Become a Capital-A Atheist

Debbie Walker urges everyone to become a “Capital A” Atheist and — Grammar Nazi issues notwithstanding — I couldn’t agree with her more:

I think there are a lot more little “a” atheists out there than we realize. People who don’t have anything to do with any religion yet haven’t made a stand, a commitment to Atheism. Since I’ve “come out” loud and clear, I’ve had a few friends tell me they’re thinking of coming out too. I’ve had several other people tell me at least I’ve made them think about their choices. I’m willing to bet my regular readers are thinking about their choices more.

But now I’m just sick of it. I’m sick of those people interrupting my regular life. I’m sick of those people making laws intruding on everyone else. I’m sick of the hypocrisy, the double-standard, the women-controlling, gay hating, I’m automatically better than you because I believe in some speshul ree-ward after I die therefore I-can-force-people-to-do-what-I-want-while-I’m-here-ness of it all.

That’s why I post articles about those people’s FAILURES to be decent human beings. That’s why I speak out.

I have become a capital “A” Atheist.

What are you waiting for? Even if you don’t feel comfortable coming out to your family and friends, you can start speaking out online anonymously, or go to a local atheist group’s meetup, or (if you’re still attending church for whatever reason) start questioning your pastors after a sermon.

If you think we’d be better off in a society where religion doesn’t get nearly as much power and respect, you have to play a part by letting people know you don’t buy into the bull.

(Thanks to Dani for the link!)

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Anonymous

    While I support the sentiment expressed in this article, I don’t see this redefining of “atheist” as a positive thing. Firstly, we want people to come out as atheists. It’s hard enough in many communities, without adding the expectations (and in the eyes of many, stigma) of being an activist.
    Secondly, separation of church and state concerns people of all beliefs and non-beliefs. By placing this fight under the banner of atheism, we risk alienating many who would otherwise be our allies.
    I therefore suggest keeping “atheist” as nothing more than someone who does not believe in a deity and using another term, such as “secularist” for those who believe that church and state should remain separate.

    • Anonymous

      I agree.  I love that atheists can organize and come together for everything from hang-outs to activism, but I don’t want to make the term anything more than it is.  Atheism (capitalized as the first word of a sentence only) is simply a term covering the lack of active belief in deities and the active disbelief in the existence of deities (two subtly different but related concepts).  It doesn’t have a specific ideology or agenda attached, and I want it to stay that way.  democracy, not Democrats.  socialism, not Socialists.  anarchy not Anarchists.  liberty, not Libertarians.  That capital letter is almost never a positive thing.

  • Miko


    I’m sick of those people making laws intruding on everyone else.

    I assume this is referring to things like:
    * laws requiring parents to provide certain types of medical care to their children, even if it conflicts with their religious beliefs
    * laws requiring religious organizations to provide birth control to their employees
    * laws forbidding religious organizations from discriminating regarding adoptions
    * laws preventing or making it difficult for religious parents to put their children in a school that teaches the values to which they subscribe
    * laws requiring the teaching of ideas in public schools that many religious people disagree with
    * laws forbidding Muslim women from wearing traditional religious garb in certain public and private places
    * laws forbidding courts from considering religious laws/customs (even when interpreting legal contracts that specifically call for this to be done)

    Yeah, I hate it when people try to make laws that intrude on everyone else like that.  It’s a good thing that calling oneself an “atheist” automatically causes a person to realize that these laws are bad, and I’m so glad that no atheist would ever even consider advocating for (or defending) laws of this sort.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=571895132 John Browning

      >
      * laws requiring parents to provide certain types of medical care to their children, even if it conflicts with their religious beliefs

      so you think requiring people to provide proven, tested medical care that works is wrong because some people believe in ‘faith healing’ which has been shown to be bullshit by every medical survery ever undertaken? really? no one has the right to endanger the life of another.

      >* laws requiring religious organizations to provide birth control to their employees

      being religious doesn’t magically make them not qualify as an employer and such legislation is applied to all employers. suck it up, they ain’t special.

      >* laws forbidding religious organizations from discriminating regarding adoptions

      it’s illegal to discriminate in a positive or negative fashion based on religion. suck it up, you’d be whining if there were agencies refusing to allow christians to adopt because someones religion says christians are bad.

      >* laws preventing or making it difficult for religious parents to put their children in a school that teaches the values to which they subscribe

      any parent can submit their child to a private faith school if they so choose. state schools are required to teach fact, not opinion. this ensures a coherent baseline educational standard, which is a necessity if anyone wants to be able to tell whether someone is realistically qualified for a position.

      >* laws requiring the teaching of ideas in public schools that many religious people disagree with

      no no no, you can’t get away with redefining fact as just being an ‘idea’, it doesn’t work like that, sorry.

      >* laws forbidding Muslim women from wearing traditional religious garb in certain public and private places

      oh, you mean like laws about how you have to have your face clearly visible in, for example, banks, so that people can easily identify robbers?

      >* laws forbidding courts from considering religious laws/customs (even when interpreting legal contracts that specifically call for this to be done)

      well you see, those laws are there so that people can’t have someone elses religion forced upon them, it’s to PREVENT discrimination, it ensures a fair legal standard equally applicable to ALL citizens.

