We Are Defined by What We Believe, Not What We Don’t Believe

I posted some pictures from the American Atheists Conference on my Facebook page yesterday.  A good friend posted the following comment:

“Can you help me understand why people convene to talk about what they don’t believe in?”

It is a question we atheists get a lot.  Here is my response:

We talk about things that we believe in, like the freedom of, and from, religion, human rights, social justice, and equality for all people. We talk about our ethical and moral responsibility to those around us in this life, and the imperative to relieve human suffering where ever we see it. We are defined by these things we believe, not what we don’t believe. That would be like me defining you as a non-believer in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus.

Religious belief is so ingrained in our culture that people just assume that if we don’t believe in a supernatural power greater than ourselves that we are somehow missing something.  We are not.  We are embracing this life, which as far as we can tell is the only one we have, and we are doing everything we can to make the most of it for ourselves and others.  We see suffering and we don’t claim that it is the will of some fickle god, but something that we must make every attempt to alleviate.  We believe in many, many things, just like anyone else, but we are not, and will not, be defined by what we do not believe.

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6 thoughts on “We Are Defined by What We Believe, Not What We Don’t Believe

  1. I sometimes wonder if the religious are missing out in this life, much as they believe we are missing out. I Wonder if they are so focused on the afterlife that they forget to live this life…..

  2. Atheism is by definition a “non” belief – a (without) theism (deity/deities). To label one an Atheist is to point to that which one does not believe. It’s the defining characteristic. You’re response “defining you as a non-believer in the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus” would only be applicable if the comment was made by someone who is “Amythic.”

    Neither the comment nor the definition of an Atheist implies that Atheists do not have beliefs.

    Jainism or Unitarianism could be considered atheistic as neither follows a deity. However, they assemble as members of a group defined by what they believe, not what they do not. Your list of beliefs very easily defines you as a Humanist as well. A “label” that would point to what you believe in versus what you do not.

    End of the day, it is all semantics. Many people hold the same beliefs as you do – with or without a deity. Ironically unifying us all, despite all the piss and vinegar.

    • You are using a dictionary definition of atheism. This is all fine and good, but that is not how we describe ourselves or think of ourselves. I’ll point you to a good article by PZ Myers who explains why he dislikes dictionary atheists.

      http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2011/02/why_are_you_an_atheist.php?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+scienceblogs%2Fpharyngula+%28Pharyngula%29

      Piss and vinegar? So you are just assuming that atheists are angry and bitter? That’s quite the assumption to make about 15% of the population.

      And it isn’t all semantics. We are real people who are often discriminated against if we are open about being atheists, especially in places like where I live. We are mostly upbeat people who find just as much beauty in life as anyone else. Your attitude is exactly the sort of thing, something that has been ingrained in our culture, that makes us angry. It is an assumption that all of us are a certain way because we are atheists. We are all as different from one another as anyone else, except for the fact that we don’t happen to believe in the supernatural.

    • I’ll add one more thing. We are also the same in that most of us value rationality, critical thinking, and an empirical approach to the world. This doesn’t mean that we are cold, stoic people. We get very emotional about things, just as anyone does, but we don’t base our view of life on just our emotions, but seek to find out how things really work.

      • You basically reiterated what I wrote above. “We are all as different…we don’t happen to believe in the supernatural.” Atheist defined.
        “Your attitude is exactly…” What attitude?
        “It is an assumption that all of us are a certain way…” No assumptions on this end. However, I see several on yours.
        It is clear that you are placing your own negative experiences and assumptions on me and my words. You assume far too much. You also jump at any opportunity to think that you are being attacked. Nothing of the sort is occurring here.
        “Piss and vinegar” refers to ANY people of ANY religion who proclaim “I know” and “you don’t.” It was not an attack on you or atheists. Nothing I’ve said is an attack (of or on anyone), you assume it is. Your choice to feel attacked is your own. I can only hope you feel better for it. In the closing words of those who have come before me… Peace out.

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