What do all atheists have in common?
One of the many fights we must engage on, as skeptics, atheist, freethinkers or whatever you like to call yourself, is the fight for our public image. The public perception of what it means to be an atheist diverges from what many atheists think of themselves. It is very appealing to use a straw man argument, and I am probably guilty of doing the same at times. Whenever we try to reach conclusions about a specific person based on how they classify themselves we run the risk of using this fallacy, regardless if we are talking about atheists or christians. The best way to proceed is to ask that person what is it that they actually think on any given issue, instead of trying to pigeonhole them in a position that they do not maintain, solely based on the label they identify by.
There are few things that are shared by all individuals of a given group, none more so than atheists. Generally when people hear the word atheist they think of a person who knows there is no God, or who believes God does not exist, or who rejects God, or whatever. Nevertheless the fact of the matter is that, in my opinion, the only thing all atheists have in common is a lack of belief in any Gods. That’s it. That is our whole “doctrine”. From that point on, we’re on our own and we proceed to take that basic statement “I do not believe in any Gods” and build upon it, based on our personal experiences. Atheism has no central doctrine; we don’t have a book that tells us what we should be doing or thinking; we don’t have a book to interpret, or misinterpret depending how you look at it. All we have is this simple straight forward statement “An atheist is a person who does not believe in the existence of any Gods“. Period! That’s all there is to it.
Some of us do indeed come to the conclusion that they know there is no God. Those of us are wrong and are putting themselves in a position that cannot be defended logically. Some of us come to the conclusion that they believe there is no God. They are no less wrong than the first group. Some of us are dogmatic and just as close-minded in their atheism as the religious people they want to criticize. But that is their personal choice, their views, their opinions. As there is no central doctrine for atheism, one fringe section’s views cannot be construed to apply to the whole group. And we must also be careful not to do the same to the religious. Not all Christians are the same, not all of them believe the same things. The point is that at the end of the day we are all individuals and have thoughts and opinions that are our own, so whenever we are talking about an individual we must be careful to address that individual’s views, not what we think his views should be based on his labeling.
Some of us stick with the simple statement mentioned above. I have seen all the evidence and heard all the arguments advanced for the God Hypothesis, and I am not convinced. I think that God as posited by the major, monotheistic religions, can exist, but I think the probability of such a God existing is very low. Based on this low probability I can maintain that “I do not believe in any Gods“. If and when better arguments and evidence are presented, the probability will start to increase and at some point I will have to review my position. I think that this is the only logical position one may take. It is rational and not hypocritical.
Some like to call this stance Agnostic Atheism. Whatever suits them, I’ve given up trying to fight based on semantics. I will not let others call me an agnostic atheist though, that’s an entirely different matter. They can call themselves what they want, but I also maintain the right to call myself what I want, and I call myself simply an atheist (in matters of religion) and a skeptic in general, and I consider my atheism to be a subset of my skepticism. I can’t see how I can be a skeptic and not be an atheist as defined here, but I can see how one cannot be both a skeptic and an atheist if atheist to that someone means something else.
At the end of the day labels don’t matter, what matters is what you think, but we live in a society where labels are thrown around as a magical one word summary of a person’s views and opinions, and unfortunately we must keep fighting the labels war, while at the same time being careful not to commit the same crimes against others that we are trying to protect ourselves from.