I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone in this post. Firstly, I thought I’d introduce the Atheist Blogroll, which I’ve added to the sidebar. It contains over 400 blogs, all of which are written from the Atheist Standpoint. I’ve had a browse through some of the sites, and there’s some real quality, thought provoking content produced by members. By displaying this blog roll, as well as the Out Campaign logo, I am clearly stating that I am an Atheist. Something that Sam Harris is against. This raises the question, is being labeled an atheist problematic? Obviously, I have no problem with it, the clue is in the name of the blog, but obviously some do.
To summarize, Sam Harris gave a speech pointing out the problems he perceives with the labelling of atheists as atheists. One of the cornerstones of his argument is that many people who are actually atheists, don’t admit to it in public because of the negative connotations associated with the word. The idea that Atheists are seen as a “Cranky Subculture”. The net result is that people who are rightfully atheists, in that they do not believe in a god, are reluctant to be labeled as such. The other cornerstone of his argument is that atheism does not exist, in the same way as there is no word for people who do not believe in astrology. I think, in particular, the second argument is worth exploring. To concentrate on the first aspect of the argument, the perceived view of atheists, would be to do what the religious do, believe something with no empirical evidence to back it up.
So let’s look the other aspect of the argument, the fact that atheism doesn’t exist. In a way, this follows Richard Dawkins’ argument regarding the proof of the non-existence of God. If someone suggests that there is an invisible unicorn in the room, it is not the naysayers responsibility to prove it isn’t there. Or to put it another way, when something is suggested that may or may not be true, it is not the responsibility to the non-believers to prove the non-existence, nor is it their responsibility to label themselves. There is a follow up, a response to the critical atheist community, already up.
I’d recommend you read the posts by Sam linked to throughout this post. However, I think the argument has been diluted by the response. In it, referring to the perception of atheism, he presents two quotes and asks which you would rather see asked of the President on the six o’clock news. As examples go, it’s a pretty bad one. I think the difference between being an atheist, and being overtly atheist is lost. This is a very good example of a certain way of forming an argument. You give people two options, the one you want them to pick and one which is so far in the other direction no one could pick it. To demonstrate this, I’ve written two sentences below. Given they are the only options available, which would you choose?
I want to send troops to Iraq.
I want my friends and family to be murdered by terrorists.
It’s an argument style used by politicians all over the world.
So, with that out of the way, where do I stand on the labeling of atheists? I’m firmly in the camp that believes such labeling is a necessary evil. I can see the point of view put forward, and in an ideal world people who don’t believe would be the norm and not require a label. However, this isn’t a perfect world and I thoroughly believe we need something to rally around. I also think that if we don’t have a label, accept the label and embrace it, we will be labeled anyway. And if it is a label we don’t choose, we lose all control.