Anti-theism is another non-theism that gets confused with atheism. People often assume either that all atheists are anti-theists or that anti-theists are atheists and all atheists share the same opinions as the anti-theists do. Both beliefs are problematic.
Where atheism is the belief that gods don’t exist, a belief held by anti-theists, anti-theism is the active opposition to theism. In fact, while many theists believe that atheism can be defined as against god, this is actually the definition of anti-theism. Both anti- and a- are negation prefixes that come from ancient Greek. However, a- simply means not. The ancient Greeks did not use a- to mean against. If they wanted to signify being against something, they used anti-, or, more commonly, the words epi or pros, both of which literally translate to “against.” As such, it is not accurate to say that atheism means “against God.” But that’s enough of a Greek lesson for today.
Anti-theism is a term that refers to the belief that theism and religion are very likely to be false, but that they are also unreasonably restrictive, dangerous to people both inside out outside of the religion, and primitive. Anti-theists aren’t so much against God as they are against the things done in the name of religion. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the word “anti-theist” as “One opposed to belief in the existence of a god.” This is to say that they don’t simply not believe in gods, they are actually against the very belief in gods. Many anti-theists regard theism as both dangerous or destructive to both people and society as a whole. In fact, many of the best known atheists identify as anti-theists. Christopher Hitchens, one such anti-theist wrote “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an anti-theist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.” I do agree that religion has been used to cause a lot of harm, however, unlike Hitchens, I don’t believe there’s any point in trying to get rid of it. For one, the people who wish to cause harm ill just find another excuse to cause it. For another, most religious people don’t cause any problems. In fact, it is the institutions built up in the name of religion that causes the problems. If I were going to suggest that we get rid of anything, it would be the institutions that I would suggest getting rid of.
Anti-theism can be seen in various arguments and opinions that are highly critical of religion. A common criticism of religion is that theism is dangerous to society and limits human progress. Some argue that religion must be eliminated in order for humanity to achieve its full potential. Anti-theists often take an outspoken approach in the name of fighting against religion. They will campaign against religion in various ways and even write books on the subject. Anti-theists tend to reject the supposed benefits of holding religious and theistic beliefs, as do most atheists. They do not accept the claim that religion is the cause of morality or that theists are more likely to commit charitable deeds. While many theists find comfort and hope in their beliefs, the anti-theists that reject theism’s suggested positive benefits argue that they could find enough pleasures and can do good with a secular worldview.
Anti-theism is also called militant atheism by some people. Militant atheism is generally just atheist activism, or atheists who are outspoken about discrimination suffered by atheists. However, a large number of people conflate atheist activism with anti-theism. This is understandable, because a large number of anti-theists are atheist activists, and anti-theists are more likely to refer to themselves as militant atheists than other atheists are. However, the term militant atheism is often used by anti-theists and so-called strong, ie. atheists who assert as fact that they believe gods don’t exist (gnostic atheists), atheists alike. Many modern atheist writers who express what is viewed as strong atheistic or anti-religious stances are accused of being militant because they directly criticize religion. However, these writers are rarely threatening, or even hostile, towards religion. An exellent example being Chris Stedman. They are merely trying get people to question their presuppositions and eliminate problems that actively hurt people. Religion’s encroachment into governments and politics are well within the rights of atheists and theists alike to debate, criticize, and discuss. Saying anything against religion does not make one an anti-theist, nor does it make one militant or angry. And those who are not religious have just as much right to criticize religion as the religious do. After all, we are all affected by government policy.
While anti-theist indicates being against theism to an atheist, many theists have there own explanations of what an anti-theist is. The French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1953), defined anti-theism as “an active struggle against everything that reminds us of God.” I don’t think that this is an accurate explanation, because it assumes belief in God. In order to struggle against everything that reminds you of God, you must associate things with God. This may be something that some anti-theists do when they are coming into their atheism, but it isn’t something that all anti-theists do. For one thing, not all anti-theists were raised to have any concept of God. For another, not everybody feels the need to pull away from everything that they once associated with religion, or God. Some people are perfectly willing to keep those things around, they just think that religion is harmful. In fact, there are other terms that better define this opposition to God. Dystheism means “belief in a deity that is not benevolent.” With dystheism, you can believe in a god that you are against due to the god’s lack of benevolence. There is also misotheism, which means “hatred of God.” People who are misotheists believe that God exists and hate him.
It is necessary to be careful when assuming that somebody is an anti-theist. Very few atheists are anti-theists (although it isn’t uncommon for atheists to go though an anti-theist phase). And neither atheists nor anti-theists hate god. As I’ve said in earlier posts, these words have meanings for a reason, and that meaning gets destroyed when we use them however we wish. At the same time, people give themselves labels for a reason. Applying labels to people that they have not applied to themself is both rude and likely to lead you to misunderstand them.