28 September 2022


Atheist Revolution blog recently posted about the issue of non-religious people who are reluctant to call themselves "atheists".  His assessment appears to be that this reluctance is a problem and such people should be encouraged to embrace the label; you can read his views for yourself at his post.  My own position is different.

In general I don't attach as much importance to labels as some people do.  It's the thing itself that matters, not what label we attach to it; labeling something often encourages people to pigeonhole it and not seek a more nuanced understanding of what it actually is.  For example, I don't think it's of any interest to discuss whether Giorgia Meloni is "fascist" or not.  That's just an argument about a label.  If you want to know what her election signifies, you need to look into the details of her political views and why people voted for her, without bothering your head over whether a specific label fits them or not.

Labels carry connotations beyond their literal definitions.  In the case of "atheist", I think a lot of people reject the label because words ending in "ism" or "ist" carry the implication that one is a member of a group or an adherent of a cause, something which emphatically should not follow from the plain fact of not believing that any god exists.  Most people who don't believe in a god seem to simply identify as "nones" when asked, and it's really a more accurate term, since it conveys the lack of religion without suggesting being a member of, or crusader for, anything.

I increasingly tend to do this myself.  When I'm filling out a survey that asks about my religion, I generally just say I don't have one, if that's an option.  It better addresses the issue of people who wrongly claim that atheism is itself a religion or a belief system. Rather than waste time arguing that point, it emphasizes that there isn't a thing called atheism which I'm putting in the "what's your religion" slot -- that I simply don't put anything at all in that slot.

I feel similarly impatient with the hairsplitting some people do about "atheist" vs "agnostic".  Some will say, you can't absolutely prove that no god exists, so you should call yourself agnostic rather than atheist.  While technically true, this defines the terms in such a way as to make the distinction between them useless.  My position on this point is that I put "God" in the same category as unicorns, dragons, and leprechauns -- I can't absolutely prove it doesn't exist, but it's so implausible that it's not worth spending any time or mental energy on the question.  This may technically be agnosticism, but in practical terms it is unbelief.  "Agnostic" should be reserved for people who consider both the "God exists" and the "God doesn't exist" viewpoint to have some genuine plausibility.

I don't believe there exists any kind of "god", and I view religions as ridiculous nonsense.  This does not make me a member of a group or a crusader for a cause, any more than my lack of belief in unicorns does.  In a sane world, not believing in any god wouldn't require a label at all.


Anonymous darms said...

i don't use the word "atheist" because that implies a certain concern about religion. Frankly i could care less so like you i tend to state either "none" or leave it blank. Met a few too many 'raving atheists' as well...

28 September, 2022 09:54  
Blogger SickoRicko said...

Those are very good points.

28 September, 2022 10:38  
Blogger Mike said...

Religious people could be aathiests.

28 September, 2022 10:46  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Darms: I certainly wish I didn't need to be concerned with religion. Unfortunately the country I live in has a problem of militant religionists who want power, so I'm forced to deal with it.

Ricko: Thanks!

Mike: Not according to the normal meaning of the word. If they aren't religious but claim to be, they're merely hypocrites.

28 September, 2022 11:11  
Blogger yellowdoggranny said...

I'm not an atheist...I believe in the world ............controlled by the goddess who only keeps us around cause we make her laugh

28 September, 2022 12:30  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

She must have quite an odd sense of humor!

28 September, 2022 13:28  
Blogger Mary Kirkland said...

That's a good way of looking at things.

28 September, 2022 14:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Mary K: Glad you agree.

28 September, 2022 21:11  
Blogger Ami said...

I do appreciate your thoughtful analysis of things. Often you write about things I've not considered and I find myself pondering for days over something you've said. So thanks for that.
I am not 'out' as an atheist for the most part, once my parents have moved on I anticipate that changing, but I can't find a good reason to hurt my mom with it. She would spend whatever remains of her life in worry over it.

I don't often have to state a religious preference, but it really fries my shorts when my medical provider asks. I just tell them it's none of their business. When they want to press further, I am kind but I ask them if they did not understand my previous statement.

So far that seems to work.

28 September, 2022 21:53  
Blogger Mike said...

But aatheist is not-not-theist.

28 September, 2022 22:15  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ami: Much thanks for the kind words. I have never had to deal with the issue of religionists within the family, so I sometimes forget what a problem that is for those who do.

I don't think any medical provider has ever asked me about my religion, and I can't imagine any legitimate reason for them to do so, unless you were in imminent danger of death and they needed to know how you would want your corpse to be handled. Even then, they could just ask directly and skip the religion thing. It is none of their business.

Mike: If that spelling was intentional, there is already the term "religious people", so I don't see any reason to invent a new (and unpronounceable) word.

