No one asks this question enough.

The reason no one asks this question a lot is because most people have preconceived ideas and notions about what an Atheist is and is not. Where these preconceived ideas come from varies, but they tend to evolve from theistic influences or other sources.

Atheism is usually defined incorrectly as a belief system. Atheism is not a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods; it is a lack of belief in gods. Older dictionaries define atheism as “a belief that there is no God.” Some dictionaries even go so far as to define Atheism as “wickedness,” “sinfulness,” and other derogatory adjectives. Clearly, theistic influence taints dictionaries. People cannot trust these dictionaries to define atheism. The fact that dictionaries define Atheism as “there is no God” betrays the (mono)theistic influence. Without the (mono)theistic influence, the definition would at least read “there are no gods.”


Why should atheists allow theists to define who atheists are? Do other minorities allow the majority to define their character, views, and opinions? No, they do not. So why does everyone expect atheists to lie down and accept the definition placed upon them by the world’s theists? Atheists will define themselves.

Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion. While there are some religions that are atheistic (certain sects of Buddhism, for example), that does not mean that atheism is a religion. Two commonly used retorts to the nonsense that atheism is a religion are: 1) If atheism is a religion then bald is a hair color, and 2) If atheism is a religion then health is a disease. A new one introduced in 2012 by Bill Maher is, “If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sexual position.”

The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Some of the best debates we have ever had have been with fellow atheists. This is because atheists do not have a common belief system, sacred scripture or atheist Pope. This means atheists often disagree on many issues and ideas. Atheists come in a variety of shapes, colors, beliefs, convictions, and backgrounds. We are as unique as our fingerprints.


One thought on “WHAT IS ATHEISM?

  1. Hi Shelton,

    Interesting post. I think much of the confusion comes from some atheists refusing to understand that there are two contrary definitions of “atheism” being used in our society today.

    The first definition goes back about 2,600 years. We find it in the pre-socratic philosophers Diagoras and Democritus. Diagoras was the first person in recorded history to be called an atheist, because he ran around the Greek countryside proclaiming, “There are no gods at all.” Democritus set up a system of philosophy that implicitly eliminated the possibility of the existence of any transcendent, infinite God. These positions are metaphysical in nature; in other words, they make statements about the nature of reality. These positions are still alive and well today. We call them materialism and naturalism.

    The second definition became popular in the mid to late 1970’s. It developed to what we have today, “I don’t know if God(s) exists, but I lack belief in any gods.” Notice that this definition makes no metaphysical statements. It simply tells us about the persons present psychological make up. It is solely about the person.

    Since the first definition necessarily entails a metaphysical statement and the second definition does not allow for metaphysical statements, the two are logically contrary and cannot be held at the same time. So, what I have done, to avoid confusion, is dubbed one “metaphysical atheism” and the other “psychological atheism.”

    So, those are my musing. What do you think?

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