AI: Rationalist? Skeptic? Bright? oh, my.

I visited my father yesterday.  He is, shall we say, not a skeptic.  He does not accept or endorse my choice to live a rational life.  I visited wearing my heart-shaped “Skeptic” Surlyramics necklace, and this?  Well, this just rubbed him the wrong way.  He nit-picked about what I “call myself” for the entire visit.

I’ll be honest, after a while, I just started making things up.  “Pops, ‘we’ call ourselves the Blues, because we’re all naughty and have an affinity for the saxaphone. All of us. One of Us.”   I know, not cool, but a girl can only take so much.

So, I’m wondering how y’all explain how your skepticism/rationalism/blue-ish-ness  fits into your life.

What do you “call” yourself?  How do you explain/share your worldview?

The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.


A B Kovacs is the Director of Døøm at Empty Set Entertainment, a publishing company she co-founded with critical thinker and fiction author Scott Sigler. She considers herself a “Creative Adjacent” — helping creative people be more productive and prolific by managing the logistics of Making for the masses. She's a science nerd, a rabid movie geek, and an unrepentantly voracious reader. She doesn't like chocolate all that much.

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  1. Personally, I hate labels. The Chao that can be defined is not the Chao at all.

    However, I like the terms skeptic because it attaches me to a positive movement. I like rationalist because it implies that the rest of the world is irrational. I like Ignostic because it usually starts interesting philosophical questions about what the word “god” really means. Most of the time I label myself as a Discordian because it fucks with people’s minds.

  2. I generally go for ‘Alan’ personally. I can see that that wouldn’t work for everyone though.

    Trouble with any of those terms is that they come pre-loaded with lots of shortcuts to thinking. Unless you agree with every single one of those assumptions that someone makes when you use the term then it’s not very useful.

  3. I call myself “Barb”.

    The question for me is not how skepticism and rational thought fit into my life. The question is how does the lack of it work for others? Not very well, by count.

    None of my loved ones question my lack of belief in anything (including God). If that were to happen and they did not accept my answers, I think I’d have to explain to them that going down that path will only serve to alienate me.

  4. I could, accurately, agree and say that I hate labels, but unfortunately that’s just how people think. We categorize things and apply names to them so we don’t have to explain everything all the time. Labels (good, bad or indifferent) are shorthand.

    For that same reason, I think it can be valid to embrace a label like “atheist” or “skeptic” and instead of confirming the stereotype, work to undermine it. I have no qualms about telling people I’m an atheist, and if they have questions about it I’m happy to answer. Same goes for “skeptic,” or “rationalist” or whatever.

    Will some people discount you automatically? To be sure, they will. But there’s probably no reaching THOSE people. I find most people are curious or at least WANT to understand why another person thinks the way they think. So yeah, I guess I embrace the labels, but do so on MY terms :)

  5. Though, that said, I don’t self-identify by some labels even though I sort of fit the mold (like, as @marilove said, feminist). So I can see the poisonous side of labels, too, in that the stuff normally labeled as “feminist” makes me not want to call myself one.

    But as far as labels with which I DO self-identify, yeah, I’m all for using em.

  6. Wait a minute. Shouldn’t the ability to use critical thinking be considered the norm and doesn’t that indicate that it’s everyone else who should be labeled? Sure, it’s a learned behavior but so’s reading. What’s the critical thinking equivalent of “illiterate”? The Reverse Dictionary has some amusing suggestions on that.

  7. If people ask, I use the term atheist. Mostly, because it’s a nice, agitating term that gets people spun up, and if they’re so nosy as to ask my business on such a matter, then I am more than happy to get them agitated.

    I wasn’t nicknamed “Agitator Dog” in college for nuthin!

  8. I consider myself a skeptic, but I don’t think I’ve ever had a reason to call myself that in conversation. I don’t know why people would dislike skeptics unless they associate it with atheism. I’m not an atheist (I guess I’m just undecided-that’s an even tougher label), so maybe I don’t really count as a skeptic. But when woo comes up in conversation, I’ve never felt like I should say that I don’t believe it because I’m a skeptic. I tell them that I don’t believe it because of the actual reasons that I don’t believe it, and it has nothing to do with my label.

