Throughout this blog I will probably use the term “atheist” quite a lot. This is because everyone knows what it means, generally, and is therefor a useful term for discussion. I have pretty strong objections to it as a label for a group of people though. I don’t self-identify as an “atheist”, for example. For the same reason that I don’t label myself as a non-bigfoot-believer. It is utterly insufficient as a descriptive term for a human being. Since no human believes in all of the gods that have ever been invented by man every human is an atheist to some degree or another. I am myself only fractionally more atheist than Pat Robertson, for example. Also, since one has to be taught religious beliefs and isn’t born with them every human starts their life as an atheist.
I can’t think of another term with as much baggage as “atheist” either. Too many undereducated religionists have been taught that it is synonymous to anti-theist which causes their reactions to atheism to be unnecessarily antagonistic. Many others have identified this problem a well and tried to re-brand the atheist movement under various other labels such as Brights. While I applaud their efforts I don’t think such arbitrary labels are the best we can do though. In this video Sam Harris makes excellent points about “atheist” as a horrible label. Jump to 4:00 in.
I agree with Sam that atheism is not a philosophy and doesn’t deserve a label but I disagree that we can advance the cause of humanity without some label as a banner to rally around. Speaking purely for myself, mind you, my disagreement is not specifically with religion at all, but rather with any and all systems of thought that discount the value of empirical facts and the rigorous and honest application of reason.
The heart of the issue to me is that many humans are not equipped with sufficient education to recognize when facts and reason are being abused. They are, in a word, gullible. This isn’t necessarily a moral judgment on them because they are not solely responsible for their own educations. In my mind it is un-reason that is dangerous and reason which we should seek to promote. I suggest we start planting the meme of “Reasonism” in place of “atheism”. Everyone likes to think of themselves as “reasonable” so the root already has positive connotations. I also think it would be harder to discount our arguments as well if we stand on the fact that we have reasons for what we believe and challenge others to do the same. It clearly points out the primary difference between the naturalistic worldview and other, less fact-based systems.