Won't 'Nontheist' Become
Vilified Like 'Atheist'?
Having recently read Shermer's "How We Believe," I have been thinking alot about this whole nontheist/
Another thing is: I am not sure so-called negative atheism is all that bad. Except of course when it becomes so dogmatic and unthinkingly hostile that it resembles fundamentalism (or becomes fundamentalism rather). I guess I am somewhere in the middle of all these definitions (though I find myself leaning a little more toward the "positive" as the years pass). On the one hand I see the value in exposing faulty logic and non-critical thinking (particularly when you have an audience of "undecideds") and on the other I see how "negative atheism" can often only serve to push people who are leaning towards theism further away. For now, I will simply call myself an atheist and define atheism,when asked as "someone who does not accept the claim(s) that one or more deities exist."
P.S. Got my back issues, having a great time reading them. Thanks Cliff!
From: "Positive Atheism Magazine" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Somewhere between H.L.Menken and Michael Shermer
Date: Sunday, March 25, 2001 11:23 PM
Negative atheism (or "weak" atheism, as I prefer to call it) is only "negative" in a philosophical or logical sense: it is "negative" in that we fall short of positively asserting that no gods exist.
I disagree with Shermer only in that it is our absence of theism -- our unbelief -- that is the big issue today, not that we call ourselves atheists. I agree with Shermer in that most people think of atheism as being "positive" (in Shermer's sense -- "strong" as I'd put it). That is, most people see atheism as the strong assertion that no gods exist, and this is not how atheistic philosophers, writers, and spokespersons have historically defined atheism.
My goal is to popularize the definition of atheism as being the "weak" or "negative" definition -- we lack a god belief -- and I think this would change the stigma entirely.
I routinely get accused of being a Humpty Dumpty about it, making up my own definition for atheism rather than submitting to the traditional Roman Catholic understanding of the word, as reported in the church-owned dictionaries (such as Merriam-Webster's). They can call me a Humpty Dumpty if they want, but I refuse to let Christians usurp my right to self-definition as an atheist.
As soon as Christians can understand why I will never define Christian as "believing that Christ is divine and that the Earth is flat" then they ought to understand why they ought not define my atheism as "refusing to acknowledge the existence of God" (although I've heard some atheists mockingly define the word theist as "one who refuses to admit that gods do not exist").
If an individual won't understand after a careful explanation, fuck 'em. It's not our responsibility to straighten such people out. They thus open themselves up to the charge of bigotry from our camp for refusing us the right to self-definition as atheists. When I was kid, the African-Americans wanted the Whites to stop calling them "Negroes." Fine with me: to continue to use the word Negro, then, is no more or less bigoted than to insist that my atheism is a "denial of God's existence."
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