R.I.P. the word 'Atheist', formerly αθεος, Born 5th cent. BCE, Died 2014 / PsiCop graphic, based on Ocal, via Clker.Com (original URL: http://www.clker.com/clipart-rounded-tombstone.html)Planet Earth — The word “atheist,” having endured many attacks over the past several years, has finally passed away. It was pronounced dead by one Frank Schaeffer, son of the late Francis Schaeffer, one of the co-founders of the Religious Right movement.

The younger Schaeffer — a believer, but no longer the Religious Rightist his father had been — made this pronouncement in the form of a book, Why I Am an Atheist Who Believes in God (WebCite cached article). This was only the last in a long series of bullying campaigns intended to make the word “atheist” go away and not make itself known any more. But prior to the believer Schaeffer pronouncing the word “atheist” dead, a particular cadre of non-believers had been engaged in the same activity. They had done so in order to make it appear that everyone is actually an “atheist,” thus forcing the term to lose its meaning.

The word “atheist” leaves behind a state of confusion, because its demise makes it more difficult for anyone to explain the extent and nature of his/her non-belief. Fewer words are now available for that purpose.

The word “atheist” is also survived by “agnostic,” “freethinker,” and “secularist,” all in the same family as “atheist,” yet each known for its independent streak.

The word “atheist” had a very long pedigree, having been applied in ancient times to figures such as Socrates, Democritus, and Epicurus, and more recently to great thinkers such as Richard Feynman, Alan Turing, Isaac Asimov, and plenty of others. All of these and many more will no longer be remembered as “atheists,” even if they’ll still all be recalled for their individual achievements in philosophy, the sciences, mathematics, and literature.

Hat tip: J.T. at Apathetic Agnostic Church.

Photo credit: PsiCop graphic, based on Ocal, via Clker.Com.

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