During my short time as an assistant stage manager for the Savannah College of Art and Design's production of "Fahrenheit 451" I had the pleasure of working with many very talented people (Many who would, on very often an occasion through the production process, not have been recognized as such. But I digress). One of these very talented professionals was a vocal coach. She was explaining to a misguided actor or two one day during rehearsal, that every word means something. I believe she used the word "welcome" to illustrate her point.
"Think about the word welcome," she said, "split it up into two words. 'Well' and 'Come'. So when you say the word welcome you need to think about why you're saying that word. You need to think about what it really truly means to say welcome. When you can know what you're saying and why you're saying IT rather than something else you'll have reached a much higher level of intelligence, an intelligence which will translate to your audience." I am paraphrasing of course and I'm sure she said it more eloquently. This struck me instantly, I imagine much the same way a christian is struck with the sudden "truth" of Jesus; Every word has a meaning. As someone who speaks the english language daily this still came as some sort of enormously profound revelation. I realized that I in fact don't think about the things that I say or why I say them instead of others when others could be much more appropriate.
After this epiphany I started analyzing EVERYTHING. It occurred to me through this observation that we live largely in a world, not of definition, but of connotation. This began to alarm me when I looked at one word in particular. The word you've probably been waiting for me to write. Atheism.
When people says this word they say it in distain. They say it as if the people who prescribe to this word are inherently evil; It's become, by incredibly unjust means, the devils word. I must confess that I myself was one of those people up until a couple months ago and even when I accepted myself as an atheist the word still held a certain unfavorable pungency to it. Until, that is, I looked at what it actually meant.
To understand the word Atheist you have to understand the prefix 'A' (not) and the word 'Theism' (The belief in a deity that intervenes in human affairs; not to be confused, as it so often is, with deism) once you see that and you understand the word it becomes evident that nowhere in its meaning does it warrant the statement that atheists are evil, immoral people. (nowhere either does it suggest that Atheism is some sort of dogmatic alternative to religion; a misidentification that would be nice to once and for all dispel). Atheists then are simply people that do not believe in a god or gods. This in no way makes them less moral than a christian or inherently capable of doing more evil than a muslim (In fact I myself would have to emphatically state the opposite, especially in regards to the latter).
It's really very sad that because this word has been taken and distorted, mutilated and discriminated against that atheists are afraid to come out of the proverbial closet and definitively label themselves to state what they believe. I feel that this is turning into an, at the present mild, form of the homosexual civil rights movement. Well guess what ladies and gentlemen this ignorant society needs to be set straight and educated on what we are as atheists and more importantly WHO we are. I feel an "and I'm an Atheist" campaign brewing.
Many people, including Richard Dawkins who I regard as a hero and inspiration, have suggested that we, the atheists, should start calling ourselves something different in order to do away with the nasty prejudices that come with the word atheist. I believe Dawkins suggested the title 'brights' as his nominee for the alternative, and as much as I admire him I have to disagree with Dawkins on this point. It seems to me that changing our title would only be letting ignorance and its people win. Atheist is what I am. It concisely summarizes what I believe, or rather, what I don't believe. It says nothing about who I am as a person. I have to insist emphatically that Atheists keep this word and use it as it was meant to be used. If we do let that title go we are in every respect giving into ignorance, which is the very thing that atheists fight against.
I think it must be said as well that even if we call ourselves by another name It does not in any way change the thoughts and prejudices of people on what we believe. It's sort of like changing creationism into intelligent design while we haven't tried to change anything at all. As long as people still have the undying passion to make me believe in their god this will continue. They will label us as evil, morally wrong and at the very least less than themselves.
Instead of giving in why don't we fight? Fight against the long held ignorance of this word. Wear the word atheist as a badge of honor. Give people role models like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Hawking that aren't afraid to come out and say they're atheists. The more and more publicly declared atheists we have the less and less the religious can force their connotations down ignorant throats. People can then emerge from this idiotic irrational dark age closet formed by bigotry and prejudice into a newer brighter truer world that values people for who they are and what they contribute to society rather than what they believe. In the mean time I have no problem telling you and all of the rest of the world: I am an Atheist and I am proud.