Tuesday, 9 June 2009

Why "A-theism?"

So, some theists think they are really clever when they use the following argument:

"Atheism is stupid/weird/wrong/etc. because you're only defining yourself by what you aren't, and you wouldn't have to do that if there weren't a god."

Or, some variant on that. So, let me say right now, it's not clever nor is it witty or original.

Let's look at a different example, shall we? Books that are written about real subjects or real events (books that describe reality, like science texts, etc.) are called "non-fiction." Why would we define books about reality by what they aren't, books that are made up? You wouldn't have to do that if those made up books weren't really about real stuff, would you?

The sad fact is that theism is a real phenomena, there are people who believe in gods and the supernatural. It's a quirk of our culture and our language that we identify those that don't hold such superstitions to be a-theistic, just as we hold that books that aren't made up are non-fictional. The terms and usage only show that theists exist, not that god exists.


Robert Madewell said...

I agree!

Atheism litterally means godlessness. However, since a theist is someone who believes in a god, atheist can simply mean someone who is not a theist. That is a broad meaning. Taken like that, atheism includes agnostics, deists, rationalists, etc.

Tigerboy said...

I also agree.

I have heard Sam Harris make just the argument that GCT describes. While I greatly respect and admire Mr. Harris, I do feel that, given the fact that the vast majority of the world's population embraces a world-view that includes some version of theism, to pretend that the antithetical identifier is unnecessary, is naive.

Mr. Harris is the first to point out how dangerous it is to lend tacit approval to even mainstream religious fantasies. Such fantasies are as common as rainwater!

Christopher Hitchens likes to call himself a "non-theist." Great. I respect him, too.

In voicing disapproval of this stranglehold that religious philosophies maintain over society, the first step is to acknowledge who we are.

Like it, or not, the recognized identifier is "atheist." And, as Robert correctly points out, this identifier absolutely includes and welcomes (with open arms) a host of the like-minded.

For political purposes, we need a single rallying cry. As soon as one gets bogged-down into a discussion about definitions of "atheist" versus "agnostic" versus "deist" versus "rationalist," all political momentum is lost.

Now, add an attempt to create new definitions for old words, like "bright," or to gain societal recognition of the meaning of more and more words, like "non-theist," that one might feel more accurately describes his individual situation, and we are building more and more obstacles that we all must surmount.

We need to close ranks. We need to speak with one voice.

Like it, or not, the most widely-recognized English word for us, the word that most accurately describes our political cause, the word that most accurately defines who we are for society-at-large, is "atheist."

This is where liberals fail, and conservatives succeed. (And, trust me, I'm just about as liberal as they come.) Liberals are so busy considering every point-of-view, we lose track of the message. We look indecisive.

People who question a belief in deities, and oppose religiosity, are atheists. Our message needs to be heard, by Washington, by society-at-large.

(Describe yourself as a "non-theist," or a "bright," or a "rationalist," to someone who understands the finer points of the difference.)

In the public square, we are atheists.

billyist said...

I also disagree that just because I am an atheist, that that defines me. Plenty of things besides my atheism define me and I explain myself with plenty of things that I'm not. I'm not a pet owner.

What a silly argument those theist's have. Even if they were right, what's the point?

Maynard said...

I once read on another atheist blog about claiming to be "non-superstitious." That completely explains your stance and puts religionists on the defensive.

If they protest, just maintain the position of being non-superstitious. It's still a negative or anti label but theists don't like to be grouped in superstitions.

Tigerboy said...

---" . . . theists don't like to be grouped in superstitions."

And so they don't recognize what you are saying.

They don't think that "superstition" has anything to do with them. They think: "He's talking about witch-doctors and astrologers, not the Catholic Church!"

"Non-superstitious" is excellent, in some circumstances. I've used it myself. It cuts religion down to size, in a very satisfying way, but I'm afraid that it's a term that only the "non-superstitious" recognize what, or who, is being talked about.

Mainstream America does not include itself among the "superstitious." Most of us don't avoid stepping on cracks, so as not to break our mothers' backs. When Nancy Reagan admitted to consulting an astrologer, America was surprised and sort of disappointed. They see themselves as "good, God-fearing folk," not "superstitious," so something gets lost in the translation.

"Non-superstitious" is excellent on some occasions. It can be used in a way that is not overtly insulting, it can even be used somewhat subtly, but it still points out just how large is the chasm between the unbeliever and the pious.

It is nicely belittling, in a very appropriate and appealing way. But still, it is not the sort of big banner word that people can gather around. It doesn't rally anyone.

I believe that we need to be willing to stand up and be counted, just as the gays have done. Hiding doesn't help. Going along with it, so as not to offend anyone, doesn't help.

Gays don't quibble about who's bisexual, or who's transgendered, or who's merely "questioning." They all march in the same parade.

GCT said...

I have to agree with Tigerboy here that theists don't see themselves as superstitious.

Case in point:
"It is refreshing to converse with someone like yourself who pleasantly presents their views, unlike many of your "free-thinkers". I'm also proud to be superstitious-free because Jesus said that if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed. (Jn. 8.36)"

Also, those that claim that it takes more faith to be an atheist would probably claim that atheism is the real superstition.

Maynard said...

Yeah, the statement "I'm not superstitious." by itself isn't going to do much. I was thinking only about using it as a response.

Eric Spears said...

Religion is just group obsessive-compulsive disorder. The only difference is that a true obsessive-compulsive person, such as myself, recognizes that their obsessions are irrational, even as they feel compelled to engage in them.

That's one of exactly 12 things I have learned this lifetime. Here's my list:


Anonymous said...

why would anyone hate such a selfless God as one who would rather die than live without a single human being?

Anonymous said...

Christianity is selfless (or at least it is supposed to be).
God is love and love in God.
You cannot have one without the other. There will (unfortunately)always be an emptiness inside for those whose hearts are not truly centered on God. God was and is and will alwys be here no matter what. The heavens declare the glory of God. You can't exactly miss the evidence.

Tigerboy said...

--"You can't exactly miss the evidence."

I have never seen any compelling evidence. (It's very frustrating, isn't it?) If it's so obvious, would you be willing to show me some of it? I would be so grateful.

Something objective. Something that ANY objective person would look at and come to the same obvious conclusion as any other objective person.

You said this evidence was really, really obvious, right?

What is it?

GCT said...

"why would anyone hate such a selfless God as one who would rather die than live without a single human being?"

OK, no one actually hates god, since god is a fictional character. It would be like hating any other fictional character. It's not really possible.

But, let's look at your assertion, shall we? It's plainly false.

This god is not selfless, not in the least. This god demands obedience, or else. This god demands worship, or else. This god won't lift a finger to heal an amputee or to stop a rape, but still demands devotion, or else. These are not loving or selfless acts.

Secondly, the idea of god dying instead of living without a single human being is also flatly false. Your god cannot die. Your god created hell. Your god sends people to hell. Your god knew in advance that he would be creating people that he would later send to hell. This is inconsistent with your assertion and plainly puts the lie to it.

You worship an evil god. Why would you not stand up in rebellion to such a god? Is it because you personally think that you will be rewarded? That's not very selfless of you, now, is it?

Lastly, there is zero evidence for god. To claim that the heavens declare the glory of god is to commit several logical fallacies including begging the question and confirmation bias just for starters. If anyone could actually present some evidence for god, and it were as obvious as you claim, then virtually everyone would believe in your god. Yet, the majority of people in the world do not. And, as cultures and societies become more educated and less steeped in superstition, the amount of people who believe in your god drops. Funny how more education supposedly leads to people who are less able to see what you claim is obvious evidence.