“Atheism+” =/= “Humanism”. Sign Me Up For “Atheism+”.

Why identify with “Atheism+” rather than just with Humanism?

I was skeptical and confused about this at first but I have been wholly impressed and convinced by Ashley and Heina on this topic–so much so that I have relatively little to add to their must-read posts on it. (I do have a lot to say in a future post about why atheists should associate atheism philosophically with much more than “lack of belief in gods”–but more on that later).

Identifying primarily as an atheist with respect to religious, social, and philosophical categories has been very important to me since my deconversion. I think it is the best catch-all category. I have thought it important to distinguish my views in no uncertain terms from theism. I have thought it important to show solidarity with other atheists and I am at great pains to distinguish myself from agnostics. I have seen it as a vital matter of solidarity with persecuted freethinkers of previous centuries. I see it as the clearest word for conveying my hostility to faith-based thinking.

Here are just a few key posts where I make vigorous arguments and numerous distinctions on these thematic lines: The “A” WordWho Cares About Atheists?, and 7 Reasons Why I Label Myself An Atheist Rather Than An Agnostic.

I have also long wanted to say that atheism is a philosophical position, whether one holds it as a matter of knowledge based on metaphysical inferences (as gnostic atheists like me do) or whether it stems from a rejection of all or certain kinds of metaphysical conclusions (as it does for agnostic atheists). And as a philosophical position (however derived) it rationally has other philosophical implications and/or stems from other beliefs, values, or implicitly accepted norms which themselves have important philosophical implications.

The exact nature of those philosophical implications are matters for vigorous ongoing philosophical clarification and development. So it is difficult to demand or assume or impugn to everyone who lacks belief in gods any number of other propositions that they may not themselves assent to, even though in one’s own philosophical perspective those other propositions are necessary outflows of atheism or implied by the other beliefs and norms that rationally justify atheism. We need a word that all those lacking belief in gods can identify with insofar as they hold that simple position–even if, rightly understood, all atheism should imply some other ethical, epistemological, metaphysical, or other philosophical views. We need to leave “atheism” as a simple position on one isolated issue rather than load it with every other interrelated belief or value or norm that it properly implies.

Nonetheless there should be some way that I can explicitly own the fact that think that atheism has other intimately related philosophical implications. I want to express my actual philosophical position that various views about ethics and politics and epistemology, etc. are interconnected with my disbelief in gods in non-incidental ways.

So, this solution is rather elegant. At its core, “atheism-plus” is a simple hyphenation that says “I am this kind of atheist rather than that. My other values and beliefs are not incidental to my atheism, they are a qualification on it that I want clear so that I am not mistaken for other atheists with antithetical values and beliefs to my own. And I refuse in this primary designation concerning religious and ethical matters to be possibly lumped in with non-atheists (as humanists broadly might be) as though the gods question was only one of secondary concern to me in matters of socio-religious identity, belief, and values. My atheism is tightly connected philosophically to certain other values and beliefs, and those other values and beliefs are tightly connected to my atheism. I am a hyphenated atheist. And to make this really simple, instead of another whole complicated hyphenated word–one that might draw too much attention and controversy away from the anchor of the word atheism–I’m just going to elegantly say ‘Atheism-plus’, or, even more simply ‘A+’.”

I really dig it. I had only recently and halfheartedly been dabbling with identifying as a humanist (having always resisted the word previously). In my many musings about the importance of atheists developing robust philosophies and ethical communities, I had been investigating humanism as a resource (which of course I still think it is) for accomplishing those goals. But as much as I consider myself a true friend and ally to humanists, I was never wholly satisfied with labeling myself a humanist and was not the slightest bit inclined to do so instead of or over identifying as an atheist.

But Atheism+? That I can identify with.

Sign me up.

Your Thoughts?

Related: New Atheism Is A Moral Movement


James Croft wrote to me on Facebook that this post does not justify the title. How come atheism+ does not equal humanism? It’s simple. Humanism is an umbrella category that includes some kinds of theists. Atheism+ isn’t. That matters decisively to me.

I have now written a follow up post exploring the potential and actual differences between Humanism and Atheism Plus in more depth.


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About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.