“Let me remind you why I am framing these ideas around the term atheism and not around some less charged word such as secularism, humanism, rationalism, skepticism, naturalism, existentialism, or freethinking. First, it would be a shame to miss what may be an opportunity, since we are perhaps finally ready to face an indifferent universe with new views and to live purposefully and well without gods. Second, rallying around atheism underscores the heightened threat that religious belief poses to the survival of the species. It was one thing for human beings of another age to use god-talk to justify inquisitions. But the world has changed. Now we have nuclear weapons and a thousand other ways to kill each other. We need atheism to grow as a movement because we need to remove the god card from the hands of the selfishly self-interested. … The atheist’s way is a beautiful way, a truthful way, and it may very well prove to be the only way for our species to have a fighting chance for survival.”
–Eric Maisel, The Atheist’s Way
For me, using the word “atheist” to describe myself was hard to do. I wanted to invent some other word, since a-theist has the word for god in it, and since the a- means “against.” I don’t want to live life being against something.
I embrace all the words that Maisel lists. But I particularly have come to appreciate that “atheist” is necessary in that it explicitly identifies the removal of god-talk. I don’t want to prohibit others from talking about a god, but I do want to be clear that I wish to eliminate that kind of talk from my own story. (Even the Einsteinian version of the mysterious cosmos as god, I don’t wish to have any longer.)
It is tempting to see words like “freethinker” and “humanist” as having a wider umbrella. But my experience has been that traditional believers look at all of those terms as synonymous with atheist anyway. So we might as well adopt it.
While I agree that we need to “remove the god card” from those who terrorize, I want to use the word atheist in a much broader sense. I want to use it as a term for what is true, and therefore what is most useful and helpful. I no longer believe that it serves anyone to talk about a god, because it places meaning and agency outside ourselves, and teaches people to derive emotional comfort from a non-existent source. Only understanding the real source and ground of our emotions (within natural processes) can help us gain the fulfillment and flourishing we seek, not clinging to illusions about where happiness comes from.God-talk is a false (and therefore harmful) way of looking at ourselves, because it makes us feel that we are not creative individuals with choices, but rather subject to a supernatural person’s actions, views, and commands. What is worse, the fact that those views and commands are actually coming from other people with their own agendas, makes us blind to human abuses and misuses of power, blind to ignorant views of sexuality, gender, race, and class, and blind to science and psychology and sociology and a host of other fields of study that provide real hope and solutions to people.
Using the term “atheism” captures all of this explicitly for me, in a way that other terms do not.
Take A GoodMinute
What term do you most resonate with when it comes to describing your own views? Why?
Please share your thoughts on god-talk, and whether you see truth or usefulness in it.
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