Illusive Terms

The word atheism is a trick that does not help its cause. The word comes from the Greek atheos, the combination of a- (‘without’) and theos (‘god’). It’s a reversal of theism–that is, belief in the existence of gods, or God. Normally, you would not use a negative to describe something or someone–you would talk about your beliefs, and not your unbeliefs, for the latter is infinite. With religion, it’s different. Instead of using the positive theist to describe believers, we use atheist to describe unbelievers.

This trick flips the burden of proof on the atheists by assuming that theism is the natural state of things. You’re not born a theist–something that is almost implicit when using the term atheist–it is something you may become later in life. Using this word frames the situation upside down and conjures up an image of denial and defiance, something that in reality does not exist and is not implied in its true meaning.

Same thing with terms like “income inequality”. Instead of saying “income difference” or “income variance”, we use the word inequality, and from the first moment we frame the discussion from the perspective that things are better off equal. Equality being the desired goal, the more “inequality” you have, the worse. This is of course groundless given that we do not have a fixed money supply (money is made, not merely distributed). The more you use such terms, the more you make the foundation of a particular view concrete, even if you are arguing for the other side.

February 2011

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