Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content at the RNS Archives website.

(RNS) Christians have their crosses and crucifixes, Jews their Stars of David and Buddhists their lotuses. Atheists ask, why shouldn't they and other nonbelievers have their own symbols as well? By Kimberly Winston.

28 Comments

  1. exactly nothing…..

    and they seem to be made and the rest of us who acknowledge that we are in fact, blessedly, NOT ALONE!

  2. Irony of ironies.
    OK, I suppose it is somewhat cute to take the symbol of Hester Prynne’s unfaithfulness as a symbol of one’s own lack of faith; though perhaps there is some irony there as well (while the Scarlet Letter may indicate the level of intolerance of her society, it never ceases to signify her own moral failing as well). It also strikes me as somewhat ironic that an atheist would feel the need for symbolic connection to a reality larger than themselves–perhaps their atheism is not complete? It continues to strike me as odd that someone would positively identify themselves by what they don’t believe in. I would suppose there are an infinite number of things I don’t believe in, but I think I would always tend to identify myself more by reference to things I do believe in (souls, degrees of Being, human rights, matter, hope, a progressive income tax, and Hobbits among them).

  3. @anselm: Finding tribes you belong to is as old an instinct as life itself. The fact that they identify by their non-belief is a direct result of how prevalent religion is. In a religious society, non-religious people are a group that is, in many ways, very different from the average person, whether they want to be or not.

    What’s more, there are clear goals that unite most atheists. For example, most atheists would agree that it is bad when fundamental Christians try to remove evolution from schools. Boom, suddenly atheists have a common cause, and thus a reason to work together, to develop an identity as a group.

    So it’s not at all odd that people would identify as atheists.

  4. I don’t like this particular symbol only because a lot ow women wear initial pendants, and A is, of course, an initial, and coincidentally, not mine. I’d prefer something more generic.

  5. I display the Scarlett A, but it is not for myself. Believe me, the way I get treated by some who know I am an atheist would make your skin crawl. But I make the sacrifice for the sake of others, and I think this is what most non-theists who display their atheism purpose is:
    To provide solidarity and support for other non-theists or those who doubt. Too many people – especially kids – are not permitted to choose their faith openly and need support outside what may be an oppressively religious family.

  6. “It also strikes me as somewhat ironic that an atheist would feel the need for symbolic connection to a reality larger than themselves—perhaps their atheism is not complete?”

    Why is this misunderstanding so common among believers? It is apparently assumed that if one doesn’t believe in a supernatural creator then they think they are the center of the universe? Quite the contrary, a nonbeliever typically sees themselves much more humbly. Since most believers think that God made them special and made the entire universe especially for them, they must be the next in line of importance if there is no God. Atheists don’t see it that way, and they don’t see those beliefs as humble in any sense of the word.

  7. No doubt a number of atheists will read this column, so I’d be curious to learn an atheist’s response to the well-known “Pascal’s Wager”. I would hope that any comments would be thoughtful and well-reassoned, as I would assume that thoughtful atheists have given as much thought to the question about the existence of God and the next life as did Blaise Pascal. If they haven’t, perhaps they should.

  8. To Marina

    Apparently Pascal assumed that the only two possibilities were the Christian God and nothing, but the possibilities, as far as we know, are unlimited. There could be a god who punishes people who fail to use their reason to examine the world, and rewards those who do. Who knows?

  9. Atheism is hinduism, denial of truth absolute, based on hindu Judaism, pagan self center ism or secular ism, No one can be a Atheist in his right mind, because their is no escape from truth absolute 360*. To learn more visit limitisthetruth,com and click on word Choice on website to open file.

  10. Pascal’s Wage is inherently flawed, as it can only be approached from a position of dishonesty. Better and more moral is Occam’s razor, which assumes that the simplest explanation is the best one. Appeals to faith are inherently deceptive and are usually used for simple money and power. If your deity exists, then let him or her manifest, speak with us, and present objective, reproducible evidence. Until then, the facts are that scriptures are political and ideological tracts, written by men for men’s purposes. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pascal’s_wager#Objections

    I raise your Pascal’s Wage with The Problem Of Evil – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_problem_of_evil. I have a very hard time believing in a deity who refuses to obey his own laws that he sets for his followers, as happens in scripture time and again.

