A person who is not religious, but doesn’t identify as such, or care either way.
Apathetic and Atheist
I have come to realise that the world is full of apatheists, or people who, whilst not religious, don’t, identify themselves as atheists, even though legitimately they are atheists or at least agnostics. Many of these people actually identify themselves with some religion or other, but never attend their church or indulge in any religious ceremonies. When pushed the best they come up with is “there might be a god” and/or “I was bought up a (insert denomination here)”. I’ve met people who have said that they are an atheist, but don’t want to identify as such, who usually just indicate they aren’t religious when asked, or who say they are just not interested.
In some ways I can identify with the last type of person. Until recently my twitter handle was OzAtheist, but as you would have noticed, it’s now OzAz. This came about by meeting twitter people IRL, and trying to explain that whilst I’m an atheist it’s not what I’m all about. Like most people I have many and varied interests, atheism and discussing religion is just one of them. I still have no problem identifying as such if asked, or if it comes up in conversation, but I was finding it increasingly odd and somewhat disconcerting to meet knew people and to be identified as an atheist first and foremost. It would be a bit like meeting someone for the first time and saying to them “nice to meet you Fred the Catholic” it just doesn’t really make sense.
As Richard Dawkins discussed in his book, quite rightly, children should not be identified as Catholic children or Muslim children. Conversely, should children be identified as Atheist children or Agnostic children?
So herein lies the problem, religious people get all sorts of considerations partly because it appears that there are so many of them. Whereas I am of the firm belief that there is no where near as many religious people as everyone thinks. The numerous apatheists, including those that state they are a certain religion but only because that was what they were brought up as, inflate the supposed number of religious people. The numerous apatheists create an atmosphere wherein people think they have to bow to religious influence because there are so many of them, and that they can get away with it because there is such small opposition.
So what’s to be done about this, even a strong atheist like myself doesn’t always want to be explicit in their ‘religious’ leanings. Whilst my car has a Richard Dawkins Out Campaign A sticker on it, and I occasionally wear my A lapel pin, I’m not prone to introduce myself as being an atheist. Also there are occasions where I have not spoken up when someone is spruiking religious nonsense (mainly in a mixed social situation where I thought it would cause too much discord). So how can we expect the “rank and file” apatheist to admit they are actually atheists and be prepared to state that and speak out against religion?
How can we get the apatheists to realise the importance of stating they are non-believers? To go that one step further and become an actual atheist?
I still believe there is a stigma attached to the term “atheist”, and that for some it seems like a commitment to state they are an atheist. A commitment they are not prepared to make. People have said to me they are not religious and don’t really believe in god, but don’t consider themselves an atheist. I know that some consider stating you are an atheist is akin to having to be outspoken towards theists. How can we overcome these concepts?
I seriously think things like the atheist bus campaign are a good way to let people know that they aren’t alone and there’s lots of other atheists out there. That it’s OK to admit to being an atheist. But it can sometimes be a two edged sword, in that some apatheists see this as ‘those noisy atheists, I don’t want to be associated with them, I just want to be me’.
It’s thanks to Sean that I started writing this today, as I had to re-think the reason I blog. I gave Sean many reasons why I do (he may perhaps post them on his blog) but in doing so realised I have become a bit of an apatheist myself of late.
So maybe, just maybe, my reason to blog should be to convert all the apatheists to atheists.
BUT, how do I, and the hundreds of other atheist bloggers, get the apatheists to read our blogs? How do we get the message out there that there are hundreds of people discussing the problems with religion, that there are valid reasons we should declare ourselves as atheists (even if we don’t like that particular word)?
The upcoming Atheist Convention in Melbourne in March 2010 could be a great way to raise the awareness of atheism and why it’s important. I’d like to see the question of apatheism raised during the convention, I’d like to find out others thoughts on the matter, and ways it could be solved.
[Feel free to leave comments here on how you think some of the problems I’ve raised could be addressed. Perhaps I may be able to raise people’s concerns or ideas at the convention if you aren’t able to attend?]
Until people, particularly the governments that run our countries, realise that religion may not have such a stranglehold on ‘the numbers’ as they think, then nothing much will change. No government is going to have the ‘balls’ to stop the enormous tax breaks that churches get until they think the majority (or at least a very large minority) of their constituents agree with them. For instance, no government is going to accept euthanasia whilst religious groups are so vehemently opposed to it. (example: in Australia several polls have indicated up to 85% of the population agree with euthanasia but because of the outspoken religious lobby the one Territory that legalised euthanasia was overruled by the federal government.) Religions have had two thousand years to organise themselves and despite their many differences will band together to fight for their ‘rights’. Despite their ‘rights’ not necessarily being what the majority of the populace actually wants.
There needs to be lobby groups that oppose some of the religious lobbyists but until more apatheists join the rest of us atheists, we won’t seem as big a group as we actually are, which makes lobbying that much more difficult.
Another problem that many apatheists have is they don’t regard religion as a problem. Despite people blowing themselves up, and killing innocent bystanders, in the name of religion, it is still seen as “mostly harmless” (apologies to Douglas Adams). People seem to have a blinkered view that religions are generally useful and provide worthy services. But they are wrong. [I’m not going to get into any depth on this subject here.]
So any apatheists who stumble upon this blog, have a think about it. Are you happy to have your life ruled by religious groups? Are you happy that your tax dollars are going towards promoting religion? Are you happy that science has been stifled by religion? Have you really considered the negative impacts religion has on society as a whole? Then maybe you should reconsider and take a stance and become an atheist.