    I have a hard time labeling myself, mainly because I just don’t fit well into any groups. I’m neither Democrat nor Republican (but I’m certainly not a Libertarian either). I don’t know what I am when it comes to religion. I don’t think I count as agnostic because I don’t necessarily believe that it’s impossible to know, only that I haven’t really bothered to decide yet. I don’t know whether I’m a dork, nerd, or geek, or what the significant difference is between them. Geez, even at my job I’m a chemist, biologist, and engineer all at the same time. Labels just don’t work for me.

  9. I quite happily identify as a skeptic if anyone asks. My friends and family are all aware that I’m skeptic, though I haven’t had any conversations with most of them that would lead them to conclude whether I’m atheist or agnostic (they’ve all either accepted or are choosing to ignore that I’m no longer Catholic). The fact that I’m ordained in the Universal Life Church just serves to confuse, as is my wont.

  10. Whenever a site has the option of a “profile” note, I paste this in:

    Irreverent. Pessimist. Critical Thinker. Punster. Canadian. Freethinker. Pragmatist. Realist. Skeptic. Humanist. Sardonic. Atheist.

  11. @a.real.girl: Just out of curiosity, what does your father call himself? Does he have a label for the group of people he belongs to (i.e. the ones who frequently believe claims without sufficient evidence)?

  12. They call me Mr. Tibbs… Although I’m not sure why my name is Brett, admittingly I’ve never been very fond of that name. And you know what? A lot of people I know aren’t even smart enough to to get that reference… Never mind.

  13. I call myself whatever works according to the situation. If someone is talking to me about their church and asks me whether or not I go to church, I have no problem saying I’m an atheist in that situation. However, I don’t like calling myself an atheist in any other context outside religious discussions because it says absolutely nothing about me, aside from the fact that I do not answer “yes” to the question “Do you believe in any gods?”

    Honestly if someone asked me “what I am” or “what kind of person I am” I wouldn’t have any clue what to say. I’d probably just say, “Huh?”

  14. I don’t much care for the label game, either, mostly because of the assumptions people put on them without knowing a thing about them. But when asked, I answer “atheist.” Mostly because by then they’ve already gotten to notice me and hopefully I’ve convinced them that I’m a nice and funny and perfectly decent human being, and then when they realize I’m a dreaded atheist, maybe it will help them re-think their biases. Assuming they have them.

    I also use “skeptic,” but one has to be careful since there are now “global warming skeptics” and “moon landing skeptics” and “holocaust skeptics,” etc. “Free thinker” and “humanist” work well, but they take some explanation.

    “Ranting Debunker” might be the best description, actually…

  15. In regards to religion I call myself an atheist. My dad is fine with it, we always had discussions about the bible and religion in general. My mom gets angry and tells me she and her church friends are praying for me.
    That’s fine by me.

  16. This is why my Surlyramics says simply “Cogito.” But that’s just personal preference. Amy’s stuff is great because it makes people react, which starts conversations.

    Back in my 20’s when I was a militant feminist, vegetarian, environmentalist fanzine writer with no friends, it took no prompting at all for me to get into speechifyin’ mode. I doubt I made anyone think more than “Get me away from this woman!”

    While I am still overly pedantic, at least I’ve learned that, given a small push, many people will get there eventually. I can not make someone think anymore than my 21 year old self stopped people from eating at McDonalds. (That was me holding the leash on the live calf)

    But I can introduce them to the joys of thinking. Mostly because they want to do it.

  17. I had to explain what skepticism was to my parents recently. (We had the, “You’re flying out to Vegas to do what?!” conversation.)

    I told them, “The basic summary is: Vaccines are good, ghosts don’t exist, and aliens never probed anyone’s butt.” They got it.

