In the comments of one of my recent posts Marco once again tries to extend the meaning of atheism to somewhere out beyond Stalin. Apparently, when I insist that the dictionary definition of atheism really is all there is to it, then this is a ‘copout’. I presume it is a cop-out because if the definition is allowed to be extended to whatever Marco wants, then dictators who put the smack down on religion are easily explained away as atheists therefore evil. The other reason is that Marco doesn’t like the definition of atheism I use because has a disbelief in God but doesn’t identify with ideas that are encapsulated by the correlated views.
To the first point, I understand that it’s an easy line to draw between atheism and anti-religious behaviour, but it is a false one. Yes, they may often go hand in hand, but to say that this dictator burned down these churches for the purposes of replacing them with no god is not what atheism is about. As I’ve responded several times with the example of vegetarianism, you can’t blame the ~ism for the bad done in it’s name when the ~ism never supported those beliefs to begin with. There is nothing in atheism which says to do these actions. Nothing. Dictators need to control power, and religion is a powerful social tool that they cannot easily control. Often it gives hope and sometimes it criticizes those who abuse power, so it is no coincidence that anti-religious activity follows dictatorships.
And dictators don’t crack down on only religion, but also on other ways that dissent could fester. Often there are laws baring freedom to assemble or curfews, but nobody ever says that these are the fault of ochlophobia or nyctophobia. That’s not just because few people know the names of these phobias, but also because the connection is not encompassed by their meaning.
Marco, to finish this point I’ll turn your implication about cop-out on its head to explain it to you another way. Just as atheism can’t be blamed for the bad one does, it also can’t be praised for the good one does. I’ve read several atheists talk about how coming to realize there is no proof of god or an afterlife focused them on the here and now, and how they resolved to be better people and to spread happiness because they only had one life to live. A wonderful realization no doubt, but doing good to others and carpe diem have nothing to do with atheism. Atheism is what it is – a disbelief in god or gods.
As to your complaint about not self-identifying with the meaning. Unfortunately, that’s not the fault of atheism, but that is no reason for the rest of us to buy into your definition. If you don’t like the meaning of the word to explain you, I suggest you don’t use it. But if someone says you must be an atheist because you don’t believe in god, and you correct them, then be prepared to field the questions as to why the shoe which fits is not worn. If you don’t eat meat, then you are a vegetarian even if you refuse the term. Likewise, if you don’t believe in god then you are an atheist. These two words have clear demarcation in the meanings – don’t do this particular thing and you are this – which make them easy to understand and obvious when to use.
You have also labelled yourself as agnostic not long ago, and I’ve even a memory of you saying that you’re possibly like a theist, so I’m either confused about something, your own ideas are evolving, you’re uncomfortable with labels, etc. It could be that we don’t have a word for what idea space you inhabit in respect to god, but if that’s the case it would be better to invent a word and definition for it, followed by a website and trademark, than to bend a well-established word into your own definition.
In finishing I’ll look at an example from this very week when corporate shills tried to extend the meaning of a word, and ending up creating a PR storm and backlash because of the confusion. In this post Darrell Gallagher of Crystal Dynamics who is the developer behind the upcoming Rise of the Tomb Raider said:
As you may have seen, we’ve just announced that Rise of the Tomb Raider, coming Holiday 2015, is exclusively on Xbox. We consider all of you to be the lifeblood of Tomb Raider and the work we do at Crystal. I’d like to give you some insight into this decision, and why we feel this is the very best thing for the Tomb Raider sequel we’re creating at the studio.
This doesn’t mean that we’re walking away from our fans who only play on PlayStation or on PC. Those are great systems, with great partners, and amazing communities. We have Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris coming to those platforms this December, and Tomb Raider: The Definitive Edition is available on PS4.
Tomb Raider is a franchise with a long history in gaming, and with last year’s reboot reinvigorating the franchise the announcement that the next game was to be “exclusively” on Microsoft consoles was pretty big news. PC and Playstation gamers rioted and tech pundits scratched their heads. It seemed marketing madness to alienate most of your loyal customers, and business foolishness to release on the platform with the lowest install.
24 hours later it turns out that “exclusively” doesn’t mean “only” but actually “for a limited time only”. These cases should be called “timed exclusives”, and MS is famous for them. Deep pockets and few development studios of their own mean that MS’s policy is often to pay big bucks to have games released on XBox first, and then (usually 3 to 6 months) later on the other platforms. But in telling PS and PC gamers not to worry because two other upcoming TR games would still be available on those platform, in this case the announcement was clearly intended to appear as ‘only’ on XBox. But now that the cat is out of the bag the reticence with how MS answers questions about how long this exclusivity will last suggests that MS and Crystal Dynamics were in cahoots about the misdirection. Another XBone announcement, another PR gaff for MS.
But to return to my point – play loose with the meanings of words at your peril.