What is an atheist?


This came up in another thread. But the definition of “atheist”, “agnostic”, or if “atheism” is actually a thing seems to vary, largely on religious lines.

Words often take up usages and meanings other than the offical definition. So what’s your take on defining those terms? How would you label another based on their answered to the three questions?

  1. Do you believe there’s a God?
  2. Are you sure?
  3. Could you be wrong?


Clearly NO-YES-NO is atheist and NO-NO-YES is agnostic and so is YES-NO-YES. The problem is that for many the answers are:
NO-99.99%-YES.BUT.I.THINK.IT.VERY.VERY.UNLIKELY. Such folk would very probably call themselves atheist, which for all practical purposes they are.


These people are either atheist (as in un-believers) or very very stringent agnostics. They accept that they may indeed be wrong, but find no acceptable reason that they are.


[Romans 2:14]
For when the Gentiles, which have not the law ,
do by nature the things contained in the law ,
these, having not the law ,
are a law unto themselves :

I remember I told an atheist - that he did good deeds - basically - for himself
And that I did good deeds - more for love of God -and not or myself -
If I did things for myself, from myself, like that, it’d add up to nothing.
It’d be good - basically - for nothing …
He looked me up and down - and said " God for nothing ! "


I would describe myself as an agnostic atheist. I don’t believe there’s a god, I’m not sure and I could be wrong.


I’m old-school.

I define it etymologically-


Of course, the definition is under an ongoing debate as a matter of rhetorical semantic.

  1. No
  2. No
  3. Yes

And most atheists I know would answer the same. Very few atheists are dogmatic enough to state that they are sure and could be wrong. Yes, they exist but MOST of them answer as I do.

Edited for better clarity


In that case, I’m an agnostic theist.

I think there’s a God with enough certainty that I go to church and worship it, but I concede that it may not exist.


True. It does complicate things - you could be an agnostic theist about the Christian God and then an agnostic atheist about Odin, for example. But I do use it when I discuss my own thoughts about religion because I’ve encountered a few people who say my position as an agnostic is “wishy-washy” or trying to sit on the fence. It makes things easier, in my case.


The other issue with the “atheist” label is that many associate it with the “New Atheist” which is includes several differences some of us are not comfortable with.


You referring to the fedora-tipping anti-social justice crowd?


It’s the preferred head-wear for fools of all stripes.


If that ain’t the truth…


Even worse, they are often unknowingly wearing trilbies.


GK Chesterton was commenting on the idea that an atheist believes there is no god, and he remarked that he didn’t believe there was an atheist.


No , yes and sadly no…


The Psalmist teaches us that an atheist is a foolish person:

The fool says in his heart, “there is no God.” Ps 53:1

This doesn’t mean that an atheist is not intelligent, but more likely a sinful person.

The Hebrew word nadal typically means an impious one, or someone who is ignorant of religious truth.

I think in American culture, there are many more people who are agnostic, i.e. do not know if there is a God, even many self-identified atheists are often agnostic, instead.

During the Great Vigil of Easter, we always pray for:

  • Those who do not believe in God, and also for
  • Those who do not believe in Christ

May the light of truth, the light of our Lord and God and Savior Jesus Christ shine brightly upon them.

Deacon Christopher


Atheism is simply a principled rejection of God’s existence, whether that be for epistemological or perceived logical reasons. I would not class Agnosticism as a form of Atheism because one can be agnostic in regards to evidence but at the same time have faith in God’s existence. Thus one can be an agnostic-theist or an agnostic-atheist. I think an agnostic-theist could be properly termed as a Fidiest; somebody who does not believe that God’s existence can in principle be proven unless God reveals himself. In other-words, outside of special revelation, we can only have faith if you think fideism is true. Otherwise an agnostic-theist is somebody who lacks evidence for God but believes in his existence anyway. An agnostic-atheist reserves belief until evidence is made clear; they lack faith, but are open to the possibility that he really exists; at least they do not think the concept is unreasonable.


Exactly what the name suggests; an anti-theist.


In my atheist days I described atheism as simply not believing there is a god (or gods). I also sometimes described myself as Lou2U does above, as an ‘agnostic atheist’, meaning that while I did not believe in god(s) I also could not be certain.

But I think, if talking to atheists, rather than trying to impose one fixed definition on them (trying to win some meaningless pedantic/semantic argument), I would now simply enquire how they interpret the word in their own way of thinking (as I would like them to do for me when I describe myself as Catholic or Christian).

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