As the US slides toward theocracy, and as I seek a greater voice for my views, it is clear that I can no longer call myself an atheist. Here’s why, with a tip of the hat to Bertrand Russell, author of “Why I Am Not a Christian.”
Why I Am Not An Atheist
1. I will not be named by my opposition. Atheist is a term generated by theists, from a presumed position of correctness. It is specifically designed to cast the non-believer (just as “non-believer” is) in a negative light. Regardless of what meaning I may ascribe to to the word, the definition is not in my hands, and for me to place it in the hands of others to use as a cudgel to silence my involvement is philosophical suicide. Noam Chomsky said it best in a Common Sense interview in 2002, “…if you ask me whether or not I’m an atheist, I wouldn’t even answer. I would first want an explanation of what it is that I’m supposed not to believe in, and I’ve never seen an explanation.”
2. “Atheist” is a conversation stopper. The word is pejorative and has accrued enough negative baggage to serve many as an absolute mental barrier to further consideration of my thoughts and beliefs. Let’s face it: The word, to put it mildly, has a bit of a PR problem.
3. It’s just a useless term. As Sam Harris so rightly puts it in “Letter to a Christian Nation,” (paraphrasing) “we don’t have words for people who don’t believe in alchemy, or astrology, or those people who believe that Elvis is not still alive.” The burden is on the person making the unsubstantiated claim, and so the names in use today should be: areasonable, anti-intellectual, superstitionist, faither, goddy, delusionist. But throwing those names around would be just as negative and, to quote Damon Wayans, “Homey don’t play dat!” I want everyone to recognize we’re all on the same path, seeking meaning and trying to make sense of our experiences. Belittling or demonizing those who have not yet realized the damaging limitations of operating out of “faith,” and/or literal acceptance of the Bible as “truth,” does nothing to help us survive and create a just and equitable society.
4. “Atheist” is a negative statement of what my belief system entails. I believe that the name I call myself should reflect what forms the source of my belief system. Therefore, call me a Rationalist, Naturalist, Secular Humanist, or Scientific Methodist (er… scratch that last one. It might constitute copyright infringement on the Methodists. But “scientist” is not entirely accurate either, and a bit pretentious to boot, given the works of those who rightly claim that name.)
5. If Arthur Andersen can become Accenture, to scrub the nasty taste of scandal from its reputation; if homosexuals can reclaim their identity from “homo,” “faggot,” “queer,” and other aspersions and move on to universal acclaim as “gays”, then “Atheists” can rebrand too.
The bottom line is that I process all truth claims through the same filter of reason, logic, scientific method, and a strict adherence to the principle that there is no such thing as the supernatural, until proven. So when asked, “Are you an atheist?” I must answer:
“I am not an atheist, but I AM beyond belief.”
Maybe that will start the conversation rolling.
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