05 April 2007

What to call ourselves?

There has been a lot of debate one many of the prominent atheist blogs (Friendly Atheist and Pharyngula) about what atheists, specifically the louder Dawkins types, should be calling ourselves. Personally, I have no problem with 'atheist' since most of what we talk about is purely anti-religion. At least that's what I do. For the louder atheists, 'fundamentalist atheist' makes no sense, though 'atheist extremist' or 'militant atheist' would be possible for those who are trying to oppress religious people or blow them up, respectively; I've just never heard of either of these in practice. PZ likes 'uppity atheist'.

On Pharyngula, Hank Fox weighs in on the topic and explains quite well where most of us atheists are coming from, and the shortcomings of the 'atheist' label:
This is an echo of something I posted recently over at Unscrewing the Inscrutable - a few new thoughts I had on the subject.

Say you're talking about slavery, there are two ways you can look at it. You can see it as a social phenomenon, or you can see it as a personal condition.

In SOCIAL terms, the opposite of slavery is anti-slavery.

But in PERSONAL terms, the opposite of slavery is freedom.

A man freed from slavery is not just a non-slave. He's a FREE MAN. The one implies a restrictive, walled-in life determined by the will of someone else. The other implies not just a non-slave, but a person faced with infinite possibility, someone who can do anything HE likes with his life. Slavery is a small box; freedom is the universe of self-determined choices outside it.

Likewise with religion, you can see it as a social phenomenon, or as a personal condition.

In social terms, the opposite of religion can be called atheism. But in personal terms, the opposite of religion is, again, freedom. Freedom of thought, freedom of choice, freedom of ... everything.

Just like slavery, religion is a small box. Freeing yourself from that box presents you with infinite possibilities.

Because they're the words most people know, I'll probably still use the terms "atheism" and "atheist" to describe myself and my non-theistic beliefs. But I'm gonna try more often to also define myself and my fellow atheists in these grander terms: We're free men. Free women. Free thinkers. Free selves. With all the universe of self-willed choices, thoughts and possibilities that implies.
Good food for thought, that is.

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At April 05, 2007 3:30 p.m., Blogger jamon said...

Whilst I agree with your posit that we atheists are "free" - in particular - free minded; your analogy with slavery may not be well placed.

Slavery is imposed upon people. Whereas religion (in western cultures, at least), is more of a choice. Though I'm sure we could debate societal pressures til the cows come home ;).

Personally, I prefer the moniker "Assertive Atheist".

At April 05, 2007 4:06 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Assertive is good. I agree the analogy is not perfect (few are), but I will point out again that the analogy belongs to Hank Fox, not me.

And I'm not touching the religious pressures thing with a 10 foot pole ;-)

At April 05, 2007 4:32 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...

I'm fine with straight-ol' 'Atheist' myself, but maybe that's because of living in Canada where 'Not believing in God' and 'Atheist' are not two different things in which (in societal acceptance terms):

Godless >>> Atheist

I also don't like Daniel Dennett's 'Brights'. It sounds too much like a special club with secret hand-shakes...

At April 05, 2007 5:43 p.m., Anonymous mel said...

I really hate 'brights' too. Reminds me to much of Mormons calling themselves 'saints', but even sillier.

Personally, I'm very happy to continue calling myself on atheist. It's a label that makes a position statement relative to theism and gives a subtle dig without bashing it too much. I mean, without theism I'd really have very little to complain about. As it is I have so much to complain about that I'm tempted to just go with the 'anti-christ' label and start fulfilling some prophecy.

What would we do to exercise and entertain our minds without theism?

Have fun in church on easter sunday, KA. I'll probably be doing the same thing. God, if only they knew that what devils were in their midst.

At April 05, 2007 7:10 p.m., Blogger Carlo said...

"Have fun in church on easter sunday, KA. I'll probably be doing the same thing. God, if only they knew that what devils were in their midst."

I've promised myself that I shall never again set foot in the 'house of lies'. It's actually more difficult than you'd think (weddings and all). But it's definitely one of the perks of living thousands of kilometers away from any member of one's crazy religious family!

At April 05, 2007 8:08 p.m., Anonymous Sarge said...

I'm with Carlo and Mel, atheist pretty well sums it up, I don't see degrees of such a state in the picture.

I've learned, over the years, to cut people as much slack as they're willing to cut me. Thus, my wife and I are in our thirty ninth year of marriage and we're really glad to see each other every day. Differences? Yes, but religion has never been any bone of contention.

I, too, will be in church on Sunday, a friend called, what was supposed tobe laid on as special music fell through, so could I please...? PLEEZPLEEZPLEEZ!!!???

There's supposed to be some pay, but I'll believe it when I see it. This man is a very generous, kind man, does a lot for people, so I'll help him out.

Like you, Carlo, I hate to cross the threshold of such a place, but it's always worth hearing what they say when they're among their own, on their home ground.

At April 09, 2007 8:22 a.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

Hmm, I made a similar vow to stay out of churches after going to a catholic highschool. I was doing pretty well up until I met my wife, as she drags me their on all holy days and some regular days as well. I could never stay out completely due to weddings, which are basically prayer services with two people getting married tacked on.

The Easter Sunday service was not much different from the typical claptrap. Sarge is right when he says that it's good to see what they say when they're amongst their own (I usually get decent posting material from that) but I wouldn't say always. After a while it makes you want to leap off the balcony.

Hi Mel, glad to see other atheists are sharing in my unfortunate situation ;-). Devils indeed. I think that some churchgoers would want to cast us out while others would believe that us hearing them chant would miraculously convert us, so they'd want us to stay.

At April 09, 2007 11:15 a.m., Anonymous mel said...

I walked out of the service halfway through because the groveling over Jesus' bloody suffuring and how much we owe him for it was just searing my nerves. My wife was not pleased. She's of the latter type--hoping that by being there I'll find Jesus again.

I'm glad you didn't jump off the balcony ... yet.

At April 09, 2007 1:00 p.m., Blogger King Aardvark said...

I was actually surveying the congregation below and seeing if it would be possible to use them to survive such a plummet. My guess is that there is a high likeliness of slumping forward or backward violently upon impact, even with relatively soft noodleheads below, such that your head would hit an adjacent pew. Definite serious injuries or death await.

It actually wasn't bad enough for me to actually play a wannabe lemming yesterday though. The service was mostly music, and not horrible music at that. There are some people with real music talent there, and the youth pastor apparently composed his own song. The choruses were still mindnumbing crap, I guess because people need to be able to sing along.

Churches near the university seem to be a whole lot less disagreeable than ones in the suburbs.


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