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Atheist Symbols
April 25, 2007 2:45 AM   Subscribe

So there are crosses, stars of David, Buddhist wheels, etc, but what do atheists get? Well, "Nothing" might be the proper symbol, but look here, there's a bunch of possibilities. Atheist, Humanist, Darwinist. BTW, the American Atheist (MM O'Hare) symbol is the one the US Army will put on the headstone of any atheist corpses they might find in foxholes.
posted by CCBC (118 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
"Atheist corpses" = chuckle.

That atheist symbol, though, the one with the "A" in the center, it's too "space age" looking, like a representation of an atom, with a rocket in front. Kind of like it means to say: "hey, we believ in science, not god!" They need something better, and I don't think any of the designs shown in any of the links are particularly good. It's a tough one, though, coming up with something simple, powerful, memorable. The kind of thing corporations pay advertising agency designers big, big bucks to come up with!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:02 AM on April 25, 2007


Count me firmly in the no symbol camp. And the atom thing is not only a diagram of an outdated atomic model but seems to me to want to suggest that atheists are the only ones going in for the atomic theory of matter. Which would be odd.
posted by edd at 3:02 AM on April 25, 2007


Anyone who is truly an athiest would the clan mentality strikes again. As soon as we can get rid of this "need" to identify and be identified as anything but an evolved monkey then maybe we'll progress a bit.

Symbols for athiesm... that's a step backwards.

"Hey I have a non-belief system... you too? Lets' make a club based on our non-belief."

Absurd.
posted by twistedonion at 3:11 AM on April 25, 2007


Yeah where is my symbol for not believing in Santa Claus, or Zeus?
posted by autodidact at 3:12 AM on April 25, 2007


Balls, should have previewed sorry.

Anyone who is truly an athiest would t

First line should read - The clan mentality strikes again.
posted by twistedonion at 3:13 AM on April 25, 2007


a brain?
posted by matteo at 3:13 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


If I wore a bit of crap jewelry for everything I don't believe in, I'd be buried in a mountain of shiny tat.

Concentrate on what you do believe in.

And atheist badges? We ain't got no badges. We don't need no badges! I don't have to show you any stinking badges!
posted by pracowity at 3:14 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Concentrate on what you do believe in.

But that's what they are doing. Atheists actively believe that there is no God. That is their belief system. And they want you to know it, they want to be identified as people who hold the belief that there is no God.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:21 AM on April 25, 2007


Previously.
posted by dreamsign at 3:24 AM on April 25, 2007


FSM

Although, I prefer the MPP.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:24 AM on April 25, 2007


flapjax at midnite scribbled - But that's what they are doing. Atheists actively believe that there is no God. That is their belief system. And they want you to know it, they want to be identified as people who hold the belief that there is no God.

Oh, Christ... here we go ;-)

Look, I don't believe in Mr Hanky, either. Why do I need a symbol to tell everyone that I don't believe in a talking turd?I don't need to be spiritually identified, thanks.

It's bad enough that those morons mormons are going to drag me into their church after I die... I don't need more superstitious fools labelling me.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:28 AM on April 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


Atheists actively believe that there is no God.

You forgot the word some at the start of that sentence.

Some athiests are as deluded as their God believing adverseries.

Any athiest i know doesn't believe in God in the same way they don't believe in fairies, dragons, Santa etc.
posted by twistedonion at 3:35 AM on April 25, 2007


Atheists actively believe that there is no God.

Not me, pal. I wouldn't even think about gods, but someone always brings it up in places like this. Not believing a certain story does not constitute a belief system.

Are you a Buddhist? If not, does your disbelief in Buddhism define you? Are you therefore a follower of some sort of abuddhist system? Of course not. There are many things you don't believe and you require no series of counterpart belief systems to disbelieve them. What defines you is what you do believe.

But maybe atheists who can't resist the urge to advertise their stance toward religion should wear something symbolizing Darwinism, which is the only reasonable alternative to the "god made us and god can snuff us out, so watch your step" story at the center of most religious lore. Darwinism makes gods unnecessary.
posted by pracowity at 3:52 AM on April 25, 2007


I think the problem twistedonion picks up on is that some people who believe in God don't seem to get that we believe in 'no God' in a different way than they believe in God.

I don't just not believe in God. I believe there is no God (and I believe there is no Santa), but they're not faith positions, and I won't try to maintain them against suitable evidence. It's not an unshakeable certainty I have. It's a considerably weaker kind of belief, a belief I think is rationally justifiable, and not an unquestionable faith. That last point is where the difference lies. Not in whether it's an active belief or not, but whether it's one that is, at least in principle, freely open to review.
posted by edd at 3:52 AM on April 25, 2007 [7 favorites]


edd wrote (rather eloquently) ...but whether it's one that is, at least in principle, freely open to review.

Very well said. In the abscence of any sort of evidence or logical reason to believe in divine beings, one doesn't assume that they probably exist. One assumes that they probably don't exist until such time as evidence comes to hand.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:59 AM on April 25, 2007


Hopefully someone will perfect a holographic tombstone technology by the time I die, so I can have the disembodied head of Richard Dawkins laughing and laughing over my grave until someone paves over the cemetary and builds a space-age strip mall.

