Are People “Atheists First?”

Are People “Atheists First?” November 22, 2010

I’ve been blogging about whether atheism as a community and what might tie it together for the past week or so, and a NYT article from a little while ago raised some more questions for me.  In an article titled “Obama Gains Evangelical Allies on Immigration” one Republican voter said:

“I am a Christian and I am a conservative and I am a Republican, in that order,” said Matthew D. Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative religious law firm. “There is very little I agree with regarding President Barack Obama. On the other hand, I’m not going to let politicized rhetoric or party affiliation trump my values, and if he’s right on this issue, I will support him on this issue.”

Would any of us really say that we are ‘atheists first’ or even that atheism has a great deal to do with our political beliefs?  I think my atheism only influences my politics inasmuch as I like to see my doubts resolved by empirical study (and thus constantly find myself at odds with Sarah Palin and wishing Congress had more statisticians).

In day to day life, I only feel compelled to identify myself as an atheist for the purpose of counteracting harmful stereotypes about atheists, just as I only feel a need to disclose that I am bisexual because homophobia remains common.  If stigma against either decreased, I wouldn’t feel the need to volunteer either as frequently as I do, and I certainly don’t feel either is one of the most important adjectives I would use in trying to explain myself to another person.

Do you feel that, in any area of your life, you are an ‘atheist first?’

Do you feel like telling someone you are an atheist gives them important information about you?  What does it tell them?

For non-atheists:

If you meet an atheist, do you think of them as an ‘atheist first?’  What do you conclude from the fact of their atheism?

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  • I am a skeptic first, and this necessarily implies atheism (at the very least, agnosticism). It's more of a side effect. I only mention atheism if I feel it's relevant, but then relevance can be subjective at times.That said, I usually don't have to describe myself at all, now that I think about it, and I rarely ask others to describe themselves using adjectives. I don't also often ask others, nor do others ask me, to describe their/my personality/ties. When asking about what kind of person another is, I usually rely on asking about activities, and I feel the same applies to others asking about me. Our experiences may however be different.However, if I were to describe my personality, "skeptic" would definitely be one of the first adjectives.

  • Christianity is very specific about values God has. It is more than a metaphysical claim, it is a lifestyle based around these values. Atheism is a negative metaphysical claim so there are no specific values that atheism alone compels. When someone like me identifies himself as "Christian first" what we mean is that our lifetyle and values follow the lifestlye that Christianity compels. Though you my not consider yourself an "atheist first" you probably try to form views that are consistent with atheism even if they are not compelled by atheism. You search for morality and values independent of God and take the question of "how are their morals without God?" seriously. In this sense you want to make sure that your values flow logically from your premise that God does not exist. In some sense this could be seen as "atheist first" though it seems you do not attach enough importance to being an atheist to want that mantra for yourself. And I suppose you could argue "atheist first" only applies if your values are compelled by atheism.While I understand that atheism is for the most part a negative metaphysical claim and therefore is not a package deal with values and lifestyle there seem to be statistical correlations with values and atheism. Because of this there are things I can tentatively conclude from the fact of their atheism. An obvious example: atheists are not very likely to be social conservatives or Republicans.I did a bit of searching on the web and found a paper about Swiss atheists and their political beliefs.

  • I'm not an atheist, so I'll answer your last question. When I meet an atheist I don't think of them as 'atheist first'. A lot of friends of mine and many members of my family don't believe in God, but I never think of them as 'the atheists of the family'. My behaviour or conversations are in no way different than those I have with religious friends. Of course it's a big part of who they are and how they think, but it's more that their atheism is a result of how they think and not the other way around. So, no, I don't think of them as 'atheist first' and I don't usually conclude things about them when they say they're atheists. Atheists are so diverse that it's just ridiculous to make general conclusions.

  • I just now came across your blog and thought you might find the following posts and blogs of interest: claim to know beyond reasonable doubt that no creative intelligence is at the ultimate root of existence. That's what distinguishes atheists from the true sceptics — i.e., the agnostics.

  • If someone tells me they're atheist, I conclude that they do not believe in God. (I won't even conclude that they believe there is no God, to employ that subtle distinction, because not everyone uses the term atheist in the same way.) So it doesn't make much sense for me to imagine them as "atheist first," though there are folks I've met who I would consider "rational materialist first", after spending a few years getting to know them.