  11. No amount of argument, rationales, or intellectual contortions, can mke a theist from an atheist. I am reminded of Simone Weil who was attending Pascha services at a Benedictine monastery. She came to understand that God was not a Platonic universal, but a Person. No amount of “explanation” can speak for what must be passed over in silence.(yes–Wittgenstein).

  12. “A Thoughtful, Honest, Ethical, Intelligent, Skeptical Thinker.”

    I don’t understand the point here. If the woman is truly an atheist, then she is nothing more than a meaningless random event in a meaningless universe. It makes no difference whether she is thoughtful or thoughtless, honest or dishonest, ethical or unethical, intelligent or stupid, skeptical or gullible. Of what is she proud? “Pride” is only a chemical reaction in her brain. In a few years, she will die and turn to dirt. So what?

  13. “So what?” Exactly, Tom. So what if people scream bible verses at women entering Planned Parenthood? So what if people are killed over the unfavorable depiction of their religion’s founder? So what if she chooses to display to the world that she opposes all that?

  14. I never understand the (smarmy) comments about how if you don’t believe in some deity your life is meaningless. My life has meaning BECAUSE I know there’s nothing after. I know I was nothing but atoms before I was born and I’ll be nothing after but atoms. What I do here and now has meaning, including proudly wearing Surly art so people know at a glance where I stand. I don’t live alone in a cave so honesty, thoughtfulness, ethics, intelligence and skepticism are important, just as they are to anyone else.

  15. “If the woman is truly an atheist, then she is nothing more than a meaningless random event”

    In other words, if you don’t believe in my god, then you must be meaningless and valueless. More of that gentle humility….

  16. Pascal had no idea what it means to be Atheist. I have never felt like Atheism was a choice for me, so I would not be able to accept his wager even if I wanted to do so. A person’s true beliefs are not very malleable.

    No matter how hard I might try, I will likely never be able to genuinely believe in unicorns until I encounter one. My ability to reason prevents me from living in a fantasy.

    Unfortunately, many Atheists are ostracized for their lack of belief in deities. Personally, I don’t feel a need to don a red “A”, but I certainly would support anyone who wishes to do so. It’s nice to be reminded that there are other people who accept you for who you are, and don’t feel like they need to change you.

  17. In addition to a fashion statement, atheists need a support group? Of course, a club house will be needed. And a big book of rules. These atheists’ emotional need for intellectual superiority is no different from those who are religiously inclined.

  18. Atheists would be cool if they did not have to put down non atheists. This demonstates a lack in their own belief. If you know who you are and what you believe you don’t have to change anyone else to legitamatize what you believe in. I call it self actualization. So to todays atheist a non atheist is an infidel. You might as well be muslim.

  19. Most atheists do not have a problem with religion itself. Most atheists take a live let live approach to the beliefs of others.

    It is when Christians demand preferential status in our secular state, try to force people to live by their moral code, aggressively evangelize people, or demand theology be taught as science that atheists push back.

    Bruce Gerencser
    brucegerencser.net

  20. ” If the woman is truly an atheist, then she is nothing more than a meaningless random event in a meaningless universe.”
    Every so often, I have a moment where I think, “Billions of years ago, there was an event that we don’t fully understand, but it brought into existence the entire universe – billions upon billions of galaxies, each one filled with stars made of boiling metal and hydrogen, and some of them orbited by planets ranging from chunks of rock and ice to vast gas giants. On some of those planets, chemicals mixed and mated and eventually out crawled something, going from inanimate atoms and molecules to things that think and feel and sing and philosophize and have Internet debates. And this is just the stuff we know about! WHOA.”
    Maybe it’s meaningless, but it sure is cool.

  21. Jesus states in His Word, the Holy Scriptures, to “prove Him”. Because He is both God and Omniscient, Omnipotent, and Omnipresent, He already knows each of you very well, even “..before you were in your mother’s womb.” and as you read this. He’s not surprised by the hardness of your heart, the rebellion to Him as your Creator, the confusion by which you are deceived and ‘spiritually blinded by Lucifer/satan’, all of which “is not from God.”

