Not that long ago, I sent out a post asking my readers a series of questions. I don’t think we’ll get many more responses to those questions in the near future, so we’ll being making posts on what we to be the most relevant areas of that post. I’ll begin with a post on Atheism.
If you remember, I asked what atheism is. While most people answered that it is a lack of belief, or disbelief, in gods, we did get some more interesting responses. Here are the most interesting responses that we received:
“Atheism: To believe some thing is living and some thing is non-living is Atheism. To negate ritual and traditions of theist is also Atheism. Atheism is contradictory, thereby it is false.”
“Atheism is just another theism — a theory. You cannot prove or disprove god; Atheists are just stupid enough to try and stop the unstoppable — you can’t stop a belief; it is form of hope. Hope to see loved ones again, a hope life is not meaningless, a hope that something lies beyond the misery of this world.”
As I’m sure many of you already realize, these definitions are wrong. But they made us realize that it is important to actually discuss what atheism is. Defining our terms will help eliminate any miscommunication, and it is also an important step that must be taken before any real education can begin. So what is an atheist? Well, an atheist is defined as “a person who disbelieves or lacks belief in the existence of God or gods.” To call yourself an atheist is to make a belief claim. It is to say that you do not believe that there are any gods. It is not a knowledge claim. To say that you know that there are no gods is to be a gnostic atheist. Most atheists are agnostic atheists, ie. they do not believe that there are any gods, but they won’t say that they know there are no gods. To save time explaining, here is a useful chart:
As you can see, it is possible to be gnostic or agnostic while also being either a theist or an atheist. Basically, if you don’t believe that any gods exist, or that it is likely that any gods exist, you are an atheist. However, if you believe that gods exist, or that it is likely they exist, you are a theist. I feel it is necessary to add that not everybody who is an atheist wishes to label themselves as such, and it is that person’s choice to label themselves as they see fit. But I would like to mention that labeling yourself an atheist adds one more face to the label, which make it harder for people to discriminate and challenges the stigma associated with being an atheist. As such, if you find that you are an atheist, I would encourage you to use the word to describe yourself. It is not a bad word and it does not make you a bad person.
Now to the first quote about what atheism “is.” The commenter wrote that atheism is “To believe some thing is living and some thing is non-living.” If this were true, then everybody would be an atheist. Who doesn’t believe that they are alive and the sidewalk they walk on is not alive? They go on to say that “To negate ritual and traditions of theist is also Atheism.” Many atheists celebrate Christmas. Is this not a theist tradition? Atheism is not about traditions and rituals. It is very easy to believe that the Bible is made up while still celebrating the holidays with your family. Some atheists do negate these rituals and traditions, but that is not what atheism is. Here is a podcast that discusses this very issue: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IidLsnn1WL8. They conclude by saying “Atheism is contradictory, thereby it is false.” How is atheism contradictory? Nothing in their explanation of atheism contradicted anything else they said (assuming it was true). And the actual definition contains no contradictions either. It is a simple statement of disbelief. To say that atheism is false at this point is unsupportable. In fact, given the actual definition, the only way to show atheism to be false would be to prove that there are gods.
The next commenter said that “Atheism is just another theism — a theory.” Neither atheism nor theism are theories. A theory is “a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained.” Atheism is a belief claim. There is no intent to explain anything. And atheism is the opposite of theism, thus the “a” in from. Theists, as the chart above shows, believe that there are gods, or a god. Atheists believe the opposite. To say that atheists are theists is insulting to both sides. They go on to say “Atheists are just stupid enough to try and stop the unstoppable — you can’t stop a belief.” While there are atheists out there who want to get rid of religion, that is not part of what it means to be an atheist. Most atheists are happy to live in harmony with religious people so long as no one tries to force us to abide by their religions beliefs. While it is difficult, you can actually stop beliefs, at least on an individual level, but that’s really irrelevant. They then claim that “it is form of hope. Hope to see loved ones again, a hope life is not meaningless, a hope that something lies beyond the misery of this world.” While those are pretty words, they don’t really mean anything. Atheists have hope. And this world is not miserable, at least not to most people. Again, most people are not interested in stopping anyone from believing, but the ones that are aren’t trying to take peoples hope away. I had hope when I was religious and I still have hope today. Most people who deconvert feel the same, so the idea that taking away a persons belief will take away their hope is kind of silly.
I’m sure this is all basic information for most of you, but I hope this post will help some of you understand what we mean when we say we’re atheists, and I hope it will help bring about mutual understanding in the future.