October 21, 2007
I’ve been holding off talking about Richard Dawkins’ “Out Campaign” for a while (yes, it’s probably all died down by now – you’ve either got a scarlet “A” on your t-shirt, website, car and baby, or you don’t) because I still haven’t figured out what I really think about it. On one hand, I applaud the effort to bring atheists together and to “out” themselves, but on the other, I still see the label “Atheist” as useful as “non-chocolate lover” or non-spice girls fan1.
Of course, the use of the word “atheist” (and therefore the need to “out” oneself) has been stirred up recently by Sam Harris at an Atheist Alliance conference in Washington2 – there are no “non-racists”, so “why are we defining ourselves by something that should simply be the case”3?
Every political or social group have certain beliefs and/or interests in common. A football team shares a love of sports, and possibly a belief that football is a worthwhile pursuit. A political group might share certain values and beliefs about how a society should function. A religion, well, they often share beliefs about a great many things: politics, sexuality, family values, etc. But more importantly – they share a belief in a supernatural being (or spirit, or afterlife, etc.).
What do atheists share? Nothing. Many of us can’t even agree on a definition of Atheism! I don’t mean to say that there’s nothing that we share, but what we do share is, quite literally, “nothing” – we share a nonexistent thing4: a lack of a belief in God. While this probably gives us a more common understanding of God than most religious people (even within the same religion or denomination, it seems every person has their own understanding of exactly what or who God is), this doesn’t seem to be a great foundation for an alliance.
Am I going to “come out”, well – yes, and no. I am without religion. I am, therefore, an atheist. I am also without racism, and am therefore non-racist. I have never killed anyone, and am therefore a non-murderer. I further have no love for chocolate5, no love of ABBA or the Spice Girls and most certainly no belief in fairies or celestial teapots. If you wish to define me by any of these “labels”, feel free – but I certainly don’t.
- Harris explains it much better than I could on his website [↩]
- Partial transcript available at Washington Post [↩]
- Hemant Mehta (Oct 1, 2007) Atheist Alliance International Convention 2007 (Recap) [↩]
- Nothing (n) A nonexistent thing [↩]
- I wonder if coming out as an atheist, or an non-chocoholic would create more of a stir? [↩]