When I use a dictionary, it means exactly what I choose it to mean


Apparently dictionary atheism means that, if you’re an atheist, you should just shut up about abuses committed against atheists, because atheism is exclusively about “not believing in gods.” The words “decency” and “respect” don’t appear anywhere in the dictionary definition, and therefore atheism is not about atheists treating each other decently and respectfully. As an atheist, you’re allowed to say that you don’t believe in gods, and that’s it.

Unless, of course, you want to complain about the people who are speaking up about abuses against atheists. Then it’s a different story. Complaining about other atheists is perfectly acceptable, regardless of what the dictionary definition of atheism is, as long as the atheists you’re complaining about are reporting genuine problems. Somehow, magically, the dictionary definition of atheism only rules out legitimate complaints of abuse. It can do that, somehow.

And we think that believers are the ones who get their authority from magical books.

Comments

  1. says

    For some odd reason, this appears in the “Feminism, Gender and Sexuality” at FTB. Has nothing about those three.

    Apparently dictionary atheism means that, if you’re an atheist, you should just shut up about abuses committed against atheists, because atheism is exclusively about “not believing in gods.”

    No, that is a strawman. That is if we even accept that there is a significant enough group identifying themselves as “dictionary atheists.” Besides, the dictionary simply says that atheists are those who disbelieve in deities. Says nothing about shutting up about anything.

    You must not shut up about abuses whether they’re are committed by atheists, Christians or Yezidis. The “you” in the preceding sentence includes you the atheist, you the Christian and you the Yezidi.

    And we think that believers are the ones who get their authority from magical books.

    I suppose that brush could be broader, but again, the dictionary has a simple definition that makes a clear enough distinction in one small but significant belief from, say, a Christian.

    That you (“we”) insist on atheist being more (is this, like the third article on FTB in the last week?) is a merely misplaced cussedness to not wanting to discuss “What are you, besides being an atheist?” except on your own terms and insisting on an arbitrarily extended definition of atheism. Atheism+ at least acknowledged this.

    I submit that “Why are you not opposing the craven abuse against women online?” will get further than “Why are you, an atheist, not opposing the craven abuse against women online?” but after several repeated discussions, this sounds unlikely. I am not going to get you to reconsider, and likewise.

    Be well, Deacon.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Well, considering you’re asking me to answer for a position I do not hold, our lack of progress may be understandable. I have never stated nor implied, as far as I can see, that one must protest injustice in order to be an atheist. I have merely objected to the notion that such protests are “off topic” for atheists due to a narrow definition of what “atheist” means.

  2. exi5tentialist says

    I contend that because atheism challenges the very existence of the universe’s supposed supreme authority, atheism innately challenges the existence of all authorities that are less than that supreme authority. This is an inevitable consequence of atheism. Anyone who disagrees is in bad faith. When the supreme authority falls, all other authorities fall.

    Challenging authority means challenging authoritarianism; authoritarianism is exercised at Atheism Plus, Freethoughtblogs, Slymepit and most if not all internet atheist or humanist websites. The only difference is in the degree of authoritarianism, and therefore the degree of bad faith, that each website has in functioning. Freethoughtbloggers tend to have quite a lot of bad faith when they exercise authoritarian interventions purely out of self-righteousness as happens sometimes. I’m not a member of Slymepit, but I have no doubt that if I were they would exercise an authoritarianism over me extremely quickly if I joined and repeatedly proposed that they make the changes to the functioning of their website that I would like to propose. Atheism Plus? …well, best not go there if you don’t want to experience maximum authoritarianism with minimum accountability, they’re pretty good at being abusive as well, in my experience, if you challenge core ideological truths like the near-taboo status that talking about islamophobia has on that Forum.

    Abuse itself is a form of authoritarianism. It is an attempt to subordinate the rights of others to yourself by dehumanising the other person – ie usually by denigrating them using sexual, scatalogical, ableist, ageist, gendered or racially or religiously loaded slurs of one kind or another; because those things matter to people, and the abusers all know they do.

    I am not a dictionary atheist. I think dictionary atheists are in denial. Dictionaries have no authority; none of them declare themselves to give the correct meaning of any word. When I choose a word like atheist, it means what I choose it to mean anyway, and it means everything I’ve said. I don’t need dictionaries. Dictionary atheists are like theists: woo-merchants who want to force everyone to bow down to their chosen authoritary.

    All this I derive from atheism.

      • exi5tentialist says

        Absolutely. There is no reason why you should accept what I pontificate, any more than I should accept what you pontificate.

