“Atheist” as a derogatory word

“How often, if ever, have you been called an atheist in a derogatory way?”

Honestly, not that often. I think I’m in a unique position, though. Since I’m known for being so vocal about my atheism – I was leader of the horde here for 3 years – people treat me differently. Conversations start with people already knowing my views and the fact that I’m going to stand up for them, so I think they take less pot shots. That and my friends and acquaintances pretty much only contain people who wouldn’t use “atheist” in a derogatory way. I think I scare away the people who would.

That being said, I have gotten it before. It’s more common at a public club event, where some random person is looking for a debate. They’ll sneer about “atheists” using that tone of voice that just drags the word out to emphasize how much they detest it.

To be honest, I think I’ve been called “feminist” in a derogatory way more often. That or various terms that would indicate that I’m homosexual. At least the first two terms are at least true about me.

How about you all?


  1. says

    Being raised in a Roman Catholic home, it’s pretty common to have atheists scoffed at. But with parents like mine, it’s less ‘ugh, atheists’ and more ‘oh, those poor atheists, they don’t have God to hold them by the hand and lead them through life’. I’ve been held in contempt by religious people for being an atheist, but I’ve never heard it used as a derogatory term. I’m not that vocal an atheist, I think that by running around and being proud of how damn atheist I am, I’m the same as the evangelical Christians I so despise.

  2. Mark says

    I hope it never happens but the true test of your beliefs happens when you don’t get jobs, grants, committee positions because of your beliefs.

  3. Samantha says

    Now, there’s no use in generalizing. I’ve been an open atheist in TX for nearly 20 years and I’ve had very few instances of outright rudeness to me.

  4. Mike Sage-Robison says

    I was referred to as the “village atheist” by a former friend. I’m sure the implication is clear. Ironic, but clear.Did you see the study reported on CNN about the higher intelligence of atheists?

  5. says

    One of the advantages of living in the SF Bay Area is that atheism is quite common and far more accepted.I’ve never had anyone sneer at me for that.Supporting metrication however, that’s the quick way to get sneered at. Lots of people have the “it’s broken but fixing it sounds like work” attitude.

  6. says

    When someone talks to me and says “atheist”, it’s usually much more a matter of curiosity than derogation. I consider myself a feminist, though no one has ever really talked to me about it. I was once called a “faggot” by my ex-wife, but that’s an entirely different matter.

  7. MorboKat says

    I’m usually judged more on my sexuality than anything else. There are people in my office who tried to expose me to the love of Jebus, but they gave up swiftly when my answer to “how was your weekend” was “hung out in the Village” (what we tend to call the Gay neighborhood of Toronto) or “Fetish night!”. Now I just get strange looks and a lot of “eeeeeeeeeew”. Being an out-loud-‘n’-proud perv has its perks.Of course, in Toronto no one throws Holy Water on you at work. I suppose in another city, I would be shunned and mocked more for my lifestyle and beliefs.

  8. says

    I’ve had a similar experience–well sort of. I am clear to anyone who asks that I am an atheist–but I don’t go telling people all the time and I don’t wear my “Atheists Fuck Better!” T-shirt to most places I go–so many people don’t know I’m an atheist.On numerous occasions, however, when I have gotten into a conversation about religion and then I do tell people that I’m an atheist and explain what that means about my beliefs–i’ve had people try to correct me and say “Oh, you mean you’re an Agnostic”–to which I must tell them–“Well, no.. I’m an atheist. I might be an ‘agnostic’ atheist–in that I don’t claim certainty for my beliefs–but I really don’t believe in supernatural things–and thus this lack of belief==atheism.”Thus–I’ve actually more often had a number of more liberal friends try to shoo me away from my atheism than religious folk–who often get scared rather fast when you can argue them under the table using their own religious documents…

  9. says

    There’s less stigma attached to the term ‘atheist’ here in the Untied Kingdom, but I have been called a heathen when a Catholic friend asked my religious views.

  10. says

    Being called an “atheist” isn’t offensive at all, even if it’s meant that way. What is bothersome is that it is juxtaposed with other genuinely unflattering terms that are non sequiturs. The only time I’m ever referred to as an “atheist” with a negative connotation is in public forums. But then, I ask for it, but starting convos and debates with the wrong peeps!