    • Alex

      * laws requiring parents to provide certain types of medical care to their children, even if it conflicts with their religious beliefs
      That’s right. To hell with children! Religious beliefs are way more important.

      * laws requiring religious organizations to provide birth control to their employees
      …or blood transfusions. Or fertility treatments. Or any medical service at all for that matter, as there are people that believe strictly in the power of prayer, too.

      Actually, the whole shebang about health care in US in a giant stinking mess, and requiring employers to provide health insurance is a band-aid on a gangrenous wound. But, as long as that requirement is there, I don’t see why birth control issues are more deserving of attention than other potentially controversial treatments.

      * laws forbidding religious organizations from discriminating regarding adoptions
      Like refusing to place children in a fundamentalist Christian household. Or do you mean that only religious organizations should be able to discriminate?

      * laws preventing or making it difficult for religious parents to put their children in a school that teaches the values to which they subscribe
      WTF is this shit? Last time I checked, the country was riddled with Christian and other religion-based unaccredited private “academies.” It’s secular public education that’s suffering all the time, what with the constant budget cuts and calls for a voucher-based system.

      * laws requiring the teaching of ideas in public schools that many religious people disagree with
      Yep, I know exactly what you mean. The Earth is 6000 years old; evidence be damned! And the Moon landings were faked! I hate to break it to you, but the rest of the world is already rightfully laughing at US high schools’ science education. Intentionally injecting more bullshit into it will not help at all.

      * laws forbidding Muslim women from wearing traditional religious garb in certain public and private places
      I’ll give this one to you, that’s not something I’d back up. Although, I would hate to see what happens when a group of fundies sees one of those women in an airport.

      * laws forbidding courts from considering religious laws/customs (even when interpreting legal contracts that specifically call for this to be done)

      You mean, like the right-wing screams about “creeping Sharia?”

  • Edwin 2294

    rAMEN!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GodVlogger/featured GodVlogger (on YouTube)

    Probably for every non-believer that is willing to publicly admit their non-belief there are probably dozens (maybe hundreds, thousands?) of others who are also non-believers but have not yet admitted it to others.

    The *TABOO* against expressing doubt/disbelief in religions is a strongly-engrained restriction. Breaking the taboo breaks the spell of control that religions have. Only by more and more people coming out does religion’s control start to crumble.

    COME OUT wherever, however works for you. Maybe it is just to one friend, a spouse, within an online group, etc. Maybe it just starts by sharing that you have ‘doubts’ about religious doctrine and you may be surprised to hear that the other person shares those doubts/dis-beliefs.

    • Anonymous

       It seems quite funny to me that in the US being an atheist is such a taboo, around here where i live it’s really not a big deal, mostly because nearly nobody gives much fu*ks about religion…

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Great… let’s have “capital A” atheists like we have capital C Catholics, or capital M Mormons.

    I argue against idiots online all the time who capitalize atheist in order to support their claim that we’re just another religion. Absolutely, let people know you’re an atheist. Encourage others to come out. Provide arguments that will help people give up archaic beliefs. But part of the power of “atheist” is in the simplicity of the word, the fact that it carries no meaning beyond a simple lack of belief. Elevating it by capitalization is an appallingly bad idea, and can only harm the cause.

    • Anonymous

      I agree totally.  Ideologies are dangerous things.  Let’s just keep atheism a lack of a particular ideology.

    • Anonymous-Sam

      I was thinking the same thing – capitalizing “Atheism” looks too much like it’s trying to put atheism on the same table as religions. It’s not. Atheism is eating in a different restaurant altogether. It’s not even a restaurant. Atheism is eating a cozy meal at home while bigwigs wine and dine with the imaginary God, who never eats his goddamned bread at his fancyshmancy table (Exodus 25:23-30).

  • http://dogmabytes.com/ C Peterson

    Great… let’s have “capital A” atheists like we have capital C Catholics, or capital M Mormons.

    I argue against idiots online all the time who capitalize atheist in order to support their claim that we’re just another religion. Absolutely, let people know you’re an atheist. Encourage others to come out. Provide arguments that will help people give up archaic beliefs. But part of the power of “atheist” is in the simplicity of the word, the fact that it carries no meaning beyond a simple lack of belief. Elevating it by capitalization is an appallingly bad idea, and can only harm the cause.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=625329520 Debbie Walker

     To Miko:

    * laws requiring parents
    to provide certain types of medical care to their children, even if it
    conflicts with their religious beliefs

    Children in danger need to be protected, even from their parents if necessary.

    * laws requiring religious organizations to provide birth control to their employees

    Actually, I’m pretty sure the law says everyone has to, EVEN the religious. No special treatment.

    * blah blah the rest of your list

    Seems like someone is a little peeved their privilege is being challenged. Well, I’m more interested in my and other women’s rights being taken away based on religious doctrine whose basis can’t even be agreed upon by the people proclaiming to believe in it. It has been proven children in gay families grow up happy and healthy, just as evolution has been proven and creationism has not. Our government and laws should be based on fact and proof, and provide equality to ALL citizens.

