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Parsing Atheism

When we talk about atheism, we are talking about a lack of belief in a god or gods. But not all atheists are the same. Duh, right. Not all Christians are the same, so why would anyone expect all atheists to be the same. All the term “atheism” tells you about someone is that they lack a belief in a god or gods. It doesn’t tell you why we lack a belief or how much we have considered the possibility.

Some atheists were raised religious and have rejected the deity of their former faith. Some atheists were never religious in the first place. There might even be some person somewhere who might not have ever heard of this whole God concept thing.

Atheism also doesn’t tell anyone the degree to which we lack belief. Is the concept something that is worth considering or is it so laughably absurd that it is rejected out of hand? This is where people start throwing around the word, “agnostic.” But that is a different issue entirely.

My issue is when we parse our lack of belief with terms like weak, strong, hard, or soft. I understand what people are saying when they use these terms, but we don’t use these terms for anything other than a lack of belief in deities.

Are you a weak aunicornist? Or are you making a claim that you KNOW with absolute dogmatic certainty that unicorns don’t exist? Religious believers have set us up for a trap and we keep falling into it. For atheists, god is no different than unicorns. We are perfectly comfortable telling people that unicorns aren’t real without parsing our words with levels of certainty about this claim. It doesn’t take more faith not to believe in unicorns than to believe in unicorns and we should have to make excuses about how we are open to the possibility that unicorns exist. Of course we are open to that possibility, just not that probability. We are scientific minded people and that means that we are always open to possibilities given strong compelling evidence. But we still don’t go around telling people that we only weakly don’t believe in unicorns.

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