The Rise of Ateeism

Remember when Neil deGrasse Tyson spoke about his religious beliefs and threw atheism under the bus?

At one point, he said:

…It’s odd that the word “atheist” even exists! I don’t play golf. Is there a word for non-golf-players? Do non-golf-players gather and strategize?

Turns out some clever soul created a sub-Reddit for nongolfers… and it’s hilarious :) And for more reasons than the fact that they’re calling themselves ateeists.

Posts include: Why doesn’t the media ever mention that Jerry Sandusky is an avid golfer? and IAmA former caddy who was abused at age 15 by golfers at my country club, who then tried to cover up the abuse. AMA.

And there are pictures like this one:

Well played.

I still don’t expect Dr. Tyson to come out as an “atheist,” but it would be nice for him to acknowledge that there are good reasons for atheists to gather, speak out, and educate others. It’s not just a frivolous term. It’s not a derogatory term. And based on his own writings and statements, the word seems to describe him well.

(Thanks to Jessica 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.

  • http://twitter.com/TominousTone Thomas Lawson

    Agreed. (I love golf, by the way. That is, when I don’t hate it, which is any time I play.)

    In everyone’s own time. Maybe after the new ‘Cosmos’ comes out? Seth MacFarlane and he will do “Charlie Rose” together and Seth will present him with his membership card. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/krystal.crowly Krystal Crowly

    LOL Ateeist  = cute

  • Joe Zamecki

    This is SUCH a weak argument against Atheism. First, throwing out the idea that we’re only about avoiding something arbitrarily, instead of with some good reasons. Then making a comparison, essentially, between religion and some other activity – usually an activity that’s not very harmful, if at all. This seems to be an attempt to make us look like extremists and reactionaries, because why join a movement that doesn’t have any deep driving reason to exist? Only extremists and reactionaries would do that, supposedly.

    There’s no sense in comparing golf to organized religion. One is wasteful, and the other is not only profoundly wasteful on a much larger scale, but is harmful on a global scale. We’re not avoiding something that’s just there, like paint on a wall. We’re trying to avoid the world’s worse affliction. It’s so big and bad and harmful that yes, just the act of avoiding it in ones daily life warrants a label, a movement and a boatload of pride. Especially when we are the ones that society holds in contempt. We bring an idea that could save humanity, but because it goes against the norm so much, we must be patient. 

    Most of all, I think we should always understand that there is an urgent need for humanity to organize against religion. That’s a serious need and a serious undertaking, but again, because it’s unpopular, even the brightest scientists may never understand how important it is. 

    That being said, I’m glad we’re a diverse bunch. :o) 

    • Drew Paul

      Your justification for an organized “movement” entails identifying an apocalyptic threat (“the world’s worse affliction”), an affirmation of self-denial and separatism (“the act of avoiding it in one’s daily life”), a new identity marker (“warrants…a boatload of pride”), a victimhood or martyrdom complex (“we are the ones that society holds in contempt”), and dogmatic confidence in possessing special knowledge for the salvation of the human race  (“we bring an idea that could save humanity”). 

      Funny how when the non-golfers come together they end up playing something that looks remarkably similar to golf.

      • Patterrssonn

        Thanks for the hyperbole

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/SH5Y2EVWTCTIZM4HQSMC2Z4IWQ Nicholas V

        Man, you’re so right. Now we just need to start pushing our idea on other people, discriminating against people who disagree with us, and using our beliefs to justify social injustice, and we’ll be JUST LIKE religion.

        You have opened my eyes.

  • Tony B

    To put it in words he’d understand, Neil is not an atheist in the same way that Pluto is a planet. Only by outdated definitions. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1078695333 David Kopp

    I think Dr. Tyson is mostly just being absurdly intellectually rigorous with his definitions. I do agree that it’s absolutely silly that the word ‘atheist’ has to exist. But the reality is that by and large people do believe in gods and have for millennia, so there needs to be a way to label those of us that don’t. It’s a “Why should the logical default position even have to defend itself?” argument.

  • Mike

    Umm, that subreddit exists just to satirize and caricature the worst aspects of reddit’s atheism subreddit. In other words, I would guess that it consists mostly of people who *agree* with Dr Tyson’s opinion that it is stupid for people to congregate under the banner of atheism. (I’m not trying to take a side here, but I think Hemant missed the point.)

  • advancedatheist

    This confusion derives from the wrong-headed idea that “atheism” refers to a mysterious void in the universe called “nonbelief in gods.” If, instead, you define atheism more in line with how many people understand the term to mean “the criticism and rejection of theism and related beliefs,” then atheists’ real behavior makes sense. Atheists in the real world, namely the ones who go to social gatherings organized for atheists, argue with theists on the internet and so forth, behave in a way analogous to vegans. Vegans don’t just not eat meat and not use other animal products; they have positive reasons for their behavior, they invoke empirical evidence for their lifestyle’s advantages, and the firebrands among them want to change the culture through persuasion and example so that others will join them. 

