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I recently met someone whose attention perked up when I mentioned that I am an atheist. My new friend quickly stated her position, saying, "When most people say 'God,' they are actually talking about the intelligence of the universe" -- but she does not think there's a living, personal deity out there.
I wonder why such people bother even using the word "god" in the first place. (We all know about the stigma attached to the word "atheist"!) This is my problem with pantheism; if god is everything, what use does the word "god" serve? Why not simply say "the universe"?
There is a new move to try to settle the definition of the word "atheism." George H. Smith's definition is very clear; he argues that an atheist is simply someone who lacks a god belief -- for whatever reason. (Smith's article appeared in the "Critical Thinker" last year.)
The advantages of Smith's definition are legion. Most people who would probably call themselves atheists but for the stigma, are atheists anyway under Smith's vantage. It also takes the punch out of theists' tendency to falsely redefine "atheism" in their straw-man attempts to set us straight.
So, then, an infant is just as much an atheist as is a an atheist of the philosophical variety: one who has thought about the issue and has consciously rejected theism on philosophical grounds.
Where does this leave us? CRT members are but a small group among atheists in that we are activists in our atheism. Some of us, having compassion for our fellow humans, want to educate people against the folly of superstition. Others of us try to protect people against the "tyranny of the majority" with education and separationist lobbying.
Does this leave room in this world for the closet atheist? Of course it does. While I wish more people could feel free to express their unbelief openly, I respect those who choose to mind their own business for whatever reason -- just as I respect someone who privately holds a religious faith. I must respect others' rights to their views in order to earn the right to hold my own views. I learned that from Thomas Paine.
I think the best we can do is try to make CRT a place where atheists will want to be involved in our actions and activities. This is perhaps more important than some of the discussions we have during our meetings.
But what is your view? Please, join us at one of our meetings and let us know.
See also: The Scope of Atheism by George H. Smith
Copyright ©1998 Cliff Walker; Portland, Oregon