It’s A Week!
Uh, perhaps I should clarify. It’s essentially Atheist Pride/Awareness week (the Supreme Council of Atheists didn’t contact me for naming advice). The organizing group recommends you set the image above as your facebook profile picture for the week to remind your friends that atheists are all around and are “good without God.” It’s basically analogous to the British campaign to remind atheists to check “No Religion” (as opposed to Jedi) on the Census.
The instructions are straightforward enough, but the question of what, exactly, we’re affirming is left unanswered. Hermant Mehta of Friendly Atheist realized the message might be lost at the most basic level, since not everyone will realize the A is meant to connote atheism. He passed on the suggestion that you make your own personalized sign for your pic. The diversity of messages participants have chosen highlights the familiar problem of defining atheism. There really not much content we’d all stand behind. Defining myself as an atheist, when the definition of atheism is so inchoate can be a problem.
Jen Fulwiler, the former atheist turned Catholic of Conversion Diary took issue with the entire idea of atheist as a self-definition in an article for the National Catholic Register titled “The Danger of Atheist Pride.” She finds the whole spirit of the week to be unhealthy. She writes:
To say that your guiding belief system is atheism literally means nothing more than not theism. There’s nothing positive to focus on, nothing higher than yourself to which you can submit selfish urges. The process of fleshing out your own views is a process of constant rejection… And, as I know from personal experience, that mentality of constant dismissal of other ideas can fester to the point that the sin of pride becomes your driving force in life.
Obviously, this is not the case with every atheist; some of the most kind and humble folks I know self-identify with that label. It’s also not the case that adhering to a belief system based on positive principles automatically makes you a moral paragon (and I count myself as Exhibit A there). But these two different types of belief systems put people on radically different paths: Atheism is ordered toward rejection and pride, where as positive-principle-based belief systems are ordered toward acceptance and humility.
As I’ve written before, even though atheism in isolation is pretty boring/useless, I still think it’s important for me to think about the public perception of atheism and take action in solidarity with other atheists. For starters, the public definition of ‘atheism’ is not limited to disbelief in gods. As some of the commenters on Jen’s article and her piece itself make clear, atheism is associated with license and immorality. Atheists are seen as without limits and thus uniquely untrustworthy.
You don’t have to use a weird virtue ethicist type of atheist like me as your counterexample (and given the flak I catch, you probably shouldn’t). The point is to set up something to stand against the stereotype. The content of the A Week initiative is embodied in the character of the atheists who come out. The goal isn’t to define atheism, but to weaken the prevailing and inaccurate idea.