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to theism), dystheism (viewing god as evil, as does Lovecraft), misotheism (hatred of god) and post-theism (god is obsolete).