Monday, September 3, 2007

A rose by any other name?

Words are important to me. I like to use just the right word to express what I mean, so there can be little to no chance of misunderstanding. It drives me crazy when I've tried very hard to write a sentence to express exactly my intent, and still some people don't "get" it the way I meant it.

I try to be the same way when speaking, though the spoken word is much more difficult to get just right owing to the fact that it's on-the-fly and can't be edited once it's spoken.

So you can see my dilemma when it comes to being a non-believer. How do I refer to things in such a way that it's clear that I don't believe in god and don't wish to frame my thoughts using expressions created for a god-fearing world?

Even though I stopped believing in any form of deity when I was 16 (more than thirty years ago!) I still use many expressions that originate with religious terms, even though people don't think of them as religious expressions anymore, they're so ubiquitous. But with my recent escalation from simply being a non-believer to being a well-informed and aware non-believer, I feel it necessary to start watching my language.

The term "atheist" is a little problematic for me. It's problematic in the sense that it's a simple, widely-understood term, yet it forces me to define myself in terms of what I am not. I wouldn't call myself an amermaidist or an aleprechaunist, right?

So what do I call myself instead? Do I need to call myself anything? When someone asks what religion I am, I've always said "I'm an atheist." But I don't want to use that term to define myself anymore. I also don't like terms like "Humanist," as it connotes a relationship with an official group of people whose methods I haven't completely decided if I agree with yet.

At one point, I thought I would refer to myself simply as homo sapiens. It's accurate, and in its translation, very true: thinking man (if you accept the word "man" to define the entire human race, which just opens up another whole can of worms!). Besides, people would just look at me funny if I said "I'm homo sapiens." Half of them because they wouldn't know what it means, the other half because it just sounds silly. And all of them would probably think I was saying I'm gay. Besides, technically, even if it doesn't seem like they do much logical thinking, even deists are homo sapiens.

I think from now on, when the subject comes up, I'll simply say I don't believe in a deity.

I've also been having trouble lately with expressions like "thank god" or "thank heaven" or any number of other expressions that refer to anything religious. I'm trying to purge them from my lexicon, but it's not easy, partly because they're so ingrained in me after almost 48 years, and partly because I haven't come up with suitable replacements. One of my favourites is "thank my lucky stars." I can't even use that anymore because it implies a belief in astrology or some such folderall. "Thank goodness" is probably the best I can do there. It doesn't imply any religious intent. "Oh for crying out loud" is a good expression of exasperation or frustration to use instead of "oh god."

Hmmm...I wonder what I'll say instead of "oh god" when I'm having really good sex?

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