Earlier, I read a reference to the "tenets" of atheism, and though it is not at all unusual to speak of tenets, I was struck anew how strange the idea is.
have two issues with the idea of "tenets" of a social movement. First, I
don't think there is any non-arbitrary way to define what a social
movement is. It is not the case that social movements have specific and
well-defined beliefs. There is no objective answer to the question of
whether any particular individual is part of the movement.
I don't believe in a foundationalist worldview. We do not start with
assumptions and then build upwards. Social issues are not mathematics.
Instead, we have a web of ideas which connect in all directions, up
down left right in out. We can easily observe that many people in a
social movement share similar webs of ideas, but there is no "basis"
which defines the movement.
Even Objectivism, which
explicitly purports to be based on a few basic axioms ("existence
exists" and other vapid statements), does not really have a basis which
defines it. If someone agreed with the axioms but disagreed with
everything else, that does not make them Objectivist; if someone
quibbled with the axioms, but agreed with the philosophy built on them,
they're Objectivist as far as I'm concerned.
So it is
true that most atheists don't believe in gods. But there are also
people who have complicated feelings about god beliefs, and yet still
agree with the goals of the atheist movement or participate in atheist
This is not hypothetical. I've met plenty such people in
meatspace groups, and often I have trouble remembering who exactly
considers themselves "technically agnostic" or otherwise. That they
disidentify with atheism indicates a point of disagreement between me
and them, but there are so many points of disagreement to speak of, and
this one isn't special just because of its implications on the word
Similarly, there are plenty of atheists who
I don't consider to be part of the atheist movement or who are only
distantly associated with it.
I would not speak of the
tenets of a social movement. Instead, I would speak of organizations,
communities, media outlets. I would speak of common (but not
monolithic) beliefs, values, and goals.