My fellow atheists,
I sincerely hope that the few new ideas and suggestion that I am about to make, are not seen by any as just some kind of thinly veiled, self-serving attempt, to aggrandize and promote my own website. Or that I presume to speak for everyone, or that I have taken into account, the view from anyone else’s perspective.
What I have done, is attempt to lay the groundwork for an idea I wish to see up and running. An idea — I hope many of you will agree — who’s proverbial time has come.
That it represents both a philosophy and a course of action, I’m hoping that many of you will decide to join me in this endeavor, by availing yourselves of the free ideas and tools that I wish to offer.
Let me first say, I recognize that we represent a largely ad hoc community of fiercely independent individuals, with a wide variety of shared views and interests. And we often only coalesce into groups around issues as varied as attempting to get public school boards to ban the use of non-scientific syllabus and textbooks in our classrooms, to our support for those human rights issues involving gender, sexual orientation, parenting, and marital rights, to name a few.
But the fact that we continue to see and feel the egregious intrusion of religious political handling in all of these areas, gives most of us the sense that we share at least one common denominator. And that we’re also open to finding new and more effective ways to combat the problem.
The fact is, we need to recognize religious belief for what it is — a pathological intrusion of superstition into an individuals thought processes. And one that intrinsically distorts their world view.
But knowing that it severely cripples the sufferer’s ability to differentiate fact from fiction, and reality from illusion, is some cold comfort for those of us made to suffer the result of their influence on decision-making, in those legislative areas of privacy, education, and public policy. Or those scientific and medical issues that would somehow seem to require an individual’s normal cognitive ability to appreciate scientific fact, and apply unclouded rational reasoning, in order to address.
However, and having said that, I believe that it harms our position, and we are able to be pointed out and labeled as members of just some other lunatic fringe group on the margins of society, when we adopt a stance that is glaringly anti-religious in both tone and symbol.
It hurts our credibility when, while claiming that we don’t need a belief in, or edicts from, any supernatural being in order to be moral, we are all-too-often opting to adorn our own sites with overtly anti-religious, occult or satanic sights, sounds, and symbols, that are only designed to elicit fear and loathing in the traditional religious community. And, which also tend to send the mistaken and ambiguously mixed message, that either:
- We simply don’t have any imperative moral beliefs ourselves,
- Or, rather than a genuine disbelief in any deity, we are simply working to replace the Christian god with one that’s more to our liking.
So, rather than tattoo our own body of work with a variety of scarlet letters and other overtly sacrilegious symbols,– which signify nothing so much as a giddy daring-to-flout that which we claim to have no belief in — we need to effectively reposition ourselves on the social and political horizon.
I suggest that we simply leave them to their own devices and sacred symbols of superstition. And that we begin to assume and assert our own place on the moral high ground of society.
One of the most positive ways we can move forward, is by adopting an attitude of wholesome acceptance for, and an unembarrassed right to the expression of, those philosophical, political, moral, and lifestyle views of our own.
I think it can help to clarify and better communicate our position in relation to religion, if we espouse the idea that even though it’s not a religious belief of any kind, being an atheist often does inform those positions taken on a wide variety of moral issues — and especially those taken in opposition to the political insertion of religious belief, into the social fabric of our lives.
However, lest this be mistaken as a call to get back into any sort of closet, let me go over a few details of the practical agenda that I have in mind:
1) For purposes of repositioning ourselves, and ‘branding’ our emerging presence, both socially and politically — and for the reasons listed — I would like to suggest that we start by adopting the more mainstream and modestly upbeat monikers of Modern Atheist, and Modern Atheists, as the preferred terms for identifying ourselves. And when referring to our ad hoc community of individuals who ascribe to the generally espoused views of what it means to be an atheist.
- It reclaims ownership, and implicitly repositions ourselves through the use of the generic term, as both relevant, and finding traction in today’s world.
- It also implicitly repositions religious belief as something terribly old-fashioned (and never underestimate the power of fashion).
- As we become more recognizable, and recognized as members of an ad hoc community with viable political interests, we can begin to visibly insert ourselves into the political process.
- We can provide viable presence and support for ourselves, as well as those other groups fighting the same battle against the forces of religious political activity.
2) As a wonderfully handy acronym for Modern Atheist, I propose that we appropriate the word MATH.
- It is non-pejorative
- It is already anchored in the language,
- It would be very hard to marginalize.
- As the recognized workhorse of scientific academia, and the proof behind the veracity of virtually all scientific claims, it not only helps to further define our position, but is embarrassingly hard to argue with.
- The acronym can be alluded to unobtrusively, in just about any situation or location.
- I find it doubly useful as a write-in for religious preference.
3) That we adopt the use of logos that are patently non-threatening in design, and that avoid any appearance of eluding to any of the sights, sounds, colors, and symbols, that touch on any of the emotional springs tied to that other ethos.
In designing the logos in use here, I went out of my way to make them very nondescript, on casual observation, yet communicate the desired message on closer inspection.
– I invite anyone who wishes to, to download and display my designs, unaltered, on your own web sites — no litmus test, and nothing to join or sign up for.