  11. zen says

    indiana ain’t exactly an atheists playground. I would guess once she gets out of the university area and into the cornfields it isn’t much different than being in the bible belt.

  12. says

    I’ve definitely been called a feminist in not a necessarily mean derogatory way, but more of an annoyed “oh-you’re-one-of-those-feminists” eye-rolling way. And of course it’s by people who don’t understand what feminism is–they’ve just come to use the term in an off-putting way, just like people use “conservative” or “liberal.”

  13. mcbender says

    I get it fairly often from my family… which wouldn’t really be noteworthy on its own, except that they’re all atheists as well. They just don’t want to admit it. I think in the case of my parents it’s a fear that being too outspoken will cost me friendships and employment opportunities (I’ve told them that I don’t consider them worth having if I have to lie in order to maintain them, but they don’t like hearing that). They are constantly telling me not to bring up atheism in conversation, not to correct people when they assume I’m a believing Jew, etc, etc…What I’ve come to realise, though, is that it’s a difference in priorities. I still consider myself Jewish in some vague, cultural sense, but I’m first and foremost an atheist; my parents are Jewish first and atheist second. I think they see outspokenness as something to be ashamed of – my mother also has several friends who believe in homeopathy and she is always telling me to keep quiet around them (which she does as well), despite knowing full well that homeopathy is bullshit and that her friends are risking their health by using it.Living with accommodationists might be worse than living with believers.

  14. rbray18 says

    i do my best to not out my self as a atheist round here.being poor itwould make getting food a bit rough and other wise it’s never brought up,most just assume everyone believes in god.i live in Oklahoma by the way,okc to be exact.so sometimes i go on the net and pick a fight with theists just to get it out.

  15. Introbulus says

    I’m not particularly vocal about my beliefs (or lack thereof), but I know that in certain parts of the country, you risk bodily harm just for suggesting you might not believe in god. And “heaven” forbid if you happen to be even the slightest bit gay. Not naming names, but I know at least one person, from an unspecified state north of me *being in NY means that can be almost 70% of the US) who, if he ever came out, would not survive. As for atheism…in my experience, the two major types of religious converters are those who pity you for not believing in God, and those who ostracize you for being a godless heathen (even if you’re of a different religion, like Judaism. Yes, the irony does not escape me). Generally, the former are more enjoyable people than the latter, though they can still be a bit “preach-y” if they’re convinced that God is important to every person’s life. To be fair, they believe that without belief in God, you will be condemned to an afterlife of torture, possibly even utterly destroyed at the end of days depending on their particular beliefs. So in some cases, it’s not so much intolerance as feeling that their fellow man is going to burn and be tormented if they don’t help them out. Of course, there are cases when it IS intolerance. But there are also cases where it is not. It’s difficult to draw a precise line, though I hope every day that some of them will realize that just because someone acts or looks different than they’re used to doesn’t mean they aren’t human.

  16. says

    I’ve never been called anything nonreligious/religious in a derogatory way, actually. Even when I was Wiccan in a Bible Belt town where you’d expect lynchings. I’d imagine it’s a bit uncommon to hear “You ATHEIST!” shouted at someone, though.Also, I wanted to note how I thought it’d cute you used “you all” instead of “y’all”. C’mon, contraction with me! :3

  17. says

    I think people are less likely to throw ‘atheist’ at you as if it’s an insult when they know you will simply smile and take it as a compliment. :)

  18. MissHoneychurch says

    I could not agree with you more. My experience has been slightly different though, in that a discussion of faith never actually came up in the Jewish household I was raised in, let alone in my Jewish community. Not once do I recall discussing real belief in God at Jewish summer camp, Hebrew school, youth group. Nothing. It’s only become clear recently that my parents don’t seem to care that I’m an atheist as long as I remain culturally Jewish. As you say, I’m not even sure that they are actually believers themselves. But the culture of Judaism still holds incredible sway over their lives and their expectations of me, which always drives me crazy. If I don’t believe in it, why do I have to keep following the rules? And if you don’t believe in it, why are you angry with me for not following the rules? And because that personal family experience also happened on a community level, I have to wonder whether the conservative Jewish movement even has any interest in cultivating faith in God amongst its members. So to tie this back to the topic, I have never been called an “atheist” pejoratively. There was never a pressure to self-censor, or to accommodate anything. It simply wasn’t part of the conversation. Could that be a result of my location as compared to yours? Lefty liberal west coastie? I don’t know.That said, I have been called a “feminist” in a pejorative way many, many times.

