity exists in a state of universal agnosticism.
I like the astrology example to illustrate the dependent, inactive nature of the "atheist" label because it is not as untenable as, say, the often hypothesized fairy-ism. Although not believing in fairies does technically make someone an a-fairyist, the entire example is so hypothetical that most people will fail to see the parallel. Astrology, on the other hand, actually does have an extensive history--and frighteningly current presence--as an actual system of belief espoused by many people.
Agreed, I just meant that it serves as a much better illustration of the negative, inactive quality of "atheist" regarding religion. Although astrology was once widely accepted and still sadly retains some devotees, we don't have a word for people who do no accept astrology because it is not a widespread belief system. People who believe in fairies or leprechauns, on the other hand, are such an even smaller minority that I don't think those examples really serve to illustrate the function of the label "atheism;" "a-fairyism" is just so universal that I don't think people really see a problem with the lack of a proper word for the concept. But the parallel of a word for not believing in astrology works much better, I think.
Well, if you had a bucket of orange tennis balls but there was one ball that was green, would telling someone to take out the non-orange ball be useful? That is how I see the atheism label. It doesn't tell us the color, but it differentiates the ball from the others in an important way.
I have argued the point that the term atheism does, by association, have a broader meaning.
Good point; the term does have a broader meaning given the context of an overwhelming religious presence in the current world. I guess I just get frustrated when I see so many unrelated issues being attached to atheist groups and I may be assigning blame to the inactive nature of the word.
So maybe my problem isn't with the term itself used in the appropriate context, but moreso with the misappropriation or assumed association of atheism with unrelated endeavors.
I think that when people discover a minority group that thinks like them in a certain, fundamental way, they tend make the mistake that these people will also think about other things in the same way as them.
Agreed, I think that it is some sort of counterculture phenomenon. I guess the logic is that because we both oppose the mainstream about this one particular issue, we must also oppose the mainstream and hold the minority opinion on all other issues.
But I guess that this is why I like labels like "skeptic," "freethinker," and "humanist" more than just "atheist." At least those three labels can provide insight into someone's opinions on issues other than the existence of god. (This is not to say that skeptics and others do not diverge on certain issues, but at least those labels can provide a logical framework within which to work.)