Non-theistic belief systems
Introduction to the many
varieties/types/divisions within Atheism:
Read news feeds of current topics related to Atheism.
Origin of the term "Atheism:"
The term "Atheist" comes from the Greek word "atheoi" which means "those without God."
The image above is of a fragment from "Papyrus 46" containing part of the Epistle to the Ephesians from the Christian Scriptures.
In the past, Paul, a Christian Apostle and one of the founders of Christianity, was believed to be the author of the Epistle to the Ephesians, which he wrote during his first imprisonment in Rome circa 62 CE. However, starting in 1792, it has been challenged as Deutero-Pauline: that is, like many other New Testament books that claim they are written by Paul were actually written after Paul's death by another Christian author. The first verse in the Epistle, as translated in most versions of the Bible, indicate that the letter was addressed to the Christians "who are in Ephesus" in what is modern-day western Turkey. However, the reference to Ephesus seems to have been added later by an editor. The Jerusalem Bible notes that some Bible scholars think that the epistle phrase was originally a circular letter. The phrase "who are ..." may originally have been blank and later filled in with the name of "whichever church was being sent the letter."
Ephesians 2:12 appears in the King James Version of the Bible as:
"That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." [Emphasis by us].
This papyrus was dated from circa 250 CE.
Types of "Atheists:"
The terms "Atheism" and "Atheist" have many meanings, all of which are related in some way to an absence of belief in the existence of a god, a goddess, or pantheons of deities. (The word "pantheon" originally referred to the building of that name commissioned by Marcus Agrippa circa 30 BCE as a temple honoring the multiple deities of ancient Rome. It now refers to a grouping of supernatural entities, as in Celtic, Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other deities.)
Among the general North American population, the most common meaning of the word "Atheist" refers to a person who firmly asserts that none of the many thousands of supernatural beings: gods, goddesses, ghosts, demons, Satans, angels, etc., who have been recognized by various humans in the present and past, actually exist. In reality, all are regarded as imaginary beings created by humans. This belief is often called "strong Atheism."
In contrast, the most common meaning given to "Atheist" by North American Atheists themselves probably refers to a person who simply lacks a belief, in and knowledge of, any supernatural entities whatsoever. This belief is often called "weak Atheism," negative Atheism, soft Atheism, or implicit Atheism. 2 The policy of this web site is to use the same definition as is used by the group that we are describing, so this is the group to which we refer when we use the term "Atheist."
Still another group found both within Atheism and Theism are the Apatheists. This term is a portmanteau 3 -- a combination of
two words. They may be considered a fusing of:
- "Apathy" and "Theist" or
- Apathy and "Atheist."
Some might describe their attitude towards the divisions among Theism, Agnosticism, and Atheism as "I don't know & I don't really care."
Johnathan Rauch, wrote an article in The Atlantic, saying:
"Apatheism concerns not what you believe but how. In that respect it differs from the standard concepts used to describe religious views and people. [Strong] Atheism, for instance, is not at all like apatheism; the hot-blooded [strong] atheist cares as much about religion as does the evangelical Christian, but in the opposite direction. "Secularism" can refer to a simple absence of devoutness, but it more accurately refers to an ACLU-style 4 disapproval of any profession of religion in public life -- a disapproval that seems puritanical and quaint to apatheists. Tolerance is a magnificent concept, John Locke's inestimable gift to all mankind; but it assumes, as Locke did, that everyone brims with religious passions that everyone else must work hard to put up with. And agnostics? True, most of them are apatheists, but most apatheists are not agnostics. Because -- and this is an essential point -- many apatheists are believers. ..." 5
A search for "Apatheist" on Google found this definition:
An Apatheist is a person who regards the question of the existence or non-existence of a god or gods to be essentially meaningless and irrelevant. However, some define the term more broadly to refer to apathy towards all religions or belief systems, not just toward a belief in god.
Why people become an Atheist:
One Atheist's explanation of why they chose Atheism as a belief system:
This image was copied from the ReligiousTolerance.org's associated Facebook group where it had been posted by a member:
The ReligiousTolerance.org's webmaster personally disagrees with the above image (bias alert):
I was born into a Baptist family and raised as a Protestant Christian. However, I became disillusioned with the faith during my teen years. I had never sensed the presence of God in my life or God's influence on the rest of the world. I had frequently tried to pray to God, but had no feeling of connections. Things that I prayed for generally did not materialize. Yet, none of the arguments against the existence of a deity convinced me that God could be proven to not exist. So I felt that my only ethical option was to became an Agnostic. I remain an Agnostic today, almost seven decades later. I expect to remain one unless I come across a convincing argument about the existence or nonexistence of God.
I can understand the final statement above, but I personally disagree with it. Certainly, many Atheists would agree that a person "must follow the scientific method" to prove the existence of God before they can justify their theistic beliefs. However, I suggest that many Atheists, Agnostics, Monotheists, Bitheists and Polytheists -- would personally consider a sincere feeling of certainty about God's existence to be sufficient to justify a person's belief in one or more deities in the absence of an absolute proof.
A common belief among conservative Christians is that a person chooses to be an Atheist for only one reason: if they were to believe in a God they would need to follow God's moral code as he/she has revealed to humanity. It may be a possible that some Atheists were so motivated, but I have never met any who would fit that description. Most are offended by this suggestion. The facts that persons identifying as Atheists are underrepresented in the prison population, while those identifying as Christians are over represented appear to contradict this belief.
- All the Atheists that I have communicated with assert that they have been ethically forced to become Atheists on purely logical grounds. They see no evidence for such being(s) and many see multiple indicators that such beings do not exist. To be true to themselves, they cannot accept the existence of God, for the same reason as the average Christian cannot accept the existence of Thor, Venus, Baal, and countless other goddesses and gods of antiquity: there is no evidence for their existence. Many Atheists would argue that for a deity to be omnipotent, omnipresent, omnibeneficient is logically contradictory. The arguments about Theodicy -- how can an all-good God allow evil to exist -- has not been adequately resolved in the opinion of many Atheists.
It is worth noting that the only difference between an Atheist and a theist affiliated with the Baha'i, Christian, Judaism, Islam, Sikh, etc. is that a theist typically believes that many thousands of deities are none-existent whereas an Atheist has no belief in the same multiple thousands of deities, plus one.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
The image was uploaded to Wikipedia.com by en:User:Brian0918 on 2007-MAR. Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons.
Austin Cline, "Definition of Weak Atheism," About.com, 2005, at: http://atheism.about.com/
- The word "portmanteau" has two unrelated meanings: a
word made up from two other words fused together, and a type of
suitcase that opens up in to two equal parts.
- "ACLU" refers to the "American Civil Liberties Union," a national group with state offices that promotes civil liberties for all.
Johnathan Rauch, "Let it be: Three cheers for Apatheism," The Atlantic, 2003-MAY. Online at: http://www.jonathanrauch.com/ or http://www.theatlantic.com/
Copyright © 1996 to 2018 by Ontario
Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2018-SEP-24
Author: B.A. Robinson