I once had a discussion with a friend who was concerned about climate change. He didn’t like the word environmentalist because he saw himself as a realist as opposed to whatever he imagined an environmentalist to be. He most definitely didn’t want to be part of an environmental movement, despite recognizing the need for advocacy, education, and policy development.
As far as words go, environmentalist isn’t the same as atheist, but the need to individuate is similar. I’m fine with the lone wolf approach, but the political and social alienation experienced by non-believers may require the kind of identity construction we see going on within the atheist movement.
I’m starting to wonder if the real reason people are so bothered by identity-atheism is because they don’t want to share a group identity. I’m going to start calling this hipster-atheism from now on.
Philosopher and educator Peter Boghossian, who I mentioned in my post about skepticism and martial arts, was recently interviewed by Stefan Basil Molyneux over at Freedomain Radio about faith as a flawed epistemology and how to encourage critical thinking and skepticism using the socratic method. Here’s the video:
Early on in the interview, Molyneux makes a statement about atheism:
I actually have a problem with the term atheism as a whole because I’m not against leprechauns. I’m not against dragons. I don’t have a huge hate on for poltergeists. I just accept that they don’t exist. So, even the word atheist is against theism–I actually don’t feel a lot of hostility towards things that don’t exist.
If you read my post about atheist identity, you probably have a good idea of where I stand on this issue. Being an atheist, for a great many people, is not simply about lacking a belief in deities. I can understand why philosophers prefer to see it as nothing more than godlessness, but there are social consequences for being an atheist.
The fact that atheism is a rejection-based identity shouldn’t cause us any grief. True, we don’t adopt identities to indicate our lack of belief in leprechauns, but leprechaun belief is not ubiquitous and it doesn’t play a dominant role in North American social and political thought. If leprechaun belief was hegemonic, then perhaps aleprechaunist would get more use as a term.
I don’t go around calling myself an atheist all that much. As the word comes out of my mouth I feel like I’m about to ask someone to scratch my ass. But I have no problem with people celebrating their atheist-identity. They feel “embattled,” and for good reason. A shared identity helps take the sting out of being a marginalized group.