Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The Dictionary Atheist Baby


I looked at my cute little atheist baby
(With wonderful new-baby smell!)
And thought that she might be more accurate, maybe
With other descriptors as well
The privative “atheist”, so I’ve been told
Is a measure of what she is not;
It’s clearly the case, if I might be so bold,
There are more words describing the tot:

My baby is flightless; my babe is unwed;
She’s not blonde, for there isn’t a hair on her head;
She’s scale-less, of course, for as much as I’d wish
She has no hint of Mermaid, or tidbit of fish;
She’s hatless, for now, till I give her a hat,
And cloudless as well, though I’m glad about that;
She’s treeless, which helps her to fit in her cot,
And windowless—windows, again, she has not.

She has plenty of cute—I shall not call her cuteless—
And she’s sweeter than Mom’s Apple Pie;
But listing her negatives clearly is fruitless
When privatives do not apply.


In case the verse wasn't blatant enough... I come down on the side that babies are not "dictionary atheists", nor are trees, rocks, fish, clouds, or galaxies.  They are undefined with regard to religious terms.  (Ok, they are undefined in my view; some (but not all) religions claim membership from babies, and it is not relevant that the baby actively believe.  This baby is (culturally) orthodox, that one is muslim, even though they have not chosen this membership.  Other religions wait--the anabaptist tradition requires the active choice on the part of an individual to join the church; prior to that, you may be unsaved or perhaps "innocent".)

In my (privative) view, if there were no religious believers, there would of course be no atheists.  The label would have never been invented, and would have no meaning.  We are all, right now, aflargists, because none of us are flargists.  We are all amulxists, because none of us are mulxists.  I could make up dozens of undefined things we are not.  But I prefer it when words actually have meaning, and give useful information.  It makes no sense to call my baby flightless, although she is "dictionary flightless".  Since no babies are (I have asked them) active believers in any particular religion, it makes no sense at all to call them atheists.  It is simply a dimension which is undefined with regard to babies.


9 comments:

Johnny Vector said...

INFIDEL!!! I am a devout flargist. I perform the flargist ceremony at least once a week. (It involves beer.)

Luc Duval said...

I definitely support your argument that calling babies atheists is equally meaningless to calling them flightless. However, since calling them flightless is true by the definition of the word, calling them atheist would also [incredibly likely] be true.

Meaningless, pointless, purposeless, but true.

(Also, great poem, though it did seem to have some disquieting hints of flargism...)

girlofthegaps said...

I would say that at this point, the word atheism has come to mean something more than its dictionary definition. It implies having considered the possibility of gods. So while babies could be considered atheists by dictionary definition, they are certainly not atheists by social definition.

Weird Bug Lady said...

This is something I think often about. I may be vehement about my lack of belief, but I get annoyed at the name "atheist" because it implies that I need to be compared to religion, that belief in god is the norm, and that I must be defined at all. A baby may technically be an atheist just as he/she is flightless, but what's the point of using those terms?

This line of thinking extends to adults, too. As much as I agree with and support even the most "strident" atheists, the word itself makes me cringe because of all the connotations and implications that go along with it. When asked what I believe (religiously) I say "nothing".

jb said...

I prefer the term Awooist to the xtian slander atheist.

Cuttlefish said...

JV--fortunately, beer is not solely the property of flargists!

Luc--agreed; for me, true is a necessity, but true and meaningful beats the hell out of trivially true (and there is not a flimmer of flargism here, aside from Johnny Vector!)

GotG--I agree, and would go further to say there are many different definitions of atheism, even among prominent atheists (I've argued with a few). As in science, with multiple operational definitions of similar concepts, the important thing is to make the definitions known up front; some of the disagreements fall away that way (well, yes, by that definition), and the remainder can be explored for meaningful nuances.

WBL--agreed in principle, but not in practice. In practice, I don't mind the word "Atheist" at all, and use it to describe myself (when appropriate). When it is clear that someone else is using a strange definition, I cherish the opportunity to discuss the finer points of the definition, the history of the term, the variety of atheist experience. Basically, I consider it a "teachable moment".

jb--I can understand the attraction, but a good friend convinced me that that particular term was too broad a brush, combined with an unnecessary insult, and doesn't often help the situation. I don't always agree with him--context is everything--but I try to have a very long fuse before using "woo". (unless, of course, I am stuck for a rhyme.)

minusRusty said...

I see the internecine "definition of 'atheist'" holy war has started again on the intertubes. lol

Dozens and dozens of inketrons have again been sacrificed to the cause.

Yeah, "I was born an atheist" almost always gets me to virtually slap someone up side the head.

-Rusty

minusRusty said...

In practice, I don't mind the word "Atheist" at all, and use it to describe myself (when appropriate). When it is clear that someone else is using a strange definition, I cherish the opportunity to discuss the finer points of the definition, the history of the term, the variety of atheist experience. Basically, I consider it a "teachable moment".


Agreed. I don't shy away from the baggage "atheist" seems to have for some people; in fact, I think it sometimes provokes insightful reactions to the personality one might be talking to (especially face-to-face).

-Rusty

Medievalpacman said...

I agree so much with what you just said. Most people do not realize what religion is for and that is identity. It is just to identify yourself in comparison to other people.