The Metaphor of the Skeptical Movement
Over the last few years, I have come to the conclusion that there is no such thing as the “skeptical movement” in the sense of the usual meaning of an organized social movement.
At best, the use of the term “movement” to refer to rationalists as a collective is a convenient shorthand we use to describe our loose worldwide community, a metaphor to denote a generally common support of science and reason, but at worst is also misleading, for it seems to imply close coordination and an assumption of like-mindedness and unity of belief or unbelief among this same diverse motley crew of individuals and separate organizations that make up this collective.
This assuming that the atheists, skeptics, agnostics, antitheists, humanists, freethinkers, who often though not always identify as such, must therefore think and believe alike is something I’ve seen referred to on fringe websites, with the amusingly stereotypical “psychology of the skeptic, etc,” articles that I sometimes come across.
It’s also common, but misleading to confuse skeptics with atheists, and dogmatic to assume that they must be the same even though I personally just happen to be both.
Only two words need be used to refute the claim that they must be one and the same: Martin Gardner.
There is no litmus test of belief or unbelief to be a rationalist, since some theists are included among the mix, though there is generally a shared respect of or concern for science, reason, truth, and reality. Beyond this, much depends on the individual.
It’s not my concern what fictions fringe-claimants circulate among themselves, for they mislead themselves and each other for the most part, which is par for the course I suppose, but there’s a degree of contentiousness possessed by many rationalists, some disunity, even occasionally marked by scathing criticism among rationalists, that can often cause people who seek acceptance in this community and fail to find it to become burned out on identifying as well, whatever term they use.
For this and many personal reasons he gave, and circumstances I won’t speculate on, a good friend of mine has earlier this year has done just that, and deleted his blog from the internet.
I respect his decision to do so, and I won’t offer any criticism for it out of that respect. It could even happen to me someday, just not in what little future I can realistically foresee at the moment.
So for now, I identify as a skeptic, as an empirical rationalist, and a humanist, though I vacillate between atheism and pantheism in my humanism, my continuing to so self-identify is perhaps merely the use of a label, but a useful and convenient shorthand for the time being.