11 November 2008

Shy Atheists, Bashful Skeptics

I am sure you know or have met somebody who thinks like this. You may, in fact, be one of these people I'm about to describe. If you are, I strongly urge you to consider what I'm about to say.

You're an atheist, but you feel that too many hard-nosed vitriolic cynics have given the label a bad name so now you refuse to refer to yourself as what you truly are. And yet. Yet, you could always make an effort to proudly assert that yes, you are an atheist but that you're willing to discuss your (lack of) belief system with anyone in an open and non-biting fashion. It's what I do. So many people, after talking to me, remark in surprise that they thought atheists were supposed to be bitter and angry and closed to all other arguments. They walk away with at least one new example of atheism and I feel good about myself for representing both myself and my belief system in a positive light.

The same is true of the 'skeptic' label. So many choose the term 'critical thinker' which is fine, but I don't see why a word I view as positive (skeptic) should be taken away from us because others choose to use it negatively. I choose to take it back. I explain, with a smile on my face, what being a skeptic means to me and how I use it to view the world and make decisions by thinking critically. At this point nearly everyone agrees with me and I feel I've reclaimed the world for happy skeptics everywhere.

My point here today is that there is no reason we should let the terms 'atheism' and 'skepticism' become negative words. I've been called an atheist before in a negative fashion. It was spat at me like a slur. I should have wanted to laugh but it stung and I never want anyone to feel that particular arrow again. There is no reason, if you lack a god belief, to not declare yourself an atheist (unless, of course, your job depends on it which will hopefully seem a ludicrous notion one day). So, if you can put a positive face to these labels, by all means do so. In fact, I see it as your duty. Let's move forward for the next generation.

7 comments:

Jeff Wagg said...

I find myself using different labels under different circumstances. To a religious fundamentalist, I'm an atheist. To a philosophy student, I'm a scientific naturalist. I don't feel either label tells the whole story, but I never shy away from the words "atheist" or "sketpic" because of worries of criticism. I just want to be as accurate as possible. Kudos to Kate for pointing out that we can own these words, and change perceptions about them by being ourselves, and not the straw-bogeymen that the stereotype.

Kate said...

Thanks, Jeff. At my last job I found myself using the term 'not religious' because I worked with ... well, very religious people and it was the least 'offensive' honest descriptive term I could think of. If I had not worked with them I would most certainly referred to myself as an atheist but telling your fundamentalist boss that you're an atheist is generally a bad idea. Other than that I use 'atheist' as a blanket term because it describes exactly what I am. Or how I think. I lack a god belief. A-theist. It's really very simple. As for 'skeptic' there's nobody I shy away from admitting that to. I don't see what could be so damaging about it. The worst response I've got is 'What are you skeptical of exactly?' at which point I explain what it means to me.

intelekshual said...

I don't know how much good I do for the stereotype of angry atheists, but I am always appreciative that I live and work in places that allow me to be honest about my (lack of) belief.

Kudos, though, Kate. We do all need to own these words and not allow them to belong to the fundie nutjobs. They do odd things with them in the night, the kind of things that give children nightmares.

Kate said...

And well they should, for it is always nighttime when I, the Atheist Skeptic, pop out from underneath your bed and teach you ... *cue ominous musical score* CRITICAL THINKING SKILLS AND SCIENTIFIC METHOD AND PERHAPS A BIT OF EVOLUTIONARY THEORY THAT WILL PERHAPS LEAD TO A SHATTERING OF ANY RELIGIOUS BELIEF!

Come to think of it, I should probably do this during the daytime and in public if I want any progress to be made.

Anonymous said...

I subscribe to the conviction that GOD is FUNCTIONALLY NON-EXISTENT. By this I mean: Whether GOD exists or not, what we observe in the world (Universe) are things which would be that way if there were no God in any case.

... If I could give an example:

A baby contracts a horrible and painful disease, and sadly, slowly dies while suffering the whole of it's life... Now this situation would be that way with no God, or with a God existing who WOULD NOT HELP... Either way, God is "functionally" NON-EXISTENT...

Believers will make various excuses for God's non-participation in saving the innocent baby, but nevertheless, the FUNCTIONAL result is the same... God might as well not exist, for all the "Good" he does...

During my life of 55 years, I have never observed a situation in which a God was needed to explain things that happen... The world operates without intervention of a Deity that I can discern.. Massive waves kill a quarter-million people in minutes, and there is a kind and good God in the universe??? I don't buy it....

God's best and perhaps only excuse for the suffering in the world, is that he doesn't exist.....What do you think? R.E.

Kate said...

R.E., I wholeheartedly agree and it's the philosophical portion of the reason I don't believe a god exists. If god is omnipotent, he cannot possibly be a kind, loving god, and if he is a kind, loving god, he cannot possibly be omnipotent or, indeed, godlike in any sense we think of. Therefore, it seems a waste to live life and go through the daily rituals as though such a god exists when we can still choose to be fabulous human beings independent of the notion of a deity.

As Bertrand Russell first stated and as it is often echoed by Richard Dawkins, there could be a teapot in orbit around Pluto that our most powerful telescopes could not possibly detect. Do we live our lives as though that teapot exists? No, because that would be preposterous, yet that's exactly what we do with the idea of a kind, loving and omnipotent god. Thank you for your input, R.E.

Anonymous said...

Kate, thanks for your considered reply.

We can assume certain things we can not prove, to be true.

Sometimes this is useful, other-times not.

Discerning which is which, is the essence of useful intelligence.

Subtle differences properly detected can reveal a precision of the mind. .. R.E.