I Am Both an Atheist and a Non-Theist

It’s true! I am both an atheist and a non-theist. A lot of you (all Christians, I might add) have said that one is either an atheist or a non-theist, and you have made comments in regards to non-theism being better, more sensible, more logical. But I am both. In fact, all atheists are both. Why? Because atheism and non-theism both mean the same thing: not a theist. A theist, as I’m sure you all know, is someone who believes that there is at least one god. Therefore, someone who is not a theist does not believe that there are any gods. That is what makes someone an atheist and it is what makes someone a non-theist. Don’t believe me? Check the link: http://www.learnenglish.de/grammar/prefixtext.html. Both the prefix for atheist (a-) and the prefix for non-theist (non-) mean not. The only difference is origin. The a- prefix comes from Greek. Non- has its roots in Latin.

However, it seems that how we label ourselves matters more to people than what the words we use actually mean. So, why do I call myself an atheist and not a non-theist? Is it because I believe that no gods exist as opposed to not believing that any gods exist? No. I both believe that no gods exist and don’t believe that gods exist. In fact, I believe that gods don’t exist because I don’t believe that gods exist. Confused? Me too. And unnecessarily so. We’re humans. We hold beliefs. It’s unlikely that you don’t believe that something exists and don’t also believe that it doesn’t exist. You may say that you don’t know, but it is perfectly possible to form a belief about something that you don’t know. The trick isn’t to not form said beliefs (we all do it whether we want to admit it or not), the trick is to be aware that, while we hold a belief, we could be wrong. And, of course, to collect as much evidence to support our beliefs as possible. So no, I don’t call myself an atheist because I hold a belief as opposed to…what? Not holding a belief…
No, I call myself an atheist because it is an easily understood term. If I tell someone I’m an atheist, they know what I’m saying (kind of). At least they know that I, in one way or another, don’t believe in any gods. They may think that I hate god, or that I’m being rebellious, or that I’m just angry. They may think that I believe that there are no gods when I should simply not believe in any gods (simple my ass). They may think that I’m actually an agnostic, or that I hate theism. All of which are either untrue or non-issues. But at least they know that I don’t believe in gods. If I say that I am a non-theist, people don’t make that assumption. They assume that I’m “finding myself.” They assume that I’m between religions, or I’ve lost my way. They assume that I’m a theist who is not willing to call myself a theist. At best, they wonder with category of non-theistic groups I’m a part of (am I an atheist, an agnostic, a skeptic, a freethinker, a secular humanist?). For the record, I’m technically within all of those groups. I am an agnostic atheist who is also a secular humanist, skeptic, freethinker. And I’m a non-theist. Why should I have to choose just one when they all cover different areas?
I think that there are a number of problems with assuming that I must call myself an atheist or a non-theist. First, it forces me into a single box that I don’t fit in perfectly. Yes, I’m an atheist. But that is not all I am. So why should I solely be defined by my atheism? I am also a non-theist, but, again, that is not all I am. So why should I say I am? Second, it applies other labels to me that I don’t want applied to me. If I say that I’m an atheist, people stick the “asshole” label to me because they assume that all atheists must be assholes. I get the “anti-theist” label stuck to me because people don’t realize that being an atheist doesn’t make me an anti-theist. I get the “you just hate god” label stuck to me because people assume that if they believe in god, I must too. Sadly, the labels I’d get if I called myself a non-theist are worse (in my opinion). I don’t want people to label me as “finding myself.” I know who I am. And I don’t want people to make assumptions about me because the label I use isn’t clear. I want people to use the label that I prefer because that is showing me respect. The third problem is you are trying to fit someone into your labelling system. To tell someone that they are, or should, label themselves in a way that they don’t is arrogant. It’s saying that you know who they are better than they do. You don’t. If non-theist works for you, fine. But atheist works for me.
So please, stop it with this nonsense about non-theist being a better label that atheist. Stop telling me that they’re different. Stop trying to lump me into a category because you think I should either be different than I am or I should call myself something that I don’t call myself. I am an atheist. I am an atheist definitionally speaking, and I am an atheist because that is the label that I chose to use.


11 responses to “I Am Both an Atheist and a Non-Theist

  • lady82faye

    Hi! This makes sense. I’m always more genuinely curious than trying to label, and this helped clarify atheism on a personal level/from a personal perspective than any scholarly endeavor has ever done. So, thank you!


  • jatwood5260

    Great post — Smart reasoning and emotional clarity. Bang!


  • jack howard

    Why does a perfect being (as alleged by the religious), need or want worship? Does god suffer from a cosmic inferiority complex?

    How can you be proud of your professed religion since for 90% or more of people religious preference is an accident of birth or upbringing when an infant, not a matter of conscious choice.

    Religious folks claim that god exists outside of time and space
    (and therefore is not subject to the usual proofs).
    I have never heard any religious folks justify this claim.
    As usual, religious folks equate their self-serving unfounded assertions (no matter how absurd) with fact.

    Religious people insist that their religious views be respected.
    Yet, I have never heard the religious justify why their religious views should be respected. And, why should I say that I respect something (religious dogma) that I have no respect for.


    • weirdthingdoer

      I agree that there is little (if any) scientific proof as to the existence of god, but I still respect people who believe in god and follow any religion.

      By respecting peoples beliefs we try to avoid conflicts, things like wars and genocide can easily start when we stop respecting each others ideas and thoughts.

      You don’t have to agree with something, but no one has to give you evidence for why you should respect it. The fact that someone believes in it is the one and most important reason.

      With each right there comes a responsibility, if you want to have the right to free speech and free belief, then you must obey the responsibilities associated with that power. Otherwise the world goes to shit.

      Please respect the opinions and beliefs of others, no matter what you believe.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Carl at FSJ

    Reblogged this on Carl's Rants & Raves and commented:
    Interesting what power words really hold. The power over the mind and the belief of given person is stored in these marks. The media may amplify the message to the masses but does not yet alter the power its power over a single reader.

    The reason given for the change from Atheist to Non-Theist was simple back in my great-grand dad’s day. Atheist were considered amoral or was that immoral or unmoral. What ever it was the Atheist wanted a word that did not have the same imagery so they came up with nontheist. Which means the same thing with out the associated issue of morality.

    Words –> Image –> Belief –> Power

    Not power in the physical or political sense but power in the effect it has over an individual.

    Does it really matter if one is an atheist as opposed to an nontheist? Well it did in the late 19th century but does it in the early 21st. Probably not unless those pesky words are still having the same power over people.

    Live Well, Laugh Often, Love Much. Smile!


  • clubschadenfreude

    great post. I’m an atheist and proud of it. I’m an gnostic atheist to all of the gods that humanity has invented, and only technically an agnostic theist to all of the improbable rest. 🙂

    I will hazard a guess that the term atheist scares theists for the sole reason that it says that someone thinks that they are wrong.


  • brmckay

    Unless of course, the person is trying to get you to consider what the Advaitan means by “Neti Neti” or the Zen master by “Hold no opinion for or against.”

    The above post indicates no understanding that the shoe doesn’t fit.

    When you say that “I know who I am”, what exactly do you know? And who knows it?


  • Brent Arnesen

    Well done. I too am an atheist, because that’s what I want to call myself.
    Christians are the last people we should ask for advice…


Tell us what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: