Sunday, September 2, 2007
Should there be an atheist symbol? The advantages of a symbol allow for easy identification with a particular set of beliefs. It can establish a loose community, and potentially allow others to be more open. There are many atheists who feel like they are the only one, because openly discussing religion is taboo. For Christians, an easy identifier is a cross, or "Jesus Fish" as represented by the Greek letter "alpha." Atheists and Secularists have adopted the Jesus Fish, and made it their own, in different versions, prompting a "fish war" of sorts. Now you can find Darwin Fish with legs, an Evolve Fish holding a wrench, a Shark Fish which is eating a bunch of Jesus Fish, even a lutefisk fish. The Darwin Fish and the Flying Spaghetti Monster paraphernalia are the most popular tools of identification among atheists. Although, just because someone has a Darwin Fish, doesn't mean that he or she is an Atheist. He or she could be a Christian, who takes offense at Creationism. The Darwin Fish and FSM movements are funny, and poke fun at religion in general, and Christianity in particular. This seems to be the attitude of younger atheists. It's a problem with atheism at large as well. There is no cohesion. Atheists reject dogma, and will argue to the bitter end to defend their point of view. Because of that, the adoption of a symbol is difficult. Atheism is not a religion. Atheism is without god. How can you have a set of ethics and morals which stem from that? There are other movements, like the secular humanism movement, which establish a framework of ethics and morals.
Back to symbols. The Out Campaign is gaining steam off the back of Richard Dawkins. It advocates the outing of yourself as an Atheist, reaching out to the larger Atheist community, breaking down stereotypes about Atheists, and making it more acceptable to be Atheist. The campaign also seeks to keep the supernatural out of public policy and moral principles. Their symbol is the 'A' depicted as a Scarlet Letter. It's less direct, and more serious then a Darwin Fish, but isn't easily recognizable to others who aren't aware of the campaign already. "What's the deal with the big 'A'?," some people may ask. The campaign does make some assertions, like Atheists are good people, and good friends. If this were a Christian group claiming that Christians are good people, and good friends, then Atheists would jump all over them, for their broad generalization that someone's belief in a set of dogma and superstition make them good or bad. By that same example, Atheists are not good by virtue of their disbelief in a god. Christians do terrible things all the time, and so do Atheists. We shouldn't attempt to become hypocritical by asserting that Atheism makes you good. Although Atheists are probably not as bad as other think we are. But, here I am, skeptically nit picking at an honestly good attempt to allow more people to feel less oppressed and less intimidated by religion.
Should Atheist say anything about you as a person? Isn't that prejudice, whether good or bad? As an Atheist, you could be a miser locked away in your basement reading Ayn Rand, wanting nothing to do with anyone. You could also be someone who attends meetings with other Atheist groups in an attempt to emulate the experience of growing up in a religious environment. You may just not care about religion at all, don't like going to meetings, but like wearing witty t-shirts with the Flying Spaghetti Monster on them. You may care deeply about politics, and find it is your civic duty to challenge policy makers who make ethical decisions which you find are not based on evidence or scientific study, but on religious belief, for example stem cell research, or gay marriage. Then again, you may be Atheist, but will heavily study world religions, and enjoy hearing others experiences; Respectfully disagreeing on methods, or means to reach ethical decisions, but agreeing with results, where appropriate. There is much diversity in Atheist practice, because there are no rules. This becomes even broader when you include Agnostics, Secular Humanists, and Skeptics. And that's even leaving out Unitarian Universalists. Which such a great diversity, how can one symbol encompass them all?
American Atheists has a symbol to identify their group, and I have seen that displayed as jewelry and even tattoos. But, that is identification with one group. The Jesus Fish is applicable as an identifier to any Christian, not just a member of a particular denomination. Minnesota Atheists has a logo as well. Jeannette likes the American Humanists design, even considering getting a tattoo of that. How do you represent simply, a lack of belief in something? Any ideas? How about an amoeba, representing a unified origin? It could symbolize a unification of people, with similar origin, that we are all born Atheist, and anything else that represents us after that point is secondary to the origin, whether that be a religion, a Twins fan, or an Apple devotee.