Monday, September 7, 2009

Why I Don't Like the Word "Atheist", But Take It On

I've never liked the word "Atheist" for many reasons. The primary reason is that it describes what I'm not, instead of what I am. This word has contributed to misconceptions about Atheists. It is a negative word and implies we are negative people or worse. It's not unusual for this word to be spoken by theists as if they are spitting something distasteful out of their mouths.

Instead of the word "Atheist", I prefer "Freethinker". The first part of the word, "Free", implies that our thoughts are not restricted by anyone or anything, which is a great thing. Freedom is the core of what our wonderful country was founded on. Censorship doesn't lead to truth. It impairs the journey to truth. I've had many experiences with theists who have told me not to think certain things I think or refuse to think such thoughts themselves, typically out of fear. This is unacceptable. I will not be bound and have my ideas caged. The journey to find truth is paramount. It is through the killing of sacred cows that knowledge is fed and grows.

The last part of the word, "thinker", highlights the concept of thinking, which is greatly valued by Atheists. Atheists place great importance on reason, rationality, and logic and for good reason. These things are the basis of learning and understanding our world. They are the core of the scientific method, which is inarguably the most valid and reliable way humans currently have of discerning what is true from what is not true. Without reason, rationality, and logic, no understanding or even communication can exist.

So I am a Freethinker. The word is positive and it briefly describes some central and crucial pieces of what I think and believe. Yet I use the words "Atheist" instead in my writings. As I've said in other articles, I have a soft spot for the underdog, the downtrodden, and true victims, and that is the current state of this word. The word has been beat up for a long time, along with the people the word represents. "Filthy atheist". "Dirty atheist". "Commie atheist". Used by theists, this word is used to imply that Atheists are evil and immoral.

Well Atheists are not inherently evil and immoral. All the Atheists I know are good and moral people. For this reason, I choose to pick up the word, dust and clean it off, and wear it. I will do my part to change the meaning of the word through my example. I am not perfect. I have made many mistakes in my life and will continue to. I have regrets and things I wish I could do over again. However, I genuinely try to live a good and moral life everyday through my words and actions and I hope as I do, I can do my little part in healing this word and turning it into the positive thing it is.

By the way, I do intentionally capitalize the words "Agnostic", "Atheist", and "Freethinker", because if theists get to imply some special power or importance to their beliefs through capitalization, then so do we.


  1. "...then so do we."
    Ha! Yeah, take that theists! ;)
    I use the term Critical Thinker as I too have been finding Atheist uncomfortable and Non-believer too vague. I have also used skeptic to describe myself, but that gets caught up in the idea of cynicism and skepticism should be used as a tool, not a stance anyway.
    It's a conundrum I tell ya!
    Maybe I'll try adopting Freethinker for a bit, see how that fits.

  2. I really like Critical Thinker as well. That's a good one. I agree with you about "skeptic". Unfortunately, so many words to describe us have negative connotations and implications. That's why I like Freethinker. It says what I am and is positive.

    I'm not a fan of the recent move in our community to use the term "Brights" to replace "Atheists". To me it sounds arrogant and condescending.

    Let me know if you come up with any other options or ideas.

  3. I myself use lowercase for god, christians, jews, muslims, theists, etc.
    There's also the term "Secular Humanist" which is both positive and sounds important. But it's longer to say than just "Atheist." There are other terms like Skeptic (too negative while leaving the door open) and Bright (which is more like a club than a worldview).

  4. I never was a fan of the term Bright. It sounds arrogant, as if you aren't bright if you aren't a Bright.