No, really, I'm an atheist because I don't believe in deities. Why would I need a symbol to advertise that?
posted by cmonkey at 4:09 AM on April 25, 2007


I think the concept of Atheism trying to find a symbol so they can be accepted as a legitimate religion is defeating the very purpose of atheism to begin with. And I'm not even atheist!
posted by Mr.Encyclopedia at 4:23 AM on April 25, 2007


I don't want a symbol, but I extra specially don't want the 'happy human in Utah' one.
posted by MtDewd at 4:26 AM on April 25, 2007


I like the outdated atomic model. :) It's got a retro futuristic mod appeal. The symbol of science, whatever it is, seems appropriate for non-theists because, I presume, their non-belief in any deity/deities is rationally based on science, outdated or not.

Is non-belief based on something? If so what would a symbol of that be?
posted by nickyskye at 4:27 AM on April 25, 2007


Most of the symbols are lame. As the kind of atheist that does not even care about the 'Is there a God?' question, if I HAD to pick a symbol for my headstone, it would have nothing to do with any kind of spirituality at all.

Maybe a very good visual joke, or even better a cool optical illusion would suit me. Something to entertain anyone who stumbles upon my grave.

Atheists actively believe that there is no God.

On one hand you have people like Einstein: "I am a deeply religious nonbeliever.... This is a somewhat new kind of religion." They might could fit your definition.

Then you have people like Douglas Adams: " First of all I do not believe-that-there-is-not-a-god. I don’t see what belief has got to do with it.... I am, however, convinced that there is no god, which is a totally different stance". He does not seem to fit.

And in the extreme, you have people that don't waste any time at all giving any tought to the question, because they don't see a need (except for posting in MeFi at 4:30 a.m.)
posted by Dataphage at 4:32 AM on April 25, 2007


I think the concept of Atheism trying to find a symbol so they can be accepted as a legitimate religion is defeating the very purpose of atheism to begin with. And I'm not even atheist!

Absoutely. I think this is where things like the "Bright" movement does more harm than good. Enough with the Us vs Them attitude. Helps no-one. I couldn't care less what an individual believes. Just don't make your irrational belief systems a group activity (and that includes athiest movements)
posted by twistedonion at 4:33 AM on April 25, 2007


What about agnostics?
I don't know if they should have a symbol.

Maybe a question-mark. Or maybe not.
posted by MinPin at 4:39 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Maybe the search for a symbol has less to do with expression of one's belief system, and more to do with the entirely rational view that there is safety in numbers.
As atheists currently rank last in terms of US presidential viability, maybe people seeing and recognizing an atheist symbol in abundance around them would do something to start eroding that prejudice, as well as giving some sort of "you're-not-alone" comfort to US atheists living away from the secular humanist enclaves on the east and west coasts, among the hordes of cannibalistic zombie worshipers (aka xtians).
posted by bashos_frog at 4:46 AM on April 25, 2007


As if still need another religion
posted by zouhair at 4:48 AM on April 25, 2007


Here's the problem: when someone asks whether I believe in God, I say, "no." If somebody asks me what religion I claim, I think a minute and say something like, "Unitarian with Theravadan Buddhist tendencies," or "Dharmic Quaker." The feature [God Belief] does not constitute religion, as you all know. It's merely one among many features with which to distinguish religions. So just because I don't think there are any gods, does not mean I'm devoid of religious feeling.

It seems that when some people use the word atheist, what they really mean is secular humanist. And I'm down with that—I'll throw down that sign, too—but if many of us secular humanists wish to avoid the exclusionism we oftentimes criticize in organized religion, perhaps a bit more terminologic care could be taken.
posted by adoarns at 4:51 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oooh..once we have a symbol, maybe we can get together every week and talk about our atheism; let's say Tuesdays. Maybe Richard Dawkins could appoint people to head up these little Tuesday meetings. That appointee can direct us in the right and wrong ways to actively disbelieve in $deity.

The next logical step is destroying the believers, of course.

sheesh.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 4:52 AM on April 25, 2007


I don't know, I've met lots of people whose athiesm oddly mirrors hyper-religious faith. They feel unnecessarily persecuted because of their athiesm, they feel the need to belittle people who believe differently than they do, they bring it up at inappropriate times, and they try and convince other people that athiesm is correct for everyone. I can imagine them getting all juiced up about having a symbol that represents all of that.
posted by 23skidoo at 4:52 AM on April 25, 2007


Maybe Richard Dawkins could appoint people to head up these little Tuesday meetings.

In all (okay, some) seriousness though, can someone make up a symbol for athiests who really, really like Richard Dawkins?
posted by 23skidoo at 4:55 AM on April 25, 2007


I would be staunchly anti-symbolist except I happen to like the IPU design.
posted by Wolfdog at 4:56 AM on April 25, 2007


chuckdarwin writes: Look, I don't believe in Mr Hanky, either. Why do I need a symbol to tell everyone that I don't believe in a talking turd? I don't need to be spiritually identified, thanks.

