What Kind of Atheist Am I?

After vacillating for quite some time between the terms atheist, naturalist and Humanist as my preferred label, I've settled on “atheist” because it's minimalist, unambiguous, and the most recognizable. Now I'm debating with myself whether in certain contexts I should add an adjective in order to indicate that I take an real interest in atheism and that it's an important part of my identity. I want people to understand it's something I actually care about rather than just another fact about me, like my height or my eye color. I'm going to consider a few adjectives commonly paired with “atheist” and see whether they fit the bill.

Militant atheist — I rather like this one because it suggests that I'm always ready and willing to stand up and defend my viewpoint at any moment and that I'm willing to accept the negative label of my critics in order to weaken it, but unfortunately it's misleading in that I never advocate physical violence as do militant religionists. I don't want to give people the wrong impression; atheists have enough misperceptions to combat already.

Fundamentalist atheist — The term isn't exactly meaningless, but it doesn't correspond to anything in reality. That is, it's technically possible to accept the non-existence of deities as an axiom of one's worldview (or a “properly basic belief,” as Plantinga might call it), but I've never actually encountered anyone who does. Weak atheism isn't even a belief, and strong atheism is always argued for with evidence and logic, never dogmatically asserted as unquestionably true.

Devout atheist — I've occasionally referred to myself as this because it's ironic and it actually describes my strong commitment to the idea, but it's also misleading in that it suggests that atheism is a religion. We have no dogma, no sacred texts, no moral code, no holidays, no priests, no saints, no temples, nor anything else that almost every religion has.

Committed atheist — This is similar to the previous option but with less religious baggage. Unfortunately, I wouldn't really say that I was committed to atheism; I'm not even personally committed to promoting it.

Happy atheist — This could indicate that I'm a happy person and that I'm happy to be an atheist. Unfortunately, it seems to imply that many atheists are unhappy and that I need to distinguish myself from them; this is simply false.

Friendly atheist — This has similar problems as the previous option, and it might be even registered or trademarked by Hemant Mehta, who writes a very popular blog with this title. Even if not, it might lead to confusion if I used it.

Serious atheist — Since many atheists aren't serious about their atheism, this is a distinction that actually makes sense. It could mean, I suppose, that I have no sense of humor, but this isn't really likely since I've never encountered any atheist who was reluctant to laugh about both religion and atheism.

Active atheist — I don't know whether I qualify as one since my activity is currently limited to reading books, listening to podcasts, blogging and discussing atheism on a couple of internet forums. I used to attend some meetings of local atheist group, but as a married law student, I really don't have the time, and I'm also not a member of any non-theist organization. I'm certainly not nearly as involved as a lot of others are. I really want to indicate something other than my activity level with the description, but this is the least misleading of the group.

Of course, there's even less of a need or desire to use an adjective in addition to a label. If any readers have a suggestion which I haven't considered here, please post it as comment.



Slugsie said...

I've taken up the moniker of Quiet Atheist, as it's a good description of who I am with regards by atheism - generally quiet, but able to speak up if necessary.

How about:
Open Atheist
Forthright Atheist
Free Atheist

Elizabeth Casaletto said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Thumpalumpacus said...

I just call myself a rationalist, unless the conversation is specifically about religion; then I say I don't believe in god.

libhom said...

I am both an atheist and a humanist and refer to myself with both terms.

vjack said...

I am an impatient atheist. I have a hard time with the apatheists among us.