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Are you a Gold Atheist? - Comments

Tabz's Avatar Comment 1 by Tabz

I agree. It can't be called "New Atheism" forever can it? However, for now, the majority of the world is still religious. I'm glad to be alive to see this new breed of Atheism.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:05:03 UTC | #594324

irate_atheist's Avatar Comment 2 by irate_atheist

I'm looking forward to the Platinum upgrade.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:05:44 UTC | #594325

-TheCodeCrack-'s Avatar Comment 3 by -TheCodeCrack-

Platinum upgrade should only be obtained when you wear a t-shirt - in public - with an image of a bloke above text stating 'prophet Mohammad'. Only then shall you obtain such a prestigious status.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:39:43 UTC | #594340

-TheCodeCrack-'s Avatar Comment 4 by -TheCodeCrack-

Where are the brave atheists with their propher Mo' t-shirts? I've seen plenty of Jebus stuff, but no Mo' stuff...

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:45:09 UTC | #594344

Geoff 21's Avatar Comment 5 by Geoff 21

Beautifully expressed Steve, can we expect a book at some point?

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 12:51:09 UTC | #594346

phodopus's Avatar Comment 6 by phodopus

Steve wouldn't it be more consistent to call it "Owled atheism"?

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 13:17:22 UTC | #594356

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 7 by Steve Zara

Steve wouldn't it be more consistent to call it "Owled atheism"?

I like it. That's FAR better.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 13:33:50 UTC | #594362

locutus7's Avatar Comment 8 by locutus7

You, sir, are being gnaughty. Although when you reach my age you will become a see-gnile atheist.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:06:37 UTC | #594379

CarlaTrumper's Avatar Comment 9 by CarlaTrumper

What wonderful views we have! I wonder (seriously) why people hate us.

Whichever label one takes on (Gold/Owled) - I enjoyed reading this piece Steve Zara.

Thank you for writing it.


Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:12:15 UTC | #594385

AtheistEgbert's Avatar Comment 10 by AtheistEgbert

I jokingly invented a new term to describe new atheists: gnuatralists, as naturalism is the closest position that describes them.

However, I also think their arguments have an ethical dimension, something which many of us refuse to take part in or consider. I find this puzzling. Sam Harris has attempted much the same with his recent The Moral Landscape, although I think he fails to make his ideas coherent.

Working out a scientific understanding of ethics would help defeat theism, and yet few seem that interested in the challenge.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:22:19 UTC | #594391

George Lennan's Avatar Comment 11 by George Lennan

Or..... how about dropping the atheist tag altogether? I saw PZ giving an excellent explanation how using the word says more about your mindset than simply 'that which you don't believe', and he made a very good case that it has a lot of positive and proactive implications. BUT.... (tin helmet on)... Sam Harris made a better point when he said 'its as if [the religionists] draw a chalk outline on the sidewalk and we just lie right down in it".

Yeah, atheism means all the points you outline here Steve, and proud to be clear-headed enough to embrace these positions as I am, I'm not prepared to declare adherence to the Atheist tag for the following reasons

  1. The word Atheist. "Pedophile" means "lover of children", "homo" means homosexual, and even the appalling "nigger" is only a corruption of a spanish word for black. (Its a freaking analogy before I get jumped on for innapropriate comparisons). It matters not a jot what "atheist" actually means, it has come to be regarded as a pejorative term in broad public consciousness because of the lies told about it. It's going to have to evolve in the same way as nigger-negro-coloured-african american has evolved to stay ahead of the game and avoid the unjust associations.

  2. It IS in fact a negative definition. If I subscribe to the idea "I don't care what other people believe, as long as they don't force it on me" then I am a Secularist. I've been in trouble before for saying this - but I've got a flak jacket too, so here it is again.... Dan Dennet recently tried to enthuse his audience to a gospel tune with lyrics singing the joys of reason. How daft can you get? It's not something to sing about. If you don't care for god, you sing about love, sex, fast cars, drugs, work, politics, even the wonders of nature (though you can't like those minor-seventh synthpop symphony of science warblings - bleurgh) but singing about your adherence to reason per sé commits the cardinal sin of lacking a sense of humour about yourself. A secularist just doesn't involve god and avoids awkward embarassing dancing to rubbish tunes.

