Are you a Real Atheist?

One critique of Christians and Christianity by skeptics is the variations within the religion.  Some skeptics refer to this as one’s brand of Christianity.  I have also seen the phrase True Christian®, or Real Christian™ with the pejoratively placed trademark symbols.  I understand the point.  It appears to the skeptic that Christians are quick to dismiss other professing Christians who hold differing opinions on certain doctrines as “not real Christians”.  However, over the last two posts, Atheists: George Carlin’s Ironic Punchline, and Atheism as a lack of belief (and reason), I have witnessed this same phenomena on the part of Atheists — the ones who participate in discussion on Sifting Reality, anyway.

They argue even more fervently than Christians in some cases over the label Atheist, and to whom the label applies.  For example, some Atheists’ position is that no God(s) exist (the actual definition).  Other Atheists’ claim atheism is a lack of belief (agnosticism), and others still hold that atheism is one of no belief at all (nonsense).  One is left to wonder how a single philosophical term can be defined with such stark differences!  Judging by the lack of response on the previous post in which I asked if Atheists had reasons for their “lack of belief”, I think it is safe to assume why individual Atheists choose the definitions they do.

So how can we tell who is a Real Atheist™ and who isn’t if they can’t even pin down and agree on a definition?  How can we tell when someone isn’t a True Atheist® if they all use the same label?  Are you a Real Atheist™?

Comments

  1. Good point. Atheists can’t agree on what it really means to be an atheist, so there must be a God.

    It is unfortunate to see unnecessary divisions in the church, but the existence of denominations that agree on the essentials doesn’t trouble me. God knew we’d have disputable matters, which is why the Bible gives guidance on how to handle them (Romans 14 and elsewhere). It also tells how to deal with false teachers. It also teaches not to violate your conscience, so if you have to switch denominations to do that then there is nothing wrong with it.

  2. “Atheists can’t agree on what it really means to be an atheist, so there must be a God.”

    Seriously? (No wonder it’s so difficult to have any rational discussion with some people…)

    @ John
    Why are you so hung up on the definition of the word ‘atheist’?

    That’s pretty much the equivalent of trying to define what variation of Christian you are, only to have you constantly argue about what you don’t hold true. Something along the lines of, “Well, you’re Baptist, so you must believe _____”, only to have you reply, “But that’s a different kind of Baptist…”

    Instead, why don’t you just simply assert what you hold true and take it from there. Bickering about definitions has proven to not get you very far.

  3. If someone calls themself an atheist, then they are one. If someone calls themself a Christian, then they are one.

    Simple as that.

  4. Excellent point. We (atheists) don’t do that — absolute truth, absolute certainty, and the REAL answers are your (Christian) bag. We call that dogmatism and we reject the idea that any one person has absolute truth. There’s no atheist Pope, although you might think Dawkins is the atheist Pope, and I would understand your confusion. But he’s not, and neither is anyone else.

    When an atheist stands up and starts pontificating, so to speak, about what ‘real’ atheism is or isn’t, that’s fine. They get their opinion and if others like it, then there starts to be a consensus. But it’s social science and philosophy. It’s not physics and its certainly not theology. A discussion about atheism (or Christianity) lends itself to right and wrong answers to a point, but the subject leaves plenty of room for reasonable disagreements.

    Fundamentalist Christians especially claim to have absolute knowledge, directly from God about everything they say. They say, “The Bible says so” and “God says so”. “I’d love to accept and support homosexuals, but the Bible says I need to reject them. God is firm on this point.” That sort of claim to certainty makes atheists point out, rightfully, that there is a lot of disagreement and one must be clear about what ‘brand’ of Christianity an individual is putting forward and why that brand really reflects God’s will (and why that should matter).

    Christians present themselves as purveyors of absolute truth and ethics, and we atheists simply point out that the many brands of Christianity invalidate “Christianity” as a reliable source of truth. There are so many different answers that people must logically get it wrong all the time. But not to worry. You can still argue from Christianity, you just have to say all the other interpretations and prophets who disagree with you are wrong about God and Christianity and that only your statement is truth.

    And if you find an atheist, they’re just an atheist, and they have to make persuasive arguments, properly constructed and cited, if they hope to influence atheist (or Christian) culture about what atheists should advocate or do. We’re not trying to find a comfortable perch to claim absolute truth. We’re seeking the best way to make the world a better place.
    Coincidentally, I just ran across a recent interview with Chris Stedman, PZ Myers, and others that shows the kind of discussions we have all the time: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZsqqFpWh7m8

    • Jason

      You seem to be missing the point. It’s not that I think all Atheists ought to believe the same things. I am questioning why they all define what it means to be an Atheist differently. The term seems to be ambiguous and purposefully vaguely defined.

