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View Full Version : Sick of the term "atheist", is there a better alternative?


mrrealtime
09-15-2006, 09:57 AM
No wonder no one likes athiests, the very word basically says I am anti-god.

Its like calling oneself "everyoneisanidiotexceptme" and expecting to win friends and influence people.

Not only does the term extend a nasty middle finger up at the vast majority of the population, it also gives creedence to the religious majority by declaring that it is no more than whatever a theist isnt, thereby being essentially defined by religion.

I for one, do not wish to continue to indulge the religious nut bars of the planet by allowing them to define me as something that is no more than what they arent.

There HAS to be a better term for us. Enlightened? Too arrogant. Darwinians? There are probably athiests that dont accept everything Darwin taught.

If anyone can help out please do! What is a proactive, empowering word to describe those of us who are un-shackled by a religious faith, and are prepared to face reality with no predisposition?

Mangetout
09-15-2006, 09:59 AM
Well, you could go with Dawkin's daft suggestion of 'Bright'.

scr4
09-15-2006, 10:03 AM
You could just say "not religious."

...it also gives creedence to the religious majority by declaring that it is no more than whatever a theist isnt, thereby being essentially defined by religion.
How can you have a word that means "non-religious" that isn't defined by religion??

Anaamika
09-15-2006, 10:05 AM
Atheist simply means without god. But you could say secular humanist, if you are.

Antigen
09-15-2006, 10:06 AM
I've heard "non-theist" used, but I think it sounds silly.

Eonwe
09-15-2006, 10:07 AM
You could just say "not religious."


How can you have a word that means "non-religious" that isn't defined by religion??

Exactly. The whole point of having a word to describe people who don't believe in God is to indicate that they don't believe in God. There is no unifying belief of athiesm that one could use to describe the collective group of athiests except for their lack of belief in God.

I think we're stuck.

Blaster Master
09-15-2006, 10:17 AM
Now, I'm not an atheist; however, I have had my beliefs stereotyped because my opponent in a debate (or partner in a discussion) has preconceived notions about what a specific term means when I use it. Hence, I came to the conclusion that I attempt to avoid using words for which I have a differing definition from the norm without first defining it.

In your case, "atheist" tends to have an anti-religion stigma, as you stated. Any other term you use, that anyone would understand to mean the same thing, will invariably have perhaps a different but invariably undesired stigma. If you result to abstract terms like "enlightened", not only does it have more of the Eastern religious, or new-age feel to it, but it completely fails to convey your meaning that you are not necessarily anti-religion (I assume), you just don't have one. Quite frankly, if someone is worth having a conversation with, they're worth taking the extra 5 seconds here and there to specify exactly what you mean and not using a loaded word like "atheist". The same goes for similar terms like "religious", "creationist", "Darwinist", and plenty of other loaded, but non-religion related terms.

Hari Seldon
09-15-2006, 10:33 AM
You could find a euphimism of course, but, if successful, it will end up having all the negative connotations (if any) that atheist has. I have seen, in my nearly 70 years, "crippled" replaced by "handicapped", replaced by "disabled", replaced by "differently abled" and it is all BS. The problem is being crippled, not what you call it. When I was young, we called black people "negroes", then "blacks", then "Afro-Americans", now "African-Americans". The last term is absurd since we don't call people of European descent "European-Americans" and so on. We are all of African descent anyway, if you go back far enough. If I turned out to have more recent African ancestry, it would neither surprise nor appall me.

So I am an atheist and not afraid to say so. I could say I was an agnostic, but that seems like a waffle when I truly believe there is no god. As for the origin of it all, I am truly agnostic (which means not knowing without any religious connotation).

KP
09-15-2006, 10:36 AM
Well, if you mean to say "hey, if you believe in a god, more power to you, and maybe you're right, but I don't know if there is a god at all much less your god" ... then that's along the lines of "agnostic". However, simply saying that you don't believe something that someone else does --no matter how fervently they believe it-- *isn't* the same as shooting them all the middle finger. That's what the intolerant would have you believe but you don't have to buy into it.

