As a follow up to the special about atheists, CNN invited some prominent atheists — all white men, of course — to give their answers to a set of common questions, including Jerry Dewitt, Greg Epstein and Dave Silverman. The answers to this question jumped out at me:
Why are there so many names for atheists? Is it all the same thing?
Silverman: Yes, they are essentially the same thing. As I mention in my upcoming book “Fighting God,” atheism is the broadest term, and it is the best understood term, so it is the term I think people should use. Some choose to use multiple terms, i.e., “I’m a humanist and an atheist,” but others literally hide behind those other words, i.e., “I’m not an atheist, I’m a humanist,” which is simply misleading. If you lack an active belief in the existence of any gods, you’re an atheist. If you want to choose a different primary label, that is up to you, but we encourage the use of “atheist” because it’s the most straightforward and the more we use it, the more we de-stigmatize it.
Epstein: I consider myself an atheist and a humanist, but I honestly don’t care what term people call me by. And I strongly disagree with David Silverman’s statement, “These are atheists who are afraid to use the word. And what are they doing? They’re lying.” I find that statement offensive, because some people who don’t happen to believe in a God just happen to prefer to call themselves humanists, or by some other term, and it’s none of anyone’s business why. I don’t think there are very many people these days using “humanist” to avoid saying the “a-word”. Maybe some of us just want to put greater emphasis on who we are, rather than on what we’re not. Sure, we don’t believe there’s a supernatural god. But it’s more important to many of us to just try to live our lives as good people than it is to think, all the time, about God.
I really like what Rebecca Watson does. She refuses to speak at a conference if there aren’t at least 35% female speakers. And just as important, she has a list of women who can speak on a wide range of subjects. She isn’t just saying she won’t do it, she’s offering to help them find women speakers. When the old and middle-aged white guys get asked to interview for projects like this, we can do the same thing. We can recommend specific people that will help get them a broader and more complete picture of atheists.