Atheism, or lack thereof

Is atheism a belief similar to believing in a religion, or is it a lack of a belief? It depends.

Some people promote atheism and seem to strongly believe in it.

I think far more people simply don’t believe in existing religions or gods but don’t think much about what that makes them. They are agnostic or atheist (or a vague mix of both) more due to a lack of a religious belief rather than having a specific belief.

It’s common to see atheistic leaning people to say they won’t believe in a god or gods unless they see proof of their existence.

I think that puts them into a sort of agnostic/atheist position without devoutly believing in any label.

Wikipedia has a definition of atheism:

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist.

Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities.[3][4][5] Most inclusively, atheism is the absence of belief that any deities exist. Atheism is contrasted with theism,[8][9] which, in its most general form, is the belief that at least one deity exists.

The term “atheism” originated from the Greek ἄθεος (atheos), meaning “without god(s)”, used as a pejorative term applied to those thought to reject the gods worshiped by the larger society. With the spread of freethought, skeptical inquiry, and subsequent increase incriticism of religion, application of the term narrowed in scope. The first individuals to identify themselves using the word “atheist” lived in the 18th century. Some ancient and modern religions are referred to as atheistic, as they either have no concepts of deities or deny acreator deity, yet still revere other god-like entities.

That’s not very specific and allows for a range of positions or lack of a position on gods.

A website American Atheists tries to explain what atheism is.

WHAT IS ATHEISM?
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.

I doubt that claim. How many people have preconceived ideas about atheism? My guess is that most people simply don’t think much or anything about it.

I didn’t know anything about atheism as a concept until I was well into my adulthood. I simply didn’t see anything for me in the church/religion options.

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.

Even the “belief in gods and supernatural beings” (or lack of belief) is not clear cut. What is a supernatural being? Probably different things to different people.

I understand that many people believe in God, which is sort of the same thing for Christians, Muslims and Jews, their religions all have common origins.

So I believe gods exist for them in their minds. Does that make me a theist?

It depends on what definition of god you want to use. Commonly it means an all powerful thing that created everything and dictates moral laws and behaviours through earthly representatives. But it could also be just a belief in a greater power of some sort rather than a specific entity.

God could seen as an integral force of the universe like gravity.

Or it could be a construct of human beings, a figment of their imaginations.

For many people it’s a helpful figment. Many of those who believe in a god or gods get some benefit from their belief. But people who don’t share that belief could find their own benefits in different ways.

ReligiousTolerance.org attempts a Description of Atheism.

Most Atheists have analyzed the available material evidence about deities (gods and/or goddesses) and have concluded that there is no real evidence of their existence.

I doubt that many atheist-like people do much analysing, they are simply apathetic towards deities.

Many regard the concept of deity to be devoid of meaning.

I don’t know how many. That’s an odd statement.

They generally believe that the universe, Earth and its life forms came into existence and evolved by perfectly natural processes. They see no evidence of intervention or guidance by a supernatural entity.

I have seen people who follow a religion who think along very similar lines to that. Generalising about atheism is like generalising about theism, there are many flavours and strengths of belief.

Other Atheists are people who have simply never been exposed to belief in a deity or deities and therefore have no belief in them.

That sort of describes me. I was exposed to a bit of religion when growing up but just wasn’t very interested. Bible stories seemed a bit like Grimm’s stories but more boring.

Neither of my parents displayed any belief in religion although we occasionally went to the local church and my mother sent us to Sunday School for a while because she thought she should.

There was no consideration of ‘atheism’. It was just not thinking about much at all about it and not believing in anything religious.

I’m very grateful I live in New Zealand, a country where most people can live without any pressure to believe or not to believe, where we intermingle often not knowing or barely knowing what people we associate with believe in regarding gods and religion. It’s a personal choice without pressure.

AqualungI believe there could be some truth in that but it will always be up for debate.

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10 Comments

  1. Kittycatkin

     /  8th December 2014

    I find aggressive atheism very odd; there are many things whose existence I don’t believe in, but I don’t feel the need to demonstrate this loudly as some atheists do. Just as I don’t feel the need to force my religious beliefs on other people or trumpet them.

    Reply
  2. dave

     /  8th December 2014

    once one realises that no-one is born believing in any sort of religion (in other words – ALL RELIGION IS TAUGHT) then there is no reason or need to “explain” atheism at all.

    Reply
    • kiwi_guy

       /  8th December 2014

      No one is born believing anything. But don’t humans have a disposition towards certain psychological states of mind or ideas?

      How come virtually every human society across cultures, locations and history have believed in gods or spirits?

      Religious disposition is obviously hardwired into the human brain.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  8th December 2014

        “How come virtually every human society across cultures, locations and history have believed in gods or spirits?”

        Surely this has an obvious answer? And the answer is that the world we live in is so complex and mysterious that people try to make sense of it by a simplification they can relate to and understand. That is exactly what the gods and spirits are.

        Reply
  3. Religion & Politics..the causes of most of the wars in history (& arguments in pubs)

    Reply
  4. “If atheism is a religion, then abstinence is a sexual position.”

    Really, that is utter crap. It’s about as sensible as saying that babies are athiests because they have no religious beliefs. The default position is to have no beliefs, but people don’t say that they are atheists because they have no beliefs, they say they are athiests because they don’t like religion or religious ideas for whatever reason.

    Reply
  5. I don’t believe there is a God – in exactly the same way I ‘believe’ there is no Santa Claus, Tooth faery, or Easter Bunny. Not so much a ‘belief,’ as having an opinion on the subject.

    That said, I also believe that each person is a unique human creature. And our individual journeys of discovery rarely cover the same ground – let alone the same path. Too many atheists seem to feel that, having arrived at this conclusion – that no supernatural being had any role in the creation of this universe, or life itself – is to have achieved some ultimate touchstone of wisdom. Which is not true. It’s barely a beginning.

    Think of it this way: You no longer believe in Thor – or any of those other ancient Gods. Or that the earth is flat, and is the center of the entire universe (I’m betting). But chances are it has done little more than open your eyes to certain number of misconceptions, those folks labored under. And which one never gives a second thought to, now.

    But life continues to be an ever unfolding realm of discovery – and exploration of human knowledge. And it’s amazing how little any of us actually know. And it’s really some cold comfort, that we no longer have to worry about lining our thinking up with some arbitrary, specious, belief system. Of itself, It still doesn’t cure cancer.

    My conclusions – concerning the whole matter?

    Straight and Narrow, may be the way …
    But MAth is the path. (Math and Science.)

    Reply
    • Belief and opinion are pretty much the same, you can be uncertain in a belief just as you can be uncertain in an opinion. Ignorance is of no value, and science isn’t going to tell you anything about that which lies outside the scientific paradigm.

      Reply

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