But last night I was reading over my notes of the first half of The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer, before going to the second half. I wanted to share one bit with you from page 176:
Of course, no one is agnostic behaviorally. When we act in the world, we act as if there is a God or as if there is no God, so by default we must make a choice, if not intellectually then at least behaviorally. To this extent, I assume that there is no God and I live my life accordingly, which makes me an atheist. In other words, agnosticism is an intellectual position, a statement about the existence or nonexistence of the deity and our ability to know it with certainty, whereas atheism is a behavioral position, a statement about what assumptions we make about the world in which we behave.
... I prefer [Skeptic] as my label. A skeptic simply does not believe a knowledge claim until sufficient evidence is presented to reject the null hypothesis (that a knowledge claim is not true until proven otherwise). I do not know that there is no God, but I do not believe in God, and have good reasons to think that the concept of God is socially and psychologically constructed.
That makes perfect sense to me. The thing about calling yourself an atheist is you're just saying one very specific thing; that you don't believe in god/gods. It's a negative statement that doesn't say much at all, really. It's helpful, but only to a point. And what other concept is defined by what you don't believe? I don't believe in leprechauns, so does that make me Aleprechaunistic?
I think that I have been slowly getting away from labeling myself as atheist first, more to calling myself a skeptic first. I prefer it for the same reasons that Shermer does. It says that I highly value critical thinking, science and reason. It says what matters to me and how I approach the world.
Of course, people abuse the term all the time, mainly through ignorance. But if simply defined as Michael does above, then it's accurately saying a lot.
I know some of you don't like labels at all. But labels are how we understand things. For example, I labeled the drink I had this morning as coffee. It conveys information that can be useful. And for beliefs it says something about where I'm coming from. I label myself a humanist, which says a lot to someone, as does labeling myself a Formula One fan, etc. It can be very positive and shouldn't be shunned completely. It's just helpful information.
So, how do you identify yourself? Is there an order (as I find I have now) of how you want to be known, or how you see yourself?
EDIT: After the first several comments, I just want to add that I am happy to call myself an atheist. And I think atheists need to own the word just like people who are homosexual now proudly own "gay". Atheist Pride! Hey, most of us became atheists through tough critical thinking, reasoning and logic. We worked hard to get where we are. Of course, you could say the same for skeptics, which I'm also proud to call myself.
So don't think I'm encouraging you to walk on eggshells and use skeptic over atheist. Use them both! I like how MJ in the comments below said they use atheist out in the world and skeptic in the atheist movement. I have been doing something similar. I use the term that is most appropriate to the situation. Sometimes I feel they are all necessary and I call myself (deep breath) an atheist/skeptic/freethinker/humanist.
Also, I wanted this post to be short and sweet and focus mainly on the terms. But in the comments you've been right to point out that it really matters on the definition of God(s) being referred to. Are we talking about Yahweh/Allah/Jehovah? If you look just to the bible, he's been refuted. Are you talking about a deist sort of god? No, he can't be refuted because evidence of that god would be indistinguishable from natural events. Of course, when you talk to religious people, most are so wishy-washy, and move the goalposts as if they were seaweed at the edge of the sea at high tide, that I'm exhausted just thinking about it. But awesome atheists like Christopher Hitchens have thoughtfully torn down such fallacious arguments time and again.
So own the word atheist and skeptic, too!