    He knows everything you’ve ever done, said, thought, hoped for. His angels have collected every tear, if you have ever cried. Every hair on your heads are numbered because there was a blueprint for each of you when you were created by the ONLY God who loves you, who wants you to know Him, who died in your place so that you might come to believe it/ seek to know such a godly love as His..tangibly, authentically,
    sincerely, fully, completely, and thereby reach out to invite Him into your heart. “Ask and you shall receive. Seek and you shall find. Knock and it shall be opened to you.”

    There is no other god who has done this, is available to you the minute you take a sincere voluntary step towards Him, and who will never abandon or forsake you if you mean it. He has already paid for your sins with His life, because He loves you and me that much. He even loves us enough to let us go our own way and suffer the consequences He tries to help us avoid.

    Only He can bring you “the Peace that passes all understanding.” which every human longs and aches for in their soul [their deepest emotions]. Only He is the Prince of Peace who came not to judge but to save those who are lost, confused, longing to know Him personally in a supernatural, even hypernatural and the BEST way.

    Holy Scripture states that He is so large that He can hold the waters of the earth in His hand; that the clouds of the earth are like sand unto His feet, yet He can do all things, any thing He needs to do at any given moment. Only He can read minds and hearts.
    He will not force Himself upon any human, but gave each one ‘free will’, the ultimate freedom to choose to accept or to deny that He is who He says He is, has done what He had mankind to write in His Holy Scriptures, is doing what He said, and shall keep His promises to do exactly every single thing He said over 2,000 yrs. ago.

    He is not a ‘religion’, nor can He be compared to any other so-called ‘god’, idol, or designing philosophy. As Creator, He has always been, is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. He is worth knowing, trusting, believing, and loving in return. THIS is the personal relationship He desires with you.

    I hope this helps to give you His first gift of hope that what I write is true and available to
    anyone who sincerely needs/ wants/ and thereby does not give up until they “know that they know” even if they cannot explain it fully.

    God bless and help you.
    Gossimerfeathers

  22. this whole debate on the comments makes me sad. People should not be lashing out at each other. My sister and best friend are atheists, but I am a follower of Christ Jesus. I do not think that because my sister or friend do not believe what I do, that they are meaningless or worthless. They are good people according to human moral standards. they raise their children with good values and kindness. (maybe atheists should call themselves “moralists” to bypass some of the hate) The problem with many Christians is that they want to be judge and jury when they should be giving it up to God to soften the hearts of those who do not believe what they cannot see with their own eyes. We are to pray for those who we believe to be sinners and let God do His work because we too are sinners. There is not a single person, Christian or otherwise in this world that is perfect and that is why the Christian needs Jesus, and that is why when we feel we are beginning to be closer to righteousness, that we need to look back at the Pharisees and see how Jesus rebuked them. we are saved by our faith and the grace of God alone and not by good works lest anyone should boast! Instead of making the atheist feel like an outcast, we should love them and pray for them just as we would anyone else we encounter. If we see the “scarlet letter” of the atheist, we should stop and pray, or just show them the same love that Jesus showed to his people or better yet, both. So often we forget that the most important commandment that we were given by Christ was to love one another.

  23. I am an Atheist.

    I am kind, honest and have a deep respect for all life. I choose to be who I am, not because of a promised reward or threat of punishment, but because it is logical to me that kindness leads to happiness and I want my family, my friends and myself to be happy. The majority of Atheists I know share my values and I am proud to be associated to both my fellow free thinkers and a logical view point. This is why I would be proud to wear a symbolic pendant as shown above.

    I have no desire to inflict my lack of religion on anyone. This is due to my ability to empathise and understand the importance and place of both rational thought and religious freedom. This being said, I do have a strong desire to promote logic and reason.

    Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Spiritism, Sikhism, Shinto, African Anglicanism, Chinese traditional religion, Rastafarian Movement, Cao Dai, Animists, Unitarian Universalism, Juche, Baha’i, Jainism, Zoroastrianism, Neo-Paganism, Tenrikyo…

    All religions that for the most part share two fundamental elements:

    1) Individually, each belief system is a minority yet each has the right god, everyone else is wrong.

    2) All based on reliance in faith over evidence.

    Any rational person whom considers these two basic facts must surely come to the conclusion that there is a possibility they are wrong. We are all free to believe yet without indisputable evidence, nobody can know as a fact.

    People who can embrace the possibility that they could actually be in the wrong are far less likely to either take extreme actions or deny another person’s beliefs.

    To quote Stephen Roberts “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours”