I just had done some freestyle thinking and thought I may share my insights. Perhaps somebody will be able to take this to another level ;)
When I think of a word "atheist" I have in mind a person that does not believe in supernatural beings, a person that questions everything.
The plural form of this word would describe a group of people that share their views in this matter and those views have it's own name, which is "atheism".
The existence of this term makes everyone following the ideology able to be included in charts that show what portion of population believes in which particular religion and which does not (and are marked as "unbelievers", "no belief", "did not derlare any belief" or "atheists").
It is good that we can be included in those charts - at least we see that we are not alone and we make up for a strong group of rationally thinking human beings.
On the other hand should we even get included in this kind of a chart? Or maybe the proper way of doing it would be to not line up atheism with all major religions of the world but to push it out to a separate chart where there are only two options - "natural" and "believer".
The reason why I used the word "natural" is that early in the childhood everyone of us is something called "tabula rasa", which basically means that our memory, our hard disc drive contains only a clean system and a program called religion may get installed but the system will run without it perfectly. In other words a mind without any belief is in natural state. There is not much to prove this point of view - just take a look at how many religions there are in the world - despite the diversity people thrive somehow so religion is just a program like Open Office or Microsoft Office.
So why would a clean system land up in a chart that is comparing office packets? That is quite an absurd thing to do.
We got used to call ourselves "atheists" while there is nothing to be named. We do not belong to any group because we do not believe in anything and it is actually like being "neutral" to all parties. A "default" state.
It is like giving a name to nothing...
This leads to a conclusion that in between the "atheists" we should not call ourselves "atheists" - we are just normal people without any extra crazy software installed in our heads. We are not part of any organisation, cult or religion so we are nameless.
Now as we, natural people, are unfortunately a minority in the world we may use the name "atheist" when talking with the "believers" who may have a hard time grasping onto the idea how can somebody belong to nothing.
Or should we? Perhaps we should say that we are "normal" and you are not?
That would mean that we say stuff just as any other follower of any religion tells outsiders - we would be interpreted as saying that only our "religion" which is the lack of religion is right. While in fact there is nothing to be right about. Being "normal" is just having a void in the part of the brain the religion is usually stored.
How to reach the other guy that believes in something that you can have that void? By giving it a name? Then it is no longer a void! And we are just another "religion" called "atheism". Maybe that is what we are doing wrong? Maybe we need to stop saying "I am an atheist" when we are asked about our believes and just say "I do not believe in anything", "I have no connections to any religious groups", "I am not under influence or part of any party". Maybe we need to state the existence of the void in more understandable and obvious way?
So many times one can hear someone saying "atheists claim that this and this and this", but something like "atheists" does not actually exists! There is nothing that connects us other than belonging to species called homo sapiens. We congregate on AN only because we need mutual protection of our natural state of mind and that is it about it.
I think it is worth giving a little thought that in case someday humanity in majority accepts reason we should drop using the word "atheists" or naming ourselves in any way altogether. And wether or not it is wise to actually disconnect ourselves from feeling as being a member of something called "atheism" right now and start propagating the void instead?
I like the word rationalist or my favorite one, Normal.
Thanks Radix for an interesting essay. The people from the Congo who were captured and sold into slavery didn't think of themselves as "black". There would have been no reason to. Some of their descendants find that appellation useful to distinguish themselves relative to the predominant society in which they find themselves. Because theism is predominant, atheism means something, to theists if not to atheists. I've resorted to describing myself to bible thumpers as an atheist just to try to get them to understand that I don't believe in a slightly different god than they do. Unfortunately, many of them seem to take it as a statement of belonging to some radical sect.
I'll take respectful exception to your "tabula rasa" assertion. I think that we are born with a lot of programming already running, and part of that is almost certainly the code from which religions arise. Of course, to test for this you would have to strand a bunch of infants on an island and observe their development of belief structure, and we can't do that.
Are you referring to human's incredible ability to name patterns they see? Even when they do not understand them?
It is possible that all the Gods present in modern religions are derived from first religions that used to name stars with the names of Gods. And it is quite possible also that there will be people that will use it to their own advantage. But I think it is chance based. You can be smart and use others or you can be smart and teach others. In our history we had to many of the first type.
Anyways you are right - we have some software running out of box and a consequence of having this software is pushing us towards madness if not taken care of properly ;) You only need to promise a man that he will keep his most precious thing he has - which is life - for eternity and he will do anything you ask of him. And you need knowledge to be able to oppose it.
Great quote Future. I will probably harass people around me with it for a few days.
My point is about why would we even need to be able to distinguish ourselves from the ones that believe in some garbage. Why would that even concern us? Who cares about nonbelievers and believers nonsense...
But immediately we would not be able to stick together against this garbage without having a common name. I think I was a bit unclear in the original post and where I intended to take the argument. By labelling ourselves we create a group with different belief system. It does not matter that it is actually a lack of a belief. We are a group and we are treated as a different religion. There is no point in arguing how we view ourselves - unless someone wants to feel better about himself ;P Focus should go on how we are being perceived by the believers.
Religious people are unable to grasp what does "lack of belief" mean. Otherwise the world would be already 100% full of nonbelievers (minus some serious freaks maybe). That is why the idea - of posing as being a member of no group at all perhaps might help during an argument with a believer.
I always considered myself an atheist and used to resonate that fact around me in quite outward way usually not caring about anyone feelings about their God/s. Sometimes it works and sometimes it does not. I am exploring the "does not" part and it lead me to the conclusion presented in the original post.
Dan D - you made a great point. We atheists are a very diverse mass of people and are being thrown into the same box. Both the ones shy and locked in their closets and those that shout "you're an idiot for believing in God" on youtube channels. It is a problem for those that want to propagate atheism in a calm and reasonable way. So I say: try saying you are not an atheist. "What are you then?" - a believer asks. "Just another dude like you with tiny and not very important difference that I do not believe in God...".
Perhaps then one will be able to continue the conversation without having the believer switch to "oppose at all costs" mode...
Atheist is a perfectly fine word, as far as I am concerned, and I admit to being against theists, "the belief in one God as the creator and ruler of the universe, without rejection of revelation".
I am also adeist, "the belief in one God as the transcendent creator and ruler of the universe that does not necessarily entail further belief in divine revelation".
It's not an usual question. I think it's Sam Harris who said that he doesn't care for the term "atheist" because it forces us into the negative. Like "NON-believer," it seems unfair that we have to define ourselves not only as a negative, but as if the default position is belief.
I like "rational thinker" or simply "secular" (though that word reminds me of the French word "sec," meaning "dry," so it's not perfect.....)
We should consider ourselves "rationalists" vs "irrationalist" ideally. Although, I'm starting to hear the term "religioulist" or something like it being thrown around lately.
EDIT: Just noticed Future's post above, the term I'm grasping for is "religionist." I have to start trying to work that into conversation, and pretend like it's been a word all along (or has it? I've never heard it until recently.)
it seems unfair that we have to define ourselves not only as a negative, but as if the default position is belief
Belief, whether religious or not, is the default position in the sense that if you don't think critically about it, you'll believe what you're told. People pick up beliefs from the people around them, from their culture. A lot of religious believers haven't thought it through.
I see nonbeliever as matter for pride. It means, I DO think. I don't just swallow the thoughts that are floating around me.
ps For me, "nonbeliever" is related to the Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever series of novels by Stephen Donaldson.
Stephen Donaldson had religious parents and knows all about the misuses of religion, and there are many quasi-religious aspects to his novels.
I prefer to go with atheist. As the Onion says "Stereotypes save time". If there is nothing that you can find in common with that person beyond being myth informed why waste your time?