Affirmative Atheism

by Luke Muehlhauser on March 21, 2010 in General Atheism

billboard are you good without god

I’ve said before that I’m 95% a Sympathetic Atheist. Now, John Wilkins proposes another label that seems to fit me:

There is a lot of noise made about “New” Atheists, “militant” atheists, “fundamentalist” atheists and “angry” atheists. All of these are, in my agnostic opinion, prejudicial and false. Atheism as being proposed in the media is neither new, nor militant, definitely not fundamentalist and [generally] not at all angry… so, we need a term for them that is both descriptive and true.

…I want to suggest a term: Affirmative atheism. Atheists need to be able to affirm their right to exist, partake in civil society, and so forth without being prejudicially treated…

I think this is a great term. As Wilkins says, the atheism being shown in the media today is certainly not new, it is not militant (in the sense of being violent), it is not fundamentalist, and is not angry (though perhaps frustrated, at times).

‘Affirmative atheism’ is a better label for prominent atheists and what they are doing: people like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, P.Z. Myers, Daniel Dennett, and so on. Sure, these writers make their case against theism. If they didn’t have reasons for their nonbelief, then they wouldn’t be nonbelievers! But just as important, these atheist leaders are affirming their right to share their views, their right to criticize other views, their right to engage civil society, the right to be treated as patriots, and their right to not be treated prejudicially any longer.

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

Bryce March 21, 2010 at 9:54 am

You’ve gotta be kidding about including PZ Myers in that group…


Erika March 21, 2010 at 10:01 am

I like it!


Scott March 21, 2010 at 12:11 pm

“Sympathetic” sounded too touchy-feely. “Affirmative” has just the right amount of positive spin while still maintaining the idea that we won’t go gently. Not nearly as combativeness as “militant” or “fundamentalist”, both of which are generally misnomers, anyway. Me likey.


g March 21, 2010 at 3:03 pm

There’s one thing I don’t like about the “affirmative atheism” label: there’s (what seems to me to be) an obvious meaning for it that isn’t the one being proposed. Specifically: every now and then controvery flares up about whether “atheist” should mean “person who believes that there are no gods” or “person who doesn’t positively believe in any gods”; if asked to guess at the meaning for “affirmative atheist” I’d have guessed it meant the first of those (the latter perhaps being “negative atheist” or something).

Other than that, it’s not bad.


Sabio Lantz March 21, 2010 at 3:12 pm

“Affirmative” is a political civil right statement.
“Sympathetic” is a flag of compassion acknowledging common human foibles and aspirations.

By his definition, “Affirmative” can also be used for:

Affirmative African-American
Affirmative Women
Affirmative Hispanic
Affirmative Muslim-American

all should be applying for this title.

Wait, in the USA we have a Bill of Rights, maybe we should just support that !


Zeb March 21, 2010 at 4:25 pm

Dawkins and Hitchens do much more than make their case against theism, they declare all religion to be an unmitigated evil that needs to be stamped out, and all believers to be either evil or unwitting accomplices to evil. If militant means violent, then they are are not militant, but they are at least combative. They are to religion as Pat Roberston is to secularism. And Dawkins and Dennet at least seem to be fundamentalists of naturalism, in that they accept only arguments from empirical evidence and deny the possibility of truth from any other source. It might not be a bad thing to be a fundamentalist of the right sort, but in this case I think the shoe fits.

In fact, given Hitchens’ hawkishness and frequent references against the religions of the people he wants somebody besides himself to attack, I’d say militant might be just the right word for him.


TaiChi March 21, 2010 at 4:41 pm

I like the term, but I’m just not sure I see the point of it. Yes, it’s descriptive and true. But those who use terms like “militant atheist” and “fundamentalist atheist” presumably think their terms are descriptive and true, or worse, they do not care that they are not descriptive and true (i.e. the media). So what use will a new term be?


Erp March 21, 2010 at 6:44 pm

Personally I like assertive atheist.


william dale July 22, 2010 at 8:14 am

You guys. Give it a rest. Look at the big picture. No matter what you use as an adjective to call atheism, its
still atheism. Its a religious slur people!! So is infidel, the unwashed, non-believer, the lost, the demonic … (all negative religious slurs). Why would anyone adopt a religious slur as a banner?? Atheists MUST, I’ll repeat, MUST drop a moniker presented to them by religious movements. They gave us this slur to keep us in our place!! People don’t rally around what they don’t
believe in …. they rally around WHAT they believe in.
If I told you that you were an IDIOT …. would you use it
as a banner to describe yourself?? The name has to be completely separate from any religious conotation and has to encompass the beliefs of ALL TYPES of secular beliefs world-wide. From this, a true symbol representing us will appear. I have found that symbol. It is over 3,000 years old ….. and IT WORKS. Give me time to launch this in 2010. You’ll see what I mean. I think the 4 Horsemen will be pleased enough to drop the term atheism. Then the world secular movement can really commence. william dale


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