Since I’m best known for being an ace blogger, perhaps a few of you expect me to explain asexuality, preferably in an easily digestible blog post, preferably in listicle format. Pffff, wait your turn. Have you considered that I have ace readers, and the ace readers want to hear me vulgarize atheism instead?
What is atheism?
Atheism is defined as the lack of belief in gods. This definition, of course, is a political fiction.
It’s widely claimed that someone who believes in the supernatural but not in gods doesn’t really count. It’s also widely claimed that agnostics who act like there are no gods are really just atheists. We also like to make lots of generalizations, like saying atheists are pro-science and anti-religion. From the real-life usage of “atheist”, we must infer a second distinct meaning. An atheist is someone who has a lot in common with the modern atheist movement.
You might notice that atheists have nearly zero respect for self-identity. If you’ve ever worried that the freedom to self-identify as asexual has muddled up it’s meaning, let me tell you. Removing the value of self-identity doesn’t help at all! Muddled meanings are a fact of life.
What is this atheist movement?
The atheist movement has been around for a long time, but arguably its modern form was created by 9/11. The movement really made it to the public eye when, in the following years, many 9/11-inspired atheist books were published. Now, there are an incredible number of atheist nonprofit organizations. Stealing from Greta Christina’s list, these include Foundation Beyond Belief, Secular Student Alliance, American Humanist Association, Freedom From Religion Foundation, American Atheists, Black Nonbelievers, Hispanic American Freethinkers, Secular Woman, and countless others. There are also thousands of meetup groups around the world, more than I can track in my local area. And finally, we have quite the online presence, with at least four major blogging networks being just the tip of the iceberg (the iceberg being Facebook, Reddit, YouTube, forums, and so on)
Compare to aces, who have only two non-profit organizations that I know of: AVEN and Asexual Outreach. Around here there is only one meetup group that meets in a cafe monthly. And the closest thing to a blogging network is a group blog launched by yours truly.
Despite all this, atheists are strangely insistent that there is no atheist movement, or that atheists are especially disorganized. There’s a saying that organizing atheists is like herding cats. Basically what I’m saying is that some atheists are full of it.
What do atheists want?
Broadly speaking, the atheist movement opposes religion and supernatural beliefs on the grounds that they are incorrect and that they are harmful. Like with the ace community, the atheist movement is international but US-dominated, so Christianity and Islam tend to be the biggest focuses. The harms range from personal (e.g. the difficulty of coming out) to political (e.g. the religious right). I’m not going to go through a list here.
Atheists also stand for the right to speak up, to be confrontational. This can be difficult to understand from an ace perspective, since ace activism is primarily about peacefully coexistence and mutual appreciation of each other’s experiences. But demanding peaceful coexistence from atheists is like demanding peaceful coexistence from liberals and conservatives. Atheists and religious people can interact with varying degrees of civility, but civility is not a positive value in every context. I am not one of the “good ones” for being civil, I’m just responding to my personal context.
Finally, atheists just want to do what’s good for the world as we see it, independently of whether or not any religious people want the same things. For example, we support science education, liberal politics, and social justice. Or at least some of us do. Historically, the atheist movement has been dominated by white men–and I think you know where this is going. There are a lot of non-religious, non-male aces around, so probably some of you have experienced atheist sexism first-hand.
Like with asexuality, atheism has a bunch of associated identities. Off the top of my head, there’s agnostic, humanist, skeptic, rationalist, secularist, godless, freethinker, naturalist, apatheist, apostate, anti-theist, anti-religious, non-religious, non-theist, non-believer, and bright. But the nature of these identities is quite different. Where most asexuality-associated identities try to be increasingly specific, atheist-associated identities try to be very broad, encompassing significant segments of the movement.
As a result, the definitions of these identities often fail to convey what is truly important about them. The important thing is, who adopts these words, who emphasizes them, and for what functions? For example, both “rationalist” and “skeptic” are roughly defined as being in favor of reason and evidence, a rather mundane definition if I ever saw one. However, “rationalist” is most commonly adopted by a particular community strongly influenced by Eliezer Yudkowsky, while “skeptic” is adopted by a community which places emphasis on opposing strange beliefs outside of gods.
To my atheist readers, I hope that wasn’t too boring explaining stuff you already knew (you did know it, right?). To my ace readers, I hope you enjoyed turning the tables, and that it helped you better understand some of the bizarre things about the atheist movement.
What’s that, you wanted me actually educate people about asexuality? I suppose I can copy and paste something later.
The Borderline says
Thanks for posting ace. Very informative 🙂
Frank Bachoura says
Your definition of atheism is not correct.
Atheism is the rejection OF THE CLAIM of the existence of a God.
It is not the rejection of the God. To reject the God would be to imply that the default state of the universe includes a God. If no person makes a claim to the existence of a God, then there is no atheism.