        You could try analysing the argument I present to satisfy yourself that I am completely wrong.

      • Deacon Duncan says

        How do I analyze it without appealing to, say, the authority of logic and/or evidence?

  3. Ben Finney says

    Apparently dictionary atheism means that, if you’re an atheist, you should just shut up about abuses committed against atheists, because atheism is exclusively about “not believing in gods.” […] As an atheist, you’re allowed to say that you don’t believe in gods, and that’s it.

    You’ve excluded a pretty big middle there. How about:

    Dictionary atheism means that, if you’re an atheist, you’re allowed to say that you don’t believe in gods, and that’s it.

    Those people who yell that people should shut up about other causes, have no support from “dictionary atheism”. Rather, dictionary atheism means those people get to call themselves atheists, while still being regressive and opposed to social justice.

    Meanwhile, we get to call ourselves atheists, and stand up for social justice. I see no need to say people not fighting for my causes are not atheists — they fit the definition just as well as you or I do.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      I definitely agree with your last statement, with the caveat that I still have no idea who these mysterious people are who allegedly say you’re not an atheist unless you fight for X additional causes.

      • Ben Finney says

        I still have no idea who these mysterious people are who allegedly say you’re not an atheist unless you fight for X additional causes.

        Among countless examples, I find one immediately at the comments on this very article:

        [someone who oppresses other] isn’t a true atheist. They’re a fraud. They’re not a proper atheist.

        So that person is excluding atheists based on criteria other than belief about gods.

        They even want to go through a rather convoluted thread of thought to eventually arrive at the conclusion that I, in particular, should be excluded:

        [lots of stuff about dictionaries and laws, folloed by] Atheists aren’t authoritarians. So you’re not an atheist. You’re an authoritarian pseudo-atheist.

        Deacon, I hope you’ll cease being baffled when aeists pint out that there are those who want to eclude atheists from calling themselves atheists.

        Conflating someone’s position on whether gods exist, with definitionally-binding inferences about positions they *must* or *must not* hold on moral issues, is exactly what happens with the obnoxious fallacy “You don’t believe there’s any gods watching us, therefore you have no basis for morality”.

        It’s bullshit when that statement is made about us by religious folks; we atheists should not be doing the equivalent thing (“You don’t believe there are any gods, therefore you must also hold this position on social justice”) to other atheists. No, not even the horrible ones.

      • Deacon Duncan says

        Yeah, I’ve been slow catching up on the comments here, but I think you’re right, and given that example I have to say I there are some who do, and I find it just as bizarre as trying to say that atheists can’t have any positions beyond unbelief in gods. It almost sounds like exi5tentialist’s counterpart in the religious would would be someone who said that “theist,” can only mean someone who believes Jesus is the one true god. So yes, I agree that atheism refers to an absence of theism, and that it is inappropriate and misleading to try and require additional, idiosyncratic constraints on the basic definition.

      • Deacon Duncan says

        As a follow-on to my last reply, however, I am becoming less convinced that the comment you linked to is not a contrived argument intended to discredit the position it purports to advance. Do you have another, perhaps more reliable, example?

  4. kellyw. says

    Oh, geez…this again. Dictionary atheist, here. *waves*

    I came to be an atheist through skepticism. I came to caring about social justice because of skepticism and because certain issues affect me personally — atheism had nothing to do with it. At least A+ acknowledges that “atheism” doesn’t inherently include or exclude either social justice or anti social justice people. A+ makes it clear as to what kind of atheists they are or aspire to be. I have participated on the A+ forums and stopped posting for personal reasons–it was stressful reading about social injustice all day every day…it wasn’t helping my depression.

    Telling someone that I’m an atheist simply does not communicate that I value human rights. The phrase “I care about social justice” works. People who want to redefine “atheism” to mean more than lacking theism have a long way to go to get the change amongst atheists and theists. I just don’t see that happening, especially given the misogyny, racism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, etc. stinking up the larger atheist community.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Welcome, and thanks for the comments. You are helping me to understand why someone would want to identify as a dictionary atheist. But I still don’t know who the people are who want to redefine atheism to mean more than the absence of theism. I see lots of people saying that atheists need to have common standards of decency towards one another, especially given that, as atheists and skeptics, we ought to be more resistant than usual to the ignorant appeals to prejudice and superstition that underlie so much bigotry and abuse towards women and minorities. But it does not redefine atheism to associate it with secular causes, it merely elaborates on the consequences and implications of unbelief.