    To Hemant:

    Thanks for linking to my blog. My intention was to point out the levels of atheism, not necessarily have the world redefine it. I know many people who prefer to keep their non-religious choice under the radar which is fine. I’m just saying I’m prouder about mine than I have been in years. I don’t ask people to act, I just ask them to think. They have to act on their own.

    • Anonymous

      I’m totally public about my lower-case atheism.  I DO NOT want the added burden of being perceived to be part of a particular dogmatic ideology simply because I do not believe that deities exist.  I don’t mind rockin’ a scarlet letter for “A” Week, but let’s not become Atheists, please.

      • Heathernicolern

        Exactly. :)

    • Heathernicolern

      Thanks for clarifying, Debbie. I think people are responding to a wide-reaching trend in the
      community to make atheism more than it is. Capitalizing does seem to
      take it in that direction.

      It’s not just from without that we are
      experiencing this trend to try and make “atheist” mean more than it does, either
      – not only are religious people telling us it means more than it does,
      people in the atheist community are starting to talk about wanting
      rituals and traditions, etc., about basing them in science, as though
      being atheist automatically meant that you revere science (I do, but I’m
      fully aware that an atheist could believe in homeopathy, meridian lines
      and healing crystals, too).

      We all know that atheism simply means that you are not a theist; that it’s like saying
      afariyism, atrollism, abigfootism, etc. It’s important to use the word because there are
      so few of us – and yes, we should be able to be out, outspoken and
      unafraid. But there is a decided trend to try to make it more than what
      it is, rather than doing the actual work of coming up with a word that
      actually expresses the specific reason atheists in a particular instance
      want to get together or feel part of a group (secularism, humanism,
      separationism, etc).

      We’re all responding to that, because it’s important and because it
      sounds like that’s where you could have been going, especially because you speak of capitalizing. I agree with your sentiment 100%, but think that perhaps capitalization isn’t the best way to express it, since it has such a strong connotation of something you don’t actually mean (based you your clarification).

      Always happy to hear that more people are coming out more openly, and taking a stand against religious dominance in this country :) I was glad to read that part of your post, for sure!

      • Heathernicolern

         *based ON your clarification, lol.

  • Anonymous

    The burden of proof is on the one making the claim.  I emphatically do not claim that there is no god.  I do 
    not  follow a set of atheist tenets.  Atheism is 
    not  a faith.  We are 
    not “just like a religion”.  It may be only a small change but it gives fuel to the crazies who think that atheism means anything other that a lack of belief in gods.

    I can point out the inconsistencies of faith and liberties taken by the religious simply by being a sceptic.  I don’t need to redefine my lack of belief to do that.  I can still tell them that there is a better way by being a humanist.  I don’t need to make atheism something more than it is.  We can fight against the tide of abuses by the Religious Reich of laws and their attacks of our freedoms by standing in their way.  I think we’ll get more support if we don’t try to make atheism into anti-theism.  I can be anti-theist too but I want more people to reject belief in Iron Age gods and that means making atheism reasonable and inviting and not too far from liberal, humanistic Christianity (or other faith).

    • Anonymous

      I don’t want to make atheism anything. Otherwise I agree.

  • Piet Puk

    I feel, being an atheist discribes me.
    Being an Atheist would define me.
    So I’ll stay with the lower case.

  • Anonymous

     Some day I have to get a hold of a religious person and ask them whether their commuity is as obsessed about nomenclature and the finer points of definitions as we are. I suspect so.

    As much as I’m thrilled by the notion of arguing whether capitalizing makes us look “like another religion” or how atheism should be value neutral, or how any inkling that we could be defined by atheism in any way is just one step on the road towards theocracy….I’d rather take the spirit of the message, which I read as being that atheists who wish to live in a secular society should be out, outspoken and unafraid.

  • Gunstargreen

    This is stupid and terrible. Atheism is not an ideology or a religion. Unless it comes at the start of a sentence like in this post it’s not getting capitalized.

    Piet Puk’s post summed it up best. Atheism does not define me.

  • Miguel Guillen

    I agree with the fact that we don’t need to be on shadows alone with our thoughts, but I will not mark myself with a symbol, I will not use a pin, a necklace, a shirt or any cloth with the scarlet letter, to be identify. Although I share my points of view with the atheist community  I don’t have to belong to any group to consider myself atheist/agnostic, no one needs to approve my way of think  and I can totally disagree with the most well known atheists.  

  • http://twitter.com/zenironman Brian Dooley

    I had to check quickly to see if @shannon10marie:twitter had posted this.

    I totally agree. While I see the potential dangers inherent in a capital “A” ideological blanket, we find ourselves becomeing more and more “A,” as the “C” crowd (et. al) becomes more and more arrogant. 

  • http://mygodlesslife.com Tris

    I don’t like it.

    We don’t capitalise economists or theologians.  Atheists are no different in that respect. Maybe I am being a grammar Nazi, but I don’t like the inference that the term deserves special treatment just because we are tired of being trodden all over.

    It’s not that I have dismiss the point entirely, we should all be more assertive, but proper nounalising atheists isn’t going to get us anywhere, beyond creating yet another obstacle for us to navigate. 


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