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What Do You All Think About The Word "atheism"?


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here's the link:



here's a quote from the link:

"I think this whole conversation about the conflict between faith and reason, and religion and science, has been, and will continue to be, successfully marginalized under the banner of atheism," he said. "So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves 'atheists.' We should not call ourselves 'secularists.' We should not call ourselves 'humanists,' or 'secular humanists,' or 'naturalists,' or 'skeptics,' or 'anti-theists,' or 'rationalists,' or 'freethinkers,' or 'brights.' We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar -- for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them.""I think this whole conversation about the conflict between faith and reason, and religion and science, has been, and will continue to be, successfully marginalized under the banner of atheism," he said. "So, let me make my somewhat seditious proposal explicit: We should not call ourselves 'atheists.' We should not call ourselves 'secularists.' We should not call ourselves 'humanists,' or 'secular humanists,' or 'naturalists,' or 'skeptics,' or 'anti-theists,' or 'rationalists,' or 'freethinkers,' or 'brights.' We should not call ourselves anything. We should go under the radar -- for the rest of our lives. And while there, we should be decent, responsible people who destroy bad ideas wherever we find them."


then again here:

"As I argued briefly in Letter to a Christian Nation, I think that 'atheist' is a term that we do not need, in the same way that we don't need a word for someone who rejects astrology. We simply do not call people 'non-astrologers.'" he said. "All we need are words like 'reason' and 'evidence' and 'common sense' and 'bullshit' to put astrologers in their place, and so it could be with religion."

Sam Harris is calling out to end terming ourselves as atheist. I see the point, and I think it makes some sense, but I also agree with Ellen Johnson in her response to the article that is on the site.


here's a quote from it:

Mr. Harris cannot see why we need a name for a group of people who are "against" something, or who don't believe in something. Take racism he says. There isn't any term for people who are against racism. We give ourselves a name because we are proud of who we are. A group needs to be identified in some way. And we want to be a "group." We aren't just against something. We are something.

and then a later quote from her:

To say we should not have a name is to not exist. For far too long there have been words in our society that were considered taboo. If you didn't say them, those things didn't exist. We cannot allow ourselves to be made invisible by those who want the approval of others. At American Atheists we don't allow our adversaries to dictate what we call ourselves nor do we allow them to determine our actions.


Our own approval is enough. Our history is one to be proud of and American Atheists will never back down on wearing our name proudly. You cannot lead the way by looking back and we aren't going back. I invite Atheists to stand proud and use the name Atheist proudly and when you want people to refer to you remember the words of Mr. "T" who said, "Let them call me Mr. 'T.'"



i personally see both sides of the issue, and i'm on the side of Ellen Johnson, the president of American Atheists. i see no reason to run away from what people consider offensive terms to explain what we are. like this quote:

"ATHEIST is really a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term, it admits of no paltering and no evasion, and the need of the world, now as ever, is for clear-cut issues and unambiguous speech."

-- Chapman Cohen

it is useful for terms of speech and understanding of positions we hold. instead of going to complicated measure to explain my views to someone interested in my views in the broad sense, my proclamation atheist, clears it up. the way i see it is, if someone is offended by my proclamation of being atheist, then they can go and cry about it to someone who is willing to listen to them complain.


i remember on a Christian board i used to go, there were a lot of people talking about this issue but on the flip side of the coin, in terms of Christianity. so concerned with the impression and the way people will react to them saying, "they are a Christian" because so many automatically assume ambiguous meanings behind it.


so i have to ask...what is so wrong with proclaiming who we are? i mean i view it as, it is the listener's fault for assuming ambiguous meanings behind the word "atheist", or the word "christian" or any other term of who we are.


i wouldn't expect a homosexual to go around and say, "i'm a non-heterosexual" because of the negative reaction that many people who call themselves "gay" get. nothing changes if we makeup a complicated way of explaining who we are instead of using words that may be considered "taboo". people will either hate us still or love us still. nothing changes the more we try to appease the itching ears of the listeners, nothing changes the more we become "PC" (which i should say, i hate it when people expect people to be political correct, and my response probably stems from this, because that's all i see from what Sam Harris is saying here, even though I think he does make some valid points).


what are your thoughts?

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I have a number of thoughts about the term "atheist".


The word is a reactive term. That is, it exists to describe a minority position on the nonexistence of a god or gods, in a world in which the majority are theists. I agree in some ways with Mr. Harris and others that the existence of the term itself is a bit ridiculous, but I understand that we live in a world where theism is considered the default position, and where religions have permeated human thought and culture for as long as civilization has been around. I suspect that if belief in unicorns were the default, and religions and worldviews existed with a basis built on unicorn belief, then there would indeed be a word to describe an a-unicornist. Additionally, I imagine that if theism were not as thoroughly interwoven into human consciousness and culture as it currently is, then there would be no need for the term "atheist" to describe an opposing position.


And I do not object to using the label "atheist", because it describes my position on the (non)existence of god accurately. I do not believe in a god or gods, so I am indeed an atheist.


