How I Came To Be Atheist

My prior post bears an additional bit of explanation, as the way in which I came to be atheist is essential in understanding why I think of atheism the way I do and why I cannot easily associate myself with New Atheism (despite the fact that I don’t entirely lack admiration for the scientists and philosophers who are participants in the movement).

Several months ago a friend of mine and I were discussing atheism and I asked him how he came to be atheist. His reply corresponds to what I imagine would be the case with most people who are among the “deconverted”. My friend was raised in a Mormon household and unlike his siblings, he didn’t take to Mormonism particularly well. As my friend passed through adolescence he increasingly questioned Mormon theology, eventually reading material on Mormonism authored by people outside that faith. That lead to his dropping Mormonism entirely, and when he extended his skepticism of Mormonism to other religions, he found the other religions readily accessible in Western society equally wanting when contrasted against an empirical approach to living in the world. He would eventually conclude he was atheist.

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If There’s New Atheism, What’s the Old Atheism?

I found myself participating in an internal dialogue where I asked myself, “Do I say, ‘I am an atheist,’ or ‘I am atheist.’?”

The question is the product of recent thought regarding the dictionary definition of ‘atheist’. The word can operate either as a noun or an adjective. ‘Atheist’ is certainly descriptive of me, given my lack of belief in any sort of deity, but to call myself an atheist (noun) as opposed to describing myself as atheist (adjective) seems increasingly bothersome to me given what’s going on with some other atheists out in the world.

There are atheists who lack a belief in any sort of deity in the same sense that there are people who lack a desire to collect stamps. We don’t have a special term for people who don’t collect stamps, though if stamp collectors are philatelists, one might reasonably call people who don’t collect stamps aphilatelists. If, having just read this, you think the notion of aphilately as a position one might take is hardly worthy of specific expression, then you’re capable of following similar logic where atheism is concerned. I can be atheist without being an atheist because being an atheist in the sense that some people are atheists would be akin to people who don’t collect stamps trying to convince stamp collectors that they must stop the deluded and barbaric practice of stamp collecting immediately. Not collecting stamps somehow becomes a position worthy of expression when you start to believe there’s a problem with stamp collecting that makes the activity worth resisting/stopping.

This is, I think, what may be the essential difference between atheism as it’s been expressed in the past, (to the extent that atheism is an expressed thing) and the more recent phenomenon of New Atheism. New Atheism is the sort of atheism where its practitioners (can one practice atheism?) openly call for people to stop the deluded and barbaric practice of religion. New Atheism is atheist as noun, a movement you join. Old Atheism is atheist as adjective, a description of an individual.

When it comes to atheism, I’ve discovered I’m old school.

On the Virtue of an Unused Hashtag

Before I  proceed, two disclaimers: 1) I don’t have a lot of time to type. This post will be longer than a Tweet, but shorter than I would like and, due to the lack of time, lacking in references. 2) I am an American heterosexual white male.

My prior post referred to a recent Twitterstorm, which I used as a platform to expound upon an old memory of which I’m emphatically not proud. I’ve wanted to type more about what’s going on in the present with respect to the #CancelColbert controversy and fallout. The truth is, many others have typed on the subject far more eloquently than I (and I’m hoping I can convince a few of them to read this (a rare instance of desiring an audience, perhaps)).

I have witnessed—recently with the #CancelColbert tsunami and in the past relating to other affairs—what happens when people of like mind but differing tactics come together in common cause only to have that cause turn into the wreckage cast up against the rocks of high expectations, poor communication, and unchecked ego.

I’m no activist, merely an observer. I try to show support where I can. I want to be less ignorant. I endeavor to communicate with care.

#CancelColbert was the tsunami that wrecked the metaphorical boats representing the possibilities of a united effort by disparate groups. Recovery will occur, no doubt, but I was (and am) troubled by the destruction I saw, the drowning of other voices, whether they were simply other engaged Twitter users, or those behind some of the other hashtag campaigns trying to rise to the level of broader media visibility.

Whether it’s #NotYourMascot, #NotYourAsianSidekick, #NotYourTerrorist, or any of the other possible Not Your Fill-in-the-blank, if I want to speak positively to such efforts I must recall who I am. So I offer this:

#NotYourPatriarch

I will almost certainly never use this hashtag on Twitter, because it doesn’t mean what people are likely to think it means. The #NotYour(______) hashtags already in use are made for protesting the ills done to the targets of bigotry, marginalization, and worse. My hashtag is not a protest. I want #NotYourPatriarch to be understood as my way of saying, “I honor your cause and will stand with you.” And even if I must stand mute, still, I will stand.