  19. says

    Well… I live in Sweden, and belif in god/gods is not quite the same issue as in the USA. So, no… I can’t recall ever being called atheist as a derogatory term. Also, we have a state church, though without political power, that about 70% of swedes are registered to. About 2% of the population visits church regulary.Although once I was the subject of an exorcism in the subway… It was unclear if the woman, calling for the power of Christ, was trying to exorcise a demon out of me or me out of the train-car.

  20. says

    I seem to know more people that are non-religious and/or non-church goes so naturally, being an atheist is not a problem. I actually know maybe a total for 5 people that go to church on a regular basis, excluding people that were forced to go as children (and even then, there are few of those). And I’ve yet to meet anybody that actually cares if I believe in God/go to church/kiss members of the same sex/am pro-choice/etc enough to not ever talk to me on that basis. If anything, I see bible thumper as a bigger insult, because those people are more likley to be total nutjobs. but maybe it’s because i’m not from the southern US. Or the US at all.

  21. nanikun says

    i can really only think of once, and coming from my mom. i was home over break and a friend of mine stopped by. as soon as she was inside, my mom asked her, “so, after a semester at college, have you become an /atheist/ like [nani]?”my jaw dropped. just the way she said it, drawn out with derision, and it was practically the first thing she said to my friend who was there to visit me.

  22. Buffy2q says

    Not too long after discovering I was an atheist a long-time friend called me an “atheist-f*ck”. That was one sign that the friendship was in its last stages.

  23. says

    I’ve only heard the word atheist said in slight tones of fear and not understanding, but never as an insult. As in “you’re… an [whisper] atheist? But, don’t you ever want to get married?” And I’ve certainly had people upset with the idea, but no one’s ever been like oh yeah, she’s just an atheist.Feminist, on the other hand, that’s a word that’s been wielded like a knife. There’s a lot of hatred out there for feminists, who are apparently all butch lesbians who want to take away men’s rights to have dicks or something.But no, even though I come from South Carolina, no one’s ever thought the word atheist was an insult so much as an impossible to understand position.

  24. ArturosKnight says

    I guess “atheist” is about as derogatory of a term as you can get for someone who doesn’t believe in your cosmic Big Brother. What else is there? “Godless”? “Heathen”? “Baby-eater”? “Philosophy major”?The term might succeed as derogatory because of its association with a certain intellectually arrogant attitude – “Science has proven there is no God”, “People who believe in God are stupid”, or similar sentiments. Of course, most atheists don’t make these claims (I say most because I have friends who mercilessly troll Christians). We may have earned this association – even Richard Dawkins says he won’t debate Creationists anymore, as it gives undue status and attention to their position. To someone who bases their entire epistemology on a magic book, that might indeed seem quite arrogant.

  25. says

    I get Christians trying to witness to me from time to time.. Even at my own church sometimes! Maybe a bit off-topic but it’s always insulting. They can be real assholes at this however they try to conceal it. The last time I noticed was about 4 weeks ago.

  26. CCC says

    My ex girlfriend called me an atheist in a derogatory manner. She was like, “You atheist agnostic whatever!!” even though I had never called myself an agnostic…

  27. Alfie says

    Yeah, I’ve never come across it in the UK. Most people around here are generally more surprised when someone professes their faith publicly – it just doesn’t ever come up.

  28. Steve says

    One of my favorite moments tabling for SANE was when this hardcore Christian homeless guy saw our sign and started yelling “Ah hell no” repeated and then started arguing with us. A musician came up to defend us from him arguing “It’s not like they’re atheists.” When we told him that actually that is exactly what we are he turned on us and said we had to follow Allah. Good times.

  29. says

    i find it funny that anybody would think an atheist would be offended being called an “atheist”. how dare you call me what we call ourselves!

  30. Darren says

    That’s pretty much how it is for me, too. Raised as a Catholic, but abandoned that as soon as I could, and never really looked back. I’m such a poor poor sinner for not staying with their ways. The best line they give me is “You have to have faith…in something.” Of course I do, I have faith in a lot of things…mythical creatures isn’t one of them.