      Maybe I’m just misunderstanding, but when atheists respond to calls for social justice by insisting on a narrow, unbelief-only definition, the intended impact of that response appears to be silencing the calls for social justice. Otherwise, why point out that atheism means unbelief? We all know that and we all accept that, and some of us think that as unbelievers we ought to stand together with other unbelievers and support one another for the common good. Any objection, dictionary-based or not, would have to count as an attempt to oppose that goal. Otherwise, “dictionary atheism” ought to serve just as strongly as a reason why atheists should not be making any such objections. But if you live by that rule, then the topic doesn’t even enter into the conversation. Or at least, that’s how I perceive it, and that’s why I tend to respond negatively to it.

      Now I’m venting on general topics, and probably bringing in baggage that does not apply to you, and I hope my tone isn’t too adverserial towards you personally because I hear what you’re saying, and I respect it and in fact I may need to hear more from you if my own POV is misinformed or otherwise biased. So no joking and no sarcasm: your opinions are welcome here, and I invite and encourage you to continue to object if you think I’m not being fair and/or accurate. Sometimes that’s the only way I learn.

  5. says

    For some odd reason, this appears in the “Feminism, Gender and Sexuality” at FTB. Has nothing about those three.

    Context. This is in the context of the dictionary atheists who reject any notion of social justice, of there being any need to fight sexism (let alone sexual assault), racism or any other bigotries in the atheist movement.

  6. exi5tentialist says

    they fit the definition just as well as you or I do.

    No they don’t

    The whole bloody point of a dictionary is that it doesn’t give authoritative definitions. Dictionaries are just observers of how people use words, they are not authorities on how individuals should use words. They observe common usage, they don’t limit the bounds of individual usage.

    So I believe God doesn’t exist. I think an atheist is someone who not only believes there is no God, but who follows through the consequences of God’s non-existence to its fullest possible conclusion. Therefore anyone who uses or supports the same methods of oppression the christian god in particular, even if they purport not to believe in God, isn’t a true atheist. They’re a fraud. They’re not a proper atheist.

    If you tell me I’m objectively wrong, because you’ve swallowed the idea that dictionaries are somehow legislators of words rather than just observers of popular usage (and popular usage may be wrong), then you’re acting in an authoritarian way. Atheists aren’t authoritarians. So you’re not an atheist. You’re an authoritarian pseudo-atheist.

    I suggest you revise your position.

  7. says

    authoritarianism is exercised at Atheism Plus, Freethoughtblogs, Slymepit and most if not all internet atheist or humanist websites. The only difference is in the degree of authoritarianism

    FTB and other humanist websites are collective efforts; there is no unified opinion and therefore there is no “authority”

    Perhaps some posters on humanist sites rest their arguments on authority, but you’d have to argue that point with them, not simply with a strawman position.

    I’m sure you feel your argument was very clever, but really, it’s very sloppy.

  8. exi5tentialist says

    FTB may be a collective effort but it is an egalitarian one? If there are some people in positions of power, and others not, then it already the character of authoritarianism. In which case, its claim to atheism is tenuous.

    • John Morales says

      exi5tentialist, what does that have to do with the topic at hand?

      PS There’s a reason for threading of comments, and it would have been polite of you stick to that thread.

      (Yes, sorry Deacon, I know I’m being presumptuous)

      • exi5tentialist says

        @John Morales – that is hilarious. I assume you’re a dictionary atheist, because I’m now talking about the practical application of authoritarianism, rather than keeping my comments solely confined to some narrow dictionary definition of atheism that isn’t law anyway.

        There are various reasons for threading comments. In authoritarian message boards and blogs one reason is often to make sure no commenter ever talks about a topic that bloggers and administrators find uncomfortable. Often there are comment police who come in to enforce this, sometimes goading the authority to take action and restore discipline

        Here we witness dictionary atheism in action! Thank you!

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Sorry, comparing this to your answer regarding dictionaries: how is it that a collection of atheist blogs is “already in a position of authoritarianism” but a dictionary is not? As an FTB blogger myself, I’m not aware of any “people in positions of power,” unless by that you mean that as the blogger I sometimes exercise a minimal, necessary amount of control in the comments section, to keep it readable and interesting. The only FtB “authority” is one of consensus, as in a public record of how a number of people think regarding atheism, skepticism, and other freethought topics.

