The word is: Unapologetic
Hi everyone, I've had this idea in my head for a long time to propose new/useful words to replace a mishmash of other words which end up causing confusion and otherwise being unhelpful. Let's try it.
Today's word is 'unapologetic', and it is intended to replace: militant, aggressive, outspoken, shrill, rude, uncivil, strident, 'new', fundamentalist, evangelical, etc.
Usage: "I'm not a 'new' atheist. I've been an atheist all my life/for many years. I'm simply unapologetic about my atheism. I've done nothing wrong, and I have nothing to apologize for it. Additionally, I've read and heard lots of apologetics arguments for theism and I find them unconvincing. I'm an unapologetic atheist."
The idea behind this word is simple. It tries to grasp the underlying change in 'tone' that the so-called 'new atheist' movement has taken on, starting with groups like RRS and authors like Sam Harris. The key point is that we are no longer standing back and being quiet about our atheism for fear of offending people. If you get offended by our criticism of your beliefs, that's too bad. We're not going to say we're sorry, because we think such criticism is actually very important and worthwhile. You are not your beliefs. We respect you as a person, but we don't necessarily respect your beliefs.
Unapologetic has two meanings. 1) We're not sorry. 2) We are not convinced by apologetics arguments and are willing to make our counter-arguments publicly known.
So, I say, "Pass it around." Make it another atheist meme. Whenever you hear the recent stereotype of 'new atheism', or hear atheists being wrongly accused of being 'strident' or 'militant', or 'just as bad as the fundamentalists they criticize', come back with the phrase 'unapologetic atheist'.
There's nothing wrong with being an atheist. We've done nothing wrong, and we have nothing to apologize for.
(Note: There is a minor usage around the internet of 'unapologetics' for Christians who take an unapologetic stance to their Xianity. I don't think this is a problematic overlap, especially if you use it in close association with the word 'atheist'.)
See this article by Mano Singham (who I recommend as an intelligent, science-minded, atheist blogger):
Being a new atheist means not saying you're sorry
The main complaint against new atheists made by accommodationists is not with what they say but with how they say it, their supposedly hostile 'tone'. They are accused of being rude, uncivil, arrogant, extreme, militant, shrill, strident, etc. but it is important to note that they are rarely accused of being wrong. This is undoubtedly because evidence and logic is on the side of those who claim that there is no god and that to believe in one is incompatible with a scientific worldview. Believers in god have to go through all manner of tortuous apologetics to argue in favor of even a Slacker God, let alone the super-powered miracle worker believed in by most religious people.
It is undoubtedly true that in the public sphere some atheists (including me) have made fun of some of the more preposterous claims of religion. In fact, in some situations laughing is the most appropriate response, as recognized by Thomas Jefferson when he said, "Ridicule is the only weapon which can be used against unintelligible propositions. Ideas must be distinct before reason can act upon them." For example, what can you do about the 'nutters' other than laugh at them? The excellent comic strip Jesus and Mo makes much the same point.
But pointing out the ridiculous implications of an opponent's argument is part of the polemical nature of public debate on any issue. It is no different than religious people confidently asserting that there is a god and that we atheists are going to hell or at least are 'not saved', whatever that means. As an atheist my feelings are not at all hurt and neither am I offended by such assertions. Why should I be since I don't believe in god or hell? From my point of view, such claims are merely laughable. Similarly, religious friends and relatives sometimes send me jokes that make fun of atheism and atheists. If the jokes are funny, I am amused. If not, it is just a few moments of time wasted. But there is nothing to be offended about.
New atheists are urged by fellow atheists like Massimo Pigliucci to be 'measured and humble' (in the manner of Carl Sagan) and not use the 'angry and inflated rhetoric' of Richard Dawkins. A new book Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate by Terry Eagleton supposedly attacks the new atheists. In a review of it, James Wood (a self-described atheist) suggests that "What is needed is neither the overweening rationalism of a Dawkins nor the rarefied religious belief of an Eagleton but a theologically engaged atheism that resembles disappointed belief."
