In our society, we tend to reduce words that we should not say aloud, or at least in public, to their first letter. The “N” word comes to mind. “The “L” word (Lesbian) even spawned the eponymous television show. Then there is the “F” word, or otherwise known as the “F-bomb” as well. We also have the “C” word… but I’ll let you figure that one out. I find this an interesting phenomenon. It sort of reminds me of how any scandal has the moniker “gate” at the of it as an homage to the Watergate scandal in the 70’s.
Now we have the “A” word. OK, let me get this straight. While in mixed company in a public social situation, saying the “N” word versus the alternative makes perfect sense. It is a polarizing and generally offensive word in most situations. I get that. But the “A” word? Really? Who are we offending with that one? Is that not a benign enough word to say fully?
What does the word Atheist (oh, I’m sorry, the “A” word) mean that is so offensive? Are we, as Atheists, afraid to say it for various reasons? Is “Non-believer” a less shocking term? How about the word “Secular?” Is that less threatening? How about “deity denier?” Could you even say that in Florida?
Words are funny. Some evoke different responses or interpretations. Take Muslim for example. During President Barack Obama’s first run for office, the “other side” said that he was a Muslim as additional red meat to throw to the base to get them riled up. To put the cherry on top, if you called him by his full name, Barack Hussein Obama…well, that just PROVES he was sent here by Allah to be a subversive element designed to destroy the American way of life. Heck, how he has not instituted sharia law yet is a mystery. Muslim = terrorist after all. “Liberal” was used to tear people down during the Reagan and Bush eras.
Now we have the “A” word. The word “Atheist” is still a bit of a sensitive word in mixed company (Christians, Atheists, etc.). To most Christians, Atheism means Satanism, plain and simple. It can also mean that it is an immoral free-for-all where we can run through the streets naked with machetes hacking up whatever unfortunate live being is in our path, and that is OK because we have no moral compass. I think we are supposed to yell “Huzzah” or something while we do it. We are barbarians after all.
So when will it be OK to actually identify ourselves as Atheists without fear of being looked at like we will begin to spew out some horrifying chant at any minute designed to suck out someone’s soul? I have already written about “new” Atheism, so I won’t rehash that subject. I am still on the fence about that moniker as being good or bad. Adding “new” to it may soften the blow a bit…I don’t know.
In my conversations with other Atheists, they like to refer to themselves as “Non-believers.” I suppose that it is a bit less threatening. Instead of putting a cross on your forehead yelling, “The power of Christ compels you!!!” in an attempt to release the demon squatting in your soul, Christians may only go so far as to shake their head and tell you that you need to believe in God to achieve salvation. Maybe non-believer is less of a commitment than Atheism. They may feel, “there is still hope for this non-believer, but that Atheist over there is “F-worded.” I personally do not consider myself a non-believer. I DO believe in something. I believe there is no God. Well, we are talking about semantics here after all.
Are you proud, vocal, and comfortable calling yourself an Atheist? Or have you chosen to use a lesser term to avoid the Church Lady’s condescending gaze?