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The A Word

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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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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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That was absolutely wonderful.

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Excellent post

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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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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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Grand slam.

 

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

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

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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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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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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.........

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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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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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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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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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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.

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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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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?

 

Yes, it makes total sense. I agree with Pudd & Florduh - and I agree with you too. I'm sick of feeling like shit because other people don't understand what atheist means.

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Hello, all. This is Daniel Sanchez (the aforementioned friend of Jason's and author of the post). I just wanted to introduce myself. I would never enter a room in real life and just start talking without permission or invite, and certainly didn't want to do it here. So let me introduce myself.

 

I am 44 years old, husband to a wonderful wife who shares my non-theist outlook, father to two girls: a college sophomore studying psychology at Loyola University and a thirteen year-old who is, well, busy being thirteen. My heritage is Spanish. My ancestors came from Madrid and settled Bexar county (San Antonio) Texas. My "inheritance," if you can call it that, it that I am the first-born male of a Baptist preaching family. My father is a professor of missions at a seminary. My brother is a missionary. My grandfather pastored as church for most of his life. My uncles are pastors. My great-grandfather was a pastor. You get the picture.

 

I was born in Panama in 1968 in the middle of a civil war. I was held at gunpoint when I was 2 days old. When I was 4, my baby sister was diagnosed with Leukemia. We moved to the States (Atlanta, Georgia specifically) to seek medical aid. She died in my mother's arms. My sister was 2. I was 5.

 

I am divorced. The product of an unfaithful wife. My relationship with my older daughter is strong. The younger one is very much like her mother. I have married into 2 sons - one a 23-yr old former Marine with a son of his own and a lovely girlfriend, the other a 21 yr-old college student who is all about the girls and not so much the studying. The younger lives with his dad, the older lives with us.

 

I have been a "doubter" since childhood, and a "Secret Doubter" since my teen years, when it was made clear to me that questions made most of the people in my life uncomfortable at best and desperately worried for my eternal soul at worst. I never received any satisfactory answers about my sister's death and God's role in it. I decided it was better to believe there was no God than to believe there was one who would do that on purpose. Following my mother's edict, since I "Couldn't say anything nice about God, I shouldn't say anything."

 

I became a decent actor concerning this topic, capable of leading prayers, smiling at the right moments, etc. Later in life I became a real actor (briefly). Eventually, I found it hard to play roles that weren't me. The irony of that did not escape me. So I turned my creative side to communication, writing, and design. My current wife loves that part of me and I am one of the truly fortunate who gets daily support for everything I do.

 

I may never tell my parents about my beliefs. They certainly suspect, but we have never discussed it. My father is in his mid-70's. He is in excellent health, but I don't want him to spend his last 15+ years on this Earth locked in debate and worry over my soul. For her part, my mother would take it as a personal rejection of her beliefs and not a fitting response for her having brought me into this world. She would feel she already lost one child, but "at least she's in Heaven." To lose another and have him burn in Hell is not an option.

 

I once tried to talk to my father. I was 15. We were working on the car together. I asked him, "If God told you to kill me - would you?" He hesitated a lonnnnnnnng time, and it sincerely scared me. I don't remember his answer. It was half "Don't worry, that would never happen," and half "Well, son, some stories are more for teaching, you can't take the whole thing as fact..." I just remember he was as scared about telling me an answer as I was about hearing one. Both of us didn't want it to be the wrong one. The truth was - there was no good answer. It's either disloyal for him or horrifying for me. The thought that he could hear a voice in his head and take it seriously stayed with me for quite some time.

 

If he went through with it - what kind of a sadistic God would require that? Oh, yeah. The one that killed my sister. HIM.

 

If he didn't go through with it - he's defying a direct command from a God who hasn't spoken to anyone for thousands fo years and chose him. Beyond that, he's defying his whole life, everything he believes in, everything he taught us, everything he taught anyone ever, everything he was ever taught by his father...he's saying you can disobey God if you don't agree with Him.

 

It was theological checkmate.

 

Looking back, I think I was just hoping for some kind of reassurance. That my world was secure and my father's love was secure. I wanted to feel safe. I think that's what a lot of us want. To feel safe, so that then we can go out and do the things that need to be done in the rest of our lives. That's not an unreasonable request.

 

So I think a lot about how I can be a benefit to the world in a real way. A tangible way. What I can do for The Good. That much of my upbringing is very much a part of me, and I am grateful to my family for that. I value kindness. I am interested in your life, especially if you are very different from me. I let others finish their sentences when they talk, and I will give you the benefit of the doubt in every situation.

 

That's my introduction. That's who I am. I hope I can make a positive contribution to the group here. I'm glad to meet you all.

 

And I'm REALLY looking forward to hearing what you have to say.

 

— Daniel

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Welcome, Daniel. I have enjoyed reading your writing via Jason's Facebook page. You have been able to put into words the thoughts of many here on the Ex-C forum. I hope you are able to spend time here and share with us more.

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Hello, all. This is Daniel Sanchez (the aforementioned friend of Jason's and author of the post). I just wanted to introduce myself.

 

I'm glad you're here my friend jesus.gif

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