    Skeptic, atheist, feminist, those are the 3 labels that really matter to me. If anyone gets bristley over any of those, I ask them why and then share why those terms have very positive connotations to me.

  18. Well, I think there’s a difference between lower-case ‘skeptic’ and upper-case “Skeptic”. I think just about anyone who thinks skeptically is lower-case, but it takes a person who is interested in getting involved at any level to claim the capital ‘S’.

    Also wik, thank goodness that whole “Brite/Bright” thing kinda fell by the way-side. I understand some people still use it, but it’s pretentious as all boogers.

    Also-also wik, The need for the labeling of identities is one of the many aspects of Post-Modernism that I can’t stand. Part of the Post-Modernist project involves categorizing the various ways in which a person’s biases/prejudices not only inform, but dictate the truths that that person sees. What better way to do this than to reduce complicated people into a small handful of identifying categories, usually along the lines of gender, class, ethnicity, and occupation. They do this, apparently, because prejudice is bad, and we need to figure out the prejudices that people taint* their experience and knowledge with. Therefore, I’m not Steve: I’m a white-male….and the very lens with which I view the world is oppressive. My class, education, occupation and hobbies don’t inform anything, because being a white male makes me oppressive as shit.

    I fucking hate postmodernism so much.

    And yes, I realize that that’s not what this thread is about, it’s just that I…umm….LOOK! A DISTRACTION!


  19. This is exactly why I don’t talk about this stuff with my family. You can’t choose your family. And you can’t change people’s beliefs. So I do my best to live my life by my principles, occasionally asking the more proselytizing-prone members of my family probing questions that subtly reveal hypocrisy and paradox without directly confronting them. It’s my version of the Socratic method – though I suspect I use more puns and fart-jokes than he did.

  20. @Amanda: I told them, “The basic summary is: Vaccines are good, ghosts don’t exist, and aliens never probed anyone’s butt.” They got it. I will have to remember to try that one!!

    I just got my first Surly Ramic (I heart the FSM!!) and sadly I have not yet had anyone ask me about it. Maybe at roller derby on Saturday… :-)

  21. @Steve:
    That sounds super duper cool, but I’m afraid that if I wore it it would reveal my Secret Identity. This, of course, would ruin my crime fighting web commenting career.

    I am a Hedge

  22. I don’t call myself anything. I call a lot of people I have to explain this too “dumbass”. I’ve stopped worrying about the fallout.

  23. I tend to go with Humanist because it focuses more on what I am versus what I am not. If people prod further I explain that I live an evidence-based life, endeavoring to find ways to make my and my fellow human beings’ lives better in ways that are logical and rational. If they ask, “so… that means you’re an atheist?” I say yes.

  24. Hello my name is Amy and I am a skeptic and an atheist, but you can call me whatever you like. (I do enjoy the nickname Surly.) I may be unusual in my outlook but I actually like the labels as it does open up the conversation and gives me a chance to explain what a skeptic and an atheist is. We are the minority and not a lot of people don’t get the the chance to meet us rare, little, free-thinkin’ creatures. They may not like or understand our worldview at first, but at least they get exposed to it and they may change their opinions somewhere down the road.

    @Im a Hedge: @Steve:

    I can make a “Hedge”…just give me the word. ;)

  25. Oops sorry about the double negative thing I did there… We are the minority and not a lot of people get the the chance to meet us rare, little, free-thinkin’ creatures.

  26. For me, the term is “rational thinker” – neither of those words get a lot of negative reaction (though there are people who feel I can be a little *too* rational). But most people like to think they’re rational, and most people like to think that they’re thoughtful, so I believe it’s a good term and something that will (hopefully) inspire other people to similar ways of thinking.

    In some ways I don’t like the term ‘skeptic’ ’cause it often does feel negative – it implies someone’s always challenging other people. Whereas “rational thinker” means we’re always considering people and ideas. Much more open, says I.