Where I think the term falls down is in discussions with diehard theists. When speaking with someone who is a theist, and whose religion permeates their entire way of life and world view from the ground up, it is difficult for them to get their head around the idea of lacking a god belief. I think that a lot of people truly can't conceive of atheism as being anything other than a mirror image of their own theism, because they cannot see the world through anything but god-colored glasses. Hence you get people asserting that atheism is a religion, atheism is a world view, atheists are amoral, etc. Sometimes I think it's just an honest blind spot, other times it's a deliberate, willful ignorance.


If one can grasp the idea that atheism is not a world view, and that atheists are not a monolithic group (we are united by no more than a lack of belief in a god or gods), that's where I think other terms come in handy. For if one is an atheist, that describes their thoughts on god; but their philosophical outlook on life might be humanist or nihilist or utilitarian or what have you, their economic leanings might be capitalist or communist or manorial, their political leanings might be libertarian or socialist or republican, and so on.


Some initial thoughts, anyway. Thanks for reading.

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We're not marginalizing ourselves. If we are being marginalized, it's by the opposition. As long as we stand opposed to corrosive religious ideas, we will invariable labeled with terms such as atheist, secularist, humanist, despite the lack if inherent negative connotation, because the opposition doesn't see their ideas as corrosive.


My standpoint these days is, if they don't ask, don't say anything. But if they do ask, I won't hold back.

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I have one big objection to the first quote. For me, at least, one of the best parts is destroying many of the myths and inaccuracies that people hold toward atheists. Partly because I believed these myths because I was force-fed them all my young life. Mostly because I go to a Christian college (and thus surrounded by Christians 24/7) not a week goes by when an acquaintance, upon hearing me calling myself an atheist, does not exclaim, "But, but, you're a good person!" And then it is amusing to see the smoke coming out of their ears.


As a theist it is easy to assume that everyone who is good and who doesn't lie, murder, steal or overly violent is that way because they follow your religion. By going underground, we can only enable that sort of theistic thinking. It is important to remind people that many roads can lead to good ethics and a fulfilling life. And by adding our voices to society at large we help keep society pluristic.


And as for the word itself, I'm a Greek and Latin nerd who enjoys breaking down words into their roots. So I quite enjoy being a-theos.

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I admire and respect Harris a great deal, and I can see his point (although I don't think he's motivated by the desire to be PC, exactly), but in this case I must side with Ellen Johnson. As she said, "To say we should not have a name is to not exist," which echoes my thoughts precisely; as I was reading the first quote, before even reading the rest of the OP, I was thinking, "but that's tantamount to giving up!"

I believe that what Harris is proposing should be the eventual goal of humanity--a society in which there are only those who believe in superstitious nonsense and those who do not, with no special designation for the latter. However, until then, to not label ourselves is to admit defeat; if not us, who will challenge and ultimately bring down organised religion?


Also of concern, is what do we say in the meanwhile? If someone asks me what I believe about god or religion should I reply that I'm a Xian because that's part of my heritage as one who descended from Xians? Or does Harris propose I simply remain silent and stare at the other person as if I don't understand the question?

Well no, I'm not going to reply with anything other than the truth, which is that I don't believe in a god, and that I find religion to be dangerous nonsense--and really, what else can I say? :shrug:

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If we're not vocal. at least a little, we can never know just how many of us there are. We have nothing to be ashamed of.


The reason to identify as an atheist is because we are a minority and many or most Christians misunderstand what the term means, who we are, what we do and don't do. We should identify ourselves because religion is on the offensive and moderates should be made aware of the flaws in their arguments. That is the only way we can keep ourselves from having to live in a theocracy.

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I agree that in an ideal world, we would have no need for things like labels. Unfortunately, we don't live in an ideal world. That doesn't mean we should stop working towards that ideal world, but I agree with PocketAces that simply telling someone you're an atheist is still the most convenient way to describe your position on the god debate. More people are familiar with what an atheist is than say something like secular humanism. The xtians who think atheism is a religion or a worldview will never understand what atheism is anyway as they're so convinced they're in a relationship, not a religion, and everyone else is just a religion, so I see no point in trying to appease them. I can understand why people would want to identify by what they what they believe in rather than what they don't believe in, but that's part of the double edged swords of labels I think, in that while labels are a convenient way of describing your position to someone, it can be difficult to find one that fits you 100% perfectly, so I think it's important to just go with whatever you're most comfortable with and that you think describes you most accurately.

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Although I can see both sides, too, I have to say that in a world where the vast majority believes in an imaginary god, a term like atheist becomes relevant. Here, in the United States, it is not relevant for me to say that I am a non-Muslim, but if I lived in Saudi Arabia, it would be relevant (albeit probably dangerous). The idea of labelling myself as an a-theist, is as crazy as that of labelling myself an a-santaist (to once again invoke a trite example), but I live in a crazy society in which most believe in made up gods.

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