View Full Version : Defining Atheism...

26 Jun 2011, 05:31
Part of the reason I've been thinking about this lately is due to some discussions (and the associated stereotyping) on another website of who is or is not an atheist, and what exactly it means to be an atheist, and to some extent if atheism is an active belief in no god/s, or a sort of default/passive absence of belief in gods, or both (hence the baby question) (http://www.paganforum.com/showthread.php?2503-Are-babies-born-atheists).

Granted, I'm not an atheist, so while it doesn't really *apply* to me, I still use the English language, and therefore have a vested interest in what other people think, and the ways they use the term.

For example (from the other thread):

An atheist is somebody who has the mental ability to choose not to believe.

Implies that atheism is a reasoned (and to some extent educated?) CHOICE to not believe in *something*.

Following a god is only something that happens during a person's lifetime.

Implies that theism is a choice that develops (by conditioning?) and that atheism is a "default" setting for not believing in *something*

So...which is it?

Is atheism a default setting for no specific belief in deity (or is that where non-theism comes in?), or is it an active and educated belief that there are no gods? What does it mean to call oneself an atheist?

If you look at the dictionary (Mirriam Webster), they define atheism as "a disbelief in the existence of deity" and "the doctrine that there is no deity"...by such a definition, one has to be capable of belief to NOT believe...but

26 Jun 2011, 07:07
Is atheism a default setting for no specific belief in deity (or is that where non-theism comes in?), or is it an active and educated belief that there are no gods? What does it mean to call oneself an atheist?

Or is it possible that it is both, depending on the individual in question? I think there is a distinct difference between actively believing there is no God and a lack of believe. I am not really sure how I would explain this difference however so will try to give an example.

Before I discovered paganism I would have called myself an atheist because the only God I had been exposed to was the one from the Christian faith. I knew in my heart he didn't exist and so, with no other options that I was aware of, my logic at the time was his lack of existence meant a lack of deity. This was not an educated belief, it was in fact completely the opposite. Atheism for me was not a belief that there was no God, but a lack of belief. It is through eduction that I have found a belief system that resonates with me and therefore I no longer consider myself an atheist.

There are others, some even members of this forum, who started out with a belief in deity and who are now atheists. They may therefore argue that for them atheism is a product of education and is an active belief that there is no God.

26 Jun 2011, 08:03
both theism and atheism are choices there is no default setting. until one starts to think and philosiphize about which the think is true they are neither. if you're raised as so and so religeon then you may go through the actions of theism but until you can belive inside that this is your religeon and that there is a divine you are no theistic, same goes for Atheism. until you go through reasoning and think there is no god you are not an atheist. if someone asked you do you belive in god but you had never thougth about it, it would be a difficult question (unless the enviorment you were raised in gave you a bias). IMO you need to decide to worship, you need to think out why no god exists. i hope that makes sense

26 Jun 2011, 08:06
Atheism, just from the pure etymology, means 'without or lacking deity'. 'A' - without, lacking... theos - deity, god.

People seem to assume that being an atheist just means you don't believe in the Western JudeoChristian deity, but the word itself doesn't make those distinctions - the people who define the word make that distinction themselves.

I'm one of those folks who feel that just because a person is an atheist doesn't necessarily mean they lack a spiritual life of some kind - not all spirituality needs to be deity-driven.

Or is it possible that it is both, depending on the individual in question? I think there is a distinct difference between actively believing there is no God and a lack of belief.

Belief is an entirely different concept - and the word for not believing something isn't really atheism, it's 'disbelief'.

B. de Corbin
26 Jun 2011, 08:30
Going along with what Perzephone said, I'll point out that the suffix, "-ist," means "One who follows a principle or system of belief" (first definition, seems to be the one which applies).

To me, this indicates that , to be an "atheist" requires that one actively "follows" the ideas - which means that if one is an Athesit, one knows one is an atheist (because one is "following" atheism). You can't just be an atheist by default.

