Defining Atheism, for the Sake of my Sanity

I’m sick of people misrepresenting what the word “atheism” really means, so I’m going to spell it out here and refer back everytime someone spouts nonsense about what atheism is. It bothers me to no end when people say that atheists believe this and that, because “atheism” doesn’t describe what beliefs someone has, all it says about someone is what beliefs they don’t have.

Theism = The belief in a god or gods

And just like apolitical means without political association, asexual means without sex, or asymmetrical means without symmetry…

Atheism = Without the belief in a god or gods

That’s it! If you ask someone: “do you believe in god?” and they say: “no”, they’re an atheist, simple as that.

Oh, FYI, saying “I don’t believe in ___” is not the same as saying “I believe ___ can’t/couldn’t exist”. Got it?

Being an atheist just means that you don’t believe in any gods. People who describe themselves as atheists can believe in ghosts, goblins, hell, heaven, unicorns, psychics, leprechauns, Santa Claus, they can believe the Earth is flat or there are aliens living on Venus, they can be tyrants or saints, they can be any type of person you can imagine, as long as they don’t believe in any gods.

All you can deduce when someone tells you they’re an atheist is that they don’t have any god beliefs.

One more thing: there’s no need to bring the word “agnostic” into this definition. Theism/Atheism is a true dichotomy, meaning if you’re not a theist you’re an atheist. There’s no need to pretend that “agnostic” is a middle ground (it’s not, gnostic/agnostic deal in knowledge, where as theism/atheism deal specifically in god belief), because atheism is a spectrum from the people who don’t really believe in god but would be easily convinced, to the people who assert that there’s no such thing as god and it’s not possible for a god to exist.

Really, the only important parts of this whole post are the bolded parts, the rest is just me imagining to possible objections to my definition. If you object to the bolded parts I’ll be doing this:

Likely followed shortly by this:


9 Responses to “Defining Atheism, for the Sake of my Sanity”

  1. 1 kevinbbg July 5, 2010 at 11:41 am

    Another pet peeve of mine is when someone says atheism is a religion. My reply is that atheism is a religion the way bald is a hair color.

    I do find it interesting that the worst thing a theist can say about us is that we are just like them.

  2. 2 soothsaber July 5, 2010 at 12:17 pm

    Oh crap! I thought that atheist means that we don’t believe in God so therefore we eat babies. Whew! Glad I dont have to do that anymore, thanks for clearing that up. 🙂

  3. 3 Ani Sharmin July 5, 2010 at 1:18 pm

    Especially annoying is when, after falsely claiming that various beliefs are a part of atheism, a person tries to argue that something explicitly stated in their holy book is actually not a part of the faith and that anyone who believes it is not a true believer.

  4. 4 Shamelessly Atheist July 5, 2010 at 3:04 pm

    Another pet peeve is when theists try to tell me atheism is a worldview, as if we act on what we don’t believe. Is a Christian’s worldview defined on the basis on not believing in Zeus? Nonsense. Atheism is a position on the question of any deity’s existence. Nothing more! It is not a moral guide. It is not a philosophy. It is a conclusion of (amongst other things) my skepticism (which IS a worldview…) as applied to religious claims.

  5. 5 Peter Harrison July 5, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    My pet peeve is when people say I should be an agnostic instead of an atheist. But they obviously aren’t mutually exclusive. An agnostic doesn’t believe in god, or he/she would be a theist. And that lack of belief that comes from agnosticism is the definition of atheism. An atheist CAN be absolutely committed 100% to believing there DEFINITELY is NO god… but that’s just one kind of atheist, one kind of person with a lack of gods. An agnostic also fits the bill.

  6. 6 Shamelessly Atheist July 5, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    Exactly, Peter. One (atheism) is a statement of belief. The other (agnosticism) is a statement of knowledge. Atheism is thus quite compatible with agnosticism.

  7. 7 Mom July 5, 2010 at 6:45 pm

    Great clarification Lindsay and thanks for the laughs!

  8. 8 Fat Steve July 16, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    Surely, by this definition atheism is neither ‘a religion’ or ‘not a religion’. This definition allows for an atheist to be a part of a religion as long as that religion does not require the belief in god or gods.

  9. 9 EnlightningLinZ July 16, 2010 at 10:41 pm

    Yes, that’s true. An atheist can belong to any religion as long as they don’t believe in a god or gods.

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