  31. BrianSchaan says

    FEWER! They take FEWER pot shots! Tut-tut, Jen. Obviously they didn’t give you a proper education at that school of yours :P.

  32. matt says

    I have been called an atheist in a way that led me to believe the speaker thought it was derogatory. Many evangelistic christians think atheist is synonymous with evil.

  33. Mr. David M. Beyer says

    I get silence and uncomfortable looks a lot. Sometimes I get to explain how atheists and Satanists are quite opposite one another. I’ve never had anyone get to know me and have my beliefs get in the way of a friendship, but I have had strangers put up a barrier around themselves. I’ve done the same thing from the other side, though. I think Mr. Jebus had something to say about being without sin and casting the first stone, didn’t he?

  34. says

    I’ve never been called an atheist in the pejorative. Mainly because the religious friends around me assume that I am religious (specifically their religion) also. Which I find amusingly congruent with my atheist friends assuming I am like them as well. Any sort of religious talk was generally never had in my house or amongst my friends. Which I actually appreciate because I find the whole subject just more walls we use to divide all of us from one another. I don’t care what my friend thinks is going to happen to him after he dies. If they were to have this discussion it would irreparably damage our friendship as a group. Maybe deep down we know and thats why we all avoid it?If they ever bother to ask, the truth of the matter is that I worship the Norse God Odin. Performing the ritual sacrifices on the rune encrusted uru alter in my back yard in order to stave off Níðhöggr from devouring the world tree Yggdrasil.But really only on the major holidays.

  35. Vic says

    Well, not as a derogatory word… but more like a word to discriminate against atheism. “Those atheists that have lost the way” and “Atheists are very idiotic people, how they dare to not believe in god?” and, obviously, “the atheists are just that to excuse their immoral ways”…But it shouldn’t surprise me, I live in Mexico, a highly catholic and conservative nation. What bugs me the most, though, is that people in here shun atheism and atheists, yet they aren’t very religious at all. They claim to be catholics and believe in god, however, they are pick-and-choose what you want to follow. They despise abortion and think of it as murder, an action that pissed of god and whatnot… oh, but they don’t have a problem going to strip clubs and being vain. Even when those things supposedly piss off god as well.

  36. Grant Gordon says

    I’ve only ever heard it used as a derogatory term once, by a work colleague of mine who chided atheists for being arrogant and while he himself was not religious he was very much an apologist. The funny thing is though, these days he’s probably a more outspoken atheist than I am, guess I rubbed off on him a tad :)

  37. says

    Not so much Atheist. Feminist, Communist, Gay, Faggot, Liberal, Apostate, Anti-Christ, Satanist, Intellectual, yes.

  38. Svlad Cjelli says

    “Heathen” is a more common term in Sweden, though nobody gives a damn beyond snickering at the funny word.”Hedning”. Hehe, funneh.

  39. Metal_Warrior says

    Personally I don’t believe in such studies. I’ve met too many atheists that are dumb like a loaf of bread. But on the other hand – I’ve met too many Christians who could really vie with them regarding stupidity…

  40. jimmyboy99 says

    Hi: could I point you here?http://www.blaghag.com/2010/05/your-personal-op…Can I just get this straight: you wouldn’t believe a ‘study’ because your personal experience doesn’t correspond? The study was performed by a Psychologist from the LSE – and drew on a ‘large population’. Why on earth would you think your own experience trumped that?I agree at one point: I’ve met stacks of brain dead atheists and theists, and likewise lots of bright-as-buttons atheists and theists. But surely, the point of being rational is that we are…rational?Just saying…

  41. says

    Here in northern Germany most people are lutheran and you can irritate them better by saying you where catholic than beeing an atheist. Lucky me.

  42. says

    “Feminist, on the other hand, that’s a word that’s been wielded like a knife. There’s a lot of hatred out there for feminists . . . .”Just responding to the term feminist, I could not call myself a feminist, though I do believe in equality. I don’t equate the term feminism with really wanting equality, though. Perhaps it’s the male-bashing that gets publicized in the major media, but the terms feminism and feminist do seem anti-male to me.I prefer the terms “equalist” and “equalism”. This may sound like semantic quibbling, but how many women would want to join an equality movement called “machoism,” or “masculinism” (I know, men already have all the power, they don’t need a movement, but I’m talking about the terminoloy here)?And the larger point is that the feminists (or equalists) need men if they ever wish to really succeed in getting equality — I mean need men in their movement, or need men to agree with them enough to back them up when push comes to shove. So why use terminology that puts men off? Please don’t just say “grow up, it’s just a word, you Neandertal!” I am grown up enough to understand the semantic difference, but many of the men out there are not, and would never admit to feminism even if that was what they really believed in!

