New to atheism: What do I call myself?

Donkey and elephant symbolizing Repbulicans and Democrats

See, they get along... in cartoons

As I touched on in the last “New to atheism” post, atheism is just one position of many. I’ll outline in this post in greater detail some of the different ideologies that atheists tend to subscribe to, and I’ll also try to give some good examples.

If you’re new to atheism (not that only people who have just abandoned religious beliefs struggle with this), you might have some thoughtful ideas about restructuring your beliefs. The only advice I can possibly give here is to continue to be yourself, just without a belief in any god. Any other political or social ideologies that you may subscribe to will most likely have a little reform, but probably not a lot. The most dangling and divisive issue within atheism or Humanism is abortion. I meet a lot of former theists who clung (and still cling) very strongly to the stance that abortion is wrong. I won’t share my views on this subject at the moment, because, as Richard Dawkins says, I’d simply be riding my pet steed Tangent off into the country.

Atheism is a default position, and therefore, it doesn’t necessarily “inform your actions” as religious beliefs would. Lifting the veil of religion is like exposing your true identity – when you remove religious motivations for your actions, you can actually trace your actions back to specific beliefs, emotions, and personality characteristics. I’m not saying that religion doesn’t invoke good deeds, as we all have missionary friends who go to foreign countries and help to feed and clothe the (much) less fortunate. But the baggage of false teachings in tandem with actual physical assistance is just unnecessary and the recipients of said aid would be better off without it. Anyway, I think you all get what I mean. Without further ado…

Atheism and theism refer to what you believe; agnosticism and gnosticism refer to what you know

Atheism and theism strictly refer to a belief in a god. In my fake Greek accent, “The word ‘the’ is come from the Greek word ‘theos’ which is mean ‘god.’” You can’t be an atheist to unicorns and leprechauns. Just to set some terminology straight. And I also wanted to sound like the father on My Big Fat Greek Wedding for a moment. Etymology is a great hobby of mine.

Gnosticism refers to one’s knowledge on a given subject. It also shares its etymological roots with the term “theism”, in that “gnostos” is the Greek word for “knowledge”. Prefixing the “a-” before it denotes the lack of one’s knowledge in this case.

The terms aren’t mutually exclusive, either. They’re usable in the following ways:

Gnostic theism: Belief in a god and knowledge that this god exists
Gnostic atheism: Disbelief in a god and knowledge that this god does not exist
Agnostic theism: Belief in a god but doesn’t know if this god really exists
Agnostic atheism: Disbelief in a god and doesn’t know if this god really does not exist

Gnostic atheism is sometimes referred to strong atheism, and agnostic atheism is sometimes referred to as weak atheism. Most atheists are weak atheists, because it’s a logical fallacy to prove a negative. It’s not possible to know for certain that a god does not exist, so strong atheism is a little bit of a stretch for me.

Atheism is a term that shouldn’t ever exist

Obviously the prefix “a-” before the word “theism” means “without”, and if you carefully examine the term, it would appear as if we’re returning to a blank slate, so to speak. It is commonly mused about in discussions between atheists that we would much rather the term didn’t exist. But it’s fairly useful to us at the present moment, as we live in a world dominated by religion. We justify that atheism is the “default position” because when you are a baby, you don’t have the cognizance to determine exactly what you believe. If nobody ever told you about a god, you’d grow up an atheist, and if everyone enjoyed that same upbringing, the term atheist would never need to exist.

Atheism doesn’t sponsor political beliefs

While most atheists will align with liberal political ideologies, atheism itself doesn’t espouse liberalism. It just kind of happens. Perhaps the time one spent praying for suffering humans as a theist could be used to exercise action and actually invoke change as an atheist? If your only contribution to the welfare of the less fortunate is prayer, you’re essentially ending suffering in your own mind. What’s very interesting about religion is that it tends to promote prayer as the most valuable offering you can possibly muster, until they pass the collection bowl your way. As long as your [former] church was collecting your tithe, everything was okay.

I’ll try to segue into my next point as gracefully as possible, but if I give it all up here, please forgive me, okay?

Atheism tends to stem from a humanist point of view. The idea is that nobody is born with original sin. We’re not inherently or intrinsically evil or “fallen”, as the Bible so forcefully states. When you view suffering humans as just human, and not evil or reaping consequences for not believing hard enough, your desire to create a fairer system increases.

As I commented on Ayn Rand’s interesting new home as an icon for the Republican Party, the individualist and selfish characteristics of neo-con Republicans is quite contrary to Jesus’ teachings. It’s interesting that there seems to be a huge opposition to Darwinism and evolutionary theory, but they tend to lean toward survival of the [financially] fittest. A Humanist might agree that evolution is true, and the fittest genes will survive, but their concern for human suffering is much greater. Hence the term, “bleeding-heart liberal.”

I feel a little awkward generalizing political ideologues with religious beliefs because it’s not always the case, but the trend seems to be supportive of my claims.

You might call yourself a liberal, Democrat, Humanist, secular Humanist, or whatever. But understand that your political beliefs are separate and not entirely dependent on your atheism. Calling yourself a Humanist might be a better description of what you actually are. The atheist part is usually a given, but don’t cloud the issue if someone asks if you believe in a god and you answer, “I’m a Humanist!”

This is all based on the assumption that you’d talk freely about your views

A term that I hear occasionally is “atheist evangelist”, and it’s exactly what you probably think it is. Yes, it’s the atheist that “saves” Christians. But you might be a closet atheist, and be pretty quiet about your views. That’s always a great opportunity to throw out “Secular Humanist” or something less scary to family, friends, or associates. Or acquaintances. My first “New to atheism” article covers the subject of “coming out atheist” in greater detail. Check it out.

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About Eric

If Jesus is the answer, you're probably asking a stupid question.
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