Why does it matter that I'm an atheist?
I was delighted to notice that there's an emblem for atheists. While I'm an atheist, I'm not a veteran. But my father, also an atheist, saw hard fighting in World War II, so seeing this made me feel good.
Still it's not quite right. The symbol seems to suggest that an atheist is someone who beieves in science. But you could be a totally far out pyramid and crystal freak and not believe in God (sic), and therefore be an atheist. So this assumption is incorrect.
How significant is the fact that I'm an atheist, and who is it significant to? First let's try to define the word.
The fourth edition of the American Heritage Dictionary defines atheist as...
Notice that it doesn't say "A God," it says "God." This of course presupposes the existent of said omnipotent, omiscient, omibenevolent, omnipresent being. Atheists are defined here from the point of view of a theist. Since God is capitalized, this probably refers to the Christian god named "God."
This helps to demonstrate that someone being an atheist is primarily important in a society where belief in God (sic) is the norm. Consequently, if I lived in a society that believed not in a god or gods but in werewolves, the fact that I'm an awerewolfist would be significant, and my lack of belief in an onmipotent being wouldn't matter at all. Note that I'm also an ashivaist, an awaterspiritsist, an aallahist and an apanist, but this isn't important in a theist society, only that I'm an atheist.
I don't care that I'm an atheist. This is not important to me, only to others who are believers. And I don't want to define myself by what others think of me, but how I view myself. That is why I made a conscious decision some time ago to try and define myself not by who I am not (a theist) but who I am.
This is of course a little harder and requires some introspection and work. It also forces me to drop some of the ego trip that comes of being an unbeliever surrounded by believers, and makes me (or allows me, or both) to see the rest of the human race as my equals.
The closest existing term that describes me seems to be humanist. I believe that the good in people outweighs the bad, that there are moral laws inherent in being a human being, and that a society left alone will eventually come to the natural healthy conclusion that doing certain things (the most obvious being theft, rape, murder) is wrong and that someone who breaks these moral laws should be punished and denied the company of others.
And the best way to find out what these humanist laws are, is to take a large population and allow them to vote for and against laws.
Such a moral system, unlike one based on a particular belief system, is all inclusive. It doesn't eliminate someone because they do or don't believe a certain way. It does, however, punish those who break the law agreed upon by the majority. And it keeps a minority in check who seeks to force their beliefs on others.
I think the democratic government of the United States of America as it is today is based to a large degree on humanism. And to the extent that it is, all it's citizens are treated with respect and are afforded basic rights and protections.