(Originally from my blog - Should atheism have a symbol?)

I was asked recently whether or not atheism should have a symbol on my Formspring account. It's an interesting question and worth pondering.

Symbols are subjective representations that mean different things for different people. They help to unify a group of individuals by placing them under a single banner or cause, often instilling a tremendous sense of solidarity. Yet, I don't think that atheism should have a symbol.

Before I begin, there are many atheist organisations that do have symbols, American Atheists or Atheist Ireland, for example. This is because these are official organisations.

But, atheism isn't an organisation. It isn't a movement. The only thing connecting us atheists together is our shared lack of belief in deities. It is not a religion that needs symbolising, it is not a belief - only the rejection of one, and hell, it's not even a positive assertion, merely the default position of unbelief held after being confronted with one.
As Cliff Walker puts it,  "atheism is but a minor aspect of any atheist's identity, saying only what is not." We don't see designated symbols for things like aflyingteapotism or the people that don't like luminous shoe laces, so why should atheism need one?

Of course, I'm sure many ardent atheists will readily answer this and with very convincing arguments. Atheism is indeed simply the reaction to an unfounded claim, but at the same time, it is different. Religion is a prevalent force in modern times, and as atheists, we're perpetually bombarded by its effects and proclamations, and often victims or observers of its divisive, primitive and hateful bigotry. Things like the Crusades, the Inquisition and the condemnation of individual thought and scientific progress make atheism all the more important. The treatment of Galileo, the attitude towards stem cell research, the outrageously ignorant and foul declarations against the use of condoms, resulting in millions of completely unnecessary and easily avoidable deaths due to the spreading of aids, religions undying compulsion to interefere and intervene in state affairs, its promotion of homophobia, misogyny and general bigotry, and of course, its treatment of atheists. (For a well articulated and dynamic compilation of reasons on atheists and anger, see here.) All these things justify an atheists desire for a more formal opposition towards religion, and certainly differentiate things like aflyingteapotism from atheism.

But, atheism still isn't an organisation. The dismantling of religions power and intrusive inclinations are up to the society - secularisation is what we need, and this comes about through time and education. By allocating a symbol to represent the entirety of atheism, you are effectively equating yourself to a religion, and the mindless drones religion breeds will latch vehemently to this seeming correlation. By instating a symbol, atheism becomes more of an organisation, which shouldn't be what atheism, the default human condition, is about. By implementing a formal symbol or logo, it'll encourage the herd "us versus them" mentality and would make the transition from believer to unbeliever seem like a bigger gap, and could even turn away potential candidates.

Religion is the root of a lot of bad things in society and history, but atheism itself isn't the force to combat it, and designating atheism a symbol won't get us anywhere. As atheists, we're individuals who encourage and appreciate rational thought. That's it. We don't need a symbol.

So, what do you think? Should atheism have a symbol?

Views: 33

Comment by Mallory on January 13, 2011 at 4:11pm
This is a topic that seems to be coming up in my life a lot recently, and up until recently I hadn't given it much thought.


I have plans to get a tattoo, which I outline in my own discussion (you can read it here). It involves Dawkins' scarlet A, which some have adopted at their own atheist symbol. I, personally, enjoy having symbols. I totally understand what you're saying that the base setting for a human is atheism, and as such it doesn't require a symbol. Kind of like there isn't a symbol for people born with blue eyes. You don't need something to represent what is just inherent.


I think one day, that will be the case. There will be no need for a symbol. But for today? I like the use of a symbol. Until atheism really is the default human position (or is at least left the default position instead of being replaced with religion), I think it's good for people to have something they can wear, draw, use, and get behind to feel like they really aren't alone. I have yet to see any sort of atheist symbolism anywhere where I live, but I know if I did I'd feel just a little bit less cynical about the human race. It would make me feel less alone, even though I may never meet the person who has the bumper sticker, it would make me feel a little more safe knowing that there's at least one more person out there who thinks like me. It's all fine and dandy to have a bunch of friends online who think like you, but to physically meet someone? That's a rarity for me.


I think, for now, atheism should have a symbol. I don't think we'll always need one, but for now I think it's good.


Good enough to get inked into my skin anyways, lol.


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