Lil Rome has got me thinking about the negative impact of the word atheist and how it can be misunderstood as a cohesive group with subversive doctrine rather than just the absence of belief in gods.
I am in the UK where most people are atheist but find that the word 'atheist' is only used by people who have strong feelings about religion. It is seen as challenging and confrontational over here whereas saying 'I don't believe in a god' is not - most of my friends will say this casually. It's as though they claim a cultural identification - 'I don't believe in gods but if I did it would the Christian/Muslim/Hindu one' whereas saying 'I am an atheist' is like denying your culture and identity and standing out.
I have found that if, when the subject of religion comes up, I say 'I'm not religious' or 'I don't believe in a god' most people will say comfortably 'No, me neither.' but if I say 'I am an atheist' eyes widen slightly and people hesitate before saying something about not being religious themselves. The word is uncomfortable.
Why would this be?
Is this the case in the US too? I suspect saying that you have no religion or belief in a god may get you a wide eyed stare there too more than it does here but is the word 'atheist' even more of a red flag?
Currently, I live smack dab in the middle of the bible belt. It is true that saying you are Atheist is worst than being openly gay in this area. I attended a small church of christ private school until I was asked not to return... HA! Being subjected to about nine years of fundamental, religious bigotry was torturous. Consequently, I have a very low tolerance of religion in general and find it easy to quickly label myself as an Atheist. Recently, I began questioning as to whether this term properly fits. I hate labels in general; however, I am starting to see how declaring yourself as Atheist may be just as close-minded as declaring some fundamental denomination. And by no means do I ever want to say I "believe" or do not "believe" in something. I refuse to use the term "believe" period. With that noted, I can say I empirically know very little. I know the earth is more than 6000 years old:) So, I suppose Agnostic may be more fitting... I am still debating this.
I feel the same way too...
It is an illusion that you could neutralize negative connotations of terms by replacing them with weasel words. That very act can and will be seen as a confirmation of ascribed attributes, and then deservedly so.
An Atheist is someone who doesn't believe in Gods. Don't change the word, change the minds.
The use of the word "atheist" has the same problem here. Pretty silly since most don't really know what the word means. However, those who know me already know that I am an atheist. And, those who may come upon that knowledge will either agree or not. It makes no real difference. I'm way too busy having a great life.
I'm in the USA and the designation of "atheist" seems to conjure up something equivalent to the devil, Hitler, Mussolini, or any other unsavory historical figure. I have, like you, found it easier to say that I'm simply a non-believer or that I don't believe in god. Then, one day I decided that was beating around the bush and I just say atheist now. I don't advertise it, I don't criticize Christians for being who they are, or Jews for being Jewish but I do expect the same treatment from others. I'm not interested in being converted or told to read this book or that on Christianity because I may have had a "bad religious experience". I'm curious to know how many fickle Christians there are who are Christian in name only but are atheist at heart. I suspect there are many.
I wonder thing same thing about how many are Christian in name only. I just recently decided to start being more open and answer the question of where do I go to church with I am not religious. Even though I knew I was an atheist I would answer that question by saying I was Catholic. How many others are doing the same thing out of fear of how the religious ones will react?
Yes, here in the Bible Belt the term atheist conjures up thoughts of devil worship and pure evil, or at a minimum a "lost soul who simply hasn't hear the Word of the Lord". However I refuse to not l use the term which best describes what I am - I am an ATHEIST, as I do not believe in any deities.
As Albert Bakker eloquently said earlier in this thread, "Don't change the word, change the minds." I live my life as an "out of the closet", proud atheist to demonstrate to those around me that Atheists are just normal, good, family people like them. I have been pleasantly surprised that quite a few people ask me questions about being an Atheist. Therefore I do think that, in some small way, I am helping to change the perceptions of what it means to be an Atheist - at least in my small corner of the world.
Yes, I think if I lived in a country where atheists were a minority and oppressed I would state it loud and clear too. I do tend to do that with Christians who bring up religion. My lodger who is 22 comes from a Hindu family and since studying anthropoplogy is rapidly becoming atheist. It was wonderful - she came home from her first lecture saying 'What the hell are religious people talking about? Evolution is obviously correct!' She now considers herself a Hindu agnostic but admits to me she cannot make the step to atheism because she gets a little shudder at the term. I felt the same way for many years. Looking forward to a day when atheism is a common term with no negative connotations and then to a time where it has no need to exist at all.
I was raised christian, and became atheist during my transition from high school to college. Talking about being atheist at college doesn't raise any controversy, but than again little does in college...you're supposed to be controversial and trying new things in college. On the other hand, I can't imagine telling my mother or any of the christians I grew up around that I am atheist. Coming out to them about my religious views actually weighs heavily on me...they will either completely reject me or never leave me alone about it; trying to convert me back at every turn, never able to look at me without pity and sadness that I am not 'saved'...so for now i'm avoiding it all together and not telling them...at least until i'm actually supporting myself and living on my own.
At the same time, however, I'm from CA, and my town seems to be quite liberal and in no way anything like the bible belt. Were I to be openly atheist, it would be ok. Certain circles might see it as bad, but just as bad as me not believing in god. Like i explained earlier, it could be the end of the world for close friends and family that are christian, but even those who are religious tend to be tolerant...the most that would happen in the general community is they would mention my name at church as someone who hasn't found god that they want to pray for...then like most people, they'd leave their religion for the next sunday...daily life wouldn't be affected.
More in general, I think maybe the idea of not believing in god is a more passive thing to some people...if you don't believe in god, maybe you were never taken to sunday school, or you just don't think about it. Saying you are atheist implies you have knowledge of religion, but still choose to reject it. Those who actively attack religion and fight it's presence will almost always call themselves atheist, so people immediately think of religion attackers when they hear atheist. No one really thinks about all the atheists who minds their own business. Ideally people will start to see these as the same, but now, atheism seems more active than just not being religious. Putting yourself in the shoes of a christian, imagine a person who's not religious...your strategy is to expose them to god so they will convert and be saved. If you confront an atheist, your strategy will be very different. you will probably assume they already have been exposed and have rejected it, so you will try to convert them by attacking them and atheism in general.
That's about when you either engage in quick and clever debate or tell the bar owner and get the a-holes kicked out for their ignorance.
In America, saying you don't believe in god (the term always implies the christian god here) is about on par with being an atheist. Saying you are not religious however will get the more sedate and accepting reaction. For whatever reason, atheism and not believing in gods gets a very negative reaction, even though not being religious is becoming increasingly more common. Most americans seem to have a passive relationship with religion; they use it as they need it for emotional reasons. The funny thing is, when dealing with the more religious americans if you say you don't believe in god or are and atheist they get very aggressive as though you are threatening their beliefs, but if you say you are hindu, muslim or any other religion then they just accept it. It's as though they assume they have a right to control atheists beliefs... as though we are lesser or something. This reaction appears to be motivated by their own deep seeded doubts in their own religion that they never voice. The fragility of their own blind faith drives them to attack those that willingly accept the truth.
Interesting and worrying - that is quite similar then. When I told my daughter's school she was not to take RE (in the UK its Christian and presented as true - my daughter has already been very disturbed by the great flood, rivers of blood and killing of the firstborns) they phoned me and kept trying to convince me to let her attend. This is because I said we did not believe in gods and did not want our daughter told one exists and that they kill children. If I had just said we were Hindu they would have accepted it without question.