The Christians are not the only ones with a language problem. I’m sure atheists would agree that the term “atheist” is often grossly misunderstood. The history of the word is as an insult, a very negative word. Combine with that the fact that atheism lacks any memes encouraging people not to care what people think of them, memes saying they should expect to be misunderstood, and it becomes obvious why there are so many diverse labels used by people that “lack belief in a supernatural entity that interferes with the laws of nature by supernatural means”.
I’m not sure which group has more diversity of beliefs: atheism, or Christianity. I suppose comparing atheism with theism might be more correct. Either way, we have atheists, agnostics, secular humanists, “brights”, skeptics, freethinkers, more… (Maybe we can even include atheistic religions like Buddhism? Naah.) Similar diversity in Christianity is grouped together under the label “Christian”.
So, what is heard by some people when “I am an atheist” is uttered? This is what some people hear:
I have no appreciation for my existence, I lack any sense of wonder. I do not acknowledge any mystery in the world. I am not at all thankful or appreciative for my existence (as I am not thankful to the “original cause”). I just am. There is no meaning to life. It is all pointless. There is no action that can be labelled “good” and no action “bad”. I might as well just drink all day and all night, if that makes me happy. Hell, why not go shoot some people, considering I don’t have to be moral. There are no adverse consequences to immoral behaviour. I think all theists are stupid. They suffer from delusion. They are “dim”, while I am “bright”.
Yes, this is what some people hear, even if it is not what is meant. That’s quite a mouthful to de-stigmatise.
Again, to de-stigmatise the label, people need to get to know you, rather than your label. Only once they know you, can you make any contribution by telling them what label you use. Only then might they understand what you mean by that label. De-stigmatising the label is irrelevant, the aim is to de-stigmatising the world-view.
So this is the idea behind Dawkins’ “Out Campaign”. Many atheists out there have already built relationships with “religionists”. The “Out Campaign” aims to unify the efforts to de-stigmatise the world-view, through use of the label. Whether it will be useful for you to contribute or not, is something only you can determine. You know your audience, no-one else does. Do you care much for the “atheism” label? Do you think it worthwhile to de-stigmatise it? Or might it be counter-productive and serve only to stigmatise something else you’re standing for? Priorities… Tough call.
I have a very different approach, the post-modernist that I seem to be. (Dawkins seems a typical modernist.) Free people from labels all around, then they are much more free to develop their own world-view, rather than having it forced down their throats by some pigeonholing label. Have patience, the P campaign is on its way. (Give me another two weeks or so. And get me a copyrightable Red P!)
Do you think it is worthwhile de-stigmatising the “atheist” label? How do your thoughts about this post compare to your thoughts about the Christian language problem post?
Further reading: Language Differences.