Susan Jacoby:

Today’s secularists must do more than mount defensive campaigns proclaiming that we can be “good without God.” Atheists must stand up instead of calling themselves freethinkers, agnostics, secular humanists or “spiritual, but not religious.” The last phrase, translated from the psychobabble, can mean just about anything — that the speaker is an atheist who fears social disapproval or a fence-sitter who wants the theoretical benefits of faith, including hope of eternal life, without the obligations of actually practicing a religion. Atheists may also be secular humanists and freethinkers — I answer to all three — but avoidance of identification with atheism confines us to a closet that encourages us to fade or be pushed into the background when tragedy strikes.

We must speak up as atheists in order to take responsibility for whatever it is humans are responsible for — including violence in our streets and schools. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect. And although atheism is not a religion, we need community-based outreach programs so that our activists will be as recognizable to their neighbors as the clergy.

With all due respect to Ms. Jacoby, we needn’t do anything other than follow our consciences, like anyone else. If you want to participate in community service, great. If you want to honestly proclaim your lack of belief when asked, that’s one thing, but if you want to set up shop across the street from the Salvation Army in order to announce yourself as a competing brand (same great social service, now 100% deity-free!), well… I’ll just say that, in my opinion, the life of a propagandist or aggressive salesman is not a noble one. Just let your good deeds speak for themselves. No one’s particularly interested in hearing your life story or motivations.

I’m an atheist, sho nuff. There’s nothing particularly special about it, though. It doesn’t make me smarter or more reasonable overall. My loyalty is to a patchwork quilt of individuals, not to groups, not to ideologies, and certainly not to “atheism“. If the FTB/Skepchick/A+ axis of idiocy is the future of public atheism, fine, they can have the name. I’ve got a backup plan.