Labels Galore

We nonreligious have a remarkable number of labels with which we identify ourselves. I acknowledge that each has a unique denotation and connotation, that we disagree amongst ourselves what each one means, that we debate the merits of the options and that we often change labels, but the terms greatly overlap and tend to describe essentially the same group of people. Here is an incomplete list:

  • agnostic
  • antitheist
  • apatheist
  • atheist
  • bright
  • doubter
  • freethinker
  • godfree
  • godless
  • heathen
  • heretic
  • humanist
  • ignostic
  • infidel
  • irreligious
  • materialist
  • naturalist
  • nonbeliever
  • nontheist
  • nonreligious
  • rationalist
  • realist
  • secularist
  • skeptic
  • unbeliever
We often subdivide atheism into at least two types:
  • weak / strong
  • negative / positive
  • implicit / explicit
And we have at least two words to label those who used to be religious:
  • apostate
  • deconvert
If you have another fairly common label which I have forgotten, please post it in a comment and I will consider adding it to this catalogue of nonreligious labels. I have almost certainly forgotten one of the numerous names we call ourselves.



Neither Last Nor Least

Surveys indicate that approximately 15 percent of the United States population identifies as “non-religious,” making us the second largest group behind Christians, yet we're often listed last in most contexts, even by the most liberal sources. The list normally proceeds in descending order of adherents with the exception of the non-religious. If they bother to mention us at all, it's usually little more than an afterthought. I think this is wrong. The non-religious greatly outnumber all religions except Christianity combined, yet as a group we're hardly in the public's consciousness at all. I don't think this will ever change until we become so numerous that we're impossible to ignore.



The Concept of Neutrality

Many people fail to understand the concept of neutrality in church-state relations and I suspect most of these have never given any thought to comparing the various theoretical possibilities which clearly demonstrate it. They seem to believe that anything that fails to support their opinion automatically supports someone else's opinion and I think this is at least partially because they never stop to ponder the situation if the roles were reversed.

Let's examine the case of the motto “In God We Trust” on U.S. currency and coinage. When the issue of removing it arises, they see only two options:

(1) Keep the religious motto
(2) Remove the religious motto (and possibly replace it with a secular one)

They view the first option as favoring belief and the second as favoring disbelief. They don't see a neutral option and since there are more believers than non-believers, they argue that the majority should win. The problem is that they don't realize there's a third major option because it receives no support:

(3) Use an anti-religious motto such as “There are no gods”

With the full spectrum under consideration, they can see that the first option favors belief, the third option favors disbelief, but that the second option is truly neutral. It neither supports nor opposes any religious position. That the third option is never presented as a viable possibility doesn't negate its usefulness in demonstrating government neutrality.

The same principle can be shown with the issue of public prayer such as that at football games and city council meetings. The third option in this case would be to open or close the events by saying something like, “Since there are no gods, we have to rely on ourselves.” While I wholeheartedly agree with it, I don't think it would be appropriate to make this kind of statement in an official capacity at a public gathering.

Of course, many people who support government promotion of their religion have no interest in neutrality, but I honestly believe that at least some people who oppose removing religious mottos and public prayers simply need to be educated about the concept of neutrality.



Godfree for Three Years

Today is the third anniversary of my becoming a freethinker. In the months directly following my apostasy, I had plenty to say about my newfound freedom and peace. On the first anniversary, I wrote a thoughtful piece on an online forum reflecting on the many changes of the previous year. On the second anniversary, I wrote a simpler yet still substantive blog entry. This year I have very little to say because I have grown so accustomed to my situation, but I still want to commemorate one of the most important occasions in my life here in the most appropriate venue available. Here's to my intellectual freedom!



Prayer in Public Venues

This month The Florida-Times Union has published two articles, two editorials and numerous letters to the editor on the issue of prayer at public high school football games and other public venues. The original article which sparked the debate was about a high school football coach in nearby St. Johns County who regularly leads his team in prayer.

  • 1 October — original article by Tiffany Pakkala of The St. Augustine Record, “St. Johns coach under fire for team prayers”
  • 2 Octobereditorial by Ron Littlepage, columnist for The Florida Times-Union, “Christian prayers inappropriate at government events”
  • 3 Octoberletter by Marcia Greer, “Public schools: Prayer is not allowed”
  • 3 Octoberletter by Paul B. Schaeffer, “Football games: Prayer is not mandatory.”
  • 4 Octoberletter by Bobbie O'Connor, “Public prayer: Guidelines are offered.”
  • 8 October — letter by Chris Tidball, “Religious intolerance is blatant.”
  • 8 Octoberletter by Carolyn Henley, “Postgame Prayer: Coach is to be praised.”
  • 8 Octoberletter by Jim Reape, “Postgame Prayer: Coach is doing a fine job”
  • 9 Octobereditorial by Sam Borden, sports columnist for The Florida Times-Union, “Public school coaches should not preach”
  • 10 Octoberletter by David Schwam Baird, “Public Prayer: Infringing on freedom”
  • 11 Octoberletter by Richard Kusnierek, “Majority rule not always proper”
  • 13 October — letter by Sonja Harpe, “Church, State: Going too far”
  • 13 October — letter by Harry Parrott, Jr., “Time out on football and prayer”
  • 15 Octoberletter by Brad Howald, “Prayers at Events: No prohibition”
  • 16 October — letter by Steven Eddy, “First Amendment: Coach has a right”
  • 17 Octoberletter by Charles Collins, “Religion: Coach should be supported”
  • 18 Octoberarticle by Wayne Ezell, reader advocate for The Florida Times-Union, “When prayer is controversial”
  • 22 Octoberletter by Bryan Price, “Religion: Coach is the government”

I will continue to post updates until this issue passes.