A short column in the July issue of Ebony starts out, "Technically, I am an atheist, but I consider myself much more of a freethinker. Freethinking says I prefer critical thought, critical reasoning as my primary mode of evaluation as opposed to whether I do or do not believe in a specific God."* An excellent point. One, that unfortunately, is all too often overlooked or misunderstood. There has been a long standing argument over how much the label "atheist" really says about those who identify with it. Directly, it really doesn't say a whole lot. But this is not to say it is not a very important aspect of a person's identity.
Being an atheist is an essential part of who I am but is only one aspect of my life. It is also true that being an atheist makes it more or less likely that a person will believe or disbelieve any number of things. For instance, it is highly unlikely that an atheist will be found to believe in ghosts but it is possible. This is where a lot of people seem to get confused about atheists/atheism. Most want to be able to group all atheists into one tidy category. It does not work that way. We are the most individualistic, even fractious, minority there is. We are not a religion, despite claims to the contrary. There can be variations within a particular religion but in the end members at least tacitly agree to a specific set of doctrines and principles. Atheists do not.
My point is that we atheists use the term as part of our identity but it is only one trait. An important trait that we can cling to in an environment that is far too often hostile to us. If people want to understand who atheists as a group are they are bound to be frustrated. I make no apology for this since I too have found it frustrating at times. It is far better to engage us as individuals.
* "I Am the Big 'A'; One Man's Journey To Atheism" Ebony. July 2011