Atheism 101

Nick Glunt

Last week, I wrote a column about being an atheist. I never once tried to sway people into atheism, nor did I attack religious groups. I simply talked about atheists as a minority. However, after reading the online comments posted to that column, I realize just how little people know about atheism.

So consider this your education.

Let me start with a simple definition of atheism. According to Merriam-Webster, atheism is “a disbelief in the existence of deity.” In Greek, adding the prefix a- to a word was a way to show that it meant the opposite of the original word. As “theism” refers to the existence of deity, atheism refers to the opposite.

That’s all the definition covers. Atheists can believe in an afterlife, the soul, reincarnation, fate or anything else. All it means to be an atheist is that the person does not believe in deity — be it God, Vishnu, Shiva, Thor, Hades, Quetzalcoatl or any other god from any religion worldwide. Furthermore, it does not mean we’re worshippers of Satan (who could arguably be considered a deity) or hateful bigots.

It also does not mean we’re bad people. Many uneducated folks seem to hear the word “atheist” and immediately associate it with evil and hate. Just like members of any other religion, we can be good or bad people. Novelists Ernest Hemingway and George Orwell, playwright Arthur Miller, movie critic Roger Ebert, actor Daniel Radcliffe and psychologist Ivan Pavlov — all these people and more are or were atheists. Are they bad people?

Someone in one of the comments said atheism is not a religion. They’re dead wrong. Once again, I’m going to turn to Merriam-Webster, which defined religion as “a personal set or institutionalized system of attitudes, beliefs and practices.” As atheism covers a wide variety of belief systems, it is indeed a religion. It’s not a lack of religion (as that’s called indifference or irreligion).

Next, there’s a difference between agnosticism and atheism. I’ve encountered many people who think they’re agnostic because they don’t really believe in anything. That’s not true. Agnosticism is the belief that the existence of deity is impossible to know, so chooses neither to believe nor disbelieve. Someone who is religiously indifferent is neither an atheist nor agnostic.

And there are a variety of other belief systems as well, including humanism, freethinkers and rationalism.

Being an atheist is a personal choice based on my own understanding of the world. I don’t believe in any god. I’m a good person who behaves ethically. I don’t need the reward of heaven or the threat of hell to guide me.

I’m not someone who will put others down for their beliefs. In fact, religion is one of the most interesting topics for me to discuss with others. The entire point of faith is that you’re putting belief into something that you cannot know is true or false. There are many beliefs, so who’s to say theirs is the absolute truth?

There is no knowing in religion. It’s all about belief.

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