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Samldanach [userpic]
When is an atheist not an atheist?

One of the things I find interesting in my discussion on religion is how rampantly misused the term "atheist" is. Ranging from the ridiculous assertion that atheists are Satanists up to the equally ridiculously assertion that atheists only believe in that which can be proven.

So what does it mean to be an atheist?

An atheist is one who believes that there are no gods.

There are two important things to note in that definition. First, an atheist believes. It is a leap of faith to say that there are no divine beings, because we cannot know that. There is evidence that divine beings exist (most specifically numerous witness accounts). But there is nothing that can be pointed to as proof. Of course, as any logician can tell you, absence of proof is not proof of absence.

Consequently, making the assertion that there are no gods is not something you can back up with any more proof than a Christian or Muslim can offer in return. If you are simply going to say that every religion is wrong because they cannot offer proof, then you are agnostic. You do not know what the truth is. You may even assert that we cannot know what the truth is. Not knowing is, quite literally, agnosticism.

The other important thing to note is the plural at the end. One of the most appalling things I see on a regular basis on this journey is people who say "Fundies are stupid and wrong and abusive, so now I'm an atheist!" Atheism is not the opposite of Christianity any more than Buddhism is. If you are going to point at Westboro Baptist as an example of what you don't want to be, that's all well and good. But that represents a TINY fraction of even what is present within Christianity. And Christianity itself is a remarkable aberration among religions (an aberration with a self-perpetuating cycle that created its success). Have you looked at Deism? Judaism? Taoism? Wicca? Odinism? Once you declare yourself to be atheist, you are rejecting all of those, and many more. Does that make sense, when the only religion you are familiar with is Christianity?

If you are going to identify as an atheist, that is fine. I certainly do. But before you go waving that flag, please take the time to understand what it means. It does not mean "I fucking love science". It does not mean "I reject religion as an institution". It does not mean "I am a smart, sophisticated, liberal". It does not mean "I really like to sleep in on Sundays".

It means that you have chosen a world view that actively denies the presence of the divine. That you have stared into the abyss, and decided to declare that there is nothing staring back. That you have opted to wrap yourself in the warm comfort that you know, beyond a doubt, that there are no higher powers.

It means you believe.


It means that you have chosen a world view that actively denies the presence of the divine.

Not necessarily. Rather than believing that there are no gods, some people simply do not believe.

For example: some Christians believe very strongly in a particular type of Devil who is at work in the world and actively opposed to all that is good. I grew up in a religion which didn't have this concept of Satan; I simply did not believe. There was no deciding, there was no active belief in Satan's non-existence.