Don’t worry, I haven’t found god and I haven’t become religious.
I was watching TV and a Rick Perry presidential campaign video came on with him talking about how something was wrong with America because gays could openly serve in the military but children couldn’t openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school. Aside from instantly knowing that I would not vote for Rick Perry, I realized that America is on the right track when personal liberties are on the rise and religious dogma is on the decline.
But as I began to think about it more it caused me to reflect on my own religious mores, or absence thereof.
First off, there are a few things I don’t like about the term atheist. According to Dictionary.com an atheist is:
a person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being or beings.
It isn’t just one who doesn’t have a religious belief, it connotes a lack or denial of belief. As if belief were the norm and an atheist is defined by his resistance to that belief.
This doesn’t describe me or the way I am at all. I don’t go around actively resisting religion or forcefully denying that a god has influenced the events of my life and defining myself by what I am not.
The Marked Case
In linguistics there is a concept called “markedness.” Essentially it means that there is a hierarchy of specificity in the meaning of words or grammatical structures, and that the more specific the meaning the more “marked” it is.
For example, in English we have a word “hot” that can mean that this thing I’m touching feels hot (the pan is hot), the air conditions I’m in are hot (it’s hot outside today or it’s hot in this room), or this food is hot (spicy). If we wanted to we could say a few extra words and clarify our meaning more specificly, but it’s normal and natural just to use the word “hot” to describe all of these situations.
In the Korean language this is not the case. A different word must be used in each of these situations to sound natural. A generic word like “hot” that can be used for all of these situations simply does not exist. In comparing Korean and English we would say that 3 Korean words for different kinds of hot are more “marked” than the the catch-all English word “hot.”
It’s completely alien for English speaking learners of Korean to have to use three different words for “hot.” In Korea you hear American’s telling confused Koreans that food is “hot to the touch” when they mean it is spicy. It’s also completely alien for Korean learners of English to have to lump their three seemingly unrelated words into a single concept. Koreans almost exclusively use the word “spicy” where in most cases we would simply say the food was “hot.”
Whenever I run into someone who talks about how religious they are or how they owe it to god for some event that has happened in their life it is so alien to my experience of the world that I feel like I am talking to a Martian. I don’t think of myself as the “atheist” different one, I think of them as the different “theist” one.
From my perspective the way I am is normal and natural, and adding extra beliefs and labeling oneself a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew is the marked case–not the other way around. Being associated with a particular religious sect and believing in a particular supreme being is a completely alien modality of being to me. Through my eyes I am not different from them by lacking or denying a belief they hold, they are different from me by holding an extra belief that I do not.
Transcending the Atheist Trap
I think many of us who don’t believe in a god or subscribe to a particular religion do ourselves a disservice when we start to think of ourselves as “atheists” and define ourselves in a way that sets us up as deniers or “non”-believers.
It creates a self-identity where being “different from the norm” occupies undue space. We lose focus on who we are and waste focus on who we are not. Many of us even carry anger at the “religious idiots” who try to convert us or damn us to hell for not going to church.
I am letting go of the “atheist” label. Others may wish to label themselves as Christian, Muslim, Jewish, etc. but I am no longer an “atheist.”
I simply am.