It’s been mentioned in the comments here, and elsewhere, that the term atheism, by it’s very usage, gives credibility to theists. By calling ourselves atheists, we accept that there is a counter position strong enough to warrant a label for those who disagree. The general argument goes that there should no more be atheists than aunicornists, but there are no aunicornists because the idea is ridiculous.
On Labels and Atheism
This is, of course, a spurious argument. Atheism, either as a label or as a movement, does not give credibility to theism and it is not a reaction to theistic ideas per se. Rather, it is a reaction to the proliferation and popularity of theistic ideologies and the pervasive impact they have on our lives. We do not accept the atheist label because of the idea of theism, we accept the label because of the societal implications of abandoning it (note that there’s a difference between the reasons for being an atheist and the reasons for accepting the label of atheism).
So what are, in my opinion, the potential impacts on society of rejecting the atheist label? I believe labels will always be necessary amongst the religious fraternity. Even those who follow the same holy book have significant enough interpretational variations to warrant different labels. The net result of the various religious groups happily accepting labels is that those who oppose their views, yet do not adopt a similar approach, risk being lost in the noise. Having a label gives the impression of stability and organization. It is something to rally behind. It also acts as a beacon for those who are struggling with theistic and/or spiritual issues. Do not underestimate the power of a label to those who need comfort, to those who need to know they are not alone.
It’s important to note that accepting the atheist label means that you reject all forms of theism. If nothing else it’s convenient, and avoids a situation where we have to constantly refer to ourselves as achristians or amuslims depending on the context.
Much like other atheists, I believe that in an ideal world the label wouldn’t be necessary. Atheism should be the default position. If this was the case, the label would become redundant, and no doubt sink into disuse. While I’m happy to accept the atheist label at the moment, nothing would make me happier than it becoming redundant.
A few months ago I was called out by Craig A. James and, with a host of other bloggers, told to “get out of the damned closet!“. It’s a piece that calls on currently anonymous atheist bloggers to reveal their true identities. “What would Bertrand Russell say?” is the general gist.
However, I thought it important to engage the question of anonymity, and to make it clear why I remain anonymous. This isn’t an issue of fear, far from it in fact. It’s more an issue of consistency of voice and levelling the playing field. My age, gender, location, profession and cultural status are all left intentionally unstated. I do not want a reader’s opinion to be tainted or affected by this information when they read the posts (although I’m sure you could piece parts together from various posts, and the resourceful amongst you could no doubt identify me). I think my opinions and thoughts should stand on their own merit, especially where they are grounded in logic.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to address the issue of voice. You’ll note that in some of the posts my tone changes between the post and the comments. This is in line with the aim of this blog – to encourage debate. I want to get people thinking, and spur a response by airing on the side of sensationalism and provocation in the first instance. I always try to keep it as mild as possible, and you won’t find me completely changing tact. It’s more likely that I leave certain questions lingering unanswered, so they may be addressed in the comments (I think we’re very lucky to have a well educated, well informed and opinionated readership on both sides of the divide, so the comments threads tend to be thought provoking and preconception-challenging).
So, in closing, I hope my approach is working so far. As I said, the goal of this blog is to provoke discussion and debate, primarily because it’s something I enjoy. If I can educate and inform along the way, then all the better.