Ellen Johnson Responds to "The End of Atheism"

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Ellen Johnson Responds to "The End of Atheism"

http://www.humaniststudies.org/enews/?id=317&article=1

Quote:

"ATHEIST is really a thoroughly honest, unambiguous term, it admits of no paltering and no evasion, and the need of the world, now as ever, is for clear-cut issues and unambiguous speech."
     -- Chapman Cohen


From the President of the organization of people formerly known as "Atheists":

Sam Harris did not set out to be an Atheist spokesperson. Like Dr. Michael Newdow, the media thrust them both into that spotlight and they became defacto spokespersons.

Dr. Newdow once proclaimed, at our Godless Americans March on Washington, that Atheism should be considered a religion. Sam Harris proclaimed, at an Atheist convention, that we should not use the word "Atheist." Mr. Harris was fed up after having to repeat some explanation about Atheism three times. I think he said he had to do that in two different books and in one speech. Mr. Harris is an academic and may not be used to Atheist activism.

Blacks are still dealing with bigoted notions that they are lazy and on welfare. Jews are still dealing with claims that they are cheap or that they run the media. Italians are still having to deal with claims that they are all in the mafia, etc., etc. Yet, we don't seriously suggest that they change, or not use, their names in order to stop having to refute certain bigoted ideas. Should gays call themselves "non-heterosexuals" in order to be accepted?

Mr. Harris cannot see why we need a name for a group of people who are "against" something, or who don't believe in something. Take racism he says. There isn't any term for people who are against racism. We give ourselves a name because we are proud of who we are. A group needs to be identified in some way. And we want to be a "group." We aren't just against something. We are something.

Is the American Cancer Society just "against" something because they fight against cancer? Are they a "negative" organization? Is Greenpeace a negative organization because they are against pollution? Sounds silly doesn't it? Yet we buy into this nonsense when it is said about us.

In the end, the Theist doesn't give a damn what we call ourselves. You can call yourselves "sugar" and they will still hate you and lie about you if you are an activist or if you don't accept Jesus Christ as your personal savior.

While we remain hung up on arguments over defining ourselves the extremist right wing Theists in America are defining the socio-political agenda for America and they don't give a damn what you think about their names.

From my experience, Christian fundamentalists are more concerned about our "activism" than what we call ourselves. They will attack anyone, Atheist or Theist, who challenges their privileged position in society. Remember Lisa Herdahl in Mississippi? She challenged organized school prayers there and she was a Christian. She was viciously attacked by the religious community for her efforts. Episcopal Bishop John Shelby Spong has received sixteen death threats in the last 30 years because of his liberal religious views. Trying to distance ourselves from our Atheism is not the answer.

But behind the call to change our name is always the desire for respectability by the Atheists. Atheists want the approval of others and so they try to hide who they are and the face they present to the world is one of shame and fear. When you act like you are ashamed of who you are, people will treat you like you should be. It is not the answer.

To say we should not have a name is to not exist. For far too long there have been words in our society that were considered taboo. If you didn't say them, those things didn't exist. We cannot allow ourselves to be made invisible by those who want the approval of others. At American Atheists we don't allow our adversaries to dictate what we call ourselves nor do we allow them to determine our actions.

Our own approval is enough. Our history is one to be proud of and American Atheists will never back down on wearing our name proudly. You cannot lead the way by looking back and we aren't going back. I invite Atheists to stand proud and use the name Atheist proudly and when you want people to refer to you remember the words of Mr. "T" who said, "Let them call me Mr. "T."

Ellen Johnson is president of American Atheists.

 


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I don't think Sam Harris

I don't think Sam Harris was suggesting that we drop the label atheist out of shame, fear or a desire for the approval of anyone. He did comment that the label can act as a barrier to our working with moderate Christians against the dangerous fanatics of the world, but I view this as a strategic, pragmatic comment rather than reflecting a knee-jerk desire to avoid controversy. I think anyone who thinks that Sam Harris shrinks from controversy is not familiar with his work.

Harris' concerns were the concerns of an academic person who's main focus is the strength of his arguments and the quality of his philosophy. He dislikes labels because he is a scientist and he knows that labels have a tendancy to distort a pure understanding of the labelled object. He knows that using the term atheist exposes us to certain philosophical arguments that are hard to counter without long explanations. In other words, Sam Harris is not a politician and is not very good at thinking like one. You, Ellen, apparently are.