  9. exi5tentialist says

    Well a dictionary has no power to appoint new bloggers or ban its readers from commenting on it. Just being able to do that puts FTB bloggers in a power relationship to their readers. A blogger exercising control in the comments section is power, is it not? Different FTB bloggers exercise that with varying degrees of authority. FTB does have a cohesive centralised system for appointing new bloggers. I’m not in the know on how that works exactly, but that doesn’t mean my observation is incorrect, after all bloggers are hardly elected by we, the readership, are they? Perhaps the most dangerous type of power is the type where the powerful don’t acknowledge that they have power. Then they simply become God-like. Right. All the time. Unchallenged. Unchallengeable. Don’t you agree?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      People don’t get to vote on which words are included in the dictionary, nor do they get to vote on the wording or order of the definitions. FTB does have a certain amount of limited control over its own brand, which is not surprising or alarming, but they certainly do not control atheism nor anyone else’s ability to set up a blog and contribute to the discussion. They don’t even control the Links section of each individual blog, so each individual blogger is helping to build an even larger network of related blogs, outside of FTB’s control.

      I have to say, the more I read your arguments, the more you sound like some kind of poe or concern troll trying to undermine the influence of FTB by taking a caricature of their position to an absurd level.

  10. exi5tentialist says

    Is that how you act in real life conversation? Three or four exchanges of views with someone and then you start mooting the idea that the other person is a concern troll? In free conversations it should be possible to have twenty, thirty, forty exchanges at least and everybody accepts it as normal. In free conversation, disagreement is permitted.

    I’ve already said, dictionaries don’t have any power over people. There’s no power relationship there. Unless some third party comes along as says you’re only allowed to use words according to the dictionary definition from now on. FTB’s bloggers do have ‘control’ as you put it over their comments section. It’s a power relationship.

    I do think FTB has a centre-right political bias overall. Liberal when it suits them, overtly anti-islamophobic, but not very good at tackling the underlying generalisations that support right-wing attacks on muslims in particular. To maintain this stance, FTB generally does have a centre of gravity around a kind of semi-authoritarianism in it comments sections. Of course, it’s exercised by individual bloggers. Commenters have no editorial influence in the system. FTB isn’t unique in this regard.

    Another way of doing it might, for example, be to ask commenters to buy into the website for a small online fee. Mods, rather than being each individual blogger, could be subject to a regular election process. I’m sure there’s a whole tranche of reasons why this might be deemed impossible; challenging the status quo often produces a thousand reasons why things shouldn’t change. And I’m not even proposing it formally, not even informally, I’m just saying it might be another way things might work.

    But there’s always inertia, and people feel threatened by suggestions of change. But mention votes once and the blogger starts saying you’re probably a troll or a poe – that’s pretty hardcore on the authoritarian front.

    So it looks like I’ll have to take my own views about the consequences of atheism for authoritarianism somewhere else.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      So you don’t see the editors of a dictionary as exercising any control over the contents of their publication, the way bloggers exercise control over the contents of their blogs? Most dictionaries do not provide any mechanism at all for publishing user-submitted comments. Does your definition of atheism not require you to challenge their power to refuse any and all user comments?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      I’ve been reading back over your earlier comments, and I think I see where you’ve gotten off on the wrong foot. You write:

      I contend that because atheism challenges the very existence of the universe’s supposed supreme authority, atheism innately challenges the existence of all authorities that are less than that supreme authority. This is an inevitable consequence of atheism. Anyone who disagrees is in bad faith. When the supreme authority falls, all other authorities fall.

      The problem with that argument is that it requires the real existence of a real deity whose authority really is superior to all other authorities. A purely mythical authority is actually less than all real authorities, not superior to them. Rejecting the spurious authority of a myth has nothing at all to do with whether or not we ought to recognize legitimate authority being exercised with due respect for individual liberty and civil rights. So your fundamental premise is mistaken.

  11. kellyw. says

    Hello, Deacon Duncan. Yes, there are atheists who are minimizing and attempting to silence social justice discussion. It would be more effective to call them irrational, non-skeptical atheists than dictionary atheists, because that (to me, anyway) is what pro social justice atheists are meaning when they say dictionary atheist. That’s why I like A+ (the name, plus the goal). A+ separates from those atheists who don’t care about or prioritize social justice. Trying to bring everyone under the banner of atheism clearly isn’t working. It’s sad that A+ isn’t catching on — it’s a great idea.

