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Heathen - pejorative or nomenclature?

Like every other group of people with common interests at heart over the ages, we, too, have our own label - "atheists". Whether one likes it or not, we just have the need to label everything. But, labels eventually spawn counterparts - slurs, insults, slang, name(calling). Ours, though not directed at atheists in particular, would be "heathen".

heathen, noun -
: an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible
2 : an uncivilized or irreligious person

So, my question is, like most pejorative terms - of which I believe the origin of this word to be - has its effectiveness waned over time? Has it become yet another synonym, just another thing atheists happen to be? Take the word "Christian," for example. It started out as a pejorative label for someone crazy enough to follow the "Prophet" Jesus. And now, it's the only way to describe Protestants.

So, obviously, if used in a derogatory way, ("John is a blasphemous heathen"), a varying degree of offense would be taken to the statement. Most likely a minor degree, but still offensive nonetheless.

But, if stated out of pure belief, ("Aren't atheists heathens?"), would the term be taken as offensive still?

I believe the impact of the term, if it was ever greater, has most definitely faded as the times have changed. And, in a derogatory sense, any word becomes offensive (e.g. "Saul is Jewish," is, of course, much more reasonable than "Saul is a stupid Jew," a hurtful statement that could evoke greater problems). But, there are always multiple sides to one issue, so I'm sure there's still a few choice people who would take the term "heathen" as an insult, in any context.

Any thoughts on the matter?

Views: 94

Tags: heathen, insults, labels, names, terms


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Comment by Ari MacIsaac on March 28, 2010 at 12:09am
All very valid points so far. Thanks for your input.
Comment by Tom Thompson on March 27, 2010 at 11:35am
In order to move past religion it is necessary to stop defining ourselves and our ideas in relation to religion. Thinking of oneself as atheist, heathen, pagan, or any of the other "not-religious" concepts only validates the concept of religion. Western culture is so steeped in post-Sumerian religious tradition that it is difficult to think in non-religious terms. I just read 'In Defense of Atheism' by Michel Onfray and he has some interesting things to say about this.
Comment by Ari MacIsaac on March 26, 2010 at 9:18pm
Oo, nice addition! Thanks.

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