Saturday, October 26, 2013

Atheism, Antitheism, and the nature of labels

This is an issue I find myself addressing often in conversations with people who have a dubious understanding of what it means to be an atheist.

Atheists are united by ONE thing: they do not believe in the existence of a divine entity.

That's it.

So why is there confusion? Well, because like any other 'group' of people, there are a lot of subcategories that are commonly associate with atheism. The biggest of these confused categories is antitheism.

Look, I'm a self-identified antitheist, because I know that my aggressive opposition of religion is something some atheists shy away with, as they advocate more of a live-and-let-live ideology. When theists insults 'atheists' for being rude, or dogmatic, they're often talking about antitheists. And yeah, alright... we can definitely be all of those things, and there is a reason for that: we're tired of being silent. We see the harm religion does to the world. Some of us have lived through religious indoctrination and harm. We see the child abuse, the honor killings, the murders... all committed with a religious 'sanction' because the fundamental beliefs of a group are inherently aggressive, xenophobic, and misogynistic. Can you SEE why we are vehemently opposed to religion?

I think this intersects perfectly with humanism. We value human life, human dignity, human experience, above dogma. We want all people to be able to live without fear of violence, oppression, etc. yet your religion stands there on this assumed moral high horse, and tells us we're these terrible hell-bound heathens because we'd rather see two men or two women kissing than see a small child raped by a priest, or a young girl married to a man 3 times her age. Anytime you infringe upon the rights of any group, you are standing against common human decency and compassion. As you can imagine, seeing the evil that religion inflicts upon the world, in the obvious forms of violence and oppression, as well as more subtle abuses such as child indoctrination and anti-intellectualism, we think any human being with a global awareness and conscience should oppose it too.

Okay, so what else? Here is one: skepticism. This one i actually struggle with a lot. I've met plenty of atheists who accept homeopathic medicine and ghosts and alien visits and hate GMO foods and think "Big Pharma" is in a conspiracy to withhold cancer cures from the world for profit. Those people are idiots. They're just as bad as any theist. They aren't skeptics, no matter how often they tell me I'm "just not open-minded" or something.

And of course there are more. You have the "godless liberal" stereotype that tends to stem from our progressive attitude towards human rights and equality, which includes feminism. Of course, another non-universal label.

Alright, alright. So what exactly am I getting at with this bullshit?

Well, that while labels can be uselful in a categorical sense, they fall far short of doing the individual justice. And that maybe you should learn a bit more about what words mean before you go using them. Not every atheist is an aggressive antitheistic skeptical liberal feminist secular humanist. In fact, atheism has no direct link to any of those things. It's merely a correlation because most of us share a similar "coming into" of atheism. We examined the evidence, we found it lacking, and we said: "Where is the proof?"

And there wasn't any.

So to all of you, I say to be cognizant of the labels you use. And more importantly, just remember that no matter how many labels we have, no matter self-assigned or laid on us by others, we're all human beings. That's the important part. When you start categorizing, it becomes very easy to dehumanize the "opposition" and make negative assumptions about them. Be more than the sum of your labels.

Just be a decent fucking human being. The rest of it will sort itself out.