  27. I like the term “logical”. Before I take a stance on an issue, I consider both sides, and try to consider them logically, without injecting emotion into them. Some positions, I remain nuetral on, since there are no logical arguments on either side. I also look at things in context, like gun control. I hate how people look at things in vaccuums. I think I spend more time refuting other people’s arguments then coming up with my own.

    Although, believe it or not, someone told me last night that my logical thinking was sexy. I’m not sure if he was hitting on me, or being honest. Has anyone else ever been told that?

  28. @infinitemonkey:

    Yes, guys love my intelligence. It has actually been a problem when I just wanted a fling and certain guys wanted to take things further because of it. Having a mind of your own is definitely sexy.

  29. I like humanist, if for no reason other than I’ve never heard anyone identify themselves as an anti-humanist.

    I also feel that the term nicely encompasses and describes my worldview, without sounding too cold, off-putting, or arrogant.

  30. I say that I hold to the worldview (or philosophy) of metaphysical naturalism. This entails an acceptance of rationality and skepticism in trying to figure out what is real and what is bogus. I certainly fit into the definition of a Bright but I just can’t bring myself to use that word.

  31. What do you “call” yourself? How do you explain/share your worldview?

    I don’t call myself anything. I never listen to me anyway, so why bother.

    And I explain and share my worldview either through interpretive dance or with a series of clicks and grunts, depending on my mood and my audience.

  32. mostly I go by “hey you, yeah the funny lookin’ one.”

    But seriously, Skeptic because I think it’s important to make it known that we are out there, Atheist for the reasons stated by the Non-Prophets (mostly that as long as there are people out there trying to legislate their beliefs, it becomes somewhat necessary to make it known that there are those who disagree vehemently).

    @Some Canadian Skeptic: , @catgirl: I hated the term bright right from the beginning. I understand what was trying to be attained, an attempt at doing what the gay movement did, but gay as a term never suggested that the non-gay people were unhappy, whereas bright suggest that if you are not a bright, you are an idiot.

  33. I sometimes derive much joy from seeing people’s reaction when I refer to myself as a Skepchick.

    Of course, I quickly tell them it’s not what they think. “Skepchick” is actually an archaic Armenian word that means, “demonstrative lesbian”.

  34. @infinitemonkey: So sexy. :)

    @catgirl: Really? Some guys get turned off once they realize I have a mind of my own, and not only that, but I’m really confident and independent.

    I’ve actually been told that’s a turn-off.

    Of course, I’d never date anyone who thought being intelligent, independent, or having a mind of my own was a turn-off, so it’s all moot. 

    And of course I know men who find intelligent women sexy (and women who find intelligent women sexy, for that matter). They are all nerds. I <3 nerds.

  35. What would irritate you most? j/k I probably mostly consider myself a “humanist” as it covers it all. Environmental politics, religion, gender politics . . .the whole shebang.

  36. I just had a discussion on Twitter with someone over this question. She dislikes the term atheist while I have no problem with it as I think it describes accurately the fact that I don’t believe in any god or the supernatural. She thinks it’s too negative.

    There are a lot of ways I describe myself, skeptic, freethinker, critical thinker, atheist, humanist, etc. some people may not like the terms or think they’re negative in some way but I don’t think arguing semantics is useful.

  37. I just tell people that I try to lead an evidence based lifestyle. I will beleive things for which there is evidence and I will not believe things that have no evidence.

  38. Labels: Human use them to codify and define the living crap out of stuff we struggle to understand. I personally wear several because it helps others understand various facets of the gem that make up Maria.

    I am a married, bisexual, atheist, skeptic, Mom. Those are the main labels I use. There are, as with most people, many others besides.

  39. I try hard to avoid labels in general because I’ve never found one that fit me really well… until now. I am so proud to consider myself a Skeptic (big S because when I tried to be a christian I used an uppercase there too) and to be getting to know people who look at the world from *mostly* the same point of view I do, which is that for things to be “true”, they require evidence.

