What is Atheism?

July 30, 2014 | By | 6 Replies More

New video on Atheist TV feature video statements of prominent atheists, including an address given by Madalyn Murray O’Hair, the founder of American Atheists at the group’s 1990 convention. The clips start at about 5:30 min. These were radical statements in the United States in 1990. They are much more commonplace today, though they still aggravate many believers.


Category: Religion

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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  1. Edgar Montrose says:

    Many self-identified athiests get it wrong. Atheism is not a militant denial of the existence of God. It is not a threat to take belief in deities away from other people. It is simply a life in which the very concept of deities is not even present.

    An analogy can be drawn by reference to the ancient Greek gods. When most people in the modern world go about their business, the thought that Zeus might be influencing their lives never even enters their minds. Well, that’s exactly how athiests (don’t) think about God (and Zeus). It’s not that athiests go about, actively denying the existence of God (or Zeus), it’s that thoughts of a deity never even occur to them.

    In that context, I have to wonder what the narrator of Athiest TV means by “athiest friendly programming”.

  2. Edgar Montrose says:

    There’s that problem again — people forcing other people into strict categories, even in cases where none of the categories are appropriate. While there may be people who can be characterized by the “six”, they by no means represent all athiests.

    Stop thinking of atheism as a religion. Stop thinking of it as a set of beliefs or rules. Stop attempting to assign attributes to it. Stop assuming that a particular set of beliefs is fundamental to human existence, and that anyone who does not embrace that set of beliefs therefore must actively deny them, fail to understand them, desperately search for them, or simply embody their antithesis (evil).

    As I said, just as one might not consider Zeus (or Poseidon, Hades, Hera, Demeter, Hestia, Athena, Apollo, Artemis, Aphrodite, Hermes, Dionysus, Hephaestus, Aresin, Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, Juno, Ceres, Vesta, Minerva, Apollo, Diana, Venus, Mercury, Bacchus, Vulcan, Mars, Odin, Frigg, Thor, Freyr, Freyja, Baldr, Loki, Tyr, Heimdall, Njörd, Ra, Amun, Osiris, Isis, Nephthys, Set, Horus, Anubis, Bast, Hathor, Thoth, Ma’at) in their everyday life, one can also not consider God in their everyday life. There is nothing militant, or ignorant, or desperate, or evil about it. For such people, it is simply not present. That is all.

    • Erich Vieth says:

      Edgar. There is a definitional battle raging out there. I’d like to tell people that I’m an “atheist” and expect them to know all of the things that you have eloquently and correctly set forth. But most people have a screwed up definition in their heads. They are convinced that an “atheist” is an asshole who makes fun of religion even when religious people are doing works of kindness for the poor. They are convinced “atheists” want to browbeat them out of their religions and keep them from saying their private prayers at night. Actually, there are some of those atheists out there, and many theists think that all atheists are that way. In my experience, most atheist just want to be left alone to live their lives without others moralizing THEM. Oh, and keep your religious beliefs out of our government–but far from a statement of religious neutrality, this is construed to be an attack on religion.

      So what do you do? Call yourself an “atheist,” and incur substantial detriment in many social situations? My choice is to use a synonym. I say “I don’t believe in God.” That phrase lacks much of the baggage of calling oneself an “atheist.” If someone follows up and asks, “Do you mean that you are an atheist?” I say “yes.” That two step is the way I approach it because it allows me to get a foot in the door in conversations about “God” that I otherwise would have been categorically excluded from. I respect others who take the straightforward approach too.

    • Edgar Montrose says:

      Erich. I simply don’t tell people. It’s none of their business. I just live my life and let my actions speak for me.

      (That can lead to some interesting situations. For example, I don’t drink alcohol. Most people assume that it’s for religions reasons. Oh, the irony.)

  3. Ben says:

    Edgar, the person you describe is a classic #6. With a side of fries.

    “A Non-Theist simply does not concern him or herself with religion,” Silver and Coleman wrote. “Religion plays no role or issue in one’s consciousness or worldview; nor does a Non- Theist have concern for the atheist or agnostic movement. They simply do not believe, and in the same right, their absence of faith means the absence of anything religion in any form from their mental space.”

    In terms of my own thoughts on religion, I am more of an atheist chameleon. I enjoy PZ Myers’ writing about how yes — atheism is technically just not believing in God — but it is also (can) be so much more:

    “Why Dictionary Atheism is Wrong” PZ Myers

    Almost every day, I get a pugnacious email or a tweet saying something like this:

    “Atheism is the lack of belief in the existence of gods. Period.”


    This is not a battle that can be won. It isn’t really a battle anyway, but more of a bullhorn vs loudspeaker / see who can talk loudest.

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