I wish to register a complaint. About nothing. And I’m serious.
It’s this “strong vs. weak atheism” business. I’m sure you have heard the terms; they purport to categorize those who “believe there is no god” and those who “hold no belief in a god”, respectively. A weak atheist allegedly does not believe, but a strong atheist allegedly believes that there is no god.
Stop using these terms. Stop it. Just stop it, right now. They are worse than useless.
Atheism is the “none of the above” category; it’s the “nothing for me, thanks” equivalent. A co-worker of mine, when he found out I am an atheist, asked me “which god is it you don’t believe in?” He was a christian minister, and must have thought himself very clever. Of course, he would have strongly believed in the god of the Bible–and it makes sense to speak of that as a strong belief. He had no doubts (despite plenty of reason to doubt, having lost family in a flood at a bible camp!), whereas others may have a few doubts, or grave doubts.
He also, as a devout believer, would have been a strong disbeliever in, say, Zeus. Which is why the terms are silly. Belief is object-specific. My sister is a believer–does that tell you much about her? Is she Christian? Muslim? Jewish? If she is Christian, what does that tell you? Is she Catholic? Lutheran? Baptist? Not all believers are the same (duh), and each of these different belief systems is positively defined, with regard to a specific object of belief. My co-worker, as an article of faith in his god, strongly believed that there were no other gods. His disbelief in Zeus was part of a positive description of his world-view, not merely an absence of belief in Zeus. (By the way, you may also have heard the argument “ask yourself why you do not believe in all the gods you don’t believe in–I just apply the same reasons to one more god than you do.” While this may be correct for some, it obviously would not work for my co-worker. His reason for not believing in god X was that god Y had told him not to–this does not generalize to god Y, and is also very probably not the reason an atheist does not believe.)
An absence of belief is just that–an absence. Zero on the scale. You don’t get more zero by adding exclamation points, or more zeroes after a decimal. You may have positive beliefs that are relevant–I, for instance, believe that an understanding of the psychology and neurology of belief more than adequately accounts for the reasons people believe in a god, without an actual god being required at all–but this is a separate positive belief, not a “stronger absence of belief”.
Stronger and weaker are terms that are appropriate when speaking positively of a belief, but irrelevant when speaking of an absence; to use the terms is to strengthen the anti-atheist position that speaks of “atheist agenda”. Catholics may have an agenda, but non-catholics? Muslims may have an agenda, but non-muslims? (note–I am not using “agenda” to mean anything other than their defining beliefs.) “None of the above” does not have an agenda.
I looked in my wallet, to take out a note—
There was someone I needed to pay.
Now, I’m used to my wallet containing just nothing,
But there’s even more nothing today
I didn’t just not have a dollar today,
I didn’t have twenty or more!
I didn’t have hundreds, I didn’t have thousands,
More nothing than ever before!
It’s not that I’m working with negative numbers,
Just zeroes, and zeroes galore!
I thought that, with zeroes, just one was enough
But I’ve zeroes today by the score!
There’s nothing—just nothing—a whole lot of nothing,
There’s nothing all over the place
Just zeroes, and zeroes, and zeroes and zeroes…
I’m lucky they take up no space.
You’d think inundation with infinite nothing
Would be a particular hell
But the thing about nothing—no matter how much—
Is that nobody really can tell.
You can doubly my nothing, it’s still only nothing,
At double-or-nothing the odds
And nothing is nothing, when speaking of money
Or even believing in gods.