– I would appreciate the courtesy of a link back. And of course, I encourage you to sign up for free email notifications of new articles and updates from here.
– The door is literally wide open, as far as I’m concerned, for those of you wishing to come up with designs of your own, that incorporate any or all of the terms Modern Atheist, Modern Atheists, and/or MATH.
– I’ll even throw in use of the slogan I came up with:
Straight and Narrow Be The Way
— but MATH is the Path
My main appeal would be, try to keep it light — Stylish, identifiable, but non threatening (try to stay away from the glaring use of red).
4) That we get the ball rolling, and further help mainstream the idea, by showing up at political rallies, demonstrations, and coffee shops, with everything from pennants, posters, tee shirts and coffee cups, emblazoned with our simple message.
So by all means, ‘come out’ as an atheist — and stay out. But rather than any sudden head-on confrontations between individuals or groups, lets simply and unobtrusively appear to rise-up from within the midst of those manifold social organizations and institutions where we are already members, and where we’ve always been.
I would like to point out that, for a great number of people out there right now, being an atheist is like ‘the lie that’s too big to be true’ — and many would claim to not know anyone personally who is an atheist.
And while we can be fairly confident that the perception doesn’t match the reality, you will recall that it just wasn’t that long ago when being gay was ‘the lie that’s too big to be true’ in many peoples minds. And many of those same people were also quite sure no one in their family, or anyone they knew, was gay. (Can you hear me now?)
But we really do need to stop rolling over for religion, by refusing to continue observing a polite don’t ask / don’t tell protocol.
And we may be put in the position of having to occasionally bounce heads with bosses, or take someone to court for religious discrimination. But hey, look at all those who’ve not only gone before us, but have literally paved the way — sometimes at great cost to their own freedom, dignity, and personal blood loss.
I can only ask,
- What is it we’re afraid of?
- And just what the hell are we waiting for?
8 thoughts on “An Atheist’s Essay on Civil Expedience”
Let me start by saying that any nitpicking I do in this comment is meant as a constructive idea towards refining your approach, not discouragement. I mean, hell, I’m just a blogger with a modest readership, but I do think I have a decent grasp on some of the dynamics within the atheist community, such as it is.
A few years ago at an atheist conference in DC, Sam Harris spent a good hour talking about how we ought to consider ditching the label “Atheist” in favor of something less stigmatized. I found his ideas to be well thought out, and I was certain that he had the best of intentions even though I disagree with him and was not convinced by his speech. I hoped to get the chance to tell him that, but I never did. He was swamped with angry — even vitriolic — atheists who were offended and appalled that he would suggest such a thing. (He also didn’t get much of a warm reception for suggesting that it’s ok for atheists to have a “spiritual” component of their lives including meditation. It was a tough day for him, I think.)
As you’re certainly aware, the term “New Atheist” has come under a lot of fire recently, having been associated with the kind of “in-your-face” attitude of people like Harris and Hitchens. (For my life, I can’t figure out why Dawkins is considered rude, confrontational, or aggressive. I’ve seen him many times, read most of his books, and he’s always been polite, even when disagreeing vehemently with someone.)
Personally, I’ve always had a problem with identifying as an atheist first. My atheism is not the foundation of my belief system. It’s a product of it. I consider myself a naturalist. If someone asks, that’s what I am. If they ask if I believe in god, I say no. While it’s true that I’m an atheist, and I do adopt the name for my blog and at conferences, the word seldom comes up for me outside of the blogosphere.
Like many atheists, I am hesitant to commit myself to this or that atheist “movement,” for fear of the cult of personality drowning out the message of a purely evidence driven worldview. This is a burden you will have to deal with should you gain any success with “Modern Atheism.” It’s a big hill to climb even with outspoken atheists like myself. Convincing the lurkers will be difficult.
But there is a huge need. We do need to be out, and we need to be identifiable as non-believers if we are ever going to gain public acceptance. I’ve often wondered if skirting around the issue slightly is the best course. What if 15% of the population started wearing shirts that said, “I believe in evidence”? On the face, that’s a pretty hard belief to object to. It’s just saying, “Show me the money.”
I wonder if the key to our emergence from social estrangement is in promoting our methodology, not our beliefs. That is one of the central focuses of my blog, if you’ve noticed. I don’t spend time attacking theists. I dissect their beliefs methodically and logically. I offer alternative explanations to “religious questions” based on current scientific literature. In short, I’m not attacking anyone. I’m presenting a series of thoughts that the reader can evaluate for themselves.
Do you have any thoughts in these directions?
I do so appreciate your taking the time out of your own busy schedule, to review and comment on the merits of these ideas.
And I apologize for my own delay in responding, but I got called away for the day.
First, let me point out that I’d never characterize any of your comments as nitpicking. You earned your chops, and my respect, as one of the most insightful and understanding writers on this whole subject, a long time ago.
