Monday, 8 October 2007

New Humanist editor: How should we brand non-belief?

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Our editor Caspar Melville posted on the Guardian's "Comment is Free" site late last week with a piece on Sam Harris's suggestion that atheists should ditch the term "atheist", along with the endless list of other labels the godless tend to employ - "humanist", "secular humanists", "rationalists", "brights" and so on.

Harris's words stand in stark contrast to Richard Dawkins' US-based "Out Campaign", aimed at encouraging atheists to "come out" and admit their non-belief, wearing T-shirts emblazoned with a big red "A" for Atheist. Dawkins was in the audience for Harris's speech to the Atheists Alliance International Conference, and afterwards said he was still thinking about his reaction to it. On Comment is Free our editor jokingly suggests he may be considering rebranding his "Out Campaign", and asks what "A" stands for if it no longer stands for "Atheist"? Needless to say Comment is Free's readers have weighed in with their suggestions. Take a look, it's all good fun.


Hugh Caldwell said...

Non-religious as the umbrella term and any number of sub-groups, atheist, rationalist, humanist, take your pick, add what you feel needs to be added. So, the brand-name for the non-religious would be non-religious. No umbrella brand name for the thing as opposed to the people. Just use the sub-group name. That's pretty much how it has evolved and evolution is a better guide than a desperate search by marketeers.

Paul Geisert said...

The penchant of individuals with a naturalistic worldview for selecting a negative term as a self-identification term is interesting. A-theist, not a theist: non-religious, not religious, etc.

I ask you to consider employing a concept of always referring to our community in a positive sense. For example the sentence: "Let's discuss the challenges that face atheists and other nontheists."

This labels the community as the negative of those who believe in god. Here is an alternative: "Let's discuss the challenges that face those who have a naturalistic worldview."

The phrase "have a naturalist worldview" can be used to replace the whole set of derogatory terms used by religionists to describe us.

It takes more words to write "have a naturalistic worldview" but it appropriately portrays humanists, atheists, skeptics, brights, and all the others who do not deserve to be labeled as:

nonreligious, godless, irreligious, nonbeliever, unbeliever, doubter, profane, sacrilegious, heretical, impious, irreverent, sinful, immoral, blasphemous, unspiritual, ungodly, disbeliever, atheist, nontheist, heathen, or nones.

Of course, there is also the positive neologism, Bright. It was invented specifically because it it has positive connotations.

Paul Geisert
Co-Director of The Brights' Net

Anonymous said...

I think 'labeling' and in many senses the discussion of labeling is at best a trivial waste of time. More worryingly it sends out a signal to the community [sic] that the rational people in the world are somehow feeling somewhat threatened and insecure and maybe need to look at revamping their image and selling themselves better with catchy titles and soundbites. That is a fatal trap to fall in. If we use the same ammunication, communication and behviour as the religious ramblings of many individuals, we will deliver ourselves a blow for meeting this problem on an equal level. This gives religion an equal platform at the cost of our own rational convictions. There is no need to sucumb to any equality. Religion is simply a mental/cognitive dysfunction that should be treated sympathetically but firmly. There are many forms of mental illness, far more subtle than madness and foaming at the mouth. Stress, anxiety, phobias and religion. The first three are all given mainstream consideration, care, support, guidance, exposure to normal environments, medication, and eventually elimination. Why not the fourth? I think everyone is born an aheist until they are exposed to some religious faction. So why not just call us, the Asheists, the ones that evolved through natural selection, humans?