March 13, 2020

I Am Aware What Atheism Means

frustrated blogger

I have been writing about atheism since 2005, and I believe I know what atheism means. I have demonstrated more times than I can keep track of that I recognize that atheism refers to a lack of god belief and that it doesn't mean anything more than that. "Atheists do not have anything in common besides their lack of god belief." Yep, I have written those words or words very close to them many times. Atheists are people who do not believe in gods. Some believe in ghosts or ancient aliens. They are still atheists. Atheists are politically diverse and can be found throughout the political spectrum. Regardless of where one finds them or what political beliefs they hold, they are still atheists.

So what? Isn't what I am saying here incredibly obvious? Yes, it is. I am writing it because I am getting incredibly sick of being met with some version of the following every time I write about secular activism, atheists working together to try to accomplish anything meaningful, or suggest that how we behave can affect how we are perceived:

Atheism is simply a lack of belief in any gods and says nothing whatsoever about a person's values or morality or anything else.

I agree 100% with this statement, but I disagree that it has any relevance to what I am saying. Atheism is the lack of belief in gods. Atheism says nothing about one's values, moral or otherwise. How is that relevant to the question of how atheists who do share some common goals might be more effective in accomplishing them? It isn't.

Atheists are human, and that probably means that one thing we do all have in common besides our lack of god-belief is that we are all something more than our lack of god belief. No human is going to be defined by any one thing, especially a thing as limited in meaning as atheism. Obviously, we don't all have the same things in common. Not all atheists are going to have the same values. Some atheists are humanists, some are Satanists, some are authoritarian liberals, some are fascists, and so on. But how does the definition of atheism help us understand atheists who come together specifically because they share some common values (e.g., believing that the separation of church and state is worth defending) and want to act on them?

I sometimes wonder whether the only way to please some of these people would be for me to write the same post every day and limit it to the following sentence:

Atheism means nothing more than the lack of belief in gods, and atheists have nothing in common besides this.
I'd lose the rest of my audience after about 3 days of doing that, but I'm sure they'd stick around since they'd finally be getting what they seem to want. Yeah, right!

As long as atheists are people, we are going to have certain quirks. One such quirk is that there will always be more to us than whatever we think about gods. We are atheists, and that does mean that we don't believe in gods. But none of us are limited to being only this. We are all interested in other things even though we aren't all interested in the same things. And when we find others who are interested in some of the same things in which we are interested, we do what humans do and come together around these interests. We might even (gasp) form communities. And some of us realize that we are far more effective when we are willing to work with others to pursue shared goals. Does it matter that most of these goals have little to do with atheism? Nope.