Chicken Shit Atheists

Humanist Network News’ latest podcast has a series of one-on-one interviews with Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett. I listened to it yesterday and I think it’s one of the best episodes they’ve done to date. (And congratulations to hosts Duncan Crary and Jes Constantine on their two year podcasting anniversary!)

You can download the episode here.

It also includes discussion with all those authors (including Sam Harris) on Harris’ speech where he suggested doing away with the atheist label.

I was disturbed during one of the other interviews, though. The Rational Response Squad jabbed those atheists who shy away from the term. They said (jokingly?) they would start a website for “chicken shit atheists” (42:15) — that is, people who don’t use the word “atheist”… like Humanists, for example

I’ve never heard any Humanist, Bright, etc. back away from the word “atheist.” They just felt it didn’t describe who they were or what they believed as fully as the other terms did. Atheism only means you don’t believe in a god. It doesn’t describe what you do believe.

Personally, “atheist” was the first word I used to describe myself when I stopped believing in a god — I hadn’t heard of any of the other terms — and it has stuck. I’m proud to call myself an atheist, even though Humanist might be a more accurate, total description.

Either way, I don’t think Brian and Kelly of RRS made anyone want to call themselves an atheist, even if they share they same non-belief mindset as the rest of us.

On a slightly related note, I’ve been getting a number of emails from people who request I don’t use their names or out them as an atheist when they send me links. I’ll honor their wishes but it’s a constant reminder that there is a whole other group of people who want to call themselves atheists but can’t bring themselves to use the word.

The reason they don’t want to use it is simply this: it would ruin their lives. Their families might disown them. They could lose their jobs. They would be alone.

It’s just not worth coming out when you don’t have support behind you.

I’m all for people going public with their atheism, no matter which “form” it takes. My former campus group started a simple yet fantastic website that encourages people to go public with their non-belief using their real names.

But I also know that for some people, their inability to do so is not because of lack of courage. Or balls. It’s because too much is at stake. Why make a stand when the rest of your life will come crumbling down?

I do think that a lot of times, this way of thinking is overstated. The sky won’t fall if you come out. You just think it will. But it’s a very real fear.

We as atheists need to help foster an environment where that wouldn’t be the case. We need to offer as much support to those in the closet as possible. The more atheism becomes an acceptable way of thinking, the easier it will be for closeted atheists to come out.


[tags]atheist, atheism, humanism[/tags]

  • http://humanistmama.blogspot.com HumanistMama

    It took me a while to come out as an atheist…and there was definitely backlash from family. It has taken a year for them to realize that we are still the same people. So, I can understand the fears people have about telling people they are atheists.
    On the other hand, I do think it will become easier for people as more of us start to come out and people realize we aren’t the evil people their pastors say we are. I have often been pleasantly surprised by peoples’ reactions to me when I’ve said I’m an atheist. So, I agree with you. The community of nonbelievers needs to support people and help them feel comfortable with coming out.

  • http://www.secularplanet.org Secular Planet

    Brian Sapient and Kelly were extremely rude to the Humanist Network News by implying that anyone who calls themselves a Humanist is a coward.

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com Kellym78

    What you are failing to see is that comment was, first of all, a joke; it was not intended so much as a jab at “Humanists”, but rather at the people who do not support or agree with the kind of blunt, in-your-face approach that people like Brian and myself prefer. We get criticized for being outspoken and strident by other atheists who have a personal opinion about how an atheist should behave, while we support ALL people and groups within the atheist community–even though we don’t utilize the more passive approach.
    The whole segment was in relation to Harris’ speech about the end of atheism. I feel that we made valid points about the solidarity of the group and how it is potentially weakened by the splintering within a community that can’t decide on terminology. I do know many people who, upon being asked whether or not they are atheist, say, “No. I’m a humanist.” We were, for 85% of the interview, very polite and even explicitly stated that we ignore the differences between the various groups and instead focus on the goal of stripping the power away from religion. We just wish everybody was as accepting.
    I apologize that the humor wasn’t seen in that, but as usual, there are those who prefer to focus on the one statement that offended them instead of the ten that didn’t.

  • http://atheistrevolution.blogspot.com/ vjack

    I simply could not in good conscience advise anyone around here (Mississippi) to openly identify as an atheist outside their immediate family unless they were to do so in full awareness of the likely consequences. I’m not quite to the point of being able to out myself, but I’m getting closer each day.

  • http://olvlzl.blogspot.com/ olvlzl, no ism, no ist

    A joke? Just like “Neville Chamberlain atheist” was a compliment? I hate to tell you that I told you so, but I did tell you so.

  • Maria

    but rather at the people who do not support or agree with the kind of blunt, in-your-face approach that people like Brian and myself prefer

    why? does it bother you that much that everyone doesn’t agree with you? most people who don’t like an in your face approach (unless it’s in self defense) don’t like it b/c it reminds them too much of religion.