Fine, you don't need to be spiritually identified, and therefore obviously don't need a symbol. But we're not talking about you, are we? We're talking about a group of people who identify themselves as atheists, and who, for reasons of their own (perhaps unfathomable to you, but nonetheless real) want some sort of symbol of their belief. They hold an active belief, and that belief is that there IS NO GOD. That's their religion. And they want a symbol to identify that. Whether you personally think that's valid, or a bad idea, or stupid or whatever is not the point. You could just as easily say Christians don't need a cross, Jews don't need a Star of David, simply because you personally don't need those symbols.

Also, it's worth noting here that atheists are not just saying "I don't know if there's a God or not", or "I don't really think about this stuff cause there's really no way to know". Those people are referred to as agnostics. Atheists, however, say "There isn't a God, period. I believe with all my heart that there is no God." You see? Many of them hold this particular belief as fervently as any Bible-toting Christian believes in his/her God.

You might want to read this.

And BTW, I hold no personal stake in this argument: I am not an atheist, a Christian, a worshipper of fire... But I do have an interest in the subject of religion, and that includes atheism, and also an interest in clarity of thought and correct understanding of terminolgy, definitions and identifications.

And on preview:

flapjax at midnite writes: "Atheists actively believe that there is no God."

twistedonion responds: "Not me, pal. I wouldn't even think about gods, but someone always brings it up"

Then you're not an atheist, as the term is defined. For more clarification on this point, I strongly suggest you read the link I've posted above in this comment. I'd also argue that edd (whose comments display a refreshing cool-headedness on this topic, a topic which all too often becomes overly heated really fast) is also not exactly an atheist, by the textbook definition of the term. His comments of course do show that there is, within atheism, all sorts of shades and colors, relevantly fervent and not-so-fervent adherents, etc. Just like any other religion.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:01 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


I can has eternal life?
posted by BeerFilter at 5:03 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


As soon as we can get rid of this "need" to identify and be identified as anything but an evolved monkey then maybe we'll progress a bit.

Stop using "we". I just want people to get out of my way.
posted by srboisvert at 5:18 AM on April 25, 2007


a topic which all too often becomes overly heated really fast
+
"[atheism is j]ust like any other religion"

If you assert that atheism is a religion, I'm not surprised that all the discussions in which you participate soon fall apart. If I stepped into a discussion of Christianity and insisted against all the evidence that Christianity is not a religion, I would expect a similar reaction to such trolling.
posted by pracowity at 5:21 AM on April 25, 2007


Dear flapjax,

When you wrote:

Atheists, however, say "There isn't a God, period. I believe with all my heart that there is no God." You see? Many of them hold this particular belief as fervently as any Bible-toting Christian believes in his/her God.

Yeah, I *understand* your point... I understood it the first time it was made to me about 30 years ago.

Please don't condescendingly suggest that I read Bertrand Russell essays. I've been thinking and writing about this subject for a long time. I mean that in the nicest possible way, because you seem nice, you're a muso, and we probably have a lot in common.

I don't self-identify as an atheist or an agnostic because they're silly words. There's no word to describe what I am in the same way that there's no word to describe someone who doesn't believe in ghosts.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:28 AM on April 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


I wanna get a tattoo of a simplistic atom, and superimposed on that would be a gear: symbolizing my belief in science and technology. There is no God but iPod!
posted by grubi at 5:33 AM on April 25, 2007


How about a symbol based on Rodin's "Thinker"?
http://www.sdiny.com/images/Rodin-Thinker-WEBr.jpg
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 5:35 AM on April 25, 2007


Having a symbol for atheism is like having a symbol for not collecting stamps.
posted by hoverboards don't work on water at 2:33 AM on March 4 [1 favorite -] [!]
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 5:39 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


There is a need for an atheist symbol in certain cases, such as the armed forces grave markers. If atheist markers have no symbol on them, we can be pretty sure president Romney (if not the current one, some other. There are lots of Romneys because of a peculiarity in the way they reproduce.) will allow the unmarked to be baptized and have their markers carved with the Angel Moroni and his horn
posted by hexatron at 5:42 AM on April 25, 2007


There's the phrase "apatheist", for somebody who doesn't care wether there is a god or not. The word "apatheist" probably wouldn't even exist if this whole "definition of atheist" discussion didn't come up again and again.

I'm actually getting tired of the whole thing. When someone asks whether I believe in God, I say, "no", although I should really say "I have no idea what you mean when you ask that". Since I am tired of the follow-up questions when I actually do that (since they always end in "no, if that is your description of God, then I do not believe such a thing exists"), I'll just say "no" instead, as if I fully understand what the person asking the question means by "God". I'm pretty much fed up with the question, and I would really, really, like it if I could be left alone on this subject.

No, I don't believe in your particular brand of invisible sky person, and I have no interest in hearing why you think I really should.

All this is really a shame, because some of the related existential questions are really fascinating.

And I don't really care what happens with my body after my death. Bury it, burn it, whatever is best for the people I love and leave behind, since I won't be around to worry about it, and they may get some comfort from whatever they come up with.
posted by DreamerFi at 5:45 AM on April 25, 2007




I'd be upset if they put that on my tombstone. People might get the wrong impression and think that The Atom was buried there.