  43. says

    I agree with the posters who have noted that is can’t be derogatory (even if intended that way) to use my own term for myself. Now, the adjectives used with the term athiest can be seen as derogatory, like “stupid,” etc. But that hasn’t really happened to me either.What I find more annoying is condescension. The “you poor deluded athiest” attitude makes me want to smack the people that are giving that to me. Their delusions cloud their judgement so much that they think I’m the one who is deluded!

  44. Introbulus says

    The other day, I called my friend a “Super Jewish Gay Pirate”. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I think it would be an awesome thing.

  45. MGP says

    It’s more the tone they use. Call someone a “Christian” with your voice dripping scorn, contempt, and derision. and see how they react.Maybe it’s just my sociopathic nature bearing is fangs, but I enjoy turning the tables on people that try to offend me.

  46. says

    if i was an atheist, it might be an issue, but the fact that i don’t believe in a Christian/Muslim/Jew-based God means i get the occasional cold shoulder or sympathy for my imminent trip to Hell. i just laugh.

  47. Harvey says

    I find it interesting that many posters here do not see the use of their self-descriptive term, in this case “Atheist” , as pejorative. Like a couple of previous posters here, I was born and remain a Jew, even though I do not believe in any God. Imagine, if you can, that someone refers to you as “a (adjective) Jew”. The main term is no more incorrect that calling us atheists, but when there is a fairly recent history of monumental persecution because of the speaker’s belief that you are somehow less than human, it has a very different connotation. In fact, at my considerably advanced age, I can easily understand the previous two posters who were raised in conservative Jewish households inability to see why their parents and communities may have seemed much more concerned with the ethnic parts of Judaism, while actually being quite unreligious at heart.In short, I guess, the circumstances, tone of voice, facial messages, etc., with which an otherwise self-descriptive term like “atheist” is delivered may be much more important to both the speaker and the recipient of said description than the word itself. Context is everything!

  48. Rabid says

    I’ve never worn my atheism on my sleeve, so maybe that’s why I don’t get derogatory comments flung at me–for being an atheist, anyway. I count myself as fortunate to live in an area that has no fervent bible-thumpers, or at least an area where they are polite enough not to spit in my face.

  49. Kira says

    Back in the mists of time when I was a high-schooler taking a summer class at the local college, I happened to drop by the cafeteria for lunch at the same time as a giant touring group of evangelist Christians. There weren’t enough tables for me to have one all to my antisocial teen self, so I ended up eating my sandwich with two youth group leaders. The conversation inevitably landed on “Are you a Christian?”No, I said, I’m an atheist, actually. Youth Group Leader #1, deeply concerned, told me that even though he was sure I had reasons to hate God, he had once hated God himself, and [blah blah conversion story]….Actually I just think there’s a total lack of credible evidence for the existence of any deity, I said.Oh, he said. You’re a SCIENTIFIC atheist. And they left me alone to finish my lunch. …I think he meant it as an insult, actually, but it’s one of the most flattering things anyone has ever said to me.

  50. says

    Back when I was pagan I had someone say to me, “Well, at least you aren’t an atheist.” I find it especially ironic now that I am, in fact, an atheist.

  51. Buffy2q says

    No, she wasn’t. That was one of the signs that allowed me to wake up, face that fact, and break free.

