If you’ve been active in the online atheist community for a few weeks or so, you’ve probably run into this kind of argument:
Atheist 1: Agnostics are just atheists without the balls to admit they’re atheists.
Atheist 2: That’s not true. Atheism is about what you believe; agnosticism is about what you know. You can be both.
<Repeat ad nauseum.>
I no longer see a point in making this kind of distinction. I also don’t think it’s useful to start using terms other than “atheist” to describe your position with regard to religion. Bright, Pearlist, Secular Humanist, and so on; these terms are all well and good, but when you’re trying to explain your ideas about religion, it’s best to keep the confusion to a minimum. Tell someone you’re a Bright, and it gets you nowhere. Pearlist? Almost nobody knows what that means. And no matter what, eventually you get back to the point where you say you don’t believe in God, and they say, “Oh, so you’re an atheist?” And right there, the whole slew of stereotypes and misconceptions come flooding in. What we call ourselves matters to absolutely nobody but ourselves.
Can we all just agree to cut this out? We’ve got much more important stuff to deal with, and engaging in this kind of bickering isn’t helpful.
For example… I’ve got no problem with the idea of atheism as an intellectually defensible position. If I didn’t think it was, I probably wouldn’t be an atheist. But let’s face the facts, here: for most people who are religious, it would be unthinkable for them to give up their beliefs without the emotional safety net they provide. Religion is very useful inasmuch as it provides a sort of emotional security, convincing people that the universe isn’t as scary and impersonal as it really is. If atheists really want to get people to give up their religions, we’re going to have to find ways to make our position more reassuring – something we can’t do if we spend so much time arguing over details that are utterly irrelevant to anyone outside of our peer group.