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The A Word


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#1 jblueep

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:02 PM

Daniel, a friend of mine for many years and a gifted writer among many talents, posted this on my facebook wall today. Ironically, I hired him a few years ago to produce a commercial for the church I was attending. I didn't know he was an atheist (since childhood) at the time, but it didn't matter one way or the other. Recently, I told him of our de-conversion.

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THE "A" WORD

As a person who has made a career out of communicating to others (I hold degrees in Advertising and Marketing, own an Advertising agency, and work as a User Experience consultant to Fortune 200 companies) I have noticed that those who are having a hard time with coming out as "The A Word" may be fighting a battle of language, not just ideology.

Human beings are able to receive information on many levels. We all know this. Body language, tone of voice, typing in all caps on a Facebook post, etc. Some we are consciously aware of, some not.

I remember vividly during the Iran-Contra hearings that Stephen Spielberg himself pointed out the camera angles used to depict the court participants were skewed in Oliver North's favor. His images were shot from slightly underneath - what is known as the "hero angle" - making him appear larger and more upstanding as he spoke. The accusers were shot from slightly above, making them seem like the attackers to the hero. I had not noticed it until he said it, then I couldn't NOT see it. It really opened my eyes to the power of unconscious communication.

The A Word has a similar problem.

Say it out loud: "A-the-ist." The emphasis is clearly on the "a." In fact, if someone asked what religion you were and you answered, "I'm an A-" the listener would not need the rest. They already know what you are, and believe it or not, have already formed a negative view. Not based on anything you've done, but the word itself. In fact, on the first letter.

A word that begins with "a" is often an opposite word. Anti. Against. The use of "a" in front of a word is also often negative. Amoral. Atypical. Abortion. Given that, see how it feels to them when put against the word "Theism" - the meaning for the worship of a God:

Anti-God.

Against-God.

God-killer.

The original Greek meaning "without" is lost. To modern Americans, it is "against." And to the minds of those who have a belief system that is very binary - you are either saved or in need of being saved - their emotional reaction to the word is also binary.

If you are not for it, you are against it.

This is a huge logic fallacy. Being a winner is great. But being an anti-loser makes you sound like you stuff nerds in lockers with their underwear pulled over their heads. You're an Anti-Loser? You must be a terrible person.

This is how the mind works, folks.

If you are not a believer, you are an anti-believer, and therefore a (misinterpreted) threat.

Truly, what it means to you is "non." You are a Non-theist. Many people already use that word instead. You are not against a stance, You are simply not for it. Neither are you the anti of it. That would by definition make you a Satanist. You root and play for the other team. The enemy. That's what anti means to them.

Antimatter will blow up the universe. Anti things are very bad. You cannot be allowed to be an anti-. Anti-somethings actively do harm.

On the more positive side is the word "humanist." If that is your answer, you at least have included the human you are talking to. Therefore you are not completely anti. You are inclusive, but in a different way.

Remember that at one point in history (The Greek/Roman Empires) polytheism was the order of the day and monotheism was the abhorration. To not believe in the gods of Olympus? To suggest that there may be only one creator, and then logic would follow that this mystery creator created the mighty Zeus himself? And the Titans? If you believed that, I would suggest you keep it to yourself. Zeus might hear and punish you. Do not say "monotheist" out loud. Ever.

Nontheist. Better, but still a bold rejection of another's beliefs to their face in a single word-bomb. They are welcome to their beliefs, but they are not good enough for you.

Humanist. I see you as a brother. We are all the same. We are all humans and for no other reason than that, I love you.

Words.

Atheist. Almost a direct challenge to God to strike you down. You are saying he is a lie. He does not, and never has, existed. The fact that you are still walking is the unconscious panic-signal to all believers. If God did exist, how is he tolerating you? If you are unpunished, is he really there? This tiny doubt is enough to cause a reaction, whether they know why they are reacting or not.

If they believe God is real, they cannot be around someone who may get struck by lightning at any moment. Enter the shun tactic.

If they doubt even a little that God is real, they cannot be around someone who is proof that you can call God a global lie and continue to live, and - gasp! - possibly even prosper and have friends and a happy marriage. That would open a reality of life that would then put them in the position you are. To choose the Real over the Programmed. That's a course-correction they may not have the ability to navigate. Enter the shun tactic.

Add to this that the word for God is so close to the word "good." If you are anti-God, then you are that same amount of close to being anti-good. Say it out loud. "I don't believe in good." That's what they hear. To be an atheist makes you a sociopath. You are a dangerous person. You don't believe in good, so there is nothing to stop you from doing harm to them, their children, their dog, their grandmother… Enter the shun tactic.

Words.

Powerful, powerful, words.

Any new movement strives to have the positive "way" that is better than the current way. From a marketing perspective, the atheist movement has a terrible name. If it were my client, the name would be the first thing to go. Seriously. No one gets the Greek prefix. Dump it. It means nothing to today's society. Get away from the "a." Imagine if Viagra was called "Alimp."

*pause while you laugh*

Instead they wisely used a word with positive subliminal connotations: Vital, vitality, vigorous. Viagra. Even the "agra" sounds like agriculture, so it must be healthy, and therefore safe to eat every day if I want to.

Words.

"Terra" means earth. I love the Earth, and I'm sure you do too, but I would counsel you against calling yourself a "terraist." Don't put that on your brochures. You may not get the response you want on Elementary School Career Day :-)

What is the best thing to call yourself? That is up to you. A personal choice, to be sure. But now you have seen the "why" of some of their reaction. The bristling that occurs at the mere hearing of the syllables. Sadly, it's a threatening word used to self-describe a very non-threatening group of people. It's linguistically correct, but totally wrong for you.

Words.