Isn't ceremonial burial inherently religious and thus any symbols are fruitless? What we should really do for atheists is leave them out on their lawns to rot and pay them no respect at all. I would love to see Dawkins decomposing, a crow perched on his face, pecking off that nose.
posted by mr_book at 5:48 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Oops, sorry for screwing up the link there. Not sure how that happened. (Maybe God is punishing me?) Anyway, the "disagrees" link goes where it's supposed to...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:49 AM on April 25, 2007


And they want you to know it, they want to be identified as people who hold the belief that there is no God.

The middle finger generally works quite well for this.
posted by three blind mice at 5:50 AM on April 25, 2007


I don't entirely agree with Bertrand Russell in this case (from flapjax's link), although for the most part I do.

For example:
The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial.
There's missing ground here. I do not suspend judgement on the matter, but I do not hold that I have knowledge on the matter.

I could nip out to the shops and pick up a lottery ticket. I would be justified in believing that I will not win the lottery with that ticket. There's certainly sufficient grounds for saying that I will not win the lottery. I can not know that I will not win the lottery with that ticket, however.

I disagree with the definitions of atheist and agnostic that flapjax uses since I don't think they correlate particularly well with the lines that most people would draw on a 'belief spectrum', and I don't think they usefully divide the populace. But this is nitpicking over words, and ultimately if people want to know what I think on the matter it's probably best to not ask me if I'm atheist or agnostic, but to engage me in a discussion over a pint of beer at the local.
posted by edd at 6:03 AM on April 25, 2007


What we should really do for atheists is leave them out on their lawns to rot and pay them no respect at all.

Wow. Someone's got serious issues.

What's with your bizarre fetishizing of the human body to the point that it needs its own special area to be kept once it's dead? The real sickos are the folks who want to save the body for later.
posted by grubi at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Here are images of the available military grave marker symbols. It's quite a set. and the atheist atom-doodad is included.

I think the tenrikyo cherry blossom is the nicest. I'd be pleased to rot under that.

And what's up with the 'not shown because of copyrights'. Do christian scientist markers have (c)2007 carved into them?
posted by hexatron at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2007


but to engage me in a discussion over a pint of beer at the local

Damn, edd, I think I'd enjoy that a lot. Your local and my local are pretty far apart, though... Oh, well, until such a time comes as we might actually down a few pints together, I raise a glass to you from the heart of the Inscrutable East!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:08 AM on April 25, 2007


Here are images of the available military grave marker symbols

Already linked to (in non-PDF) in the FPP, hexatron! :)
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:11 AM on April 25, 2007


So, okay, it's not a religion. On the other hand, you might be advised that a Federal Court of Appeals disagrees.

So any property I own where we don't worship God is tax-free? Sweet.

I, for one, think dead soldiers should be able to put anything they want on their grave stones. (It's fairly offensive that the govt restricts marker symbols to religious symbols -- I thought they were supposed to be out of the Religion Business!) I mean, hell, they earned it, right? Just submit the monochrome GIF in advance and the tombstone machine will CNC it for ya...

Yeah, there'd be a lot of goatse.cxs....
posted by LordSludge at 6:15 AM on April 25, 2007


Could I just get this instead?
posted by brassafrax at 6:19 AM on April 25, 2007


So any property I own where we don't worship God is tax-free? Sweet.

Hee hee! You oughtta be a lawyer!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:19 AM on April 25, 2007


"Atheist Corpse" is a great name for a Metal band.
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:20 AM on April 25, 2007


Isn't ceremonial burial inherently religious

Dead things smell and look gross. The ground is one place to put them where I don't have to see them or smell them.
posted by 23skidoo at 6:29 AM on April 25, 2007


I want Mudflap Girl on my tombstone.
posted by Standeck at 6:35 AM on April 25, 2007


I always liked the Darwin Fish.
posted by mike3k at 6:40 AM on April 25, 2007


Can I have:


===This Space Intentionally Left Blank===


on my marker?
posted by octothorpe at 6:41 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Many of them hold this particular belief as fervently as any Bible-toting Christian believes in his/her God.

ding ding ding

flapjax: I think you may be the one confusing atheism with anti-religion (or maybe anti-proselytizing is more accurate).

I know many people who are atheists and don't actually give any thought to gods/goddesses. And I know some people who foam at the mouth at the idea that others believe in a god that they do not. Each group will refer to themselves atheists. The former doesn't believe that other's beliefs should be a concern to them. The latter makes it their business to argue with everyone. The former wouldn't think of needing to have an identifying symbol. The latter would absolutely want a symbol.
posted by terrapin at 6:45 AM on April 25, 2007


there are no foxes in atheist's holes
posted by Postroad at 6:46 AM on April 25, 2007


Then you're not an atheist, as the term is defined.

I think you mean "you're not an atheist, as the term is pulled wholesale out of my ass".
posted by signal at 6:49 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


octothorpe: how 'bout:

^This End Up^
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 6:52 AM on April 25, 2007


I would like eight red arrows, pointing out from a small circle. Blood and souls for my Lord Arioch!
posted by adipocere at 6:59 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


the one the US Army will put on the headstone of any atheist corpses they might find in foxholes.