Face it: no matter what religion a theists believes, most of the world completely disagrees with them. When I was young, it was popular to say that all the world's religions basically taught the same thing, but the more I studied, the further that seemed from the truth. There are huge differences between major Protestant sects, between Protestant and Catholic, and completely stunning differences between Christianity and Judaism. Heck, not all the "major world religions" believe in a "god" (in more than the most vaguely comparable sense) and we know, as a matter of historical fact, that neighboring congregations of the same sect in the US often recieved opposing messages (e.g. the black church vs the white church in even the smallest towns in Alabama, during the civil rights era) That's no accident: neighboring congregations often came into existence *because of* a fundamental schism

Most people don't know the details of their own church's theology and don't really care -- much less the details of any other religion. They know that the person in the next pew or family, much less the next congregqations, woul likey turn out disagree with them on fundamental theological issues, if examined closely but they don't think about it, because they don't really believe that there *is* a knowable answer, and they fully intend to come up with their own flavor of theism, as suits them. That's true on every continent and every religion I know. It's also why deep religious discussion can be so touchy, even in a church.

In my book, faith that can't declare exactly what it believes isn't faith at all, just a wish to belong, but that's just me.

I don't think that being a member of a large religious sect is any more 'respectful', just because you're showing (slightly) fewer people the finger.

If a firm belief that there is no god or gods is important to your values, then be an atheist as proudly as a Hindu is a Hindu. if you simply *doubt*, then doubt, though it makes you more of an agnostic. How insecure does someone have to be to consider that a slap at them? Frankly, those who are offended by atheists are very often equally or more offended by theists of different colors. So who's showing whom the finger?

Nic2004
09-15-2006, 10:38 AM
I've heard the term "Freethinker" thrown around but sometimes it kinda suggests that religious people are not as smart or open-minded.
I like "Saganite" or the ever popular "Pastafarian" (sp?).

I often reply (to the door-knockers mostly) that I am "a student of science and mostly agnostic with strong atheistic leanings" and watch for the expression to change.

Si Amigo
09-15-2006, 10:41 AM
How about heathens (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/heathens) ?

Nic2004
09-15-2006, 10:42 AM
How about heathens (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/heathens) ?
I've always liked "Heretic"

scr4
09-15-2006, 10:43 AM
How about heathens (http://www.m-w.com/dictionary/heathens) ?
I wouldn't mind using it to describe myself, but doesn't it also refer to people who believe in religions other than Christianity?

Mangetout
09-15-2006, 10:44 AM
:confused: I've heard the term "Freethinker" thrown around but sometimes it kinda suggests that religious people are not as smart or open-minded.I've come across at least a couple of fundie Christians who described themselves as 'freethinker' or 'freethinking'. They were about as dogmatic and locked-in as you can get, but insisted it was the right term for them.
:confused:

Contrapuntal
09-15-2006, 10:45 AM
There is no unifying belief of athiesm that one could use to describe the collective group of athiests except for their lack of belief in God.I think that is an excellent synopsis, with one caveat: change "God" to "a particular god." There is no reason for the Judeo Christian god to be the default god. As it is Judeo Christian dogma that there is only one god, all who believe so are necessarily atheists when it comes to any other god.

The trick is not to let oneself be defined by a label. I am an atheist, but that is a descriptive term, not a definitive one.

samclem
09-15-2006, 10:45 AM
Not really a General Question. Moved to IMHO.

samclem

Nic2004
09-15-2006, 10:49 AM
:confused: I've come across at least a couple of fundie Christians who described themselves as 'freethinker' or 'freethinking'. They were about as dogmatic and locked-in as you can get, but insisted it was the right term for them.
:confused:
A Fundie Freethinker!?

::head aches, eyes roll back, everthing is spinning:::

tdn
09-15-2006, 10:54 AM
You could call yourself a materialist, but that suggests that you are primarily interested in the accumulation of wealth.

You could call yourself a naturist, but that suggests that you enjoy running the the woods naked. (Hey, who doesn't?)

Myself, I just say that I'm not very religious. It gets the point across and starts very few arguments.

AHunter3
09-15-2006, 10:55 AM
Well, what is this "God" in which / in whom you disbelieve? And how is the universe as viewed by the believers different from the one you believe in?

Would "empiricist" work? (I'm aware that it would not apply to all atheists)

Danalan
09-15-2006, 10:56 AM
It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. -- Sam Harris

An Atheist Manifesto (http://www.truthdig.com/dig/item/200512_an_atheist_manifesto/)

Renee
09-15-2006, 11:16 AM
I generally go with "I'm not religious" for people who I know are religious; they can take it as they like. I think a lot of them take it as "I don't attend church regularly, but don't eat babies for lunch or turn into a vampire at night." Whatever. It doesn't seem to offend people, and they're generally willing to leave it alone.

However, I love "heathen" and may start to use it among those who have a sense of humor about religion (few and far between though they are).

Contrapuntal
09-15-2006, 11:18 AM
Well, what is this "God" in which / in whom you disbelieve?There were no disbelievers until there were believers. It is the believers who define the god, not the other way around.


And how is the universe as viewed by the believers different from the one you believe in?Considerably more magic.

Sunrazor
09-15-2006, 11:41 AM
I'm an atheist, although I'm also a "priest" in the Church of Spiritual Humanism (http://www.spiritualhumanism.org/) (OK, it's a lark). But I use that word only when specifically discussing that subject with like-minded or similarly-minded people. Otherwise, I simply don't talk about what I do or don't believe. If asked, my wife (who still clings to shreds of her RomanCatholic-Episcopalian traditions) and I both just say, "We don't go to church." That pretty much ends all conversation about it.

fraglimit
09-15-2006, 11:54 AM
No wonder no one likes athiests, the very word basically says I am anti-god.

Its like calling oneself "everyoneisanidiotexceptme" and expecting to win friends and influence people.

Not only does the term extend a nasty middle finger up at the vast majority of the population, it also gives creedence to the religious majority by declaring that it is no more than whatever a theist isnt, thereby being essentially defined by religion.

I for one, do not wish to continue to indulge the religious nut bars of the planet by allowing them to define me as something that is no more than what they arent.

There HAS to be a better term for us. Enlightened? Too arrogant. Darwinians? There are probably athiests that dont accept everything Darwin taught.

If anyone can help out please do! What is a proactive, empowering word to describe those of us who are un-shackled by a religious faith, and are prepared to face reality with no predisposition?

I submit "agnostic" . You are unshackled by religious faith and prepared to face reality. What ever it may be.

:)

Marley23
09-15-2006, 12:11 PM
No wonder no one likes athiests, the very word basically says I am anti-god.
It says you don't believe in gods, and for me, at least, it's perfectly accurate. What's the problem?
Its like calling oneself "everyoneisanidiotexceptme" and expecting to win friends and influence people.
I think this is complete crap. 'Atheist' is a term that religious people came up with, as far as I know, and the atheists certainly weren't giving the church the middle finger in that scenario. I see it as a reclaimed term and the simplest and most honest description of my views on religious topics. There are other terms out there, like humanist, but for some of us that'd be intentionally soft-pedaling things and I've got no desire to confuse people about what I think.
There HAS to be a better term for us. Enlightened? Too arrogant. Darwinians? There are probably athiests that dont accept everything Darwin taught.
In addition to that, Darwinist would be a HORRIBLE idea. A lot of religious kooks are already trying to convince people that evolution is a godless idea put forth by people who want to eliminate morality. (Same goes for the Big Bang.) That'd be a perfect way to convince their audience that they're right.
What is a proactive, empowering word to describe those of us who are un-shackled by a religious faith, and are prepared to face reality with no predisposition?
So "atheist" is a middle finger to people, but you want everybody to know that you're "unshackled," and can view reality objectively, unlike religious people? By comparison, atheist is polite.

Siege
09-15-2006, 12:27 PM
I've heard some suggestions that the word "Bright" be used as alternative to "Atheist" and a Google search of the two terms turns up a bunch of websites, including atheistempire.com. On the other hand, several of them seem to be saying that "Bright" is a term they'd rather not use. I figure I should refer to a person's beliefs or attitude toward religion by whatever term he or she prefers. On the other hand, "Bright" to me suggests something a bit more nebulous and New Agey than the rationality I've come to associate with the Atheists.

Thomas Jefferson and company have often been referred to as "Deists" in that they believed a god of some sort, just not necessarily the Judeo-Christian one. "Adeist" is a possible alternative, and it would be closer to what the OP seems to be trying to convey than "Bright". On the other hand, I can't see that it has any advantage over "Atheist".