  • http://skepticsplay.blogspot.com/ miller

    Um, I have friends who do hesitate to identify as atheists, and not because it would ruin their lives (that’s not a problem where I live). That’s just identity politics for you. Now, I may disagree with them, and say so, but they still deserve some amount of respect.

  • Aj

    most people who don’t like an in your face approach (unless it’s in self defense) don’t like it b/c it reminds them too much of religion.

    For me it’s candles.

    why?

    The previously said in-your-face approach, duh, ugh.

  • Sarah

    I am an atheist and have been perfectly happy to reveal it, but I do think that the existing terms kind of suck. I’m bothered that “Atheist” actually acknowledges God in its etymology — acknowledging a god (or not doing so) is not what I’m about — though of course if someone asked me if I believe in God, I will say unequivocally NO. But I don’t like “Humanist” either — I don’t even understand what it’s supposed to mean. I only feel for about 30% of humans, whereas I really like almost 95% of artichokes — does that make me an Artichokist? Humans are just as unimportant a cog in the overall picture (whatever that means) as artichokes, and I’m pretty sure they’ve caused more damage. Can I call myself a Humble-ist?

  • Vincent

    I just subscribed to HNN and I’ll comment on the podcast later.
    I just wanted to say that the way my wife and I have come to look at it, Atheist is a way of connecting with others who have the same initial groundwork.
    It’s not useful beyond that.
    I don’t go around defining myself as someone who did NOT go to Harvard, or does NOT like football or does NOT build model railroads.
    Atheist merely describes what I am not.
    Humanist describes what I am.

  • Maria

    The previously said in-your-face approach, duh, ugh.

    Yes I know. the actual question came after the why. the why was just rhetorical. figured that was obvious

  • Aj

    -Maria

    Yes I know. the actual question came after the why. the why was just rhetorical. figured that was obvious

    What?!? That was the rhetorical question?

  • Vincent

    I have listened to the podcast now and I see the problem.
    They (particularly Kelly) seem to think “Humanist” is a euphamism for “Atheist.” It’s not. I suggest they read the humanist manifesto, or even the websites of the AHS or other Humanist groups.
    Humanism is a moral position, and does not actually require an atheist position. (“Secular Humanist” came about to distinguish from “Religious Humanists”).
    So, my worldview is Rationalist.
    My moral position is Humanist.
    My stand on the question of god’s existence is Atheist.

  • stogoe

    A joke? Just like “Neville Chamberlain atheist” was a compliment? I hate to tell you that I told you so, but I did tell you so.

    Go boil in your own vomit, you nasty little troll.

  • http://www.rationalresponders.com Kellym78

    Vincent,
    I do understand what “Humanist” means. I have read the Humanist manifesto. My point was not the aspect of humanism that deals with the positive beliefs regarding the treatment of other people, but rather I was addressing those who refuse to identify as atheist and use humanist as a euphemism themselves. The humanists about whom we were speaking are, in fact, atheists, so the distinction between religious and non-religious humanists was not relevant.

  • Vincent

    Hi, Kelly,
    It wasn’t obvious from the interview. It sure sounded like you were using the term synonymously. It sounded as though you thought anyone who called themselves humanist was just trying to evade the stigma attached to atheist. No doubt there are some people who do just that, but I don’t think they are the norm. Misusing a term because others are misusing it does not make things more clear, and I think clarity is needed here.
    I understand (and agree with) your point, but only after it was explained.

  • Mriana

    I just listened to this podcast today and I was very insulted by Kelly’s remarks. Just because I am a Humanist doesn’t mean I’m chicken shit, as many of you here can probably attest to. I don’t go around telling everyone I’m a Humanist, unless I’m asked or come to a place like this and introduce myself.

    The humanists about whom we were speaking are, in fact, atheists, so the distinction between religious and non-religious humanists was not relevant.

    This I will agree with, but just because I don’t get into people’s faces doesn’t mean I’m chicken shit. I only bite back- esp if the religious bite- metaphorically. However, if you have ever lived in the Bible Belt, Kelly, it is not always wise to get into people’s faces. It can be quite dangerous depending on whose face you get in. I don’t particularly want to be the next non-theist in the news who gets the sh*t beat out of them because I crossed a Religious Reicher. That’s not chicken shit, that protecting oneself. California, N.Y. or wherever you are from, is much more tolerant.

    BTW, I would love to invite you (Kelly) and Brian down here. Maybe you can help change some things. Who knows.

    Atheist merely describes what I am not.
    Humanist describes what I am.

    well said, vincent.