Interesting this is posted now. In the last couple of days, Wiccans won a major victory over blatant Bush administration bigotry in this regard.
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 7:00 AM on April 25, 2007


Then you're not an atheist, as the term is defined [by flapjax at midnite, for purposes of his argument].

Added that for you.

You've decided that "atheism" means "that really screechy, impassioned version of nonbelief, the one people proselytize for" and that everything else gets a different name.

You can decide that's what "atheist" means, but the word hasn't changed. And, no, I do not agree with Bertrand Russell on this issue. I don't think an atheist claims that we can prove the nonexistence of a deity. I've never heard anyone make that claim. I think an atheist feels sure and is not seeking out an alternative claim.

It's the way I feel about elves, perpetual motion machines, Baal, talking chipmunks, and so forth. I feel certain such things do not exist. I suppose I'm theoretically open to the possibilities that there really are elves in a glade somewhere, but my active expectation that I could be wrong on this point amounts to zero. Am I "agnostic" on this issue? Conversely, is not-believing-in-elves my religion?

You need ot understand that not all belief systems, even strongly or even irrationally held ones, are religions. I believe the term is more precise than that.
posted by argybarg at 7:01 AM on April 25, 2007 [5 favorites]


You know, here's what I want written on my grave:

"He died a happier man, the result of vowing to never again, under any circumstances, discuss atheism on MetaFilter."
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:03 AM on April 25, 2007


All I can say at this point, flapjax, is thank fuck I'm not in the military (for about 1000 reasons).

edd, I'd be happy to engage you in a discussion over a pint of beer at the local... I'd even buy.

We're three hours apart.
posted by chuckdarwin at 7:07 AM on April 25, 2007


I'm gettin' burned.
posted by Harry at 7:12 AM on April 25, 2007


So, I know I'm going against the flow of the discussion here, but WTF is up with the American Atheist symbol cutting off the bottom end of the vertical "orbit"? Is it supposed to be an A? If so, why have the A in the center?

If we're voting, I'd go with the Null Set symbol, if we mut have one.
posted by Rock Steady at 7:14 AM on April 25, 2007


Bertrand Russell's article is very good, but it does have at least one significant flaw:

"The Christian holds that we can know there is a God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The Agnostic suspends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either for affirmation or for denial."

(extra emphasis mine)

I know a lot of Christians who would never claim they know God exists. Rather, they would say something like "I don't know, but I believe."

This is another way of saying "faith is the absence of proof," which is another phrase I hear from a lot of Christians.

People who center their lives around faith and religion are not simply taking one side of an argument. They have a completely different state of mind than people who describe themselves as athiests or agnostics.

To the point of the post, I consider myself an agnostic, but I don't think atheists would be well-served by adopting a universal symbol.
posted by mauglir at 7:24 AM on April 25, 2007


there are no foxes in atheist's holes

There are no Christians on the battlefield.
posted by pracowity at 7:29 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Regarding the fiery anti-religion type of atheists: You must understand that for an atheist, the transition into that identity is often a difficult one. One's parents and friends are typically unpleasantly surprised and not always supportive. There's a great deal of insecurity around it for these reasons, and it's human nature to respond to this insecurity by taking extreme positions.

I would guess that it shares a lot in common with coming out as homosexual. There's a combination of insecurity and acceptance-seeking that can lead to some acting out in the early stages. For homosexuals, that is manifested as in-your-face sexuality, the adoption of clear identity markers, and the like. For atheists, it's manifested in challenging religious beliefs whenever possible, and doing so in an extreme, intemperate manner; calling the religious stupid, saying that it's possible to prove there's no god, and so forth. Most people outgrow it. Some don't, for various reasons.

Understand though that this behavior is essentially a political strategy. It arises because of the still overwhelming non-acceptance of atheism in society, especially in the U.S. It's done, perhaps not consciously, in an attempt to carve out a space within which atheist identity is accepted by reaching for more than you really want.

The existence of combative atheists who take very strong positions, though, implies nothing about atheism per se being a belief system in the way that a religion is. Most atheists settle into their identity eventually and adopt the position described by many in this thread. There's no faith involved, no self-definition against the idea of god in particular. This more socially moderate position is still atheism. The reason you don't hear a lot from those types of atheists is that they inevitably reach a point where they don't give a rat's ass about engaging people on these questions.
posted by shadow vector at 7:30 AM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


Cthulu Fthagn all the way baby!
posted by Scoo at 7:40 AM on April 25, 2007




The existence of combative atheists is no surprise when atheists are surrounded by the religious culture that exists in this world- and especially given the influence that religion has on politics.

Imagine someone who doesn't believe in invisible pixies, and lives in a world where everyone else is insisting that laws be passed which reflect their interpretations of the invisible pixies' teachings- many of which are patently absurd or harmful. Is the proper response to such a world to simply say "Oh, no, that's fine, keep believing in invisible pixies and, based on that belief, keeping passing laws and implementing social policies which are harmful to people?"