  52. Eva says

    Here in Sweden to be a non-believer/atheist/agnostic is the ‘normal’ (most common) state of mind, like someone earlier said only around 2% go to church. If someone profess to be a religous person, a beliver, that sort of causes embarrasment – how to handle that weird person? By silence, most likely.And if you were looking for invectives – here is a good original source: http://englishatheist.org/inde

  53. Steve says

    Hi Jen, long time listener, first time caller. I just wanted to say that I consider the very term atheist offensive.To clarify:I own books by the likes of Dawkins, Nietzsche, Adams, Hawking, Voltaire, Tyson (anyone see his “Footprints” lecture? Amazing.) Carlin, etc. and am always looking for more. I visit churches only when family/friends get hitched or kick off, and consider testing the accuracy of said buildings’ disgusting proximity as being a literal stone’s throw. My favorite lecture ever was entitled “Cooling Trends of the Late Miocene.” I’ve used some Pirate friends’ Bible as a coloring and activity book; and also done some nice collage work using porcelain, handbills, and my endocrine system as media. I one bought a potential bang a silver Cthulu (tentacled, vaguely fish-shaped) bumper sticker. Why, just last week, I told a religulous pan-handling telemarketer that I quite preferred the time when Christians were thrown to lions. In short, I abhor archaic thought. And I just LIVE for wronging the ancientry (and the getting of wenches with child, but Shakespeare is neither here nor there, excepting that there are more unique words to be found in his canon than the Bible by some fifteen-thousand).So, if I’m on your side of that line in the sand, that we didn’t draw, by the way, why why why do I have bunched britches every time I’m labeled (libeled?) atheist? To begin, get’cher wiki fingers working on atheism – second paragraph. I’ll wait.See? See the part about “negative connotation to those thought to reject the gods” ? The term was derogatory in its inception. Read further down. Done? So, now you know (and have therefore fought half the battle) that self diagnosed atheism was not an option ’til the late 18th century. For most of its history, the word has been an insult.Next let’s look at the word itself: atheist or a-theist. Literally: non-theist. This is definition by lack. Similarly, the word atypical means not typical. The ‘a’ means non. Get it? We are being defined by what we are not. The very dogma we have chosen to filter into the spam (mmmm, spaaammm, ahll!) of our brains is collared to our necks by that infernal “A”.Hawthorne, anyone?The other thing that inevitably comes up in conversation with sheep, usually just before the dreaded a-word, is the phrase “Do you believe in god?” Please pause now to note that, although a direct quote, I have correctly spelled the last word of the previous sentence. Play. I translate said sentence more like “There is a god, I am a believer, are you?” This is unfair. A more even question would be “What are your religious/philosophical views,” or perhaps “Did god create man, or did man create god?” the latter being biased only in that one part must needs be asked first. To counter with “You actually think there IS a god?” would be similarly unfair to the lion-bait. To sum up: “Do you believe in god?” is a self-fulfilling prophecy, a clear fallacy of logic. I go to great lengths to plant these seeds in the heads of those I argue with. If you think I’m nitpicking the language, you are correct. But I have always felt that you must set the grounds for battle yourself; don’t let inaccurately ingrained phraseology dictate your starting position. Imagine giving your opponent seven full turns before you even budge a pawn. Sounds suicidal!?! Not for me. I really don’t even enjoy discourse with theists anymore. I’ve boiled my entire philosophical repertoire down to a one-two dose of dendrochronology and history, with a chaser of “So how long have you been a textbook paranoid delusional?” Like my kung-fu, which is most strong, I must temper my power to intellectually decimate them with the choice not to. To do other wise would be akin to punching a baby, which is so sad and wrong that a newer, stronger word like sadwrong, or sadong must be made. Yes punching babies is sadong.So beware the language, folks. Use it as you will, but respect it. Remember that list of things that only humans do? Biologists or Anthropologists in the hizzy? Tool-use? Gone! Recreational sex? Gone! I agree with Douglas Adams the dolphins truly have more figured out than we do, but there’s not much left, is there? An adaptable capacity for language and the self-awareness to use it? Tenuous check. Let’s wear it well. Thank you to Future Doctor the Jen (and hopefully Future Dr. Mrs. the Steve, *curls index finger before face, bites knuckle*) for this forum and my excessive punctuation budget. I came for the boobs (don’t we all) and haven’t left yet. And if the good Doctor will allow me (*makes phone gesture with hand, mouths “call me”) I have some homework for you. If you still can’t see my point about the word atheist, I respect you as I hope you do me. I’ll respect you more if you do this. It works best in the Americas. Call up one of your black friends (you do have more than one, right? …sigh) or grab a random African-American passerby and call them a “non-white.” See what happens. For those in Europe, I would suspect “non-Nazi” would elicit much the same response in someone of Jewish descent. Record and report your findings to be discussed here. Anyone who passes on this assignment will be expected to justify their continued use of the word atheist.