Which is a good thing. What atheism needs now is as much political momentum as possible. I agree fully that we shouldn't get hung up on quibbles about the technical minutia of our position. It is more important to have a label, accurate or not, and to be proud of it than to gaze endlessly into our navels searching for the perfect term to describe ourselves.  

Lazy is a word we use when someone isn't doing what we want them to do.
- Dr. Joy Brown


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At the end of the day, both

At the end of the day, both Ellen and Sam are barking up the wrong tree.

 Ellen doesn't seem to understand that what Sam is describring is exactly what we should strive to work toward. Sam is right - we'll know we've won when/if we can ever get to the point where it isn't necessary to use the word atheist. But that simply isn't prudent or practical now.

We NEED the term right now, we truely do. I'm not sure who listened to or read Sam's speech, but his logic was badly flawed - or at least the analogies he used were. He consistently used the analog of racism - i.e. one does not feel compelled in this day and age to identifiy themself as anti-racists.

Sam misses the point, which Kelly brought up in the Q&A after his speech and which we as a sqaud braoached in our interview with him, that when racism was at it worst (i.e. slavery) it WAS necessary to define oneself against it and speak out and work against it. The people who did such called themselves ABOLITIONISTS. And even after the abolishment of slavery, another 100+ years of activism were necessary to uphold and help cement the changes that had been put into motion. We're JUST now getting to the point where it isn't necessary to define oneself as non-racists, but but it is STILL clear discrimination exists along such lines.

We are no where near that far along in the non-beliefe civil rights movement that is brewing - and YES, that is exactly where we are heading and what needs to be done. We're the last minorty in America to stand up for themselves, and frankly, a lot of us are pissed off about that. It's time to stand up, and we are.

But to stand up, we need to be honest about who we are. We're atheists. No matter what we call ourselves -  Bright, Humanist, Secularist......at the end of the day the vast majority of us who use such terms are atheists. You can't run from it, so you'd best embrace it.

I hope I live to see the day when such a term is frivolous, like a-Thorist or a-Bigfootists, but in the mean time I think it is impractical and possible detrimental to shy away from such terms.

At the end of the day, I prefer to think of Sam yet again being ahead of his time and rightly opptimistic in his endeavor. I long for the day when we've made enough progress that I can emphatically agree with him. At the present time though, it is simply impractical to abandon the term we should be hammering down every pike of import.

I am against religion because it teaches us to be satisfied with not understanding the world. - Richard Dawkins

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Yellow_Number_Five

Yellow_Number_Five wrote:

At the end of the day, both Ellen and Sam are barking up the wrong tree.

Ellen doesn't seem to understand that what Sam is describring is exactly what we should strive to work toward. Sam is right - we'll know we've won when/if we can ever get to the point where it isn't necessary to use the word atheist. But that simply isn't prudent or practical now.

We NEED the term right now, we truely do. I'm not sure who listened to or read Sam's speech, but his logic was badly flawed - or at least the analogies he used were. He consistently used the analog of racism - i.e. one does not feel compelled in this day and age to identifiy themself as anti-racists.

Sam misses the point, which Kelly brought up in the Q&A after his speech and which we as a sqaud braoached in our interview with him, that when racism was at it worst (i.e. slavery) it WAS necessary to define oneself against it and speak out and work against it. The people who did such called themselves ABOLITIONISTS. And even after the abolishment of slavery, another 100+ years of activism were necessary to uphold and help cement the changes that had been put into motion. We're JUST now getting to the point where it isn't necessary to define oneself as non-racists, but but it is STILL clear discrimination exists along such lines.

We are no where near that far along in the non-beliefe civil rights movement that is brewing - and YES, that is exactly where we are heading and what needs to be done. We're the last minorty in America to stand up for themselves, and frankly, a lot of us are pissed off about that. It's time to stand up, and we are.

But to stand up, we need to be honest about who we are. We're atheists. No matter what we call ourselves - Bright, Humanist, Secularist......at the end of the day the vast majority of us who use such terms are atheists. You can't run from it, so you'd best embrace it.

