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Is Atheism “A Lack of Belief”? Not to An Atheist


It's a mistake for atheists to define atheism as a "lack of belief in gods." Why?  Because that’s the theists' definition of the word.  Many dictionaries offer this definition, I know--but dictionaries are largely written by theists who fail to recognize their implicit bias.  The word "lack" carries the unmistakeable connotation of deficiency, the sense that what is lacking is something to be desired. So, by definition, to lack something is to be in want of whatever one lacks.  Atheists know that belief in god is nothing to be desired.  We do not lack belief in gods.  Rather, we are free of it.  

The better and more accurate definition of atheism is: "the absence of [belief in] gods."  (The term derived from the Greek; "a" meaning "not" or "without," and "theism" meaning [belief in] gods.)

In Atheism: The Case Against God (Prometheus Books, 1989), George Smith puts it very well:  "Atheism, therefore, is the absence of theistic belief. One who does not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being is properly designated as an atheist.  Atheism is sometimes defined as 'the belief that there is no God of any kind,' or the claim that a god cannot exist. While these are categories of atheism, they do not exhaust the meaning of atheism--and are somewhat misleading with respect to the basic nature of atheism. Atheism, in its basic form, is not a belief: it is the absence of belief. An atheist is not primarily a person who believes that a god does not exist, rather he does not believe in the existence of a god." [my boldface]

This may seem a small point, and maybe it is, but it's a point worth bearing in mind, because when you stop and think about it, the description of atheism as "a lack of belief," is actually a condescending insult. It says, in effect, "Pity the atheists.  For whatever reasons, they're missing something that more sensible people like us are grateful and fortunate to possess: theistic belief."

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Comment by Chris on October 4, 2014 at 3:38am

I like the way you stated your latest comment Don.

"...atheism is simply "the absence of belief in god[s]."  The distinction is crucial and fundamental.  To an atheist the (possible) existence of gods is irrelevant.  An atheist does not necessarily declare that gods don't exist.  He declares only that he has no theistic belief."

I like Douglas Adams quote " Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that that there faries at the bottom of it too?"

I wonder if because of the Anglican church (Church of England)  with it's teaching at school that the British and UK overall is more knowledge about religion and therefore are more immune to it's influence than Americans. Schools in the U.S., at least when I was going to elementary school distorted the Pilgrims and the Plymouth rock story. I was taught that they were escaping religious persecution.  As I learned more - they left England and went to the Netherlands, which at the time was religiously liberal.  Their puritanism was too much for the Dutch too so they went to North America - half jokingly to persecute the members who fell out to their strict belief system and tried them as witches. 

I was taught the Puritans were the original founders of the country and it was about religious liberty. Later I learned that Jamestown  and Saint Augustine were founded. I never heard about these places in elementary school, or that the real reason for settling the country was about Loyds of London protecting it's insurance for ships by getting pitch from (pine) trees to seal boats. As a child I wasn't taught about how the indigenous people were poorly treated, enslaved and made to collect precious metals or face having their hand cut off. The gory details of the expansion into the the Americas are tragic.

Comment by shane cresser on October 3, 2014 at 12:27pm
I guess it's a matter of perspective. Here in the US we are a very religious population. I believe by nature I guess I'm put more to the test of tolerance than my European brothers. Lol omong the believers here religion is far from indifference to them. In this sense I believe Europe is much further along. I have extreme tolerance I guess for them AND their beliefs because I've been surrounded by them since birth. When I meet a religious type who simply cant tell me why he believes what he believes and adheres to absolute blindfolded faith, my tolerance and poise is out to the test; however, instead of anger, my feeling towards them amounts to no more than pitty. I have a feeling you would go nuts here in the US jaume. Lol
Comment by Jaume on October 3, 2014 at 6:59am

I can relate with this leniency, but it depends on where you live, I guess.

Here in France for instance, people who identify as Catholic do so for cultural reasons rather than religious ones: it's more a part of their cultural heritage than a belief that govern their lives. I.e., they want religious marriages, baptize their children, go to Mass maybe once or twice a year, bury their dead in consecrated grounds and plant crosses on their graves - but even though they partake in all these social rites, they'll readily admit that they don't pray or read the Bible, and when you ask them whether God exists, it's likely you'll get answers like "I don't know", "I don't care", "Probably not", or even "I just never thought about it" (I kid you not, I heard one actually say that.)

It's very easy to get along Catholics like those when personal religious faith is so much of a non-issue that it's never discussed even in private. I'd bet that most people couldn't tell whether their lifelong friends or even relatives are believers or not. As a consequence, French nonbelievers don't have to defend their nonbelief and thus rarely think of themselves or identify as 'atheists'. The end result is France is, technically speaking, a mostly apatheistic country. It's easy to be tolerant of your neighbor's religious affiliation in such a place.

Comment by shane cresser on October 3, 2014 at 5:32am
Could t agree with you more bud. As you probably can already tell I take a more lenient approach with the religious than do most on here. Most of them mind their own business and are very pleasant, then you have the ones where it make it difficult to tolerate. However, I do t take them as a threat as I guess some people do on this site. Pretty harmless in my opinion. They don't give me shit for not being religious, then I can't give them shit for being religious.
Comment by Chris on October 3, 2014 at 5:27am

As a follow up  Every religious group is just as ignorant and annoying as the other.   We need to learn how to get along with people of different cultures.

Comment by shane cresser on October 3, 2014 at 5:24am
Still slaughtering masses like its going outta style.
Comment by shane cresser on October 3, 2014 at 5:23am
There is a level of ignorance to all, however I reserve the highest level for Islam. Still stuck in the Bronze Age
Comment by Chris on October 3, 2014 at 5:11am

If I can say  Har, Har.,

Comment by shane cresser on October 3, 2014 at 4:56am
Yeah. It's pretty annoying watching them cross cross their heart, and do a series of different random shit. A lot of Catholics don't even realize the overwhelming pagan elements in the church. Catholics I believe are by far the most ignorant among the Christian type.
Comment by Chris on October 3, 2014 at 4:53am

Eventually you may be able to get over the Catholic B/S as many Protestants and Muslims have been able to do.

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