Minnesota Atheists Meetup Group Message Board › Atheist a great word

Atheist a great word

Eric
user 4434475
Saint Paul, MN
Post #: 14
I've read "The End of Faith" and "Letter to a Christian Nation" by Sam Harris and I've read excerpts of his debate with Dennis Prager. I admire his work and I think he makes a lot of sense when he suggested:

"'Atheist'" is a term that should not even exist. We do not, after all, have a name for a person who does not believe in Zeus or Thor. In fact, we are all 'atheists' with respect to Zeus and Thor and the thousands of other dead gods that now lie upon the scrapheap of mythology....An 'atheist' is simply someone who thinks that the God of Abraham should be buried with the rest of these imaginary friends. I am quite sure that we need only use words like 'reason', 'common sense', 'evidence', and 'intellectual honesty' to do the job.

I really like the term "material rationalist" too. I might start using it more often when my identity comes up.
A former member
Post #: 12
I guess I can go along with scrapping the word, but we are dealing with a lot more than semantics...we are dealing with people who are steeped with cognitive dissonance, and the moment you tell them you do not believe in gods or the supernatural, they think you are "putting yourself on par or above the Lord." They come programmed with this default state of genuflecting to imaginary beings, and our simple, rational disbelief marks us as the likes of their fictional Lucifer...they run from any common sense that treats their beliefs forensically, so no matter what we call ourselves, we will get similar reactions....I still will call myself a material rationalist, but it only takes two seconds after the definition for them to ask, "Does that mean you're an atheist?" And then they will see as like this:


A former member
Post #: 21
"'Atheist'" is a term that should not even exist. We do not, after all, have a name for a person who does not believe in Zeus or Thor. In fact, we are all 'atheists' with respect to Zeus and Thor and the thousands of other dead gods that now lie upon the scrapheap of mythology....An 'atheist' is simply someone who thinks that the God of Abraham should be buried with the rest of these imaginary friends. I am quite sure that we need only use words like 'reason', 'common sense', 'evidence', and 'intellectual honesty' to do the job.


Hmm do you really think a christian will abandon that word and will they understand material rationalist. I don't think that will work in this day and age after all a christian mostly thinks the flintstones are an actual account of the history of the earth. To me an Atheist is some one who follows reason and science so I will use that word proudly and not be afraid to stick my head out of the closet.
A former member
Post #: 16
First, some history. The first persons labeled atheists were pre-Socratic thinkers who failed to honor the dominant gods of their city-states. Since Zeus was among the gods, perhaps they were "a-Zeus". They probably did not reject all gods. Socrates did not, though he was reviled as an atheist.

In the early Common Era, Christians were persecuted and killed as atheists because they failed to honor the dominant Roman gods. Later, when Christianity became dominant, persons who worshipped Roman gods were persecuted and killed as atheists by the Christians.

That suggests two points. First, the label "atheist" was not first freely assumed by heterodox thinkers who questioned the gods of their day. It was a pejorative imposed on them by the orthodox, often in the context of persecution and death. So we need not retain the word because it is part of "our" tradition, though it is part of our history.

Second, the label is vague. It can mean someone who disavows a specific god at a specific time and place, or someone who disavows "all" gods at all times and places. We tend to focus on the god of Abraham et al. But does the "theism" we oppose extend to pantheism or panpsychism, an all-pervading and universal spirit or mind that may be natural, supernatural, or a fusion? Does it extend to the idea that consciousness may be one of the fundamental "particle-waves", like quarks or electromagnetic radiation, that has been around since the Big Bang?

Then there are more recent theological concepts: the "ground of all being" (Tillich) or "that which concerns us ultimately" (Buber). Others have labeled such formulations atheistic, though the theologians were trying to salvage what they could of Christianity rather than reject it outright. Do we oppose or ignore such formulations or give them naturalistic reformulations?

Even prior to 1969, there were organizations that sought justice and an end to discrimination for persons politely called homosexuals and pejoratively labeled many other things. After the Stonewall Rebellion, however, the newly aroused activists decided to rename themselves, rather than simply accept the labels imposed by straight society. They called themselves and their movement "gay". That attempt at positive self-identity has been powerful, and nowadays the word gay is used almost exclusively to refer to homosexual issues and persons.

The matter didn't end there. Later activists wanted not only to positively reidentify themselves, but to positively reappropriate their history. In the Middle Ages, women suspected of being witches (and often lesbians as well) were burned at the stake using firewood. Men suspected of being homosexual were heaped on as well, like more firewood. Another word for a stick of wood was faggot, so men accused of being homosexual were pejoratively labeled "faggots". Gay activists began to call themselves faggots to acknowledge those who had been persecuted and killed.

The Gay liberation movement was influenced by the Black liberation movement, which during the course of its upsurge moved from Colored and Negro to Black and Afro-American and finally to African American. And the debate, begun in the 1960's, still continues in the African American community about whether the pejorative "nigger" can be positively reappropriated.

That means we can call ourselves atheists as a positive reappropriation of a label originally imposed on us by the religiously orthodox. Or we can choose a new, more upbeat label. Or, like the Gay liberation movement, we can swing both ways.

A more upbeat word that has recently emerged is "bright". As the Bright website cautions, bright is not a synonym for atheist. A bright is a person with a naturalistic worldview, free of supernatural and mystical elements, whose ethics are based on that naturalistic worldview. Atheism is not itself a worldview, though it is part of a naturalistic worldview.

I'm not opposed to the word "atheist", either to identify myself or a group. For many years I preferred "nonbeliever" because I treat questions of god as questions of belief, nothing more. Now I prefer atheist because it's more in-your-face. Besides, once I work my way through nonbeliever (or free thinker or skeptic or humanist or naturalistic realist or material rationalist) with a believer who asks where I go to church and what I mean, I usually confess that I'm an atheist anyway, so why not just start there?

On the other hand, I'd also prefer a word that is more than "a-_____" (fill in the blank), one that encompasses an entire (positive) worldview, and not merely a partial (negative) aspect of it. That word could be Humanist, but I do like the upbeat fizz of Bright, especially since Dan Dennett coined the word "super" for those who have a worldview that includes supernatural elements.

We are, after all, about the freedom to believe or not believe, and the freedom to think and speak and act about such matters; so long as our thoughts, words, and deeds do not infringe on the freedoms of others. So we don't put people down who don't embrace our worldview, even when we oppose their efforts to impose their thinking and beliefs on us.

So where does that leave me? I'm a Bright Atheist: a person with a naturalistic worldview, free of supernatural and mystical elements and a belief in god, whose ethics are based on a reasoned and scientific understanding of the natural world and the human society that is a part of it.
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