• Final Thoughts on Dictionary Atheism

    I don’t particularly want to spend more time blogging about the absurd concept of “dictionary atheism”. However, the following argument from someone in the Pharyngula comment section manages to capture how inane this whole perspective is.

    The question isn’t whether or not atheism, in some fashion ***does*** impose moral requirements, but whether or not it **should**. Whether its merely enough to throw out one made up excuse for doing wrong – i.e., religion, which lets one pat oneself on the back for doing both good and evil, in the same breath, because “something/someone else” defined them both as “good”, or if, by necessity, we need a rational, and sensible definition of right and wrong to go with it. Whether or not we can make any useful claim at all, about anything, by saying “atheist”. Because, if there is no fundamental difference between having a belief in mythology, and abandoning it, with respect to how we act, or fail to do so, then… what the hell is even the point of arguing for the abandonment of such ideas in the first place?

    At its core, consider how childish the above argument is. I have visions of a spoiled kid thumbing through the dictionary and telling his parents to change the definition of words because he doesn’t like their current meanings. Imagine how ridiculous it would be if I decided to blog about words and concepts I don’t like and demanded that we change them to mean something more to my taste. If you’ll indulge me, let’s just go ahead experiment with this exercise.

    I don’t particularly like the meaning of nihilism. It’s an awfully depressing concept. It should be more positive, don’t you think? Let’s give it a makeover. From now on, nihilism will be defined as the desire to give everyone in the world free ice cream on a regular basis. The world is a brighter place already.

    What other words can we tinker with? Nazism is a horrible worldview, so let’s get rid of it. It should instead be about promoting human rights, kindness, universal healthcare, and free education. Can we all agree on that definition? Terrific. Let’s move onto the next one.

    How about Islamism? I’m not fond of this concept. Like atheism, it doesn’t offer the tools we need to promote social justice. I would suggest changing the definition to include only those values I personally want to spread, but that would be redundant at this point. As you know, I have already appropriated Nazism for this purpose. We should probably change Islamism to mean something else anyway, given that it’s at the root of so much human misery. Off the top of my head, Islamism is now a type of supernatural creature. Specifically, it’s a unicorn that farts rainbows. I’m not actually married to that one, so feel free to leave your suggestions.

    Anyway, I think you get the point. The notion that a group of people can put all of the ideas they value into an ideological soup and just call it “atheism” is pure slapstick. It’s the premise of a comedy sketch, not a serious argument. All of the values these people suggest we crowbar into the definition of atheism already have a label, and no one is preventing those ideas from being promoted alongside atheism.

    We cannot just change the meaning of words we don’t care for. Pointing out that rather obvious fact should be uncontroversial, but nothing seems to be uncontroversial these days.

    Category: AtheismFeaturedSecularismSocial Justice

    Article by: James MacDonald

    James MacDonald is a freelance writer and featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. In addition to sports writing, James holds masters degrees in both Psychology and Social Sciences and covers subjects including sex, gender, secularism, media, and gaming, among others.
    • Islamism

    • All of the values these people suggest we crowbar into the definition of atheism already have a label, and no one is preventing those ideas from being promoted alongside atheism.

      There are many labels for movements / worldviews which go beyond atheism to specify desirable moral values and goals. Here are just a few:

      Atheism Plus (secular humanism minus civility, plus callout culture)

      – Communism (to include Leninism, Maoism, Kimism, etc.)

      – Humanism (specifically 20th century secular humanism)

      – Objectivism (Ayn Rand’s improbable cult)

      I’m sure that there are others as well, with which I’m less personally familiar.

      I’ve known, welcomed, and worked with atheists from all of these broad categories. A big-tent approach makes that cooperation possible, despite the usual objections thereto.