Atheism is not an ideology, it is not a belief system, but is simply the disbelief in a supernatural God. While theists often portray atheists as an immoral or amoral pact of people bent on evil doing, or as having no reason or seeing no value in life, it has been my experience that nothing could be further from the truth. Many rational thinking reasonable minded atheists value human life, human potential and human intellect. I and other rational thinking atheists look for answers to life within the structure of the natural world, and we trust that science can unlock the mysteries we have yet to understand. We appreciate the life we have now, because we know that this is all we have. We are interested in living well, care about the Earth and the other creatures who share it with us, and are interested in leaving the world a better place for those who will come after. We don’t rely on lucky charms, totems or magic tarot cards to guide the moral compass of our days, we rely instead, on our sense of ethics, honed by a well tuned sense of what is right and what is wrong, not because someone told us it was so, but because it is what we know.

Sometimes, on an especially dark or stormy night, I think about our pre-modern ancestors, a tribe of frightened kinship huddled around a community fire, built for warmth or to repel the enveloping darkness. I imagine their fear as sounds of predators emanate from the thick woods and rain pelts their skin with such force that it stings. I envision the terror in their eyes as bright bolts of lightening rip through the sky, leaving burnt patches of ground and the smell of ozone in its path. One can only imagine the kind of superstition such beings might evoke to explain or protect them from the fire in the sky, the flooding rain or the ravenous predators. The conjuring of superstition in such dark times, when the human intellect was so young and unformed is understandable, but it is hard to imagine the place for such pretense now, when human intellect and innovation have advanced so far. All this progress and still, we atheists are the ones who must explain our lack of faith in rabbit’s feet, horse shoes, and glass beads instead of the other way around. It reminds me of the story told to children about the Emperor and his new clothes, where all the adults congratulated the ruler on his new suit, and it took a child to point out that the ruler was, in fact, nude.

Atheists are the brave and independent free thinkers who are willing to think outside the bounds of restrictive superstition to see life in the light of rationality and reason. We are brave enough to tell the Emperor he is nude

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Comment by Terry Osburn-Sharff on August 7, 2008 at 7:47pm
One interesting thread on the Dawkins forum devoted to this exact topic is
Comment by Terry Osburn-Sharff on August 7, 2008 at 7:28pm
yes, I do see what you mean. There have been may discussion about just such topics among various atheist groups who feel that atheism is not an adequate label for many reasons.
Comment by Mark on August 7, 2008 at 6:56pm
Yup, that's what I'm talking about. Not that we should identify ourselves that way, but that we are identifiable that way. We just usually don't, because we don't feel the same disdain for different 'subgroups' than theists do for different religions or different denominations of the same religion.

But yeah, the term 'atheist' doesn't begin to capture what that long title suggests, even though at some level all the aspects of that title are in play when you or others like you use the term atheist. Same goes for me, but with a slightly different title (probably ex-catholic humanistic naturalistic atheist :p)
Comment by Terry Osburn-Sharff on August 7, 2008 at 6:46pm
So do you think atheism should be divided into groups like theists are divided into denominations? Should we start identifying ourselves as anarchic atheists, nihilistic atheists, humanistic atheists etc. Christopher Hitchens says we should perhaps also identify ourselves as protestant atheists, catholic atheists, etc. I would have to be some what of a protestant anarchic nihilistic humanistic atheist myself. That would be a very long title. LOL
Comment by Mark on August 7, 2008 at 6:31pm
Yup, all true. Yet in terms of ideology we tend to consider atheism to be very different from religion even though religions also differ on very basic concepts. Polytheism vs. monotheism, for example.

Atheists can be ideologically segregated like theists. E.g., strong atheists, weak atheists, implicit atheists, explicit atheists, etc., etc. All with common views within their groupings and across groups (though within differs from across), but with some differences which can be identified (though not always agreed upon). The differences don't make atheist subgroups any less ideological than specific religions.
Comment by Terry Osburn-Sharff on August 7, 2008 at 1:12pm
An ideology can be defined as an organized collection of ideas or, as a comprehensive vision, so you could say the disbelief in superstition is a common vision, true, but atheists differ on very basic concepts. Some atheists I know view all morality as having evolved entirely from the Judaic Christian tradition and as such, is rationally false. This means even the morals I ascribe to humanism are false in their eyes..
Comment by Mark on August 6, 2008 at 7:44pm
The areas in which atheists differ don't change the areas in which they are the same. You described our common attitudes, values and principles which influence our perception of the world, and our behaviour. That is the essence of an ideology, and it does allow for differences.

Maybe it's more accurate to say atheism isn't explicitly an ideology, but through the way it affects peoples thoughts, feelings and behaviour, it's implicitly an ideology, and that's far more important than how it's explicitly defined.
Comment by Terry Osburn-Sharff on August 6, 2008 at 12:49pm
I was writing from my own experience, regarding people I know. Atheists are likely to have some interests in common, just like any other group with a similar interest. However, unlike a group based on ideology, atheists differ in many important areas as well, on issues of ethics, politics, philosophy.... While people who see and judge the world from a rational point of view may share some similar views, it does not make atheism a belief system
Comment by Terry Osburn-Sharff on August 5, 2008 at 6:34pm
I accidentally posted a draft the first time, but have reposted the finished copy. Sorry for any confusion
Comment by Mark on August 5, 2008 at 4:25am
I wholeheartedly agree with everything you wrote, except this:

"Atheism is not an ideology, it is not a belief system"

By describing the values and beliefs atheists have in common, and by describing us as a cohesive group, you've shown that this statement must be false.

I've heard and made the same argument many times, but when I really thought about it carefully, I realised it was wrong. I realised I was simply reacting to people calling atheism a religion, without truly considering what parts of that claim are valid. I threw out the baby with the bath water, over and over again.

We do share common beliefs and thus atheism can be considered an ideology. Perhaps the denotation of the term Atheism is the disbelief in a supernatural God. Possibly it's more accurate to say it's the lack of belief in gods. Either way what's more important is the connotations. And the connotations of atheism form an ideology.

The difference from religious systems of beliefs is that you are not expected to agree with all the claims atheists make in support of their beliefs. You are expected to question and to probe. We share an ideology, but it is not a dogmatic one.


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