  3. This is where I'll cop it. Any movement has to be a broad church to get purchase on the public conscience - that's a simple fact. The Life of Brian should have awoken all politically minded people to the ludicrous fractioning of groups who decide to take a no-surrender stand at one end of any spectrum. The most striking example of this within Atheist culture is the in-fighting between accomodationists and orthodox ... erm... Dawkinsists. Of COURSE you are right that accommodationists are clueless, pernicious gobshites. But the scene where the Accommodationists and the Atheist Popular Front meet in the Jerusalem sewers and suddenly realise they should be fighting the common enemy (THE PUNCTUATED EQUILIBRIUM PEOPLES FRONT ???) is just too tiresomely real. The enemy is the Romans, everyone. The value of Michael Ruse within a broad secularist church would be greater than the value of excluding him and other similar twats for your peace of mind and purity of doctrine.

Oh that's enough. Comments on a postcard.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:28:33 UTC | #594395

passutoba's Avatar Comment 12 by passutoba

a wonderfully concise and lucid read Steve..many thanks.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:43:29 UTC | #594403

SomersetJohn's Avatar Comment 13 by SomersetJohn

"Theology is to philosophy what homeopathy is to medicine."

T-shirt anyone?

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 14:52:59 UTC | #594408

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 14 by bendigeidfran

I asked god about miracles and he got all in a huff. He said you juggle ten to the twenty-three and a half stars for billions of years and slightly fluff catching one and that's the one they remember. Bloody peasants. He said.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:02:42 UTC | #594414

Hendrix is my gOD's Avatar Comment 15 by Hendrix is my gOD

Steve, I agree with you completely on everyone of your points. I have certainly been an old atheist long enough to reach the gold standard.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:03:01 UTC | #594415

dbmartin's Avatar Comment 16 by dbmartin

by AtheistEgbert "...I also think their (new atheists, gnaturalists) arguments have an ethical dimension."

If Sam Harris fails to make the idea coherant, it is one difficult idea. But what are your examples, of the ethical dimensions of the new atheists gnaturalists arguments, that you want worked out scientifically?


Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:05:27 UTC | #594416

bendigeidfran's Avatar Comment 17 by bendigeidfran

While you're here, have a look behind the face of Zara. He said. A bit later.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:05:40 UTC | #594418

SaganTheCat's Avatar Comment 18 by SaganTheCat

I have a problem with labeling yourself gold.

using the definition of gold according to spandau ballet, if you are gold, you "always believe in your soul".

it also apparently gives you the "power to know you're indestructible" which seems like the sort of claim from someone refusing to come to term with their own mortality

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:25:27 UTC | #594423

dbmartin's Avatar Comment 19 by dbmartin

by Steve Zara "New Atheism appears to have morphed into Gnu Atheism, which may be either a homonymn of new or an indication of the substantial mammalian attributes of the Newbies."

Changing new to gnu wouldn't be a homonym because it did not change the meaning. Didn't it originate as a phonetic joke by the clever brassy feminist author named Ophelia Benson? Or was it indeed a homonym because she intended to change the meaning to redefine new atheists as, stocky, oxlike antelopes, silver-gray, white-bearded, nearly extinct, heads down, ass up, grass eaters with four stomachs?

If that is the case, then by all means, let's move it on to Gold at once!

p.s.- you could have called for suggestions or a vote on the name update.


Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:42:33 UTC | #594433

Steve Zara's Avatar Comment 20 by Steve Zara

p.s.- you could have called for suggestions or a vote on the name update.

Go on then...

Of course, it doesn't really matter, but names can be fun. What is quite effective is to take what is intended to be an insult and embrace it. So... something involving 'fundamentalist'? Or 'strident'?

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 15:50:17 UTC | #594436

phodopus's Avatar Comment 21 by phodopus

Or..... how about dropping the atheist tag altogether?

The Atheist Tag =

I argue that the atheist tag has done us a great service in the past 10 years. Forget all the subtleties about what an atheist is and what not, or that some attach negative connotations to it, especially in the US. Precisely because we have this coarse label are we able to make it on the front pages of the mass media and into the conscious of the public every once in a while, and even though the results are not as subtle and thorough as one would wish in the long run, this is, I believe, the only way to make progress for the time being. Look at how the role of atheism in the public discourse has changed in the past 10 years, and extrapolate that another 10 years. Keep the label for now as the crude tool for getting attention that it is. There will be enough opportunity to convey all the subtle facets of the atheist worldview to the public when it is fully aware of our presence, the coherence of our principles, and the fact that we won't go away.

So... something involving 'fundamentalist'? Or 'strident'?


Tue, 22 Feb 2011 16:08:41 UTC | #594444

BanJoIvie's Avatar Comment 22 by BanJoIvie

@ George Lennan

It's all very well pointing out that the word "atheist" has negative connotations. Sure it's a fair point and I agree with your (and Sam Harris's) assessment of the situation as far as it goes.

