This is a statement made some time ago by Bill Maher that I had not put much thought into. Honestly, because the last I heard it was likely in my days of being an openly volcal atheist, with pride with my place in the community. A status that has since, faded (my journey chronicled in the Atheism Criticisms sub-category, from beginning to now).
Back than, like many others (as I was later to learn), I didn’t apply much critical thought to my accepted views, and as such, nor did I apply such thought to this statement. Until a recent episode of Real Time brought it back to mind.
I forget exactly how the conversation turned in this way, but I think a guest had made the insinuation that atheism is (can be?) a religion (to be fair, it was not all that intelligent of a criticism). Bill responded with the soundbite (“Its a religion in the same way that abstinence is a sex position!”). To which the guest argued that yes, abstinence IS a sex position (or at least, can be). At the time, me (nor Bill) got what she was talking about.
But its clear now.
Its not as much a sex position as it is a position on sex. When it comes to sex, ones position may be abstinence. Just as ones position on the god question may be atheist.
Arguably, this seems a bit silly to bring up. But I think it plays into the same atheist mind games that they like to play when it comes to such things as their stance not being a belief.
Sure, the modern definition of one who lacks belief in an entity or entities makes that possible. But I like better the older, more straight forward one who denies belief in an entity or entities.
People may turn to Agnostic Atheists and claim that such a definition does not apply. But it does.
Many atheists make the claim that all those that do not believe in god, are atheists (even Bill Maher has recently equated Agnostics and Atheists together like this). Taking such a stance, seems like a quite positive position (in this case, towards a negative).
Lets think about lacking a belief in an entity or entities.
A rock, is lacking belief in an entity or entities. A baby is also lacking a belief in an entity or entities. A pet (or any animal) lacks belief in an entity or entities. A secluded tribe lacks belief in an entity or entities. Correction, all of the above lack belief in our cultural interpretation of an entity or entities. Using the current standard mainstream atheism definition, one could rightfully call all of these things atheist. And some do.
But when it comes to people that have made the mental journey to ateistic conclusions, I do not feel that the definition fits any longer.
When I was a baby up until sometime in my childhood, I was lacking a belief in an entity or entities. However, I at some point loosely picked up stuff from my surroundings, thus making me loosely theistic (Catholic, as the case was). However, this loose religious belief was dropped when I accepted that no entity was likely present. Though I did not know it at the time, I had accepted atheism.
I am still of the opinion that it is silly to label such things as babies, rocks or animals Atheist , just because it fits. Who cares if it fits, think about the context. Imagine how stupid a mormon would look labeling inanimate objects as Mormon (including dead people), or a christian would look claiming that their cat is Christian. Sure, there is no proof that such objects would develop those beliefs (one is lacking conscience (inanimate object!), the other is disconnected from our cultural reality). But at the same time, none could develop atheistic conclusions for the same reasons that they can’t develop any other conclusions familiar to us. As such, the label is not really applicable.
Those of an atheistic mindset are not merely lacking belief. Or at very least, they are not being totally honest intellectually if that is what they state.
Someone that would be applicable to the new (nu?) atheist definition, is someone that has not given the philosophy any thought at all (is completely unaware of it). Someone that has no other “beliefs”. Or something that is incapable of entertaining the necessary thought processes in the first place.
Someone who has done their personal evaluations of all that is applicable, and ended up deciding that atheism was the best / most reasonable position to take, does not merly “lack” a belief in god anymore. They looked at the evidence available and concluded that for all intents and purposes, nothing is there. It does not matter if your 100% sure that there is no god, or more logically close to the agnostic middle. You still rejected the assertion of a deity.
I am lacking knowledge of the french launguage (and even of the english launguage, as some have said before). I am not lacking a belief in a deity or deities as much as I am rejecting it. For the same reasons as the rest of the secular community.
It may seem weird that I associated this with the Bill Maher soundbite. But I think the misunderstanding of his guests point, as well as the lack of comprehension of legitimate atheistic criticisms (meaning, not coming from theists speaking from personal context), both stem from similar backgrounds. In that, atheism has become so mainstream and echo chamber driven in social media, that its taken on a religiosity of its own. A culture that encourages the criticism of only opposing ideas.