Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Freethinker, Secularist, Nontheist, Humanist.......

In the January/February 2008 issue of The Humanist magazine (pg 17) I read a short article titled The Post-Theological Umbrella by David Niose. It talks about humans in the "pre-theological" stage moving to the theological stage as a "natural development of extremely advanced animals."

The article explains that we came to a point in our development when we were smart enough to ask deep questions, but not smart enough to answer them. The proof that it is normal for any advanced animal comes from the Neanderthals, who "buried their dead and had religious relics that suggest that they also asked deep questions that required theological answers."

This all makes sense to me until I'm asked to describe myself as "post-theological" instead of atheist. I'm seeing articles in magazines and blog entries all over the place telling me to call myself something different in order to avoid the icky feelings theists get when they hear "atheist". This article, like the others I've read, mentions the 2001 ARIS survey. This study revealed 13% identified as non-religious, but only 1% call themselves atheist. Post-theological doesn't sound bad to me, and that's where I get confused. I've been extremely happy with being just an atheist all this time.

The point of this article is for all of us to come together and pick one name to fight under, other than atheist, or changes in culture regarding theism vs. atheism will take much longer. I'm having a hard time thinking this through, because I've only been an atheist for three years. I'm still super pissed about being brainwashed as a child. I can't tell if it's anger or reason that tells me I should just stick with atheist and fight the fight. I don't want it to take longer than it needs to and theists are having huge success with renaming creationism. Should we do what they are doing and rename in order to try to gain a warm-fuzzies face?


zilch said...

I've heard some atheists say that they don't like the label "atheist" because it defines them as something they are not, from the point of view of theists. And of course there is the name "bright", popularized by Dennett and others, but that has a smack of superciliousness about it: if you're not a "bright" you must be a "dim", right?

Me, I don't care much. I usually just call myself an atheist. The problem with inventing a new name for something is that if that something has negative connotations, they will sooner or later get attached to the new name anyway. This can lead to what Steven Pinker calls the "euphemism treadmill", a series of new names that last a few years and then get discarded.

He gave the example of names for blacks. Up until the thirties or so, "black" was normal, and usually pejorative. It was replaced by "negro", and then "Afro-American", and now "black" again. Perhaps as Pinker says, when racism dies, then the labels can stay put.

My own name for my position would be "natural", or "naturalist", as opposed to "supernatural", or "supernaturalist", but no one's bitten so far.

Ishy said...

I like naturalist. :) I tend to like every name idea I hear. None of them are bad, there are just SO many that we end up losing the larger community. My opinion is still that I like "atheist" and I prefer to change what it means to theists, rather than coming up with new names that ultimately mean the same thing.

I'm probably going to wait until everyone agrees on something and go with that. I just want us to move forward.