The problem though, as I see it, is that no alternative coinage has yet been suggested that actually addresses the core issue - that belief in god itself is a problem.

Take the one alternative you mention, "secularist". Sure, using that word will avoid some of the blow back from saying "the A word". But how does it accomplish this avoidance? By circumventing the entire conversation away from the question of whether or not god actually exists and staying on the "safer ground" of whether or not we can all just get along. It might deflect some of conflict, but it doesn't really move the ball down the field either.

"Secularist" - even if it skips some of the problems inherent to the athiest "brand", simply substitues at least two problems of its own. (The same can be said for "rationalist", or "naturalist", or whatever "-ist" one deems to be "more accurate" or "less negative" than the straight-to-the-point "atheist.")

1) It has negative connotations as well. I've heard plenty of people (here in the good old red-blooded US of A) making the case that "secularism" is the cancer that is killing Amuuuuurka. Because as they all know, The Founding fathers...established a Xian nation which Satan has been trying to defile ever since. Among those who see their religion as a political position - our very enemies in the struggle to preserve secular government - such bait-and-switch branding efforts are defeated before they are begun. They know as well as we do that "secularist" is code for "atheist" in many contexts. For all Sam's avoidance of the "A" word, did The End of Faith manage to avoid causing a flap?

2) "Focusing on the positive" leaves many to miss (or ignore) the point altogether." The problem with only pressing the positive virtues of the various modes of thought allied to gnu atheism, is that it lets most believers hear the warm fuzzy message and nod right along, while all the time thinking, "I agree with everything those people are GOD! What good Xian values they espouse." I have Mormon friends with whom I sometimes discuss science. We have lots of common ground and can agree about and work together on many things. They are fans of Carl Sagan, and LOVE 'Cosmos', but they can sit through the entire thing and it would never occur to them that Carl's warnings about irrationality and the need for science to investigate truth has anything at all to do with their Mormonism. They can watch him and casually presume that he would probably have made a great convert if only he'd made time to listen to the missionary discussions. I'm sure some faithful saint has had his "baptism for the dead" performed in a Mormon temple, and believes he has been gathered into the fold in the spirit world.

Sooner or later one has to come right out and say that god doesn't actually exist. That the arguments put forward for belief are actually bad ones. That they cause harm. That, "no, I actually don't think deep down that you might just be right." That core point is the source of most of the offense people take at the word atheism. You can use any word you want, but if you actually make your point, you will cause offense with ANY word. And if you avoid the offense, you have probably avoided making the point as well.

It's not all about doctrinal purity or rigidity of thought, there really is a question of effectiveness.

Indeed, the very fact that the word "atheist" has negative connotations is really one of the problems we need to address. We can't really avoid it and hope for meaningful change. It doesn't accomplish much to ditch the word and look for another. You're more likely to simply sully that word in its turn - unless you can alter some popular assumptions. Better perhaps to reclaim the word. To stand up and own it. Attitudes need changing on a large scale, and at some point that means conflict.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 16:13:16 UTC | #594445

phodopus's Avatar Comment 23 by phodopus


Very good, you express the same sentiment as me, a little less cynically and more precisely.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 16:20:26 UTC | #594447

dbmartin's Avatar Comment 24 by dbmartin

....Errant Atheists

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 16:37:07 UTC | #594450

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 25 by Ignorant Amos

Very good Steve.....Gold is good, Owled is also a wheeze....excellent article, I may rogue some of it in my endeavours with the "enemy".

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 16:39:53 UTC | #594451

BroughtyBoy's Avatar Comment 26 by BroughtyBoy

I am a Rationalist. Spandau Ballet are Old Romantics by the way.

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 16:46:23 UTC | #594453

Ignorant Amos's Avatar Comment 27 by Ignorant Amos

Comment 26 by BroughtyBoy

I am a Rationalist. Spandau Ballet are Old Romantics by the way.

They were gnu romantics in their day though......owled romantics now lol....making a comeback I hear

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 17:01:03 UTC | #594460

michaelfaulkner101's Avatar Comment 28 by michaelfaulkner101

Yep I'm a gold en.

We want reason, evidence and we want no bullshit!

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 17:08:48 UTC | #594462

phodopus's Avatar Comment 29 by phodopus

Meh, Spandau Ballet? At least you make me feel young for a change. :)

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 17:12:35 UTC | #594463

locutus7's Avatar Comment 30 by locutus7

"If a person is intelligent, then of course he is either an agnostic or an atheist........they are automatic definitions of high intelligence." The Magus, 1965, by John Fowles (a brilliant novel in which both major characters are atheists, as was John Fowles).

Tue, 22 Feb 2011 18:16:47 UTC | #594488