And then there's the liberal "If people want to believe in invisible pixies, regardless of how absurd or harmful their beliefs, we have to respect their beliefs" nonsense...
posted by Pope Guilty at 7:46 AM on April 25, 2007 [3 favorites]


I don't know about others, but my little badge of Stalin's portrait has made a fine symbol for me over the years. First thing folks say when they see it is that I must be an atheist.
posted by EatTheWeak at 7:48 AM on April 25, 2007


Whoa, it's nonsense to respect people's beliefs?
posted by and hosted from Uranus at 7:49 AM on April 25, 2007


atheists in foxholes
posted by Postroad at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2007


Oh, God.
posted by Elmore at 7:53 AM on April 25, 2007


I think the idea of a group symbol is kind of stupid, but I actually like the "O" symbol. If I were killed in action I'd probably want that on my stone.

The American Atheists symbol is so bad that I suspect the DoD agreed to allow it on tombstones as some sort of final insult.
posted by bjrubble at 7:56 AM on April 25, 2007


Holy crap, chuck. I'm not a combative atheist, but now I want to change my symbol to Mr. Gruff kicking the shit out of Lambuel.
posted by bjrubble at 8:02 AM on April 25, 2007


chuckdarwin - that's great. Be sure you don't talk to atheists, they might poison your brain.

Eventually, we'll all have to give up the "I want to be fixed in formalin and put in a box in the ground" mentality because there won't be enough room for everyone. I'd be happier if my family took what parts of me they could use, donated whatever organs aren't worn out, and ground my bones into fertilizer. They could keep my skull or femur or whatever if they wanted something to remember me by. I think it'd be kinda neat to have a display case with little, characteristic pieces of my ancestors in it, with appropriate memorabilia. It'd be even neater to be used as fertilizer for a memorial tree, though.

Failing that, I'll go for "This space intentionally left blank."
posted by Mr. Gunn at 8:04 AM on April 25, 2007


Whoa, it's nonsense to respect people's beliefs?

Without actually inspecting people's beliefs to determine whether they're reasonable/harmful/etc? I think so, yes. It's a way of evading actual discussions about the impact of people's beliefs, born (I believe) out of a liberal allegiance to the idea of tolerance that has metamorphosed into either an inability or a refusal to critically engage the fact that people's beliefs do have an effect on the world, and that that effect is sometimes (I would say often) deleterious.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:08 AM on April 25, 2007


I'm surprised no-one's mentioned the antitheist label yet. I first heard about it from Penn Jillette. I think having proper terminology for all manners of belief is as important as anything else in this language. There needn't be differnt stripes of atheist undifferentiated from one another. Philosophy would suffer were that the case.

And I vote for the Circle.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 8:20 AM on April 25, 2007


After inspecting the beliefs of most people that I know, I have determined that people who believe in god (but don't preach to others, convert others, or affect legislation in any way) are completely harmless.
posted by 23skidoo at 8:22 AM on April 25, 2007


After inspecting the beliefs of most people that I know, I have determined that people who believe in god (but don't preach to others, convert others, or affect legislation in any way) are completely harmless.

I admit that I don't know that many non-voters.
posted by Pope Guilty at 8:23 AM on April 25, 2007


A unified symbol is probably a bad idea. I would prefer a graveyard full of non-believers who chose symbolism they personally believed in, not what their club chose for them.

I'd be quite happy with a stylized sun, for instance. If folks mix me up with a sun-worshiper, that'd be okay - after all, the sun performs a lot of the work God is given credit for. I can see the appeal of the atom symbol, but it reminds me of the first symbol that Dr. Manhattan's handlers tried to give him in Watchmen. The alternative he came up with is pretty snazzy. And since I've been a giant nerd my whole life, a grave stone with the Superman "S" shield would do a fine job of symbolizing my higher ideals. These ideas probably sound pretty stupid, but they all have personal meaning to the bloke who'd be beneath this hypothetical stone.

Another burial idea I had years ago was to be interred with no casket, naked and unembalmed. My grave would be unmarked but for a pine sapling planted atop my burial. The skin and meat I've occupied all these years would be consumed by the Earth all the quicker. No statement of belief required.
posted by EatTheWeak at 8:27 AM on April 25, 2007


or affect legislation in any way

How about "or vote for anything/anyone that promotes their personal ideology" then?
posted by 23skidoo at 8:28 AM on April 25, 2007


I came to atheism through my study of and fascination with religion. It was just that, the more I read, the more I doubted. Too many stories were repeated across different religions and then reported as gospel fact.

Along the way, I met too many believers who didn't actually know what they believed (specifically, they never actually read the source material and just went along with whatever they thought their religion was supposed to be about.)

My mind extrapolated backwards, and I saw how easy it would be for a memetic concept to propagate across generations; where originally it was a parable, but three generations later is was the God's Truth, and it happened exactly as described in the book.

In the end, I just didn't have faith. I've seen nothing in my 35 years on the planet that gives me any reason to believe that there is a God. I still think religion is interesting (and frustrating). But for me, it's more like a study in psychology or sociology. The behavior of people in reaction to things they are attempting to understand and the different routes they will take to get there.
posted by quin at 6:48 PM on October 20

Thanks quin! I think this comment really sums it up for myself, and I assume others. Except, I'd replace '35' with '25'.
posted by Mach5 at 8:29 AM on April 25, 2007


Heh, I always sidestep all these debates. They are totally unproductive for me, since I'm not going to change my mind and I presume I'm not going to convince others to change theirs.

