Monday, October 21, 2013

What Came First The Atheist Or The Skeptic?

We all wear many hats in life, and carry many identities. For some of us, our race is the most important factor in our identity. Some people are black first and then an American or a Christian, or they're Latino first and then a woman. For other people, religion is first and foremost. So they might see themselves as a Muslim first, and then an American, or a Jehovah's Witness first, and then an Australian. Still others identify strongly with their gender. So for them, they might see themselves as a woman first, then a mother or a Latina. And others put nation identity first. So they might see themselves as an American first, or French first, and then male or female. And then there are those who see their occupation first. So they might see themselves as a chef first, then an Argentinian, or as a musician first, and then British.

How we identify ourselves depends on what identities we feel are most important to us. I've always hated the idea of being identified too strongly with what I do for a living because I've never really had a job that I liked a whole lot. In a city like New York, all too often you are what you do. When you meet someone new one of the first questions that you'll be asked is what you do for a living. When I would give my answer I'd feel like that person was immediately coming to conclusions about me based on what I did. I've worked in the IT industry for the past several years and I've had to deal with quite a few people thinking that I must be a computer geek who sits home and plays video games for hours on end. I happen not to be much of a gamer at all, and I'm not even much of a computer geek either.

If my passions are what motivate me, then I suppose I self-identity as an atheist very strongly. But it's not like I walk into a party and announce that I'm an atheist to everybody. Often my atheism doesn't even become apparent to the majority of people I interact with. I don't like to wear message T-shirts. I don't like wearing my scarlet letter on my chest. I'm not "in the closet" about my atheism or anything, I just don't like to wear my atheism on my sleeve in the literal sense. I'm not a particularly patriotic flag waiving American either, but I do love the freedom and secularism enshrined in our constitution and I do brag about this from time to time. I'm not particularly proud of my gender or race, as these aren't thing I had any choice in. These things don't matter to me, at least not nearly as much as my worldview and my philosophical beliefs. If I could identify myself in four words, it would be a world-travelling, cosmopolitan, intellectual. That's the identity I want to be seen in.

So I suppose I could say that I'm an atheist first, then I'm a world-travelling, cosmopolitan, intellectual. (It may sound pretentious but it's designed to be sarcastically pretentious.) Then maybe I'm a New Yorker, perhaps even before an American, because whenever I'm out of New York, I kind of feel like a fish out of water. Then perhaps I'm a liberal, or maybe a moral realist or a humanist, but it's hard to say. These identities get murky and they're all rather arbitrary. I guess I could also say that a more appropriate identity would be that I'm a skeptic first before anything because that's what lead me to atheism. So to ask what came first, the atheist or the skeptic? It's the skeptic.

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