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← How to tell if you’re an atheist

Hume's Razor's Avatar Jump to comment 7 by Hume's Razor

One of the patterns we have observed, not surprisingly, is that many clergy don’t identify with the label “atheist” even though, from some perspectives, they share many of the same characteristics as atheists, including not believing in the supernatural.

And yet belief in the magic power of words lives on. I understand that words have "baggage" (negative connotations of the word "atheist" etc.), but it seems to go deeper than that. People really seem to think that calling something by one name rather than another ("atheism" etc.) makes a real difference even if the "something" being referred to is held constant. People also seem to think there are important real world consequences of applying certain names ("God", "free will" etc.) to something even if the "something" being referred to is free to vary endlessly. The following quote from one of the interviewees in the original pilot study gives a perfect example (emphasis added):

“The difference between me and an atheist is basically this: It’s not about the existence of God. It’s: do we believe that there is room for the use of the word ‘God’ in some context? And a thoroughly consistent atheist would say, ‘No. We just need to get over that word just like we need to get over concepts of race. We quit using that word, we’d be better off.’ Whereas I would say I agree with that in a great many cases, but I still think the word has some value in some contexts. So I think the word God can be used very expressively in some of my more meditative modes. I’ve thought of God as a kind of poetry that’s written by human beings. As a way of dealing with the fact that we’re finite; we’re vulnerable.”

As I wrote in another comment: Why "God"? Why not "Ogd" or "Dog"?

Thu, 31 May 2012 13:57:21 UTC | #944748