When asked if I believe in God, I usually say sure, I believe in Spinoza's god. Most people asking don't know what the hell that means, but don't want to admit their ignorance.
posted by voltairemodern at 8:50 AM on April 25, 2007


Flapjax: While Wikipedia obviously isn't the last word on this subject, you might find it illuminating to read the articles there on agnosticism and atheism. While I agree that some people—including some atheists—define atheism the same way as you, that is not necessarily the most widely accepted definition, or the way that most atheists would choose to describe atheism. Long story short, there are more shadings and nuances.

To my mind, agnosticism is an epistemological stance: you admit that the existence of God/s is an open question. Atheism is more related to belief: you've thought about it, and found no reason to believe in God/s. A person could be religious and agnostic, or atheistic and agnostic.

I don't spend more time contemplating the nonexistence of Yahweh than you spend contemplating the nonexistence of Wotan. Well, maybe a little, when these MeFi discussions come up.
posted by adamrice at 8:52 AM on April 25, 2007


Alright, how about this symbol then:

.
posted by contessa at 8:57 AM on April 25, 2007


Ok, as much as I loathe cafepress products, and as much as I don't want to support any ass-backwards Creationist site, sweet shit I think I need this shirt and this one too.

/derail
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:57 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


Fear not, Objective is a Landoverbaptist-style parody. Buy as much as you like, you're not giving money to creationists.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:21 AM on April 25, 2007


Suggestion: Digital gravemakers with a built-in Icon Finder and visitors can choose a different symbol for each visit.
posted by nickyskye at 9:24 AM on April 25, 2007


I'm just relieved that pagans will be allowed a pentacle on the tombstones now.
posted by agregoli at 9:30 AM on April 25, 2007


"Atheist Corpse" is a great name for a Metal band.


I'm calling my band "Mr Gruff the Atheist Goat who loves coffee instead of God."

We'll do John Tesh covers.
posted by Mr Bismarck at 9:41 AM on April 25, 2007


Pharyngula recently had a contest for an atheist/agnostic/freethinker symbol. Lots of good ideas in those threads, plus some nice discussion for the need/lack of need for such a thing.

/any excuse to link to Pharyngula
posted by arcticwoman at 10:07 AM on April 25, 2007


"Atheist" is a pretty broad term. And one person's definition might include one type of "non-believer", but not another. So I think the idea of having a symbol for atheism is kind of silly - if someone were a "true" atheist, shouldn't he also not believe in symbols? I believe (ha!) there are negative conotations for the term "atheist".

Anyway... As a non-believer (AKA atheist, agnostic, unafiliated), I'm partial to the IPU and the happy humanist.
posted by ObscureReferenceMan at 10:09 AM on April 25, 2007


The most outstanding director of the Japanese cinema, Yasujiro Ozu, had the Japanese character "mu" carved on his tombstone.

Mu means "absent" "nothing" or "not," and would be perfect for atheists, IMHO.
posted by jfwlucy at 10:14 AM on April 25, 2007 [1 favorite]


We'll do John Tesh covers.

That alone would make me doubt god.
posted by octothorpe at 10:22 AM on April 25, 2007


Fear not, Objective is a Landoverbaptist-style parody. Buy as much as you like, you're not giving money to creationists.
posted by Pope Guilty at 9:21 AM on April 25 [+]
[!]


Ah yes, I am something of a doofus. that Mr. Gruff shirt may well be mine yet!
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 10:58 AM on April 25, 2007


flapjax at midnite writes: "Atheists actively believe that there is no God."

twistedonion responds: "Not me, pal. I wouldn't even think about gods, but someone always brings it up"

flapjax responds: Then you're not an atheist, as the term is defined.


Well that wasn't me who said that but I do share those sentiments. As the term is defined I am an atheist. I do not believe in God. No ifs, or buts about it. There is no God as far as I can see and understand. I don't actively believe it as it's just not important.

If, however, proof of God was found then I would no longer be an atheist. How could I be? At present there is no proof and I don't believe. Therefore I am an atheist.

I don't actively believe that I don't believe in a God, in the same way I don't actively believe that I don't believe in the little people with pots of gold at the end of rainbows.

Do you actively believe that there are no little people? Or do you just not think about it until it's brought up in a conversation? Is my definition of actively wrong as well?

It's really simple and I don't see why you have to obsess with 'definitions' to try and prove a point.
posted by twistedonion at 11:00 AM on April 25, 2007


We've had the same argument a million times. Some might call it unproductive to keep trying, but me, I think it's a good opportunity to try different rhetorical devices for saying the same thing. So how's this attempt? Ahem:

"flapjax is evidently a member of several thousand religions. The one that consists of believing in the god that he does, and the thousands of religions that consist of not believing in each of the other gods he doesn't."
posted by George_Spiggott at 11:08 AM on April 25, 2007




I think both twistedonion and George_spiggott have it.