I hope I live to see the day when such a term is frivolous, like a-Thorist or a-Bigfootists, but in the mean time I think it is impractical and possible detrimental to shy away from such terms.

At the end of the day, I prefer to think of Sam yet again being ahead of his time and rightly opptimistic in his endeavor. I long for the day when we've made enough progress that I can emphatically agree with him. At the present time though, it is simply impractical to abandon the term we should be hammering down every pike of import.

"atheist" really is a word that should not exist. But because people believe in absurd superstition and fictional beings, there has to be a word discribing the people who say, |"hey, that is not true, and here is why".

I will be willing to give up that label when I see the day when the majority of humans|(if that ever happens) become pro thought,  pro reason, pro critical thinking. I think "atheist" although a word that should not exist, we cant right now excape the fact that it does exist. That being the case, it does not have to be a negitive term. In any case dispite what the atheiophobes sell, it is a positive word.

To me an atheist is someone who examines without fear and goes where the evidence leads without fear. An atheist doesnt simply buy something because it makes them feel good. An atheist uses objectivity based on prior data with a means of falsifying and testing.

It may have been hijacked by theists, but I am positive that we dont have to let theists define us. We can and will define ourselves. We are positive and we do see the potential for humanity to give up on superstition and tribalism. 

"We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus -- and nonbelievers."Obama
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 I hung out with David

 I hung out with David Silverman for a bit after Sam spoke at the convention.  We both basically agreed.  I agree especially with the part I bolded and underlined below.  I talked to Sam about it at length that night as well, we spoke about it for over a half hour.  He agreed "that we might be at a point where we have to use the word atheist."

 

 

Dave's opinion on the a-word

Every once in a while I have to piss a lot of people off. In my opinion, if you don't piss off a lot of people every once in a while, well, you're not voicing your opinion.

I'm going farther than Ellen and others in the debate over using the word "Atheist". My opinion is that if you DON'T use the word Atheist, you're hurting the movement. I'm saying that even using the alternative words (Brights, secular humanist, realist, or even agnostic)HURTS the movement by allowing people to retain their prejudice against us. It also shows a weakness of conviction on our part, so even IF (big if) people actually know what the alternate word means, they don't think you're gutsy enough to admit your real thoughts. They may be right.

Sam Harris is a brilliant thinker and writer, but I think of the few people who left the AAI convention swayed by his "don't use Atheist" speech, and I'm saddened because I think "there go more people who won't say what they mean, who won't put a face to the word, who won't help stamp out bigotry to the absolute best of their ability".

Sam is really wrong, and it really bothers me. My opinion is that EVERYONE should use Atheist. No Brights. No Agnostics (YES, THEY ARE THE SAME). No Secular Humanists. Only Atheists. You are what you are -- if someone has a problem with that, well, it's THEIR problem. What would the country be like if we all just spoke our minds?

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I have to defend Harris

I have to defend Harris simply based on the reaction theists usually give to someone who labels themself an "A word". Living in the south, I regularly see the stone-cold, politically correct head turn that usually transpires after outing yourself. Actually there is usually one of two reactions. Either someone will espouse strong convictions about the freedom of religion and say something like "everyone has the right to believe what they want" or they will immediately retort with an unexamined argument such as "what do you think happens when you die?".  The first of these reactions is precisely what is wrong about theism in America and, at its core, what we are ultimately fighting against. It is true, however, that people have the right to believe that a giant spaghetti monster lives in the sky.

I'll give a perfect example. Last weekend I was flying from St. Louis to Memphis. For this relatively short flight I had brought Letter to a Christian Nation to pass my time. When the person sat down next to me and saw the heading "Doing good for God" in juxtaposition to my Jagermeister shirt. 'Doin good for God huh?' I wasn't exactly ready for the remark. 'Excuse me?'. 'Yeah I saw that and then I saw the Jager shirt so I was just wondering'. It's worth mentioning that I could smell beer on his breath when he was walking down the isle. After explaining the pretense of the book and Sam's view on religious moderation I was confronted with that all too familiar question. 'So what do you believe?'

'Well I'm an atheiest.' 'Oh.' The conversation went entirely from me actually communicating the very core issue of our movement to a random theist to him tilting his head and snoring. At least I got to continue reading.