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.