The situation you were referring to — where Sam Harris’ suggestions were rebuffed by the number of aggrieved atheists in attendance — is both telling, and instructive. And one of the biggest hurtles I hope to somehow overcome. And I hope to do this mainly in support of Sam Harris’ views, by getting everyone to see just how nonproductive this sort of over-the-top, and in-your-face, cheering defense of atheism really is.
Because, other than the war of words that continues to erupt into flames on blog sites daily, we’re like a team of pumped-up football players — all uniformed-up, and nowhere to go — working ourselves into a lather in the locker room, preaching to a choir of other atheists, but never quite figuring out how to get out onto the field — the town hall meetings, school board meetings, and the political rallies, where we need to be.
But it’s a honest mistake, and one that I think we can easily hope to overcome.
The biggest mistake I think we make, is thinking we first need to get all those religious people to change their minds. And the second, is operating from the mistaken belief, that we bear the responsibility for changing their minds.
Most us weren’t born — much less raised — as atheists. But we’ve also tended to evolve at our own pace. And in fact, the process of self education required, is usually an ongoing endeavor to better understand the kind of human foibles and frailties that we’re all subject to falling victim to — many of the same subjects, Hamby, that you often write about, to the unending delight and edification of myself and so many of your other readers.
And, while we can be sure there are more than a few out there, who share a flip dismissal of the whole question, religious people in particular, and even some atheists, fail to understand that for most of us, our atheism simply denotes having personally arrived at the answer to one of life’s biggest conundrums. And often, only at the conclusion of what — as you’ve often indicated — has been a long arduous journey of personal discovery. Of course, many of these same people also fail to understand that, the ultimate acceptance of this at once stark-but-truer reality, can cause the scales to fall from the eyes, as it were, and open the doors onto entirely new vistas, for personal growth and discovery.
However (and getting back), at bottom, I feel we have to effectively reclaim the word “atheist” as our own, rather than abandon it to the pejorative use of those who would attack us with it.
One way of doing this, is to at least dress it up and put some lipstick on it, by adopting our own pet name for it. And I purposed Modern Atheist as not only a softer-gentler name, but also as indicative of the fact that, sans hellish hues and horns, we’re actually capable of fitting quite nicely into modern society.
This is also the same message I would like to get across to the more entrenched atheists out there.
Time to put away the bullhorns and take a more sober approach.
“Skirting the issue,” as you indicated, harkens back, in my mind, to first seeing people express their own views on bumper stickers, declaring “I Never Lost It,” in rebuttal to the obnoxious displays of that Christian intonation, along with the appearance of those Fish-With-Feet symbols. And noting the seemingly silly, but surprising effect it had, on simply expanding the publics awareness of the fact that there really were people with different views out there.
This is primarily why I also chose to appropriate the word MATH as the perfect acronym for Modern Atheist, and worked to incorporate it into the design of the logo I came up with — and why I’m anxious to see it show up on everything from bumper stickers – to – baby bottles.
But to address, head-on, any concerns about the possibility of anyone creating a cult of personality around these ideas: I’m all too aware of the tendency that most of us have — of wanting to set-up shop, so we can start selling tickets to the cult of our newest bright-idea. 🙂
Fact is, I don’t see a need for anyone to keep track of us all. And that’s also why I’ve specifically indicated that, as far as I am concerned — and as far as these idea goes, — there is no litmus test, and no movement to join, or sign-up for.
I don’t know how to make this any more clear, that to say anyone who wants to bumper sticker my logo on their web site, or on a thousand white tee-shirts they’re hoping to sell (anything but red, please), doesn’t need to worry about coming to me for licence or permission.
I simply wish to see this philosophy, and these ideas, adopted — for all the reason’s I’ve mentioned, — by anyone and everyone in the atheist community who might have pause to agree with me, and who wishes to become a real activist, in helping to gain our accepted recognition in the world.
i get what youre sayin especially about the logos and stuff which annoys the shit out of me but for that same reason i’m not really into the whole ^math^ thing either
i’m okay with just being a human being i think too much insistence on labels makes us revert to tribal instincts
but yeah if less atheists were so arrogant like the churchfolk they criticize things woul get better i agree
Thanks for coming by, Randall. I appreciate hearing from you, and getting your feedback on the whole idea.
I especially agree with the issue of the negative connotations attached to the term ‘atheism.’ I guess it’s the great atheist conundrum: to have an umbrella term that necessarily carries a social stigma in some circles, specifically online, or operate as solitary entities flying under the radar. I think the latter shouldn’t even be an option since, as an anti-theist myself, the task of arguing against religion seems ridiculously daunting as a lone-ranger atheist. I like the MATH idea, although I don’t think there is any label we could pick that would be free of the connotations attached to ‘atheism.’ As long as atheists claim a label as their own there will always be theists to point fingers at it.
Regarding Godless Randall’s last comment, I agree. I have had quite a few bad experiences with militant atheists online and they frustrate the hell out of me. When we’re arguing against something as immensely powerful and respected as religion we need as many strong, respectable, decent speakers/spokespeople as possible, and so many of the online atheist trolls just strengthen the religious perspective.
Kelly, I really appreciate your having stopped by, and what you had to say about this post.
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Thank you Solomon.