I just had done some freestyle thinking and thought I may share my insights. Perhaps somebody will be able to take this to another level ;)
When I think of a word "atheist" I have in mind a person that does not believe in supernatural beings, a person that questions everything.
The plural form of this word would describe a group of people that share their views in this matter and those views have it's own name, which is "atheism".
The existence of this term makes everyone following the ideology able to be included in charts that show what portion of population believes in which particular religion and which does not (and are marked as "unbelievers", "no belief", "did not derlare any belief" or "atheists").
It is good that we can be included in those charts - at least we see that we are not alone and we make up for a strong group of rationally thinking human beings.
On the other hand should we even get included in this kind of a chart? Or maybe the proper way of doing it would be to not line up atheism with all major religions of the world but to push it out to a separate chart where there are only two options - "natural" and "believer".
The reason why I used the word "natural" is that early in the childhood everyone of us is something called "tabula rasa", which basically means that our memory, our hard disc drive contains only a clean system and a program called religion may get installed but the system will run without it perfectly. In other words a mind without any belief is in natural state. There is not much to prove this point of view - just take a look at how many religions there are in the world - despite the diversity people thrive somehow so religion is just a program like Open Office or Microsoft Office.
So why would a clean system land up in a chart that is comparing office packets? That is quite an absurd thing to do.
We got used to call ourselves "atheists" while there is nothing to be named. We do not belong to any group because we do not believe in anything and it is actually like being "neutral" to all parties. A "default" state.
It is like giving a name to nothing...
This leads to a conclusion that in between the "atheists" we should not call ourselves "atheists" - we are just normal people without any extra crazy software installed in our heads. We are not part of any organisation, cult or religion so we are nameless.
Now as we, natural people, are unfortunately a minority in the world we may use the name "atheist" when talking with the "believers" who may have a hard time grasping onto the idea how can somebody belong to nothing.
Or should we? Perhaps we should say that we are "normal" and you are not?
That would mean that we say stuff just as any other follower of any religion tells outsiders - we would be interpreted as saying that only our "religion" which is the lack of religion is right. While in fact there is nothing to be right about. Being "normal" is just having a void in the part of the brain the religion is usually stored.
How to reach the other guy that believes in something that you can have that void? By giving it a name? Then it is no longer a void! And we are just another "religion" called "atheism". Maybe that is what we are doing wrong? Maybe we need to stop saying "I am an atheist" when we are asked about our believes and just say "I do not believe in anything", "I have no connections to any religious groups", "I am not under influence or part of any party". Maybe we need to state the existence of the void in more understandable and obvious way?
So many times one can hear someone saying "atheists claim that this and this and this", but something like "atheists" does not actually exists! There is nothing that connects us other than belonging to species called homo sapiens. We congregate on AN only because we need mutual protection of our natural state of mind and that is it about it.
I think it is worth giving a little thought that in case someday humanity in majority accepts reason we should drop using the word "atheists" or naming ourselves in any way altogether. And wether or not it is wise to actually disconnect ourselves from feeling as being a member of something called "atheism" right now and start propagating the void instead?
I prefer "nonbeliever". It extends beyond religion. There are secular "religions" like homeopathy and I don't believe in those either.
Believers tend to conceive of atheists as believing there's no God, and try to say atheists have an ideology, they "have to have faith to be an atheist". Very distorted.
I think that the word nonbeliever is better. Having once been a believer I'm now a nonbeliever. They would still ask why I was "angry at god" even though I would say I'm a nonbeliever because I found no evidence for god's existence in the end.
Overall, with the apparent hatred used towards an atheist, it might not be as easy to throw that effectively at a nonbeliever. Be warned that they would still try to convert you and throw around bible verses even when you know more about the bible than they do.
Since you said you are now a nonbeliever because you once believed, what term would someone who has never believed use?
George H Smith classifies atheists into two: implicit atheists who have never been exposed to the notion of a god, and explicit atheists who deconverted.
How can we use his reasoning to come up with a suitable description for nonbelief. Humans have an innate need to classify and name situations/persons. There is already a stigma attached to atheism. What is an alternative?
Let's keep something in mind: that stigma was attached by believers, who are made uncomfortable by our lack of belief or in some cases are in denial that such people even exist. The virtue of the word "atheist" is that it is utterly unambiguous in its meaning and indulges in no political or other correctness whatsoever.
Four years ago when a quartet of Jehovah's Witnesses showed up at my door, the first thing I did after greeting them was to identify myself as an atheist. Had I said something about being a rationalist or a nonbeliever, they might have had some question about my status. In using the word "atheist," I left no doubt. If their sensibilities are offended by that, that is THEIR problem, and I refuse to make it mine, though in this and subsequent cases with JW visits, it hasn't been an issue. Then, too, I subscribe to the concept that no one has the right not to be offended, not them, not me either.
I am an atheist, and I don't blink when I say so. I will be polite and courteous and respect those who believe to the degree to which they are willing to respect me. However, their beliefs get NO RHYTHM - PERIOD.
The stigma attached to atheism is the result of believers relating our demeanor to a lack of morality. Believers are constantly reminded that if they lack the faith in god that they will burn in eternity. This propaganda is a fear agenda.
When the situation presents itself, I introduce myself as an atheist. Last year, I attended an interfaith gathering so that I could meet Buddhists who happened not to show up for it. The Catholic minister asked what group I belonged to and I stated that I am an atheist. He clutched his chest in shock of my presence.
I have no desire to describe myself otherwise. I feel strongly that atheism will prevail if people would use reason.
I never said I was a nonbeliever because I once believed. I said having once been a believer I am now a nonbeliever. It is fair though to classify me as an explicite atheist who deconverted.My deconversion is directly linked to the fact that in the end I found no valid evidence for the existence of god.
I guess then there is also a matter of how zealous you are in stating that you are an atheist :)
You are doing it in a way that ends the subject and they leave you alone. What about if one wants to continue the dialogue and at least try to convince the believer that there is another way. I you use a word atheist you are not getting anywhere because you immediately are being marked as member of the "enemy" rather than as someone belonging to no-group at all.
Belonging to no group at all has an advantage of not-being able to stick any preconceptions or propaganda onto you. So you would actually want to oppose anyone even trying to say that you are an atheist if you want to talk.
But again I agree that saying you are an atheist works perfectly when you want to fend off annoying believers ;)
That's true, if you want to use the tactics in Peter Boghossians A Manual for Creating Atheists, it's probably better to call yourself a nonbeliever. Believers might get into the conversation in hopes of converting you.
Actually, that statement has fomented considerable conversation, the three times JWs have visited here, and it was an integral part of the conversation the first time. One thing you learn about Jehovah's Witnesses real fast is that they DO have a playbook as it comes to situations like this.
Their problem is that the playbook sucks!
Peter Boghossian says he's had less success with his techniques for stimulating doubt and questioning, in Jehovah's Witnesses. Not clear why JW's would be especially difficult.
JW's would be especially difficult because to them, they are the only true religion. That means all the other professing christians are wrong, and any other belief except theirs is wrong. To partake of any heavenly promises you have to be a JW. There is just no other way to them.