  • Annie

    What about the term “secular”?  It doesn’t yet carry the baggage (by that I mean hatred from the religious) as atheism.  I personally like the term “post-theism”.  I was raised with an attempt to indoctrinate me, but it didn’t stick.  For a short time, I identified with the church I was raised in, but only because I didn’t know of anything else. 

    • Cincinatheist

      Not true. Secular is just as evil word as atheist to the fundies. I’m too lazy to go find the exact quote right now, but Romney said just a few months ago something to the effect of Obama wanting to force the religion of secularism on the country. And there was just a piece in the Washington Post a few days ago (I’ll come back and post a linky if I can find it again) where the author very much tried to set ‘secularism’ up as the opposite of religion, thus trying to attach negative connotations to the word instead of treating it as religiously neutral–which is what it actually means. 

      I agree with you, that the word secular SHOULDN’T carry an anti-religious message (because by definition, it doesn’t.) But just watch Fox News for 10 minutes and hear how many times secular is thrown around as a pejorative. 

  • Artor

    While I would love for Neil to come out swinging, I’d rather people drop the issue & let it lie. He’s already making a world of difference explaining science and getting people interested in it. If he doesn’t want to touch the hot-button A-word, that’s his call, and I honestly think it makes perfect sense. If he publicly identified as atheist, there’s a huge swath of the population that instantly stops listening. Tons of people suddenly become out of reach of his message.We already have a badass over here. Nitpicking him to change his pro-science message to become specifically athist does more harm than good.
    Leave Neil deGrasse-Tyson alone!!!! *sob*

    • Dan

      The bulk of the criticism of Dr. Tyson I’ve seen on this issue isn’t that he doesn’t identify as an atheist, but is because of the fact that he used silly straw-man criticisms of atheism. If he doesn’t want to identify as an atheist I’m fine with that. I haven’t seen anyone say they want him to change his message to be specifically atheistic.

      The problem is that Dr. Tyson either doesn’t know what atheism is and criticised it anyways, or he does know what atheism is and mislead people about it to earn favor with the religious. So either he is being dishonest (maybe for the ‘greater good’) or he is ignorant about atheism. Either way, it is certainly valid to criticize him on this issue, so maybe he’ll stop passing on incorrect stereotypes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003293001320 Diana Winters

    Neil “came out” as an agnostic on his twitter I think. Isn’t that the same as being a dirty atheist as far as theists are concerned? “You’re one of us or one of them.”

  • http://profiles.yahoo.com/u/FDGYHBEWVNGUG763L5X4TON3JQ Nazani14

    Count me as an avid no-golfer.  I am sick of seeing golf magazines in doctors’ waiting rooms where 80% of the patients have difficulty walking.

  • Tryittom

    I am a non smoker.  Why does that word and smoker come up often enough in life.. enough that at one time a waitress would ask you which you perfered?  And people wonder about religious vs. atheist? HAHAHAHAHHAa……  Its all about How many people are into something, and how many people are not + is it controversial + does it effect the way we feel about eaach other.  THAT IS IT.    god damn, if golf wasn’t such a silly sport and every street corner had golf pros on it asking you if you want to learn the game and would never leave you at peace about it.  Or if every golfer carried clubs with them whereever they went, getting in peoples way, or putting balls down sidewalks like some ritual and would get anrgy if you asked them to stop.  I bet you sure all hell a word for NON-Golfers would emerge. 

  • Mdwelch27

    I wish Mr. Tyson had spoken in a less negative and dismissive way towards so-called atheists, but I think he has a point.  Why should we define ourselves in terms of a god that does not exist.  Why should we allow ourselves to be protrayed in negative terms – anti-god.  I think Mr. Tyson wants to be for something – for a better vision of the earth and our place in it.

    Now that leaves us with two choices (as I see it) that I think are equally valid but still pose a choice:
               1.  Like our deceased friend Christopher Hitchens, do we want to spend time and energy fighting against the evils of delusional belief in the supernatural and the organized institutions that exploit that delusion for power and repression – to be anti-theist

              2.  Do we want to spend our time and energy promoting our better vision for the future.  We want to show how much better life can be if you dump the guilt and delusion and get on with making our world a better place through scientific and rational thought.  In other words, we’ve got to do a better job of selling the superior product that we have.
    I hope that is what Mr. Tyson is doing.  He is selling his better vision for tomorrow without spending too much energy on degrading the other fellow’s product. 

     I don’t know which is the better path or if one has to choose one or the other.  Maybe each of us needs to do what we do best to take us all in the direction that we want to go.  But I don’t think we have to all agree and we definitely don’t have to fight about the details of how to move forward. 

    Above all else, being a humanist should make our lives better and more satisfied.  That’s the magnetic force that will attract others to our position.


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