March 14, 2011

Ambassadors of Atheism

Fools heart dawkins quoteWhether we want to accept the role or not, you and I are ambassadors of atheism. When we disclose our lack of god belief to others, we may be the first person our audience has encountered to do so. Like it or not, we represent atheism. How, you may ask, can someone be an ambassador for a lack of belief in something? I'll consider that question, but most of all, I want you to think seriously about how to be the best ambassador you can be.

Representing Non-Belief

Since atheism is not a philosophy, worldview, religion, or belief system of any kind, it may initially seem pointless to talk of representing it. And yet, this difficulty entails part of how to represent atheism effectively.

In representing atheism, we must recognize and be prepared to explain the differences between atheism in the strict definitional sense and our atheism in the broader sense that likely includes other components.
I am an atheist, and that means that I do not accept the theistic belief claim that god(s) exist. I am also a skeptic who values the scientific method and seeks evidence to support those things in which I do believe. As a result, I do not accept the existence of ghosts, demons, angels, or any other supernatural entities...
That is, I explain what atheism means and then move beyond it as I articulate a set of positions, broader than atheism, that do indeed form a worldview.

Being a Good Atheist Ambassador

As we represent atheism to others, it is important to ask ourselves what we are trying to model. Remember, you may be the first person someone has met to acknowledge atheism. Here are some attributes I try to model the best I can:
  • Rationality. I strive to model the application of reason in my life.
  • Skepticism. As someone who values a skeptical approach for dealing with claims, I try to model consistent application of the skeptical attitude which underlies the scientific method. I ask myself how various claims can be tested and seek evidence in my decision-making process.
  • Compassion. Compassion for others, including genuine efforts to understand their position and empathize with them, is an important part of what makes me who I am. Most of all, compassion provides a clear example of what can be achieved without the inherently divisive force of religion. I am not always friendly, but I strive to be compassionate, understanding, and empathic.
  • Knowledge. I recognize the importance of being knowledgable about atheism and about the problems associated with religion. Many religious believers are going to want to argue, and it is helpful to be familiar with the flaws of their arguments.
  • Genuineness. I seek to be genuine in my interactions with others, not pretending to be anything I'm not and being as comfortable as I can with who I am.
I'm sure we could generate a much longer list, but these seem like some of the more important considerations.

An Ambassador Need Not Evangelize

An ambassador is not an evangelist. There is a clear difference of opinion among atheists on the value and appropriateness of atheist evangelism. That is not what I am talking about here. An ambassador represents atheism as a living example, not as an agent of persuasion.

No go forth and be the best ambassador you can!

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