Effective communication, to exchange ideas and discuss points of view, requires that we share the meanings of the terms we use. That is a challenge in this modern Orwellian world, where key words are being redefined every few years, to connote the near opposite of their previous meaning. It is particularly difficult, when a perfectly useful term becomes so loaded with emotional baggage, that minds snap shut at its very mention.
The term ‘atheist’ simply means ‘godless,’ which itself is a somewhat loaded term, only meaning ‘without a god.’ It is not a ‘belief’ as some would have it; but rather a disbelief in the existence of deities. To move the negative’s position, by saying, “An atheist believes God does not exist,” has no more profound effect than saying, “Joey believes there is no such thing as a Tooth Fairy.”
That in no way, makes Joey’s skepticism regarding the existence of fairies, into a ‘belief system.’ Nor does it put the onus on him to prove there isn’t, even if 3/4 of his acquaintances still believe there is, and really wish he would not display such disrespect for their cherished beliefs, by publicly challenging them. After all, they have personally experienced money magically materializing under their pillow; so they ‘know for a fact’ that it is real, and this gives them great comfort.
That Joey doesn’t have these miraculous experiences himself, is only evidence of his lack of ‘faith,’ which believers know is the key ingredient to visits by the Tooth Fairy. In all sincerity, they feel sad for Joey, and compelled to try to convince him to share their faith, for his own good. He, of course, feels equal compassion for their delusion, and wants to explain how they are being manipulated, by the crafty promulgators of the myth, to regulate their behavior.
The motives of both, then, are honorable and even laudable, regardless whether acknowledged by either side. Most think one’s opinions regarding fairies are best kept to oneself, and shouldn’t prevent everyone, faithful believers or not, from playing nice together. Ideally, this should be the case, and on an individual basis, is readily done. The problem is, that there is something in human nature that impels us to form affinity groups, which soon enough identify rival groups that a proper member is expected to disdain.
Mixing metaphors for a spell, I never had the slightest cause to disparage a Mustang owner (I bought a new one myself back in ’69), until I joined a Corvette club. The rivalry between competing car clubs was good-natured fun, of course; yet the actual sense of superiority evident among some of my fellow club members toward Mustang owners, was palpable and demonstrative. While I have never seen such, I have no doubt that at some car show somewhere, taunts and insults by the more insolent boors in rival clubs, have gotten out of hand and ugly, if not physical.
When the godly join the ubiquitous churches, synagogs, and mosques organized by the believers in the God of Abraham, it is considered perfectly normal; and not only socially acceptable, but desirable and eminently respectable in our culture. In some fundamentalist dominated communities, the unchurched are actually regarded as social pariahs. Yet, when those of alternative faith traditions, or even the godless, join in fellowship with their peers, it is regarded with deep suspicion and consternation by many fundamentalists; and the excessively pious among them, are none too shy about publicly condemning such affronts, as ‘the work of the devil.’
How dare Sally drive her Mustang in our Chevy town, and in broad daylight, for Pete’s sake? The nerve of the Witch! Intolerance and disrespect are one thing; Mustang Sally and her coven can always pile in her Ford and go find a more broad-minded town. We live in a large, diverse, supposedly free country, and local customs and social norms ought to be respected. It is when these paragons of piety take a notion to elect venal politicians, who are willing to violate their oaths to defend our cherished Constitution, to outlaw driving Fords anywhere in the nation, that the discord turns nasty.
Even if Chevys outnumbered Fords four to one, we live in a constitutional republic, not a democracy. Our Constitution was designed to protect a minority from the tyranny of a majority, and nothing in it empowers Congress to regulate what we drive and where we can drive it. Endeavoring to do so, is just going to piss off the Ford drivers, and they are not without their own outspoken righteous devotes, who will push back hard. Reckless pursuits can earn unintended, and often unpleasant, consequences.
Before long, they will be deliberately using every lawyerly trick available, just to irritate Chevy owners everywhere. Remember back when we could celebrate Chevrolet Week, with Chevy bow-tie emblems all over the public square, and a “Welcome Chevy Lovers” banner across main street? Try it now, since the courts have decreed that public property cannot be used to suggest a preference for automobiles. Some militant Mustang driver, from two thousand miles away, will get a court order to take them down, as soon as he hears about it.
Does this make all Ford drivers, or all Chevy drivers, insufferable fools, with nothing better to do than try to impose their model of the world on the rest of us? No, of course not; but it only takes a vocal minority on either side, to muck up the playpen for the rest of us. The trick is not to be sucked into their righteous battle, or buy into their rhetoric, which endeavors to keep us all at each other’s throats, by ascribing evil motives to their opponents.
Common usage connotes a measure of certainty to the disbelief of an atheist, which the nonbeliever has no more justification than the believer to assert. For this reason, and the aforementioned snapping shut of minds, at the mere mention of the word, I eschew the label ‘atheist,’ and prefer ‘skeptic.’ While I am certainly godless, I can’t prove a negative, and I choose to keep my mind open to the possibility, that such an implausible thing might actually exist.
I doubtfully await the empirical evidence, while totally rejecting all hearsay (including scripture) as meaningless. In the meantime, I remain tolerant and endeavor to get along peacefully with my godly neighbors. All I ask is similar respect in return; but I sold my Corvette, and my plain white, diesel powered, dually pickup is a Ford. I am not an activist; but I remain vigilant, and will smack a particularly pious busybody about the ears occasionally, for the sheer sport of it. Just as I enjoy occasionally visiting a freethinker forum, to do the same with an insufferable ACLU type atheist activist. 🙂 ◄Dave►