I listed two definitions of atheism. The first is lacking belief in gods (which is in line with this extremely hair-splitting guide), and the second is having a lot in common with the atheist movement. I honestly don’t know which definition you are even responding to. Do you just post the same comment to every article about atheism?
Frank Bachoura says
First of all, You seem very hurt and upset by my comment by claiming that I post the same comment on every article. As this is the first comment I ever make on any site regarding atheism, I would like you to point out my other comments. I would also like to point out that if you hold the evidence for your claims regarding atheism in the same esteem as you did regarding my posts, then it should be pointed out that this site is in trouble.
I was hoping to have a civil discussion with somebody regarding this definition, but it seems I have come to the wrong place for that. It seems that if I do not agree with you , the potential for having insults and false assumptions hurled at me is very real. In that case I will wish you, and all, a good day and move on to another site.
Just another quick note: Claiming that you have no idea regarding the definition to which I am referring is the most dishonest statement I have ever come across in my life.
Comments on atheist blogs are simply filled with people with strange notions about the definition of atheism. I’m willing to have civil discussions with some of them, but only the ones who can at least communicate what their views are.
Siggy, I don’t understand the way you define atheism. From what you’ve written, it seems as if you’re saying that it’s something that doesn’t exist beyond the new atheism movement. As if those who don’t identify or know about this movement aren’t able to have their own atheist worldview and convictions. I’m atheist, and I most certainly do not identify with the new atheism movement (in fact, from what little I’ve seen, I feel more inclined to actively disidentify with it). Can you elaborate or clarify the statements you made? Particularly these phrases:
“This definition, of course, is a political fiction.”
“Of course”? Based on what? Where is your argumentation for that statement.
“From the real-life usage of “atheist”, we must infer a second distinct meaning. An atheist is someone who has a lot in common with the modern atheist movement.”
“real-life”? whose life, exactly? What a strange, new atheism-centric way to define an atheist. A “real-life” usage is dependent on your own social circle and cultural surroundings and there are plenty of social and cultural surroundings where people don’t immediately think about this very specific movement.
Atheism as a lack of belief of gods is one definition. The political fiction is to say that that is the only definition. For example, Frank Bachoura above argued that my definition is incorrect, based solely on a different definition being correct. Can there not be multiple correct definitions?
And yes, the “real-life” usage of atheism is based on a particular cultural context. Nonetheless, that suffices to establish a second meaning of the word–which is not the *only* meaning of the word.
I call it a political fiction, because there is an irritating tendency of movement atheists to deny that there is a movement. See the Greta Christina link in the OP. It’s part of a strategy to claim that lots of people are atheists, and therefore are or should be sympathetic to our goals. Alternatively, it’s a strategy to deny that certain topics should ever be addressed by the atheist movement.
Over the years, I have gotten many comments informing me that there is no atheist movement. I am profoundly unsympathetic to these because it’s hard to imagine that people who are genuinely ignorant of the social movement would have ever found my blog.
In case it wasn’t clear, the conceit of this post is that it’s actually written for atheist readers rather than ace readers. I feel like can’t actually explain the atheism movement to people without portraying it as ridiculous.
Frank Bachoura says
Atheism will never be taken seriously, or seen as a positive force for the world if we have many definitions for the word. The definitions bought forward by Siggy and many others are too vague and are not to the point. To say that atheism is “a lack of belief in a god or gods” is, in my opinion, incomplete because it relies too firmly on what a theist believes instead of being a dismissal of their claim. It is not the god that atheists should be rejecting. The god is not important because the god hasn’t been shown to exist. The only thing that we can be sure of is the theistic claim to the existence of god(s). It is this claim that is being rejected. The definition put forth by Siggy makes it look like the gods are out there and that we, atheists are rejecting their existence, or that we just don’t believe that they are out there. As I stated in an earlier comment, if there is no claim to the existence of a god then there is no atheism.
Now, Siggy, instead of insulting me this time and claiming that I’m a troll making the rounds on atheist websites across the entirety of the internet, I would be interested in your feedback regarding my definition, if you do choose to respond.
I accused you of copy/paste commenting because earlier you attributed to me something I did not say. Well, anyway, the misunderstanding is gone.
I think the motivation for your definition is dubious. Suppose I said I don’t believe in gods, and then a Christian argued that I’ve just admitted that God exists, because it’s in my very identity. I would regard this absurd. It’s basically a kind of ontological argument (which says that if we can conceive of God, then God exists), which hardly anyone finds persuasive. That said, if you’re encountering exactly this kind of Christian in your life, you might get tired of addressing that kind of argument, and you might consider adopting a different definition of atheism as a workaround. Do what works for you, right?
I do not agree with the idea that many definitions will doom a movement. Basically every other successful social movement has the same “problem”. And it’s not really a problem, it’s polysemy, which is ubiquitous throughout language.