Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Is It Time to Abolish the Word "Atheist"?

Some people believe that atheists should quit calling themselves "atheists".

Atheist means "non-theist", and many people feel it is no more appropriate to call oneself a "non-theist" than it is to call oneself a "non-astrologist" or a "non-UFO believer". Sam Harris, for instance, writes extensively about the issue here. Why should anyone define themselves by what they are not?

So, do you agree with Harris and others that it's silly for atheists to call themselves "atheists", or is there something Harris et al. are not seeing?


Ed Yong said...

I'm partial to 'empiricist'.

decrepitoldfool said...

You can't observe the fact of god's non-existence, so 'empiricist' probably won't hold up.

I think we should work to demote 'atheist' from its current status as a container for its many corollaries down to just meaning "a person who lacks a belief in god." It would help believers understand that it is not a claim of any particular virtue, only a description of the individual's conclusion about one question.

Paul said...

What about using "non-theist"? The term is more neutral than "atheist", but means the same thing.

ordinarygirl said...

I prefer "Madam Queen Goddess of Her Royal Highness May I Kiss Your Feet," but I doubt anyone will take that up.

Really, it's a label. I don't say that I'm a non-brunette because of blond jokes. I had the temptation of letting people assume I was Canadian last time I visited Europe, but I couldn't let it go by. Just because people assume that Americans are Bush-loving-warmonger, Christian fundamentalist, should I be embarrassed to use that label? Should I say North American to be more all-emcompassing?

I do understand the argument of being more positive in your label, but the fact is, I am an atheist. I'm not going to be embarrassed by misconceptions about me as a person due to a negative connotation that is complete inaccurate. A new label will only get the same treatment within a decade or two.

Webs said...

I actually kind of like Harris' thesis because it gets us away from using another label. And labels do a good job at grouping people, but this action of grouping leads to the problems we have today with labels.

But this will never happen because I think some people seem to like the word "Atheist" because it gives them a sense of empowerment.

amuirin said...

'atheist' is a little... high brow.

*casts a vote for 'Zombie Warriors'*

Demon Bahamat said...

A words a word's a word
Who cares? we know what it means! Our attention should be more on what effect we can have on others, to make life meaningful the only way we can
And anyway, you'd have a hard time creating a new word
(I suppose there is unbeliever)

The fewer sylibles the better, so I'm against empiricist

enreal said...

I prefer "atheism" over "free thinkers" any day. How can you term yourself a "free thinker" when they wear blind folds and shut out possibilities? I wonder...or maybe I am not thinking "free"...hmmmm

Mahendra said...

My response has been articulated by Ergo beautifully in his extraordinary post Richard Dawkins is not an Atheist, and I quote:

"Atheism cannot merely be defined as "unbelief" or "lack of belief" in god. Definitions-to be meaningful-have to be precise. To define atheism merely as "unbelief" is to render the concept so broad as to be meaningless, because by such a definition most of us would be atheists-the retarded, the uneducated, and little children; in sum, anyone who has no belief in god for reasons like impeded intellect, lack of education, and being too young to know anything is an atheist.

Atheism has to be defined as an assertive statement of knowledge-not belief-that the existence of god and any supernatural being is false and impossible."

Those interested can also check out his response within the post to a comment suggesting that Atheism should have a broader definition like "one who doesn’t believe in god".

Webs said...

Actually a word isn't a word, isn't a word, isn't a word ...

This is exactly why atheists discuss using the word "atheism". Many religious people see atheism as a negative thing and see it as harming their beliefs. Hell we had a president that essentially called atheists traitors and unpatriotic. This is the problem.

But on top of that, if we did drop the word "atheism", would anything change? I think it may make the situation worse cause then the religious would pick up the word and use it to mean something even more negative, and it could end up hurting the atheist cause in the long run.

I think having an identifier helps, especially if a high majority of us show to the religious that being an atheist means were are no different from the religious, except we just don't believe in the existence of a higher being. We are no more prone to violence or immoral acts than they are.

amuirin said...

Zombie Warriors!


Paul said...

OK. I give up, Amuirin. I promise that in some future post I will dutifully refer to atheists as Zombie Warriors. Just for you. :)