To Athe or Not to Athe?

Hemant Mehta, the Friendly Atheist, who Sold His Soul on eBay, posted Atheist Alliance International Convention 2007 (Recap). (Thanks for the recap, Hemant.)

Hemant reports that Sam Harris spoke out against use of the term 'atheist', which seems an odd thing to do at an 'Atheist Alliance'.

Without having heard Harris' talk, I can only respond to the snippets that Hemant provided:

. . . why are we defining ourselves by something that should simply be the case? Victory for our side would not result in a world where everyone called themselves an atheist; rather, atheism would just be an obvious afterthought.

Just as we don't call ourselves aZeusists or aThorists? (Athorist–I like that!) I think that Harris appears to be missing the point that even though atheists, like theists, come in all shapes and sizes and personal belief systems, we vocal atheists are united by rejection of the politico-cultural phenomenon of imposed theistic claptrap.

The label also carried liabilities, he said: people don’t like “atheists”

Many of those people don't like anyone! However, their dislike of our principles is precisely why I think that political atheists, who are more chagrined by the malice, intolerance, and sanctioned stupidity of theism than they are worried about the nonexistence of something nonexistent per se, ought to stand up and defiantly declare themselves 'atheists'.

Yes, the term 'atheistm' upsets theists because the term itself conjures up images of refusal to accept their dogmatic pronouncements, and that is the point. If you back down to a bully in the hope that he will like you for it, you must forever sacrifice your principles. Thinking along the lines of Greta Christina' interesting Good Cop Bad Cop post, any insistence of being called atheists would be similar to gay activists' adopting for themselves the labels that their detractors used. This tactic removed the verbal weapon from the mouths of bigots by eliminating any insulting power that the words might otherwise have had. It worked for them, and as Greta says of employing various styles of activism, it could work for us.
Instead, he argued, we should be saying that we advocate intellectual honesty, reason, and evidence. Who wants to be an enemy of “reason”? This terminology will be much easier to spread than “atheism.”
Actually, I think that we should be advocating intellectual honesty, reason, and evidence, and not merely claiming to do so. (This is probably what Harris and Hemant meant.) However, thinking individuals have been advocating these things and many theists not only do not listen, but they attack all of these virtues wherever they might threaten the stranglehold that religion has on reality. And they do this within the smug assurance that comes from following the dictates of hitherto uncriticized religious institutions.

I think that there are important motivations for the recent increase in vocal atheism–the political causes for objection as so pressing as to distress many theists, the rational reasons are more insidious and even intelligent theists have been conned. Those without sufficient education in critical thinking, sociology, criminology, psychology, medicine, moral philosophy, cosmology, evolutionary biology, or science have been duped by religionist claims that run counter to facts and logic.

Religious belief, rather than mere lack of education, is the core problem that underlies the disinformation that vies for attention in the minds of the credulous. It is only by casting the underlying motivation-to-ignorance into doubt that minds can be directed back toward rationality. I think that atheists need to be clear that they are speaking for intellectual honesty, reason, evidence, logic, morality, and community.
and they have stock responses ready when we use the word to describe ourselves: “Stalin was an atheist,” for example.
Of course they have stock responses, and their utter lack of originality makes our task much easier. We can regurgiquote right back at 'em. It's boring, but we need to point out ad nauseam that such arguments are fallacious and irrelevant to the phenomenon at hand. The New Atheism bears absolutely no resemblance to the motivations of an anti-capitalist, paranoid megalomaniac, and to conjure up any comparison to Stalin is typical of the fallacious way in which theists parrot the emotional illogic of prejudiced religionists.
Granted, we can respond to those claims, but Harris said it was as if religious people had “drawn a chalk outline of a dead man and we just sit in it.”
Let's reverse that image and draw a chalk outline of a nonexistent God that has robbed some humans of the intellectual capacities with which biological evolution has endowed them.

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