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    What I find potentially “chicken shit” is not using your real name when rejecting god belief. Whether you call your rejection of god belief atheism, humanism, bright, sane, awesome, shoes, or whatever is irrelevant.

  • Mriana

    Somehow I’m thinking you are speaking of Brain. I think he has several good reasons for that and it’s not just atheism.

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    I’m speaking of everyone. You can list your reasons and rationalize your choice for anonymity all you want but you can’t have your cake and eat it too. If you have reasons to hide than hide, but you can’t simultaneously hide and try and stand on a soapbox beating the drum. If that doesn’t sit well with a lot of you, well, ask yourself who you’re angriest at. Me? The world “forcing” you to stay hidden? or your own conscience nagging at you?

  • Mriana

    I’m hardly hiding, even my website has the name Mriana and I am known all over the net and off the net as Mriana. All my friends off the net know me as Mriana too. So I’m not hiding anything. I do have a legal name, but I don’t care for it much and have considered having it changed legally. However, Mriana is very much a part of my identity. So, I wouldn’t say I’m hiding.

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    I wasn’t targeting anyone specifically Mriana, but since you feel compelled to offer a defense, I’ll be a dick and challenge it by saying I don’t know who you are and I don’t know what your site is so your comments here are effectively made in anonymity. You can quibble over what term you’d like if “hiding” doesn’t suit you just like how “atheist” doesn’t suit some who reject god beliefs.

  • Mriana

    Well, I don’t know you either, PhillyChief, and that hardly sounds like a personal name to me. It sounds like a nickname for the net. You are just as anonymous as I am, if not even more with a name like that. So what the heck are you talking about?

    My best friend and my sons know I hang out here. So, it’s no big secret and any one of the readers (most of them Star Trek fanfic readers) of my site could just as easily drop in here and see me. Who cares. Can you say as much?

    The only reason why I don’t attach my site to my name here is because it is off topic. In all honesty, you are even more anonymous than I am. Looking at your screenname says it all. So, I really wouldn’t be talking, since you are hiding more than I am.

  • http://ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    PhillyChief,

    Hmm… And PhillyChief is a real name?

    I have to venture to guess that Christians do a good deal of hiding also… Otherwise, we would all be able to present ourselves readily as fallible human beings, who can and do make mistakes along with the rest of the population. Who’s really doing the hiding, hmm??

    Go boil in your own vomit, you nasty little troll.

    AHA!!! There’s that word again… Will someone PLEASE explain to me exactly what a troll is? Is it a debate term? I’ve been called that, and I had no idea how to respond, except to say that “Yeah, but I’m a nice troll…” I feel so naive. :(

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    You do realize what it means when someone’s name here is bold blue, don’t you? Try it. See, you click my name above and it goes to my site and then you can click the profile. See? Very easy. For the lazy and/or technically challenged…

    Dave Mauriello

    Linda – Troll definition

  • http://youmademesayit.blogspot.com PhillyChief

    Also, you can read my out story if you wish. It’ll save me some time typing here. ;)

  • http://www.ohthethinksyoucanthink.blogspot.com Linda

    Dave,

    Okay, I stand corrected. Yeah, I am technically challenged AND sometimes (well, often) lazy. And I, too, make an ASS out of U and ME. You are a proud American and an Atheist. And a very angry one at that. You’ve got spunk, though. I applaud you. Keep up the passion.

    The rest of my comment still stands…

    Thank you for the definition. :) But I still don’t get what makes me a troll. The blogs I’ve visited are debating controversial issues to begin with, so what makes me one and not the others? I just don’t get it… *sigh* I can’t keep up with these unwritten rules that aren’t really rules… :(

  • Mriana

    Nice to meet you, Dave. If you Yahoo or Google my name, you will see a lot about me. (There’s two MySpace Mriana’s- I’m the one with the capital M and from Missouri) And if I may add one more to that list (VERY off topic at that): http://www.dujpepperman.com/jesulu/ladymagdalenes/musicvideos.html

    Yup! That’s my name at the top of the page. I gave a review for Nichelle Nichols. As you see, I have nothing to hide and yes, Gene and Majel Roddenberry, as well as Nichelle are my heroes.

    Now, I bet you can’t say you are as known as that. At least in my circles, I’m fairly well known and anyone could find me. So, tell me again what I’m hiding from? I’m like Cher- I don’t really have a last name, unless you want to go hunting reviews like Nichelle’s stuff.

    Geeze! :roll: The things I have to go through, just to show I’m not as anonymous as some may THINK. It doesn’t take a whole lot of digging to learn about me. Goes to show that not all people are as technically ingenous as they want to believe they are. IF anyone wanted to know, all they had to do was Yahoo or Google my name. :roll:

    One more thing. I did get the video- free of charge, the Director’s version and the cut version. And yes, I do have to similar Trek sites- old and new.


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