I think the terms 'humble' and 'disappointed belief' used by Pigliucci and Wood are important clues to what complaints about 'tone' are all about. The problem is that new atheists treat the statements "religion and science are compatible" and "if we get rid of their fundamentalist elements, religion is worth preserving" as merely propositions that can be examined dispassionately and analytically, using evidence and arguments for and against, similar to other propositions like "increasing the minimum wage will reduce poverty" or "increased carbon dioxide levels will increase the risk of global warming."
The new atheists conclude that both propositions about religion are untenable. Hence they say that religion and science are incompatible and that so-called 'good' religion encourages irrationality and also serves as a cover and enabler of bad religion and thus that we would be better off without religion altogether. They report their conclusions in the same matter-of-fact way that they would their conclusions about the minimum wage or global warming or any other proposition.
Wood, however, sees this as displaying "overweening rationalism" instead of "disappointed belief". It seems as if in order to be a 'good' atheist one has to feel bad about not believing in god. We are expected to go to extraordinary lengths to soothe the feelings of believers, by prefacing any statement about atheism by sighing regretfully and saying things along the lines of "I hate to say this but I don't believe in god. But this is a personal belief that I have reluctantly accepted and I can understand why others might choose to believe in god. In fact, I envy the emotional satisfaction that religious beliefs provide. I hope you are not offended by my saying I am an atheist and if you are I sincerely apologize."
The absurdity of this expectation can be seen by looking at comparable situations that do not involve religion. Einstein, for example, was not accused of "overweening rationalism" and being arrogant when he introduced his theory of relativity that overturned centuries of belief in the validity of Newtonian physics. It would have been absurd to expect Einstein to have prefaced his papers with statements like, "I know that almost all people sincerely believe in Newtonian physics and may be really upset when I say that it is not valid. This makes me sad. However, the theory of relativity is just my personal belief and I think it is compatible with Newtonian physics and so people can choose to believe in both theories."
Instead, Einstein simply laid out his arguments and evidence as strongly as possible in order to convince people that he was right, which is exactly as it should be. Whether it would be accepted or not by the community at large depended on whether it was supported by the evidence or not. The level of emotional attachment that people had for Newtonian physics undoubtedly influenced how readily they adopted the new physics but Einstein was under no obligation whatsoever to soften his arguments to accommodate those emotions.
New atheists treat propositions about religion in the same dispassionate way. They are no more displaying 'overweening rationalism' and lack of humility than Einstein was. Why should the emotional attachment of religious people to the idea of god be accorded any more solicitousness that those of Newtonians to their theory?
What really seems to irk some people is that new atheists are not at all apologetic or regretful about their atheism. New atheists are cheerful about the nonexistence of god and do not hesitate to say so because they would like others to experience the same exhilarating sense of intellectual liberation.
And here is my comment to Mano, in which I first proposed this word:
The so-called 'New Atheists', of which I am one (though I hate the moniker), should really be called the Unapologetic Atheists. Your article lays out the case for unapologetic atheism perfectly: We have done nothing wrong, so we have nothing to apologize for. Calling ourselves unapologetic, instead of 'new' or 'militant' or 'outspoken' or what-have-you, sets the correct 'tone' for interpreting our message: There's nothing wrong with being an atheist and being open about it.
It also has a nice double-meaning, as counter-apologetics, i.e. we know the apologetics arguments for theism, have rejected them, and offer our own counter-arguments against theism. You could call our arguments (such as Sam Harris' arguments against moderate religion, or Dawkins' Ultimate 747 argument) as 'unapologetics'.Posted by Wonderist on September 15, 2009 01:25 PM
I really like the label Unapologetic Atheists! It is a brilliant coinage and I plan on adopting it, if you don't mind.Posted by Mano on September 15, 2009 02:11 PM