Sal Ammoniac
09-15-2006, 12:37 PM
I'm happy with "atheist." Why not? It's a simple descriptor, and if there's negative baggage attached to the term, that's not my fault. If the posters to this thread can't come up with anything better, you can be sure that's because there is nothing better.

Marley23
09-15-2006, 12:43 PM
I could swear that we had a thread debating the merits of "bright" on this board, but I can't find it. I hope that parts of my last post didn't come off too strong, but I like "atheist" as a term - it's accurate and unlike some of these other terms, non-judgmental. It says nothing beyond what it means and I don't think it's any more "middle finger"-y than the term Christian.

AHunter3
09-15-2006, 12:48 PM
Originally Posted by AHunter3
Well, what is this "God" in which / in whom you disbelieve?
There were no disbelievers until there were believers. It is the believers who define the god, not the other way around.

If some of the anthro and archeo folk are right, y'all don't necessarily predate them.



And how is the universe as viewed by the believers different from the one you believe in?
Considerably more magic. [/quote]

OK, so what's a good adjective for the kid of thinking or world-perceiving that doesn't involve magical thinking or references to magic? That would be an adjective that could define atheists without the definition being phrased in terms of what atheists aren't.

That's where I was trying to go with "empiricist". Not sure it would be applicable to all atheists though.

pravnik
09-15-2006, 12:56 PM
It doesn't exactly fit, but I've always thought "apostate" had a nice ring to it.

Marley23
09-15-2006, 01:13 PM
It doesn't exactly fit, but I've always thought "apostate" had a nice ring to it.
That one's gotten kind of loaded, though. It's big with the militant Muslim terrorist crowd.

pravnik
09-15-2006, 01:18 PM
That one's gotten kind of loaded, though. It's big with the militant Muslim terrorist crowd.Oh, didn't realize that. I just kind of visualized an exchange like:

"So, where do you go to church?"
"Me? I'm an apostate."
"Oh, that's...nice. Do they go on Sundays too?"

Slypork
09-15-2006, 01:37 PM
So if you are agnostic are you a Lite-Bright?

Contrapuntal
09-15-2006, 01:53 PM
If some of the anthro and archeo folk are right, y'all don't necessarily predate them.Can you elaborate? It seems incomprehensible to me that the concept of "atheist," meaning "without god," could exist before the concept of "god" existed.

OK, so what's a good adjective for the kid of thinking or world-perceiving that doesn't involve magical thinking or references to magic? That would be an adjective that could define atheists without the definition being phrased in terms of what atheists aren't.I don't know. That wasn't what you asked. The prefix "a" makes "without" necessarily a part of the definiton. It is essential to the description of an atheist that he not be a believer in god. An atheist is defined by what he is not.

Kalhoun
09-15-2006, 02:00 PM
It is what it is. I disagree that we're flipping off the rest of the world. Just flipping off the concept of god. Huge difference. Atheist works for me.

August West
09-15-2006, 02:09 PM
"So, where do you go to church?"
"Me? I'm an apostate."
"Oh, that's...nice. Do they go on Sundays too?"


One of my very good friend's uses "Apathetic" when queried about what religion he is, and I had the opportunity to use it when some Jehovah's Witnesses came to the door. It was a mom and 2 daughters and the exchange went like this:

JW: So may I ask what religion you belong to?
Me: I'm Apathetic
JW: (furrows brow) I don't think I know that one (while her daughter rolls her eyes)


I loved it and even though I'm a stronger atheist than what it connotes, it's now my stock answer.

AHunter3
09-15-2006, 02:10 PM
Originally Posted by AHunter3
If some of the anthro and archeo folk are right, y'all don't necessarily predate them.
Can you elaborate? It seems incomprehensible to me that the concept of "atheist," meaning "without god," could exist before the concept of "god" existed.

Sorry, I must've misread. I thought you were saying the atheists came first. (Not that they would have been called atheists, but harkening back to a time before religious beliefs)

mrrealtime
09-15-2006, 02:25 PM
Well..I had been starting to read about Epicurious (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicurian) in Stanley's history of Philosophy.

