Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Captain Obvious: Doesn't "Get" Atheism

In my previous post, I acknowledged my difficulty with all of the talk of "prayer" and God whenever we have a natural disaster like the tornadoes of the last couple of days. I even got some fairly large readership out of it on Tuesday, for some reason. And a bit of back-and-forth with readers here on the blog, on Twitter and on The Huffington Post. It struck me--since religious people often do not take atheists' word for their lack of belief--that I ought to look up the dictionary definition of "atheism."

I was disappointed, to put it mildly. My understanding of the word is "without religon," or perhaps "without god(s)." The second version is problematic because there are religions that don't have gods, per se. To me, what my atheism means is: I don't have a religion. That's it. I don't have a doctrine, don't have holy books, a place of worship, a congregation, the belief in a higher power, "spirituality," or even a vague notion that there is an entity or entities with magic powers who oversee the universe and/or my sex life. I have no portion of my life devoted to any sort of religion, beyond whatever arguing I do about it in forums like this.
Fig. A -'s first set of definitions.

But, back to the dictionary. is, of course, the easiest to remember site to go to online to look up the definition of a word, unless you just Google it. Maybe Google would have been the way to go though, because--as you can see in Fig. A--the definition offered up first by is not good.

First, check out the two ads. Kind of goofy, at least from my perspective. Then, there is the first definition, "1. The doctrine or belief that there is no God." What's wrong with that? Well, there is no doctrine, for one. You can be an atheist without ever having heard of God, gods or even atheism itself, for that matter. And secondly, as I said before, it's a lack of belief in religion as well as any particular god, which covers more than "God." Second definition: "2. Disbelief in the existence of a supreme being or beings." This one is closer, though it doesn't adequately cover all religions. I'd also substitute "lack of belief," rather than "disbelief," because the latter sounds a bit too active for me, as though it takes effort.

So, I scrolled down to see if somewhere in there was something that I recognized as atheism. Fig. B shows what I found next. The Word Origin and History's "1580s, from Fr. Atheisme (16c.), from Gk. atheos 'without god,'" may reflect how the word came to be, but it still is narrowly focused on apparently the Christian God (though it is not capitalized). Moving down to the World English Dictionary, it gets worse, "Rejection of belief in God or gods." This one is really bad, because "rejection" denotes a strong action, as though one is belligerently casting aside a known truth or something. See, this is something many staunchly religious people believe about atheists, that they are really believers who have rejected God/Jesus. Not true. We simply don't believe. And then, the Cultural Dictionary's "Denial that there is a God." is a mixture of all of the above, focusing on a solitary God, with a strong action of denial.

Fig. B - More not quite right stuff.
So, let me make simple what the dictionary can't seem to do. Atheists merely lack belief in religion in all its forms. That includes God, gods, angels, saints, all doctrines and edicts, spirituality, and anything supernatural. There are "strong" atheists who won't much mind the "rejection/denial" type language, and they'll vehemently state plainly: "THERE IS NO GOD!" There are agnostics and agnostic atheists who simply don't know and/or care if there are gods or true religions. And there are people like me who find all that I've heard on the subject to be preposterous and vanishingly unlikely. Nearly all of us simply lack religion in our lives. It's not there at all. And yet, people will still insist that we have a "religion." It can be frustrating. . .

I'll put a button on this by saying that we're all born atheists. Nobody has religion downloaded into their brains on day one, it has to be learned. And almost everybody is an atheist as it pertains to ALL other religions but their own.

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