      It seems you have expended a lot of time addressing a point I wasn’t making. Since we’re already off topic, I’d like to see your comments for my previous post.

  5. “I am questioning why they all define what it means to be an Atheist differently.”

    Because some use it as a label and others use it as a descriptor.

    All ‘atheist’ means is you don’t believe in a god or gods. But some people associate more to it, like skepticism and humanism and the promotion of secular values, and use it as a general label.

    Others don’t care.

  6. I thought that you described it well. It may be an issue with semantics or world knowledge, I dont see it remotely as complex as the differences between some religions.

    Atheist simply do not believe while agnostics can’t just prove either way, they don’t believe but does not rule out a possibility.

    I, personally relate to Secular Humanism, which is in essence agnosticism.

    Thanx for the good post.

  7. So Jason Torpy… you dogmatically believe the absolute truth that no one can hold absolute truth? I think that quite amusing since you pride yourself on rejecting dogma.

  8. Just so that we are clear, I’d like in the future if everyone here could start using the most specific descriptor possible for their belief system. John, you are not any longer a Christian- perhaps a “soft Calvanist”? DogTags can be a “strict Southern Baptist”, maybe? Too many people call themselves Christian when they can’t agree on simple matters. Hell, I can’t even get a straight answer on whether Catholics, JW’s, Mormons, etc are Christian from most Christians. You might say Yes, No, No- while someone else might say Yes,Yes, No (my preference), or No, Yes, No. There are Christians who believe in a literal hell, and ones who don’t. Christians who believe gays are doing nothing wrong, and those who condemn them. Christians who believe in evolution, and young Earth Creationists.

    I met an atheist once who believed that aliens have visited and mingled with humans. I’ve met atheists that believe in spirits. The one thing that they have in common is they don’t believe in the concept of God. Why is it so hard to say that the defining characteristic of atheism is that they don’t, for one reason or another, believe in God? They might believe He doesn’t exist positively, they might think that the evidence doesn’t justify belief, they might be null hypothesis atheists. What is so wrong with lumping all people who do not believe in God under one umbrella- even though they have varying levels of certainty and different reasons?
    So we are clear, I am a positive atheist (I actively believe God doesn’t exist) in relation to the theology of every major world religion, though I can’t positively claim that some variation on deism is not correct- though as I said, that theory seems unlikely and far from elegant.

    • George

      Just so that we are clear, I’d like in the future if everyone here could start using the most specific descriptor possible for their belief system. John, you are not any longer a Christian- perhaps a “soft Calvanist”? DogTags can be a “strict Southern Baptist”, maybe? Too many people call themselves Christian when they can’t agree on simple matters. Hell, I can’t even get a straight answer on whether Catholics, JW’s, Mormons, etc are Christian from most Christians. You might say Yes, No, No- while someone else might say Yes,Yes, No (my preference), or No, Yes, No. There are Christians who believe in a literal hell, and ones who don’t. Christians who believe gays are doing nothing wrong, and those who condemn them. Christians who believe in evolution, and young Earth Creationists.

      This was my point. However, “atheism” (the term) does not really lend itself to the definitional variance with which Atheists want to use it. “Christianity”, by virtue of its holy writ itself allows for variance within the framework of an overall uncomprimising subset of “required” beliefs, of which there are few. A Christian can be rightly defined as someone who trusts that Jesus of Nazareth was God incarnate and took for himself the penalty of the believer’s sin. That is something that Christians have in common. However, Atheists all use different definitions of atheism all of which are mutually exclusive, not to mention, linguistically inaccurate.

      However, as I previously posted, I no longer believe God exists.

  9. Here is your problem John: You want atheism to mean one single epistemology. It means 1.”God doesn’t exist” OR 2.”God is a postulation lacking evidence” OR 3.”God is something I’m not familiar enough with to feel comfortable making a judgement”
    The problem is that it is not any single one of those things- it could be any of those things. Though I would agree with you that #3, in modern Western civilization seems disingenuous, I think it ought to be included (but treated suspect).

    Atheism means simply that someone for one reason or another does not believe that a supreme being exists. Atheism is an epistemology that discounts the existance of God- whether well thought out or ignorant.

    So I would say an atheist can rightly be defined as someone who believes that there is no reason, to their knowledge, to postulate a being that created and has dominion over the world we live in.

  10. Marshall Art says:

    George,

    I don’t think it is so much that John insists on one definition, but rather that atheists don’t provide anything that suggests there is one, even to their own minds. It means whatever they want it to mean

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