Part 2—What Atheism Is Not and Other Musings
What Atheism is Not
Atheism, like theism, is not in itself a worldview or ideology. The label cannot reliably inform you about the beliefs or values of an individual.
Of course, there are atheists who share common worldviews and ideologies. Many adopt secular humanism, lean left politically, and care passionately about social justice and the separation of church and state, which likely explains the prevalence of atheist movements. But it is a mistake to attribute these or any other qualities as a matter of course.
Atheists are diverse, holding not just varying but even irreconcilable beliefs and values. They are regular people, your friends, family, and colleagues, and they are no more joyless and amoral than everyone else.https://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2022/09/01/deep-dive-into-the-meaning-of-atheism/
I agree with this in general. I will say that Atheism can be seen as a philosophy, and whilst I don’t think of it as that way necessarily, we should remember that atheism and theism can and ought to influence our worldviews. Theists, even within a particular religion or denomination, are also diverse because we are all, first and foremost, human.
It is obvious that no one label can fully describe a person. I am an atheist, but the label, despite having an impact on my outlook, describes little about me. Secular humanist, sceptic, and critical thinker, on the other hand, these labels do a better job of revealing who I am and want to be.
And we have to recognise that, when it comes to labels, people have preferences, and that is fine. We might judge someone to be an atheist given the description of their position, but the person might want to identify as an agnostic instead, or a secular humanist, sceptic, freethinker, etc.
I evidently care deeply about the meaning of labels, but descriptions will always trump labels in avoiding miscommunication and misconceptions. I am wary of those who are so dogmatic about labels that they turn a deaf ear to people’s descriptions of what they mean. I have little time for interlocutors who attempt to invalidate a person’s described position by waging definition wars. Neither do I have the inclination to engage with people who hyper-define terms to “win” an argument. To such as these, the endeavour to learn or to educate means little. So, why indulge them?https://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2022/09/01/deep-dive-into-the-meaning-of-atheism/
This is something I agree with wholeheartedly. The meanings, the descriptions, the underlying content are all way more important than people’s labels.
I hate it when others try and push their labels onto others too. I understand a discussion about labels and the justifications for said labels can be a good practice. I have written many articles on why I prefer a certain label or problems with other labels, but I am not being prescriptive there, I am just justifying my position.
Yes, there are some uses of atheism and its variants I find silly, but if someone wants to be known as an atheist even if in my view they would be an agnostic or apatheist, for example, then I will respect their choice of label. Yet I have had others tell me I am an agnostic atheist, a gnostic atheist, an antitheist etc all because I simply hold the belief gods do not exist.
It seems there are two problems there, not only is the respect for others’ identities but also the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a consistent definition among those folks that are trying to force labels onto others.
I think that if one is to have a discussion it is useful to define terms at the start (or as you go) and try and agree on definitions for labels. If, for whatever reason, you can’t agree on a use for a particular label then just describe the content you want to discuss or agree on alternative labels.
There is an argument to be made, mostly for political reasons, that disbelievers would do well to unite under a single label—like believers did when they pushed the Christian label to fight Roe vs Wade in the early 1970’s.
I would embrace “atheist” to that end, if required, but “humanist” is my label of preference. Atheism is naturally contrasted against the behemoth that is theism, whereas humanism is more inclusive with a counterpoint that is less clear.
In the UK, the British Humanist Association does good work to protect and promote secular concerns. Many organisations, particularly in the US, that have been successful in defending secular values are openly atheist movements. That is unfortunate for secularists who don’t publicly identify as atheists, but it is what is.https://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2022/09/01/deep-dive-into-the-meaning-of-atheism/
Yes, this is much the reason that I think American organisations like the ACA and AA try to push the non-theism = atheism thing. They want numbers.
But, even if we were to accept this globally, there is a lot of animosity against atheists and atheism in places like America. They would do best to work for secular or humanist values because there are many theists that might otherwise agree with a lot of those values that oppose them purely because they are being promoted under the flag of atheism.
In my experience, it is not unusual to find people who are reluctant to adopt the atheist label (even if that may be what they are). Legitimate reasons for this may include:
- Misunderstanding what atheism is
- Believing that agnosticism is more intellectually honest
- Not wanting to associate with people who are perceived to be know-it-all firebrands. As with any group, there are toxic members who hurt the brand, so to speak
- Fearing what other people might think
- Fearing the cost of being an atheist. There are many places in the world where admission of being an atheist will buy you abuse, and cost you friends and family. People may even lose their freedom or their life
I hope this essay helps to mitigate a few of these reasons.https://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2022/09/01/deep-dive-into-the-meaning-of-atheism/
Misunderstanding what atheism is
The problem with “misunderstanding what atheism is” is that it seems to imply there is a single correct use. My general experience with those who avoid the atheism label is that
- They tend to use the terms how they are normatively used in philosophy/history and don’t fit the label.
- They look at the behaviours of online atheists and see them behaving no better than the fundy theists. As such they don’t want to be associated with that tribe.
Believing that agnosticism is more intellectually honest
I’ve noticed the same by those that want to identify as “agnostic atheist” instead of just atheist. They feel they are being intellectually honest yet ignore all the Issues With Agnostic Atheism.
Not wanting to associate with people who are perceived to be know-it-all firebrands.
As with any group, there are toxic members who hurt the brand, so to speakhttps://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2022/09/01/deep-dive-into-the-meaning-of-atheism/
Yup, this is how I feel about nearly every lack-of-belief atheist (or lacktheist) I meet on the internet. That’s not to say all lackthiests are like that but with groups it’s the loudest most arrogant overconfident and generally ignorant folks you bump into. For me, it is often the ones prescriptive with their definition of atheism, that claim to be logical yet reject the rules of logic, that have fear of any language they see as “religious” that leads them to irrational statements like “I have no beliefs”, seeming have turned atheism into an ideology, and fallen into the Pitfalls of ‘New Atheism’.
Fearing what other people might think
Yes, there is a lot of that. The in-group/out-group bias happens a lot. We see anyone that doesn’t follow some unwritten atheist dogma get ‘othered’ and called a theist. Happens to us all the time. Some people, having left the safety of their religious tribe and found a new one with online atheists, don’t want to be shunned from that for actually using those critical thinking skills that might lead to internal disagreements.
Fearing the cost of being an atheist.
There are many places in the world where admission of being an atheist will buy you abuse, and cost you friends and family. People may even lose their freedom or their life.https://amrestorative.wordpress.com/2022/09/01/deep-dive-into-the-meaning-of-atheism/
Completely agree. This is a different type of not identifying that way though. Many might identify as atheists in their mind or in the trusted privacy of one’s home, just not publicly for their own safety.
I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
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