  54. mcbender says

    All of that involuted blathering, and no real point. Would you complain if I called you a “non-idiot”? No? What’s the difference between that and atheist? The semantics of both statements are identical.There’s nothing wrong with defining yourself by a negative, if what you’re negating is something pernicious.I’m a bit different from many atheists in that I have said, and will say, that even if a god existed I would not be religious. There is no good reason to believe a god existed, but if one did and if it were anything like described in the major religions, any coherent ethical view would require me to oppose it rather than worship it (and I would do so even under the threat of damnation; it would be a moral imperative). While I use the word atheist in the sense used by Dawkins et al., referring to de facto nonbelief due to lack of evidence, I suppose there could also be that other connotation of opposition which I don’t particularly mind.

  55. Mr. David M. Beyer says

    “All of that involuted blathering, and no real point?” That’s a rather dickish statement.

  56. Steve says

    Ah,So you’re saying that I should call you an atheist and an idiot and you would not take offense to it? I wouldn’t do either if you paid me. Incidentally, the word idiot was another Greek insult of the “dishonorable,” this one used to describe one who did not take part in public affairs. Such as open forums where others were free to “blather.” But again, I am completely on your side. I can see that the ifs in your statement are for the sake of argument, you like Dawkins, you spell god properly, and you are not on the fence as to how you view the world. Based on an earlier post, I can see that you do not now share the exact worldview and practices of your parents. This implies you finding a system that works for you, which I respect, and would even if you had come to a religion. There are few things worse than just taking what you are given and never questioning. I also agree with your statement about living with accomodationists (man does spellcheck hate me). My sister took marriage courses from the family’s (Episcopal) church to not cause waves. It was like the setup for a bad joke: “So a Wiccan and a Daoist are getting hitched…”However, if the semantics of the statements are indeed identical then please do as I suggested above. Find a black person and call them non-white. If you truly like the term atheist, and feel that defining yourself by a negative is defensible, then hypothesize that the average black person will react with indifference and perform your experiment. If you won’t do this, or can’t see the inflammatory racial connotations of the term non-white, then you are in check.But as far as being highly injurious or destructive, you don’t get much more so than perpetrating slavery or genocide, which is, historically, the white man’s stock in trade. To quote Chris Rock: “If you’re black, you gotta look at America a little bit different. You gotta look at America like the uncle who paid for you to go to college … but molested you.”Minorities (atheists, black, Iranian feminist etc.) must always be on guard for their rights. People who are persecuted or misunderstood are at the mercy of an ingrained belief system, especially when they haven’t the media domination of the majority.Thanks for your time.

  57. mcbender says

    You’re missing my point.”Non-white” may well be offensive. “Non-idiot” is not (I never asked to be called an idiot, you must have misread me, but if I deserve it you’re free to do so). Consider another case – I’ve seen people called “non-Jew” all the time (Jews use the term sometimes because it’s more polite than “goy”) and they usually aren’t offended by it, because they don’t consider being a Jew a positive thing. You’re extrapolating far too much from the example of “non-white” when many of the issues you’re seeing there are specific aspects of that example and don’t generalise.My point is that, while it might be meant in an offensive way by the person calling you that, there’s nothing inherently offensive about the semantics of the word atheist (which is what you so long-windedly tried to argue at first).I don’t necessarily disagree with your overall point, I just think your reasoning is wrong, hence why I’m arguing. I remember Sam Harris’ misgivings about the word atheist in his speech at AAI 2007, and think he might be quite right that we’d be better off without the term (his comparison was with “non-astrologer”), but he reached that conclusion in a different way.As for myself, I use the term because we’re stuck with it, and because it’s recognisable. At least if you call yourself an atheist people have some idea of what you stand for (although there are a lot of misunderstandings, it still helps to start the conversation); most of the people I encounter have no bloody clue what a Skeptic is.

  58. Mark Mukasa says

    I live in the UK and I have actually been derided at times for not believing in God and Creationism, but only from ethnic minorities. Although that said, they generally don’t react like that to White English people, probably because they expect it. But because I’m from a West Indian and African backgrounds, whenever the topic is brought up they do react quite strongly. *Especially* the Africans.Although I went to stay with my Grandfather in the Caribbean about 4-5 years ago, and the topic of my faith was brought up so much that I grew sick of speaking of it. Some dude actually walked away from a conversation when he found out I wasn’t baptised and refused to visit my Grandfather again.