Philo- having a strong affinity or love for
Uni- one
Vali- strength, worth
Soph- wise
Cura- care
Cor- heart

I hope someone will find a fitting name for people who just want to live in the Real and love with the Heart.

Until then, I'm going with Humanist.

And I really do love you all.
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#2 Thought2Much

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:36 PM

jblue, as I pointed out in a message to you on Facebook, while I agree with much of what your friend is saying and I enjoy what he writes, I have heard the term "humanism" (usually used in the phrase "humanist philosophy") used as a pejorative from the pulpit for decades. I don't know if the word "humanist" is as marketable as he would like to think it is, particularly among the hard core evangelical set.
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#3 freeasabird

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:52 PM

That was absolutely wonderful.
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#4 TrueFreedom

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 02:59 PM

Excellent post
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#5 TrueFreedom

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:07 PM

jblue, as I pointed out in a message to you on Facebook, while I agree with much of what your friend is saying and I enjoy what he writes, I have heard the term "humanism" (usually used in the phrase "humanist philosophy") used as a pejorative from the pulpit for decades. I don't know if the word "humanist" is as marketable as he would like to think it is, particularly among the hard core evangelical set.


Me too. Almost all of the positive terms that I've been able to think of have been demonized by the conservative right, unfortunately: Progressive, Liberal, Scientist (accused of "scientism"), Unitarian, Emergent (, Pagan, Pantheist, Deist). But Freethinker might work. Most people like to think of themselves as open to new ideas.
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#6 blackpudd1n

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:11 PM

I'm into reclaiming atheist and working against the stereotype the same way I'm into being being open about having bipolar and working against that stereotype. Silence only allows stereotypes to continue, and changing Amway's name never did much for it.
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#7 mcdaddy

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:24 PM

Grand slam.

I still think agnostic is the most PC way to go, but it almost invites conversion attempts.
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#8 TrueFreedom

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:28 PM

I had a Bible professor refer to me as "freethinking" while I was still a fundy. I've told people that I was a freethinker, and they were none the wiser--thought it was good. I think that they still think that I'm a believer.
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#9 FeelHappy

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:32 PM

I prefer Nontheist....because that's what I am. But it also sounds nicer than atheist, I also like secular humanist.
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#10 MrsRoper

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:36 PM

jblue, as I pointed out in a message to you on Facebook, while I agree with much of what your friend is saying and I enjoy what he writes, I have heard the term "humanism" (usually used in the phrase "humanist philosophy") used as a pejorative from the pulpit for decades. I don't know if the word "humanist" is as marketable as he would like to think it is, particularly among the hard core evangelical set.


I can second that. Secular humanism is often used as a pejorative by Xians.
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#11 Thought2Much

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:40 PM

Secular humanism! That's the phrase I was trying to think of! Thanks, FeelHappy and DeanMen.
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#12 mcdaddy

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:43 PM

Maybe all non theists should just start calling ourselves "kittens". Nobody hates a kitten right?

Don't explain what it means to a theist though.

Oh, and we all have to get cat tats.
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#13 MrsRoper

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:46 PM

Secular humanism! That's the phrase I was trying to think of! Thanks, FeelHappy and DeanMen.


My Mom says the phrase like someone would say rapist. Most of my religious education classes at the Catholic church growing up we're basically secular humanism - thank Diddy!!
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#14 FeelHappy

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:54 PM


jblue, as I pointed out in a message to you on Facebook, while I agree with much of what your friend is saying and I enjoy what he writes, I have heard the term "humanism" (usually used in the phrase "humanist philosophy") used as a pejorative from the pulpit for decades. I don't know if the word "humanist" is as marketable as he would like to think it is, particularly among the hard core evangelical set.


I can second that. Secular humanism is often used as a pejorative by Xians.


Well any word which can be used at the term for someone who rejects theism is eventually going to have a negative connotation with it. Just some are worse than others, I think anti-theist is worse than atheist is worse than agnostic is worse than secular humanist is worse than.........

Edited by FeelHappy, 20 June 2012 - 03:55 PM.

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#15 GardenerGal

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:56 PM

Maybe all non theists should just start calling ourselves "kittens". Nobody hates a kitten right?

Don't explain what it means to a theist though.

Oh, and we all have to get cat tats.


Ah, you found your design :)
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#16 MrsRoper

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:59 PM

I just figured out the answer!! Someone asks you your religion - you say - I'm GAY. It means happy. This is perfect.
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#17 blackpudd1n

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 03:59 PM

Maybe all non theists should just start calling ourselves "kittens". Nobody hates a kitten right?

Don't explain what it means to a theist though.

Oh, and we all have to get cat tats.


Looks like we've got a new member of the pussy whipped club :P
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#18 florduh

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 04:00 PM

That's a very good piece, but I'm with the Pudd.

Words have meaning, and I fit the definition of atheist. That is the correct word when used in context with theism. I couldn't care less about political correctness or making up terms that might not offend bigots as much as the real words do. To me it's like gays claiming to be 'gender nonspecific' rather than homosexual (or gay) in order to soften the impact on the ignorant.

We are what we are, and others just need to deal with the differences.



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#19 mcdaddy

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 04:01 PM


Maybe all non theists should just start calling ourselves "kittens". Nobody hates a kitten right?

Don't explain what it means to a theist though.

Oh, and we all have to get cat tats.


Ah, you found your design :)


I call Cee Lo's little white fluffy lap cat.

Edited by mcdaddy, 20 June 2012 - 04:01 PM.

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#20 jblueep

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Posted 20 June 2012 - 04:14 PM

I don't think any of us are repudiating the word atheist, but rather trying to find ways to engage a different culture in a meaningful way if possible. There is no shame in being rational. I don't want to drive anyone away from looking at life rationally, even if their reaction is by definition irrational. Does that make sense?
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