What’s in a name? … Who cares?

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.


2 thoughts on “What’s in a name? … Who cares?

  1. debunk

    The conversation I see most often (probably due to confirmation bias, but still):

    Person 1: Atheists are SO dogmatic and arrogant, they're like the mirror image of religious fundamentalists.

    Person 2: What's your position then?

    Person 1: I'm an agnostic.

    Person 1: …

  2. Tyler M

    Regardless of what people want to be called, there are only 2 available positions that take up all possibilities… Theist and Atheist. All people fall in to one of those 2 categories without exception. Whether or not it may sound exactly the way they want their knowledge or will cannot change this fact. Agnosticism means you don't "know" and knowledge is independant from belief. This means that an Agnostic can be Theist or Athiest. And I'd have to say that by the nature of Theism, all Theists are Agnostic as well.

    So if you ask someone their religious belief and they answer with Agnostic. They did not answer your question correctly. The only options are Theist (or some more specific form thereof) or Atheist.


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