28 September, 2022 23:50  
Blogger Richard said...

I'm a nunya. As in nunya bizness. My little small deities are doing the best they can, considering what we have to face everyday. We have few choices. We can't turn Christian or Islam or any religion at all. We can't say we are Atheists because that would be a lie. We can't say we are Agnostic because what is that? It's just us, little small deities, you all and little old me are just going to have to follow our conscience.

29 September, 2022 00:50  
Blogger CAS said...

I appreciate your thinking Infidel. Labels are indeed pigeon-holing but oddly enough mean different things to different people. If forced to describe my religious views, I often say I'm a humanist, partly because it seems to be slightly more palatable to those that are strongly religious and who immediately distrust anything an atheist might have to say.

Your post makes me think of a close friend who died a while ago. Under Religious Views on his Facebook profile he put "anti". :-)

29 September, 2022 10:04  
Blogger NickM said...

I tend towards "none" on forms and stuff. In discussion I'd call myself a "principled agnostic". I regard the question of the existence of God as so vaguely defined as to be not just unanswerable but utterly meaningless. I mean big beardy fella up on a cloud - no, obviously. Some vague "spirit" or force or the laws of physics or whatever - that's just woo-woo stuff. That's for hippy stoner pseudo-scientists. And yeah, I have taken cannabis but I didn't do it to seek enlightenment. I did it to get off my tits. Mainly in Leeds. If you have ever had to live in Leeds you'd understand.

What I utterly fail to understand about the USA is quite how anyone can claim specific religious doctrine is natural to the country when this is quite counter the constitution. It seems bizarre to me as an Englishman because we actually have an official state religion over here but not one many folk give a toss about. How on Earth is the Washington National Cathedral compatible with the 1st ammendment let alone having, "In God We Trust" on the currency? Maybe God is a better bet than Kwasi Kwarteng who has fucked the UK economy from arsehole to breakfast-time in about the same time it takes to get a pizza delivered.

God, at least can do no harm (not existing and all that) but Kwasi Kwarteng is alas very real and Chancellor.

29 September, 2022 10:32  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Richard: Whatever works for you.....

CAS: Thanks. The issue of labeling crops up in a lot of situations, but it's at its most dangerous when it leads us to put large numbers of people in some sharply-bounded category and then view them as being all alike. When it comes to how people think, that just isn't how reality works.

NickM: Fervent religious belief just naturally brings with it a large capacity for self-deception, which is then available for use in other areas. Most of the people claiming that the US is a "Christian nation" are hazy about what's actually in the Constitution, or they confuse it with the Declaration of Independence. Many are led astray by common but mistaken ideas about the religious views of the Founders. A few actually repudiate the Constitution because they know it's not compatible with theocracy.

I don't know about the National Cathedral, but "in God we trust" on the currency is a relatively recent innovation (I think it started around 1950). The Constitution doesn't have the power to pre-emptively stop Congress from doing things -- even if Congress does something blatantly unconstitutional, it will stand until the Supreme Court strikes it down, which it can't do until somebody brings a case challenging it, and may decline to do if the act in question is compatible with the personal prejudices of the judges -- they're just humans like anybody else.

30 September, 2022 00:37  
Blogger NickM said...

There are also deists...

30 September, 2022 01:13  
Blogger Jack said...

I have a difficult time imagining what it would be like to live in a sane world, as this one is the only one I've ever known. But yes, in this modern age words like "atheism" shouldn't be necessary.

Labels do carry connotations, and atheism carries many negative ones. We don't have to accept them or participate in them. I'd rather acknowledge them and focus on changing the ones that are harmful.

30 September, 2022 02:12  
Anonymous NickM said...

I fail to grok what is negative about a term like "atheist".

30 September, 2022 04:29  
Anonymous Annie said...

I agree with your views about grouping people under a term such as atheist. The only reason I can think of a benefit is that while increasing numbers of Americans do not practice a religion, there does still seem to be a stigma surrounding “atheism.” So perhaps just as Harvey Milk’s declaration that gay people should come out of the closet gave momentum to recognition and then acceptance, greater recognition that nonbelievers are everywhere would increase people’s comfort levels with their own lack of faith. Not a precise parallel, of course, but your interesting observation provoked the thought. Would “none of the above” have similar impact? Does it matter? I don’t know.

01 October, 2022 15:08  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Jack: it just seems illogical to me. We don't have a special word for people who don't believe in vampires. We don't have a special word for people who don't believe in ghosts. Why a special word for people who don't believe in gods?

NickM: Since many people are bigoted against the non-religious, any term commonly applied to the non-religious will acquire a negative connotation in their eyes.

Annie: The remarkably-fast success of the gay movement in de-fanging one of Christianity's strongest taboos (the taboo on homosexuality) makes it a model to be studied. I agree that public visibility helps, but there needs to be a critical mass of non-believers in a population before it's safe to be known. I hope that over time the whole tendency to look upon people as members of categories rather than as individuals will fade away, but unfortunately it's very entrenched in many areas.

02 October, 2022 03:21  

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