Disclaimer: Being new to this website, it is possible this idea has come up before. If so I apologize for the repetition.
Throughout history, there have been frequent attempts to remove the perceived negative connotations society has towards a specific name and the idea it represents... For example, in the abortion debate, we have “Pro Life” for those opposed, while those in favor of abortion rebranded themselves as “Pro Choice.” In 2003 Paul Geisert and Mynga Futrell started a movement to promote a naturalistic worldview, including atheists under the term “Bright.”
As a lifelong atheist, my guiding principle has always been the pursuit of reason. This is a theme that presents in all the atheists I have read and known. Rationalism is by definition (according to my handy dictionary.com) “the principle or habit of accepting reason as the supreme authority in matters of opinion, belief, or conduct.” This is of course the antithesis of theism. We all know the quotes, for example Martin Luther’s famous “Faith must trample under foot all reason, sense, and understanding.”
When I am asked my philosophy (I am a vocal atheist), I am happy to reply “atheist.” But lately, I have come to wonder if a rebranding of myself as a “rationalist” is not more appropriate. The goal is not to be offensive or confrontational in my discussions with my theist friends, only to be clear in defining who I am.
So I ask, is a rebranding of an atheist as a rationalist something that has come up before, an idea people think is worthwhile, or is this simply a concept that is counterproductive and the whole idea of rebranding with atheism a waste of time?
It is all in the definition. Paul's comments about the definition of "reason" are well taken. However, having done a stint as a research social worker, I came to appreciate the need for following the scientific method and the importance of empirical data, testable hypothesis etc. A theist can have what they believe is a valid reason for their beliefs, they can see an atheist as irrational, but this is about valid reasons as the term reason relates to the definition of being rational. I can explain my reason for placing an offer on the Brooklyn Bridge, but it is hardly empirical. When I think of myself as a rationalist, it is about the evidence. For me the term highlights that I am following a scientific process in my belief system. The theist believes in the supernatural, but can not offer empirical evidence. I don’t believe in god, gods, astrology, time travelers, that there are elves living in my backyard, that extraterrestrials have been coming to earth to molest cattle and their ranchers or that the bill of sale for the Brooklyn Bridge is real, because no one has presented me with evidence proving any of those things. By calling myself a rationalist I am making an implicit statement that I reason and form my beliefs based on my need for testable hypothesis and empirical evidence.