Glossary: Atheism, Atheist

atheism, atheist – the plain etymology of this word is from the Greek a=without and theos=god. However, atheism can mean different things to different people:

  • As self-identification, “I am an atheist” is a commitment to a position regarding religion and – depending on one’s definition/understanding of “religion” – atheism is a religious stance or position. It can range from soft atheism – “I have no time in my life to concern myself with God” or “the word God has no meaning for me” – to strong forms like “there is no evidence for God so I choose to assume that God does not exist” or “religion is a force for evil in the world and humanity should grow out of it”.
  • As other-identification, it is commonly used by theists to label others whose theism is not sufficiently strong or in line with their own views. So, for example, if someone denies Jesus’ literal bodily resurrection and/or his birth of a literal virgin mother but chooses to understand these miracles in a symbolic way then a certain type of literalist theist will view that person as an atheist, no matter how they might self-identify.
  • As a simple failure to refer to God – as occurs in Buddhism and Taoism – atheism may simply refer to a religious tradition that has no need of a god idea in order to formulate its position. It may be perfectly tolerant of others’ needs or preferences to seek enlightenment through an idea or concept similar to God (eg, Brahman or Atman, etc) but it is simply a religious tradition that manages without a God idea.

Some similar or related religious positions include antitheism (opposition to theism), dystheism (viewing god as evil, as does Lovecraft), misotheism (hatred of god) and post-theism (god is obsolete).

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6 thoughts on “Glossary: Atheism, Atheist

  1. Make the following suggestion to separate “antitheism” from atheism with antitheism recieving the “religion is a force for evil in the world and humanity should grow out of it” part.

    • Nice idea, Liam. Antitheism is still a form of atheism, so it’s a subset rather than a separate or different position. I’ll think about how to insert that into the text. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • I’ve been exploring the wikipedia article on antitheism and, curiously enough, you can be an antitheist while not being an atheist. In the context of the glossary article, however, I’m referring to the kind of strong atheism that includes a component of antitheism within it. In other words, at this extreme end of atheism, a person is *both* an atheist and an antitheist.

      • Antitheism is opposition to the idea of organised religion. It is neutral to the exists of gods.

        Misotheism is the idea that god exists and is evil. This is compatible with Anthitheism but not Atheism.

  2. Antitheism, though, is a driving force toward atheism. In a sense, so is misotheism (and dystheism), at least in the form of a disappointment or resentment toward God for allowing so much evil in the world.

  3. There is also a version of pantheism (Stephen Hawking goes for this) in which God is the “embodiment of the laws that govern the universe”. This “God” is not personal and would be an “atheistic” or “deistic” God for most theists but I guess it’s still technically a “theism”, at least on a self-identification criterion.

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