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Thoughts on Atheism: A Definition

I’ve seen a lot of differing opinions on how atheism ought to be defined. I want to put my perspective on this term down in writing, just to get it out of the way. This will probably be pretty dry for most people, but this stuff interests me and you don’t have to read if you don’t want. But know that I appreciate you if you do.

First, “atheism/atheist” is derived from the base, “theism/theist”. So, we will first define “theist” and that will give us my understanding of “atheist”.

The term “theist” is derived from the Greek “theos” meaning “god”. The suffix “-ist” denotes an adherent of a system of beliefs. Since the word “theos” just means “god”, that means that the “system of beliefs” that a “theist” adheres to is simply:

“There is at least one god.”

No more. No less.

This definition doesn’t specify a religion or moral character or anything else about the person. It’s just that this person, the theist, positively affirms the existence of a god or gods.

Now the word “atheism” is just “theism” with an “a-” prefix. This “a-” prefix just means, “not; without, opposite to.” So, I understand the word “atheist” simply meaning, “being not theist.”

Again, this says nothing about a religion or lack there of. Neither does it express the moral character of the person. The only relevant difference in this situation is that this person, the atheist, does not positively affirm the existence of a god or gods.

Sure, that makes the word “atheist” a huge category with an enormous variety of subcategories. But, how is that different from “theist”?

Also. No, this definition of atheism doesn’t mean that cats and rocks can then be called an atheist. That’s because this conversation is in the context of those who can be rationally contrasted with those who are able to “adhere to a system of beliefs.” A rock, a cat, or a baby cannot be rationally contrasted with those who can adhere to a system of beliefs.

Like I said earlier, the words “theism” and “atheism” should be considered separately from the word “religion”. Buddhism, Jainism, and some forms of Hinduism are all “non-theistic religions.” That is, they are all religions that do not have a god or gods. It is also perfectly within the realm of reason for people to believe that there is a god but, at the same time, refuse to adhere to a religion. America is filled with these kinds of people.

Welp, that’s about it. Thanks for reading and let me know what you think. Now with that out of the way, I feel like I can express why I think atheism is a silly position in some later posts. Have a nice day!

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