26 Jun 2011, 09:19
An Atheist is someone who says that there is no god while really meaning it.

26 Jun 2011, 13:20
An Atheist is someone who says that there is no god while really meaning it.

Also I have always felt that I just didn't get the God gene. I was raised in a very religious household. It should have caught. Not even the cultural aspects of it caught. I have no attachment to guilt or shame as most Catholics are prone to. I've tried other religions. All with the same conclusion. I just never caught it. It's as if there was just something broken inside. Or..I'm just perfectly normal and am immune to that disease.

26 Jun 2011, 18:36
Sorry - I don't have time to read more than the first post right now (but I'll try sometime later).

Belief comes from the same brain centers that guide art and other "imaginative" pursuits. This is not to say that artists are more or less prone to Atheism than others - just that it all seems to be located in the same place.

Atheism is the world-view that there are no supernatural beings/occurrances. It's that simple. It may be reasoned or it may be "because it's easier", or it may be "because I don't give a shit enough to think about it". You may as well ask what makes someone a Pagan - you're going to get different answers from pretty much everyone, but IMO the only people qualified to make that decision (as other world views) are the people that follow it.

You don't ask a Satanist what Christians believe. You don't ask Christians what Pagans believe. As soon as you open those doors, you put yourself in the sticky situation of having other people defining YOUR beliefs.

An Atheist is a person that doesn't believe in God(s). That's what an Atheist is ;)

RELIGION is a "taught" thing, but I do believe that the human creature is so prone to "problem solving" and observation, that anyone not raised in a religion will still hold supernatural beliefs. As a perfect example, I've been finding myself talking to CHOPT a lot while I'm on the road - obviously, part of that is a complete lack of company and discussion, but I think part of it is a natural inclination (even willingness) to impart personalities on things that do not (nor will ever have) the ability to have a personality. Whether you're talking about Karma, or bad luck from broken mirrors, black cats, or even if it's something silly - "Every time I wear this t-shirt my car breaks down". I think our brains are wired to automatically think of inanimate objects that way (I have some theories as to why, but won't get into them unless asked). Some people think that it's silly to do so and recognize it when they make those attributions (such as myself), and others don't question it (even if they don't *really* believe what they're implying).

Is Atheism a lack of belief? Yes. It is an acknowledgement that our brains and our bodies lie to us each and every day, and a wariness toward anything that cannot be confirmed independently. (Obviously I can only speak for myself, and I'm in kind of a rush so I hope my point isn't missed because I fucked up a detail or made a generalization where I aught not have).

28 Jun 2011, 13:55
I'm a language idiot. Atheism is a study, just as Catholicism, Judaism or what-have-you. An Atheist/atheist, regardless of capitalization, believes there is no god (also regardless of capitalization).

Non-religious, non-spiritual, undecided and "none", as an answer to the 'Religion' question, would be the default/opposite of whatever belief system.

When I chose to be an Atheist, way back in the early 80's, it was a conscious decision to go the other way from religion, as in an almost rebelious: God did not and would not exist, for me. I quit that idea for something called Free Thinking, that is usually lumped together with Atheists and Agnostics. All of which are still systems of belief (or in the case of Atheism, a system of disbelief).

Am I right? Hell if I know. But it works for me, is understandable, logical and doesn't contradict any dictionary entries.

04 May 2012, 22:56
I would call myself an atheist, but in the sense that I simply reject the statement, that there is a god. I won't say there is none. I just leave the burden of proof to the believer, and remain in default position ;)

06 May 2012, 09:03
To me, when you add the "a" prefix (such as atypical) it's a conscious rejection of whatever the rest of the word is. In this case, it's the opposite of typical.

For atheism, I believe it's a umbrella term that can be used to describe a number of non-beliefs, but I use the word most accurately when I'm describing someone who has an educated and conscious rejection to the idea of any higher power.

06 May 2012, 09:23
You don't even need to be educated to reject ideas that don't convince you ;) The burden of proof is on the believer's side. So... until there is no credible and sufficient evidence for the existent of any god, I will stay atheist.

Please note the difference between the statements "There is no god" (Antitheist) and "I dont believe there is a god." (Atheist). So... what was this definition needed for?^^