    Atheism as a whole is not a group friendly to social justice. When I became an atheist, I was excited to finally find people who would accept me…people who could see through the status quo bullshit. As I grew in my appreciation for social justice because of what it can do for me and lots of people, I began to see the cracks in the facade. I was disappointed that atheism didn’t grow with me and I was completely crushed when everything exploded into hate (Elevatorgate). I had assumed that atheists were people who “get it”. I was wrong. I learned that being an atheist does not equal skepticism. I am a Massively Disappointed Atheist.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      I think a lot of us are in the same boat, and it sounds like your perspectives is very similar to mine. I do share the view that atheism means lack of belief in god(s), nothing more nor less, so I’m actually in favor of “dictionary atheism” as you are using the term. My objection is when people take something simple and obvious like that and try to appropriate it as a tool for maintaining an oppressive status quo, which is plainly not something you’re promoting or defending. So it’s good to hear from you, and thanks for reminding me that there’s more than one way to look at things.

  12. exi5tentialist says

    A purely mythical authority is actually less than all real authorities, not superior to them.

    Yes I know that and you know that. We’ve brought God down to size, because we’re atheists. And the same goes (or at least should go) for anyone else who tries to instill the fear of God into us just because of who they are. Trouble is, it doesn’t always go for those authorities too… some atheists think that denying God is enough, and it isn’t.

    Rejecting the spurious authority of a myth has nothing at all to do with whether or not we ought to recognize legitimate authority being exercised with due respect for individual liberty and civil rights.

    Couple of things – firstly, is there really any such thing as ‘legitimate authority’. Are we not each, in the final analysis, laws unto ourselves, regardless of the status of anyone outside of us – elected or non-elected, benign or malign? I think we are. Those things you call legitimate are compromises we make which deny each of us our personal sovereignty, ostensibly in the interests of society, but in reality in our own interests above all else. Thus we are in conflict with ourselves.

    Secondly, and related – all authority relies on some element of spuriousness, doesn’t it? The police can arrest us but they prefer us to police ourselves, that’s how having a police force works. But is that internalised self-policing real or sprurious? Governments like to govern us, but really they prefer us to govern ourselves up to the point of their dramatic interventions. And the process by which external authorities delegate their authoritarianism to us so that we internalise it is what atheism is all about. In what ways are people made to fear the highest conceivable authority, and in what ways do real authorities replicate those complex ways to maintain their status over us?

    So your fundamental premise is mistaken.

    Not really, actually.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      Ok, I’ve pointed out that your original “supreme authority” isn’t a real authority after all, and now you’re switching to “highest conceivable authority.” Is that sufficient to rescue your position? I don’t think so, because your connection between “atheism” and “challenging authority” depended on God being the supreme authority. Without that, you can no longer legitimately claim that atheism is all about challenging people’s fear of authority. Atheism is about not believing in gods, and you can’t make the connection between gods and “supreme authority” if there is no supreme, divine authority. If all you have is “highest conceivable authority,” you’re no longer dealing with theology, and are in the realm of subjective value judgments about which authorities are higher. Which might be an interesting topic, but it’s quite a separate subject from atheism.

      The highest conceivable authority is reality itself and the constraints it imposes through the laws of logic and physics. Not even God can violate the fundamental laws of reality itself. But if atheism is all about challenging reality, then atheists have a real problem.

  13. exi5tentialist says

    I’m not “switching”, I’m just saying more about something about which I had previously said less, something that has been jumped on as some kind of silver bullet that destroys my argument, when it doesn’t. “Switching” implies I’m changing something I previously expressed. But come on, when I said God was the highest authority, was it really so unclear that I wasn’t aware God isn’t real? Does saying that really destroy my argument? I don’t see how.

    I agree that real authorities have to be real. But conceivable authorities don’t have to be. Conceivable authorities can be imaginary. But imaginary things, like monsters and nightmares, can be terrifying. It only matters that the people who submit to the authoritarian concept of God treat his authority, and the authority of his hierarchies – the bishops, the priests, the ayatollahs – as real. I therefore maintain that God is the highest conceivable authority. Conceivably, God itself could change the laws of the universe and change the fundamental laws of reality itself.

    Human consciousness is made up of concepts. So what is the most authoritarian consciousness we can conceive of, if it isn’t God? God is the concept that created and rules the universe in the conceptual mythology. Isn’t the important thing not whether God is real, the important thing is whether it is treated as real by God-fearing people. And if God-fearing people treat God as real, what other authoritarian concepts do they treat as real? What habits of thought do they copy and paste from theology to everyday life, that make them subservient, obedient, deferential to patriarchy, willing to subordinate themselves to people who appear, in one way or another, to be agents of God, or God’s representatives on earth?

