Moving to the position of atheism was my gateway to reality-based, data-based, and science-based living. Once I embraced atheism, I quickly saw that atheists, for the most part, based their views (I’m deliberately not using the word “beliefs” here) on science and actual data. Quickly I applied this way toward everything. Within a few years, many ideas I once had, bit the dust.
I can easily see this happening the other way around, too. A person who has a science/data/actual reality way of looking at life would quite naturally adopt atheism. Atheism is totally logical coming from this point of view. If a person considers him or herself to have a science/data/actual reality point of view and such person continues to put any stock in anything religious or “spiritual,” then such a person has a huge hole in their otherwise reality-oriented mode of operation. There are many reasons for a person to hang on to that huge hole (perhaps that’s a topic for another post). Generally, it will be about hanging on to things simply because it feels good.
But, there’s a problem. There’s a stigma attached to the word atheism and the label atheist. This started, or perhaps had a huge boost, in the post World War II era of the Cold War. Communism was the enemy, and atheism was associated with communism. In the 1950s, in an anti-communist move, the United States added “In God We Trust” to our money and the words “under God” to our Pledge of Allegiance. Those were moves to distinguish ourselves from the evil commies. And, I hasten to add, both of those moves should be reversed as a clear violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution.
I grew up in the 1950s and 1960s; and I remember absorbing the notion that atheists were evil. As a child I then translated evil to mean and nasty. Those people had no heart and I should never associate myself with them. Madalyn Murray O’Hair, an outspoken atheist, might as well have been Joseph Stalin, in the way Americans were conditioned to think about her. Now, as I read back on what she said and did, I see how intelligent and logical she was. She spoke some very well-thought out (perhaps harsh) truths.
Why Normalize Atheism?
Atheism is a logical, consistent position in total alignment with a science and reality-based point of view. There should be nothing negative about it. Religions (and other “spiritual” derivatives) are what should be considered kooky. The anti-atheist conditioning is still with us. It’s faded somewhat, but there is a long way to go. Atheists are still thought of as less desirable in many ways, not the least of which is the atheist label attached to a politician. An openly atheist politician is ranked somewhere in the ballpark with rapists in the opinion of the overall general public. Erasing the stigma attached to atheism would be a great accomplishment for society. For starters, true science and reality-based people could be among our choices for political office!
On this front, I’m grateful for people like David Silverstein (@MrAtheistPants on Twitter), who, as President of American Atheists, is dedicating his life to normalizing atheism. I agree with him. We must proactively use the term while being pleasant, cordial, but consistently science and reality-based people. Science and reality-based orientation needs to be associated with being good and kind. There are plenty of good and kind people who are science/reality-based except for the huge hole of religiosity. Atheists are a good step better: simply more consistent.
Here is an example of something I think goes against normalizing atheism: I listen to a number of good podcasts. One of them was formerly called “Atheistically Speaking.” But it’s now called Serious Inquiries Only. The change of title was ostensibly because many of the topics were not about atheism. But that misses the point! Atheism is inextricably tied to actual reality. The host made a calculated move to attract additional listeners who might be turned off with atheism referred to in the title. This kind of action, however, only serves to keep the stigma going. I would rather see the old title kept. Serious inquiries coming from actual data and reality IS atheistically speaking! The previous title was perfect! The two SHOULD be associated, because they go EXACTLY hand in hand.
Atheism is a consistent, and literally the most reasonable, position. The label needs to be applied WHENEVER possible. Doing so would be a great service for progressing our society.