And as an atheist under these terms, I think what I'd most like to have on my gravestone is the logo for The Smart Set, to show my undying faith in small, defunct literary magazines. That, or maybe a weiner dog.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:04 PM on April 25, 2007


What about an HTML missing image icon for a symbol?
posted by Meaney at 12:53 PM on April 25, 2007




Whatever. It looks like the Springfield Isotopes logo.
posted by Slap Factory at 2:02 PM on April 25, 2007


Then you're not an atheist, as the term is defined.

By you, and incorrectly.

Atheism is, minimally, the lack of belief in gods. It does not require an active belief in their nonexistence, but the definition encompasses that stance.
posted by solid-one-love at 2:07 PM on April 25, 2007


Well, I didn't expect all these reactions. Anyway, the post was prompted by the Wiccan decision (mentioned a couple of times above) and seeing a list of approved symbols for Arlington graves. The fact that atheists are assumed to belong to O'Hare's group (which has the symbol -- Hey! Did you get that it used to be a helium atom but now sometimes has more orbits and the orbits stand for different things?) kind of got to me. Most atheists aren't joiners, I think. But right now many non-believers feel they are under attack so there is a move toward "bright" labels or symbols to show We Are Not Alone. (Do you ever have have the feeling, reading a thread like this one, that those surveys that show 85% of Americans to be religious are complete fakes?) I've been proud to be a Secular Humanist ever since I heard Jimmy Swaggart use the term. Sums up my belief system exactly. God bless those who revile us when they help us to the Light!
posted by CCBC at 2:18 PM on April 25, 2007


Anyway, the post was prompted by the Wiccan decision (mentioned a couple of times above) and seeing a list of approved symbols for Arlington graves.

I'm glad other people included the link - I wondered why you didn't post the link to that decision, since your post did seem to be prompted by it.
posted by agregoli at 2:47 PM on April 25, 2007


flapjax, and anybody else with questions about what is and is not atheism, PLEASE read:

No Ghosts: A Blunt Atheist FAQ

Atheism is widely misunderstood. This FAQ should help.
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 4:03 PM on April 25, 2007 [2 favorites]


. <-- atheist smybol!
posted by Tacos Are Pretty Great at 4:11 PM on April 25, 2007


Worm Dirt
posted by homunculus at 6:33 PM on April 25, 2007


A few random thoughts, FWIW:

In the abscence of any sort of evidence or logical reason to believe in divine beings, one doesn't assume that they probably exist. One assumes that they probably don't exist until such time as evidence comes to hand.

Yep-–I've always thought of it as applying Occam's razor to spiritual questions.

And, no, I do not agree with Bertrand Russell on this issue. I don't think an atheist claims that we can prove the nonexistence of a deity.

I agree. Why would an atheist feel the need to prove the non-existence of something for which there is no evidence to begin with?

What about agnostics?
I don't know if they should have a symbol.

Maybe a question-mark.


A point of clarification: my understanding of the formal position of agnosticism, philosophically, is not that you don't know, but rather that such things cannot be known. In other words, it is impossible for a human being, who is temporal and physical and corporeal, to even conceive of something like God; we simply lack an appropriate frame of reference. Sort of like trying to explain blue to someone born blind (or, more basically, color).

It seems to me that the need for a symbol being expressed in the discussions on some of the linked sites is less about the beliefs or non-beliefs of various shades of atheism, and much more about the need to vocally identify oneself as NOT being part of a supernatural belief system. There are powerful social and political forces in the world today, who are trying to change the kinds of lives we all lead in drastic ways, because of supernatural religious beliefs. Atheists (and many theists) rightly take issue with this, and it makes sense to me that they would want to more visibly identify themselves as being opposed to such ideas and motivations, and the actions taken as a result of holding such. A symbol as a way of speaking up, it seems to me.

I like the circle best. I'd use that symbol.
posted by LooseFilter at 9:06 PM on April 25, 2007


Thanks absalom. I poked around that site for a while, but I didn't see that page. I get the intended meaning, but to me it just looks like they cropped the .jpg badly. I actually thought that was the case when I first saw it at the military gravestone site, and I wondered if they'd make the same mistake in carving it.

'Topes win! 'Topes win!
posted by Rock Steady at 10:09 PM on April 25, 2007


I would guess that it shares a lot in common with coming out as homosexual. There's a combination of insecurity and acceptance-seeking that can lead to some acting out in the early stages. For homosexuals, that is manifested as in-your-face sexuality, the adoption of clear identity markers, and the like.

Not challenging this, but I thought people acted visibly gay because of the need to advertise to potential mates. For a heterosexual, certain visible cues (a wedding band, and certain styles of dress) are required to broadcast availability, but the primary cues are similar age and opposite sex. For a homosexual, the problem is slightly different. They need a way to tell other homosexuals out from the crowd, and to announce to them that they're both gay and available.
posted by kid ichorous at 12:16 AM on April 26, 2007


Hitchens: God Is Not Great: Religion poisons everything.
posted by homunculus at 12:24 AM on April 26, 2007


What do they do for Muslims? I'd be a mite ruffled if they used gravestones.
posted by Firas at 3:45 PM on April 26, 2007


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