An "Epicurian" sort of sounds sophisticated and worldly, and makes absolutely no reference to religious people. I have a Lucretious book as well, once I get around to reading that I might go for "Lucretian".

The only problem is it seems a bit difficult to pronounce. But then, that mabey adds to the mystique.

mrrealtime
09-15-2006, 02:26 PM
sorry thats Epicurus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicurian)

Marley23
09-15-2006, 02:30 PM
sorry thats Epicurus (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epicurian)
None of those beliefs are common to all atheists, and your link makes it clear that Epicureanism is theistic!

Eve
09-15-2006, 02:30 PM
Silent movie actress Florence La Badie (http://www.silentsaregolden.com/photos/florencelabadiephoto.html), when questioned on this subject, called herself an "indifferentist"--she just didn't care.

mrrealtime
09-15-2006, 02:37 PM
None of those beliefs are common to all atheists, and your link makes it clear that Epicureanism is theistic!
you might want to read it a little more carefully:

Some would interpret this doctrine of the gods as really a disguised atheism. Fully aware of the fate of Socrates when brought up on a charge of impiety, Epicurus avoided expressing an overt atheism. Instead, he reduced the gods to mere physical beings and shut them up in a distant part of the cosmos, without a thought or care for what happens to mankind. This renders his philosophy atheistic on the practical level, but avoids the charge of atheism on the theoretical level.

Marley23
09-15-2006, 03:46 PM
you might want to read it a little more carefully:
No, I think I got it. It's Deism, after a fashion, and I'm not a Deist. I'm not interested in avoiding atheism on a theoretical level- that's what I actually am.

RaftPeople
09-15-2006, 03:53 PM
It is worth noting that no one ever needs to identify himself as a non-astrologer or a non-alchemist. -- Sam Harris


IANAA, but ...

mrrealtime
09-15-2006, 06:59 PM
No, I think I got it. It's Deism, after a fashion, and I'm not a Deist. I'm not interested in avoiding atheism on a theoretical level- that's what I actually am.
Hey, if thats what you want more power to ya.

What I am trying to point out is that the context provided a hefty price for someone claiming to be an athiest in Epicurus' day. Today in our nice country, you dont have to worry about being killed for saying you are an athiest.

It seems to me that a totally irrelevant god is, for all intents and purposes, non existant.
The thing I like, and perhaps the point of this thread, is that he teaches there is a lot more to life without god than simply life without god.

Marley23
09-15-2006, 07:05 PM
It seems to me that a totally irrelevant god is, for all intents and purposes, non existant.
The thing I like, and perhaps the point of this thread, is that he teaches there is a lot more to life without god than simply life without god.
It still strikes me as a weasel-y way of stating your convictions, as if you don't want people to know what they actually are. It's dishonest on two levels: you'd be employing the term because you know people don't know what it means, and because you're implying belief in an irrelevant god when you don't think one actually exists. This sounds like way more trouble than it's worth.

mrrealtime
09-15-2006, 10:49 PM
hey, 2300 years ago it was an important part, but Im not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater. The gods were there in context to appease the powers of the times, and their treatement was evidence. IANAE but I bet you CAN be a full fledged card carrying athiest AND identify with the majority of Epicurus and his ilk.

Besides, how do you know some super intelligent, powerful being isnt living on some planet 50,000 light years away minding their own business? The point is, its irrelevant either way.

panache45
09-15-2006, 10:51 PM
Silent movie actress Florence La Badie (http://www.silentsaregolden.com/photos/florencelabadiephoto.html), when questioned on this subject, called herself an "indifferentist"--she just didn't care.
I've been using the term "shrugnostic," meaning that the whole God-issue is irrelevant to my life.

xash
09-16-2006, 12:38 AM
I recently came across the term ignostic (not agnositc). Although not an entry in the dictionary, it has a wiki page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

Annie
09-16-2006, 01:24 AM
Godfreyist.

Har har. But if anyone is pushed to enquire I just say Jesus and I have a mutual non-interference pact. Then while they work through the syllables I run to the buffet table. (I have no problem with 'atheist' and use the term for myself.)

Annie
09-16-2006, 01:27 AM
I recently came across the term ignostic (not agnositc). Although not an entry in the dictionary, it has a wiki page:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism

And upon seeing this term, I think I like it more.