The Davids React to Sam Harris October 5, 2007

The Davids React to Sam Harris

Ellen Johnson, president of American Atheists, already responded to Sam Harris questioning the use of the label “atheist.”

A couple other prominent atheists are also joining the fray.

David Koepsell, Executive Director of the Council for Secular Humanism, supports Harris:

Now mind you, we do face some clear political and social challenges from the deeply religious and antisecular, and we are still far outnumbered. Responses to these challenges will always be more effective when mediated through some sort of organization such as CSH or [Center For Inquiry]. We are more likely to achieve results as a team than as a bunch of individuals. But the trend in affiliation movements is toward less homogeneity, less closely knit and more short-lived groups working together for a specific goal then drifting apart until necessity calls again.

I agree with Sam Harris on his other important recommendation. Perhaps our best tactic is to live our lives not worrying about labels or “isms” and, by the strength of our examples as decent, hard-working and ethical people who happen to belong to no religious faith or do not hold supernatural beliefs, lead by example for those similarly drawn. This is the trend we already see. The silent majority of that 1.5 billion are doing just this, and our ranks are swelling.

David Silverman, communications director for American Atheists, takes a completely different approach:

My opinion is that if you DON’T use the word Atheist, you’re hurting the movement. I’m saying that even using the alternative words (Brights, secular humanist, realist, or even agnostic) HURTS the movement by allowing people to retain their prejudice against us. It also shows a weakness of conviction on our part, so even IF (big if) people actually know what the alternate word means, they don’t think you’re gutsy enough to admit your real thoughts. They may be right.

Sam is really wrong, and it really bothers me. My opinion is that EVERYONE should use Atheist. No Brights. No Agnostics (YES, THEY ARE THE SAME). No Secular Humanists. Only Atheists.

More responses will be forthcoming, I’m sure…

[tags]atheist, atheism[/tags]

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  • I am very much against labels altogether. Labels are a product of serapatism and we serve a “movement” best by example.

  • Susan

    PZ has gotten a response out too.

  • Mriana

    I agree, we need organizations like AHA, CSH, CFI, National Atheists, American Atheists, etc. However, people won’t know the numbers are swelling if we don’t speak up and use the labels. Although, sometimes I don’t know what I am, except I know I’m not a theist. 😆

  • I don’t think we should necessarily eliminate the “Secular Humanist” label. It represents a philosophy in addition to atheism. If we agree that atheism is just absence of god-belief, then it’s reasonable to have a word for the affirmative value system one has adopted.

    For myself, atheist is the primary label I identify with. However, if you ask me if I’m also a secular humanist, I would say I think I am (but that I have to research a bit more about it to be sure 😉 ).

  • skyqueen

    Agnostic is NOT always the same. I wish people would stop this. people should be able to label themselves whatever they like. that’s THEIR choice, not this guy’s.

  • I agree with C. L. Hanson, and that was my first thought as I read Silverman. I agree that agnostic is a rather useless term, but Humanist? It’s my worldview! “Atheism”, while a label I proudly wear and staunchly defend, doesn’t really tell people anything about what I actually think of life, the universe and everything – only what I DON’T think about the existence of gods. So no. I’m not going to abandon Humanist, ever.

  • Vincent

    Just chiming in with the rest.
    Atheist describes what I don’t believe.
    Humanist describes how I behave (or try to).
    They aren’t synonyms at all.
    I would like to point out though, that where I grew up (Oklahoma) the word atheist is not nearly as reviled as “secular humanist.”
    I had a teacher in high school tell me she thought secular humanism was the greatest evil ever released upon the world.
    Of course, now that I’ve become better educated I realize that she, and others like her, did not actually know what the term meant. They viewed it as a sort of paganism where the individual believes himself to be godish.

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