In a recent post over on Dangerous Talk, Staks Rosch argues that advocating for atheism is important and makes a pretty good argument. The problem is, what he really seems to be advocating isn’t atheism, but secularism. These are two entirely different things. I find it a bit silly that so many people treat atheism as if it’s a “thing”. It’s nothing of the sort. It’s the lack of a thing. Once you add a “thing” to it, it’s no longer atheism but something else.
He mentions the National Atheist Party, which really is a ridiculous concept because inherently, it can have no platform. Atheism has no creeds, no beliefs and no positions on anything except the existence of gods. Now clearly, they are trying to play up the well-known word “atheism” in their title, but in so doing, they are engaging in a linguistic faux pas. As I pointed out on Staks’ blog, the word they are looking for is “secular”, which is a concept that is shared and supported not just by many atheists, but by many theists as well. Many religious people understand that allowing religion to gain political power is dangerous for us all, once they get enough money and support behind them, they can start forcing their theology on us all, religious or otherwise.
Words have meanings for a reason, it aids in concise understanding of concepts. If you’re not willing to use the right word for the right idea, then you are failing at proper communication. Unfortunately, with the current sub-standard standards of education, where people graduate from high school thinking “u” is a word, I suppose it’s no surprise that people fail to understand the linguistic subtleties. Hell, I guess we should feel lucky that they know what “atheist” is and can manage to use it in a sentence. It’s sad that half of them can’t spell it.
Please, for the love of no-God, if you mean “secularism”, say “secularism”. Think about it. If most people would, they’d realize that in virtually every case that they currently use the word “atheism”, they really don’t mean it. In fact, one of the few actually valid uses of the word is in reference to your own personal views on the existence of a god. Once it gets away from talking about individuals, that usage gets much more tenuous. When you start applying it to groups of people, you have to be extremely careful, you’re on unstable ground, and the second that you start talking about atheist positions, creeds, beliefs or anything of the sort, you’re off the reservation.