    And what happens then if, having taken on board all those habits of deference to that authority, they discard the concept of God, become atheists, but still don’t discard all the habits of thought and action that they’ve copied and pasted to their everyday lives? So we have theological habits underpinned by a zombie God. But that’s okay, because everybody proudly declares the concept of God to be dead.

    That seems to be where atheism is at the moment. It’s held there by the idea that atheism is nothing more than what it says in the dictionary. As if anything – socialism, the universe, the moon, the railway – could possibly be confined to what it is in the dictionary. It’s a ridiculous reductive notion.

    I don’t think atheism challenges reality. I think it challenges objective reality, since our consciousness can exist only in ourselves, as we sit inside our skulls looking outwards. The objective observation can only be something we model. It’s useful for science and some other things, it helps us go beyond some of the flaws that arise from our subjective observations, but we can only say ‘it appears to be’, not that ‘it is’. God, after all, was the ultimate objective observer in the mythology; a lot of atheists like to promote science to the same position, now that there is a vacancy.

    As it happens, I think there is no one thing called atheism, I think there are millions of atheisms just like there are millions of christianities and millions of islams. It will be impossible to find agreement. The reach for dictionary atheism is I think an attempt to impose one truth on an area that has millions of truths. Atheism is a profound, elaborate and multi-faceted thing. Interesting conversations can be had exploring it. Or they can be silenced with the sound of people saying, “atheism is disbelief in gods, nothing more, nothing less.” That just reduces something that might fill a library to 9 words. Nine words! I mean come on, is that really a serious position for any person to hold authentically?

    • Deacon Duncan says

      You’re still not convincing me. I have no problem with the idea that atheism relates to a number of other topics, and that these topics are entirely appropriate and commendable for atheists to be concerned about. But that doesn’t really change what atheism is. And really, suppose one person says atheism is a word that denotes lack of belief in gods, another person says atheism denotes challenging authorities on the grounds that when we look at things a certain way we can draw a mental connection between deity and authority. If you’re going to declare that one of these persons is guilty of “a ridiculous reductive notion” for specifying what atheism is, it would be more consistent to level that same charge at both. But I have to say, I find the latter connection rather arbitrary and contrived, frankly. The question of whether or not a given authority is legitimate is certainly a worthwhile topic, and there are indeed some types of authority in which atheism might be relevant due to the alleged theological underpinnings of that authority. That doesn’t make questions of authority into the definition of atheism, though. Heck, there are any number of ancient gods of chaos you could believe in, and challenge all authority and order on entirely theistic grounds! That doesn’t mean believers in ancient gods were atheists.

      I do believe that you are convinced in your own mind that some essential connection exists between theism and authority, and I apologize for being suspicious of you earlier. But I am not buying your conclusion. If it’s a ridiculous reductive notion to limit atheism to being a lack of belief in gods, then it is surely even worse to limit it further by saying only those who challenge authority can claim to be real atheists.

    • Deacon Duncan says

      And by the way, just to clarify, the definition “someone who lacks belief in god(s)” is a very broad and inclusive definition. It covers virtually everybody except those who do believe in god(s). The only limit on this definition is that it does not add any additional constraints. It does not, for example, say that atheists are somehow forbidden to do anything more than just disbelieve in gods. So the dictionary definition of atheism includes everyone your definition includes, plus a great many more individuals who do not happen to believe in gods, regardless of their attitudes towards various authorities. Arguments against narrow definitions would be more telling against your definition, rather than in favor of it, since you are arguing against the broadest possible meaningful definition of atheist.

      • John Morales says

        Dictionaries are intended to be descriptive, not prescriptive; definitions change over time, and senses are added or become archaic or even obsolete. In a sense, they are living documents.

        Also, it can be (and has been) argued that theists are a different category to deists, for example, and so one may be atheistic yet deistic or pantheistic.

  14. exi5tentialist says

    Thanks Deacon & John.

    To be honest I’m not really “defining” the word atheist. I’m just saying what the word means to me. I’m happy for other people to say what the word means to them and then have a discussion about it, and yes in the process of the discussion I’m arguing against the other person’s way of using it. To “define” something we have to reduce it down from what it means and what its ramifications are to one person and try and get a common, short, description, but then if we use that to prohibit elaboration of it, we’re really restricting language in a way I don’t thing is right to restrict it. To a large extent I’m prepared to discard the word atheist completely and just talk about what the non-existence of God means to me, and it means all those things I said.

    Anyway thanks again for the discussion, I’m more settled in my view now than I was before.

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