Do Atheists Have A Symbol?
Joseph Thornhill

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From: "Positive Atheism" <editor@positiveatheism.org>
To: "Joseph Thornhill"
Subject: Re: Do we have a symbol?
Date: September 26, 2001 11:32 PM

I recently wrote an editorial column responding to this very question, called, "To Symbolize That Which Is Not?" (August, 2001). This column was based upon my response to a letter we received from Chris in July, "A Symbol To Make My Own Voice Heard?" I formulated my current position regarding atheistic symbols while responding to this letter. When I use a Letters exchange to build a column, I will usually wait a few months before I post the letter itself, but I went ahead and posted it today so you could see it.

We've also had a Forum question from David and Will, "Symbols, Acronyms, And Slogans," which solicits suggestions for proposed symbols. This page shows several symbols that have been used and explains why I think each one either won't fly or is inappropriate. I will admit that I was, at that time, more hopeful that we could find a symbol (and oblivious to my current stand that the whole idea is inappropriate). I must add, though, that I was not much more hopeful about the idea then than I am today.

The closest have come to agreeing with anything is the pansy, which Annie Laurie Gaylor says symbolizes Freethought.

My current position is this: atheism is not a positive belief in an object (such as God or Christ) but is what philosophers call a negative belief: we don't believe in a specific object (gods). The word atheist is a word we use to distinguish ourselves from people who do believe in gods.

So, my atheism is not an added attraction in my life. Some might say, Well, I've been a theist all my life and this is certainly something new for me. Granted, but what happened is that you removed an added attraction that you once had: atheism, as religious beliefs go, is the default human condition.

In fact, atheism is the default human condition two different ways. First, we are all born atheists in that we are born without a god belief. Theism must be learned, and anybody's theism is an added attraction. Secondly, in any discussion where one party is claiming the existence of something, the burden of proof falls upon the person making the claim (in this case, the theist); the person listening to the claim (the atheist) does not have to prove anything. In fact, the atheist cannot empirically prove the nonexistence of God (although we can use certain logical arguments which make "No gods exist" a reasonable position). So in this sense, just as an accused criminal (in most countries) is presumed innocent and must be proved guilty, the nonexistence of gods is presumed in any (fair) discussion and the theist must prove God's existence.

So, the question I have is why would we want to symbolize an absence? In other words, what is there, even, to symbolize? Here we are living our lives, and along comes a preacher who knocks on our door and tells us that this giant, Sta-Puft™ Marshmallow guy is wandering around the streets of New York City (which is what most god-claims sound like to me).

My response is, "Yeah, right, buddy! Didn't you read the sign?"

He interrupts, "Well, I'm not a solicitor! I'm a -- "

I stand right up to him and point to the sign, "It says, 'Absolutely No Door-To-Door Anything!' I think that includes you!"

The door-to-door missionary gurgles and sputters, slumps his shoulders in defeat, and begins to walk slowly away, having added nothing to my being.

My point is this: The fact that my atheism is an absence is not simply academic, atheism is not just a philosophical negative. My atheism really is not a big deal for me. My atheism is not, to me, what almost any Christian's faith is to her. I never thought about my atheism more than three or four times in my life until recently, that is, about twelve years ago or so. Until then, I never once even called myself an atheist.

Twelve years ago being an atheist started to cause great hardship for me; I began to endure vicious antiatheist bigotry as a result of having been conscripted into the Twelve Step program. So, having been a social activist off and on for most of my life, I decided to make atheism the object of my activism. I now advocate against the stigma and bigotry we atheists endure and help people adjust to a new-found outlook based in human reason. But my atheism means nothing to me beyond simple appreciation of the fact that I don't have to endure the hardships that come with being a theist.

Once I shut down this computer for the day, I don't even think about it. Even while I'm here, most of what I do is HTML coding, English syntax, simple logic, history, philosophy, ethics, sociology, and politics. The only time I'm an atheist, really, is when I need to distinguish myself from theists.

Cliff Walker
Positive Atheism Magazine
Six years of service to
     people with no reason to believe

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