    I’m an atheist too, and I’m proud to say that I don’t see evidence for the existence of god or gods, but I say that very softly because I am in the bible belt and I’m a teacher and I don’t have tenure and it’s a recession (and I HATE that I have to keep secrets about who I am just because I’m afraid to lose my job).

  40. I called myself “Shirley” for awhile, but I got odd looks so I stopped. ;-)

    I did the same thing as CelticGoddess when I lived in the Religulous Belt. Down there, it’s just common sense because you’re outnumbered so badly.

    I gave up hiding where I am now. I just tell the overly nosy that I’m one of those “dreaded secular humanists” that they’ve been told to be afraid of by their church. Since most people that ask me personal questions like that know me fairly well, they assume I’m joking.

  41. I used to call myself “Zaphod Beeblebrox,” but then people wnated to know where my other head was and where the Heart of Gold ended up. It got embarrassing about the whereabouts of my other head, so I stopped callimg myself that, too.

  42. @Steve: I especially liked one of the Reverse Dictionary suggestions. For somebody seriously irrational, particularly if their critical thinking has been deposed by a cult’s dogma invading their mind…

    “Boy, his government really is in exile.”

  43. @Amy:

    I can make a “Hedge”…just give me the word. ;)

    ¿Cuántos años tiene usted?

    That’s Spanish for: “How much does it cost?”.

    Or maybe it’s the other one. There were two very important phrases to remember when I used to make day trips to Mexico. I have trouble keeping them straight.

    I am a Hedge

  44. I guess I think of myself as a father primarly. I’ve been doing that since I was 20 so really longer than anything else. After that I am a husband and after that an accountant and after that an atheist.

  45. I just yap. They can think of me as they will, and they will.
    Its been years since I felt compelled to self-label. Then it would be ‘atheist’ or ‘heathen’ whichever I felt would annoy them the most.

    Yes, intelligence is sexy.
    I appreciate how some people self-select themselves out of my life before I waste energy on them.

  46. I call myself a non-believer, for me that seems to sum it up without offending people. I’m generally not someone with faith of any kind and tend to believe in anything that requires belief.

  47. I call myself a person. Sometimes, I call myself a human, depending on the person I’m talking to. Labels are for people who don’t like to think, and if people are going to jump to the wrong conclusion about me, then labeling myself isn’t going to help any either. People who are interested ask for details. Those who don’t aren’t worth my time.

  48. Well, I think that labels are useful, though perhaps too many people use them as a replacement for thought. With that in mind, I call myself an atheist to try to counter the bad press that that word gets. Many people have never met anyone who calls themself an atheist, so giving them an example that doesn’t fit their stereotype is a good thing.

  49. I _like_ labels, and the label I like is “atheist”. Occasionally I’ll push the envelope a bit and make it “atheist Jew” which seems to wind people up a bit more.

  50. @Some Canadian Skeptic: Yeah, fuck postmodernism and its insistence that all points of view (except those that have enjoyed hegemony) are equally valid. But one can use labels without reducing individuals to the label. We label organisms as members of particular species in order to study those species and their interactions with other species. We label languages, even though there are fuzzy boundaries for what constitutes what language. I call myself an atheist because I believe there is no god, and in a culture that expects people to have a position on that question that is a relevant label.

  51. @infinitemonkey:

    Although, believe it or not, someone told me last night that my logical thinking was sexy. I’m not sure if he was hitting on me, or being honest. Has anyone else ever been told that?

    My wife finds watching Old Trek episodes that feature Spock to be aphrodisiac.

  52. Atheist. Raving atheist. Skeptic. Moss eater. Nerd. Realist (that’s what you are in Norwegian if you study the natural sciences, ‘real’ not being a Norwegian word but a latin loan).

    It all depends on the context.

  53. My boss man is a great guy and my best friend, but he is very devout. He is aware of how and what I think, and we have some great conversations, but I really love it when he comes into my office and starts off the conversation about something with “I know you are a non-believer but…”. It just cracks me up since that really does not sum me up at all. I believe a lot of things just not fairy tales.