  59. Steve says

    Skeptic? Isn’t that a rock band? I’ve gotten that one too. I must reiterate, though, that atheist, in its very inception WAS derogatory. Please keep that in mind. Also, like the phrase “do you believe in god,” atheist assumes its own end, and is therefore unstable for use. I may have been too subtle with that parallel. You are quite correct in that the way a word is meant or used can have a huge impact, but beware the slope you’ve put yourself on here. I could call you an atheist and intend to insult you; you might not be insulted. You could use atheist as a compliment to me, and I might take offense. Now replace atheist in the previous two sentences with cracker, bitch, retard, cripple, ox, shorty, Jewess, fuckwit, and geek. Now, alternate levels of sarcasm, anger, and facial and other nonverbal communication. Put people of various gender, age, race and religion as the speakers of those lines. So which now is more important? Intent or interpretation? Perhaps ignorance of same? This is the root of communication errors; we all know this! Furthermore, I meant no offense by reversing non-idiot on you. Popular usage has shifted to word to mean “stupid,” which I would not apply to you or anyone here, from “non-voting layman,” which I consider to apply to myself . Apologies.Terms like non-white and even negro (literally “black” in Spanish and Portuguese) were initially used to define people with no intent to harm; it was simple classification. Of course, other kinds of damage were being done rather physically at the time. The Civil Rights movement changed all that. There was a massive shift in attitudes that had an entire people thoroughly examine the ways in which they were oppressed and do something about it. One of those subtle avenues of oppression was and still is language. The scene in Spike Lee’s Malcolm X where Malcolm is shown how pervasive the negative connotations of the word black are in the “white” Dictionary perfectly illustrates my point. I’m not attempting to argue that atheists have been subject to the same pains as any ethnic minority. Not in the least. But the same linguistic tools of oppression are certainly in play. How much power does the church have over A. the book-publishing and news media, and B. the minds of its constituents? Even if the word atheist was ‘taken back’ by freethinking philosophers and scientists in the 17-18th centuries, it is doubleplus ungood crimethink to not consider it’s history and basic functions (see what I did with 1984 there?). The only difference now is that atheists have not yet had their ‘Civil Rights Movement.’I believe that I have said my peace, and I do see mcbender’s side of the argument. I’m very interested in hearing what others think. Anyone?

  60. mcbender says

    I see where you’re coming from too; it’s not as easy an issue to resolve as I’d thought it was. I probably shouldn’t have been so combative initially, as I’m not sure how much we really disagree.I’ve actually had somebody take offence to something I’d meant as a compliment; I have a friend who identifies as a Quaker and at one point I said to him that I almost didn’t consider Quakerism a religion (I went to a Quaker school for 8 years of my life) and he was terribly offended by it, despite the fact that I was trying to show that I had more respect for it than most other religions. He wasn’t mollified by my subsequent clarifications either.It almost seems Postmodern – we seem to be arriving at the conclusion that words can change to mean anything depending on who says them to whom in what way in what context, and while it’s obvious (and trivial) in some sense, it also seems troubling to me and I can’t really put my finger on why (but it’s late and I’m tired).I guess what it comes down to is that I’d prefer to defiantly claim the word “atheist” than see it fall into disuse, simply because the term is convenient. Whether this is optimal or not, I don’t know, but at this point I think we’re stuck with the term (see the unsuccessful attempt to rebrand us as “Brights”) so I’d prefer to embrace it than resent it.

  61. Ghost says

    I’ve been lucky, and in a way have contributed to the luck I experience. I’ve been an openly vocal atheist since elementary school. Back then I was the “I don’t know what god is, therefore I don’t believe in it” type, now however I am the more common “Yes, I understand your beliefs enough to know, but I still say your batshit crazy” type. But I’ve always been an atheist, as well as a exemplary student, and a pillar of my school communities, and this has lead to the schools I’m in being incapable of using it derogatorily towards me because to call me that way would be to degrade themselves because I am someone moral by many of their definitions. My highshcool also has a very healthy skeptic community. I have no classes where I am the only atheist/agnostic/skeptic despite being in supposedly “redneck-country-bumpkin” Colorado. I get far more flak for being English than for being an Atheist.

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