  54. I’m Johnny Come Lately to the convo, but I’ve gone with “Devil’s Advocate” for the last couple years. Because really, my skepticism manifests mostly in challenging people when they say something with clearly glaring holes… mind you, I often will do this, even to people who I AGREE with, if they present their ideas with flawed logic.

  55. I call myself “Dead Sexy”.

    Naw, but for srs, I try not to think about these things in the context of labels but I would identify as an atheist and skeptic. It’s only lately that I’ve identified as skeptic even though I’ve really been one forever.

  56. I’m fond of “secular humanist” and generally list that as my “religion” because the connotations associated with “atheist” don’t particularly represent me (while I’m virulently anti-theism I’m not necessarily uninterested in reading about certain types of paraspychology from a skeptical standpoint, for instance). I consider secular humanism to be essentially moral atheism, and that’s me.

  57. @killyosaur42:

    whereas bright suggest that if you are not a bright, you are an idiot.

    Yes, this is exactly what I meant! It just sounds too arrogant.


    Hmm, I’m also an engineer, but I often see a lot of anti-engineer attitude among scientist, like we don’t count as “real” scientist or something.

  58. I am a person you might know by one of three names starting with “A”. This is me, which is who I am. Some labels I will wear with pride (feminist, atheist, skeptic). But in all cases, labels are a service to others.

    They are the Domain Name Service of the social world. Atheist doesn’t describe what I am, but it helps you find a level on which you can relate to me, for better or worse. And it’s a hell of a lot easier than finding the IP address to do the same. Although you can port forward through skeptic if you’re 1337.

  59. apfergus: Labels would be fine if they didn’t mean different things to different people. Even denying a label produces odd results. I tell people I’m not a Republican and they immediately think I’m a Democrat. I tell them I’m not a Democrat either and they think I’m a Libertarian.

    Labels, as identifiers are fine, but these days especially, people are obsessed with them. No matter which label I decide to take as my own, it says something about me that isn’t true to many people, and the people who don’t get the wrong idea from it… I don’t need the label for them, so really.. what’s the point?

  60. Atheist.
    Militant, screeching, strident, capital “A”,

    It gets the party going quicker than Secular Humanist, and damn what others think that makes me.

  61. I may have a skeptical point of view on things, but it’s not a religion so i don’t see it in the same light. I had a few conversations with my Mom about skepticism. I love my Mom a lot, but in some areas she just insists things are right without any proper evidence whatsoever. It can really get on my nerves. I try to emphasize critical thinking in our conversations all the time, but she can be a difficult one to crack. Anyway, i tell her that being a skeptic means investigating claims before taking a position. It is learning to separate fact from fiction. Some things she will agree with me on, but there’s still many topics she can be really gullible with. First of all, she is a Christian. She is not a diehard Christian (like my sister), but her belief in God does play a role in her life of course. I haven’t had a conversation with my sister about skepticism yet and i really don’t know if i want to. I avoid seeing her as much as i can because of our many many differences. I like to keep the peace as much as possible, but my sister is the opposite and she will escalate things to a full fledged argument in order to “protect” her beliefs. Anyway, i don’t think of skepticism as a label. It is a way of thinking. It is rational and rational is good. I get so annoyed when people judge how i live my life. I’m not telling them what to do all the time so they shouldn’t be that way with me. I don’t force things on others, i simply give them more information so they can see if it’s something they’d be interested in.

  62. I’m the Dude. So that’s what you call me. You know, that or, uh, His Dudeness, or uh, Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.

  63. @Steve:

    This is the stance I take. I like to say I’m normal – others are the ones with unsubstantiated beliefs. This confuses people so I say I’m a rationalist or skeptic as I feel we should continue to use the word “skeptic”to bring back its true meaning. Most people I’ve encountered confuse the word with cynic or one who believes in nothing. The recent press about the moon landings were a good opportunity to educate as the opinions I came across were that a skeptic did not think we went to the moon. I could explain that skeptics just followed the evidence.

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