Why The Word Atheism Should Not Be Taken Too Literally

Why The Word Atheism Should Not Be Taken Too Literally

Atheism literally means without a god.    Superficially it serves well as a label for the easy distinction from people with any religious belief.   Apistia as the absence of all irrational beliefs would be more precise and more exact, but many people have never heard this word, while most people have at least a fuzzy understanding of the word atheism.

Some people take the definition of being without a god too literally.    They distinguish between two categories of weird irrational beliefs:   Beliefs in a deity and beliefs without a deity.   Someone believing in the existence of the christian god is considered as not an atheist, but the buddhist believing in nirvana is considered an atheist.

This distinction is completely arbitrary and fuzzy.  It is not possible to clearly define something like a deity, which does not exist in reality, but only in the delusion, imagination and fantasy of insane people.
People can agree to define a table or a tree, because the definition can be gained and verified by examining real tables and trees.    But there is no general agreement, who can be called a deity and who is none.    Only people sharing the same belief can agree on the definition or their specific deity.  A generalized concept of a deity would require real specimen for standardization.


The literal definition of atheism as the absence of the belief in a deity can logically not be more precise than the elusive definition of the rejected deity.    Atheism as the absence of the belief in deities is as fuzzy as are the deities.
As an example, the believer in a deity called 'mother nature' would not be an atheist, while the person considering 'mother nature' as a new age concept would consider himself as an atheist.
While there cannot be a generally defined atheism, there can be as many different atheisms as there are claims or suggestions of clearly defined deities.   The absence of the belief in the christian god would be a-christian-god-ism, along with a-allahism, a-jahwe-ism, a-hinduism and so on.  For every deity, there can be defined the corresponding absence of the belief.


There is also another aspect to this.   Even those religions, which are centered around the belief in an unambiguously accepted deity, are not restricted to this one belief.   Christianity for example is not limited to the one delusion of the existence of a god, it is a syndrome of several weird beliefs.   There are also the holy ghost, heaven and hell, the eternal soul, praying as a method to reach goals.   An ex-christian can discard the belief in the deity, without automatically also getting rid of all the connected beliefs.   Someone maintaining secondary christian beliefs like the one in the eternal soul, but rejecting the belief in the existence of the god, would then literally be considered an atheist.

I consider the distinction between deity containing and other irrational beliefs as arbitrary and irrelevant.   The detrimental consequences are the same, when a sick and gullible person buys and lights a candle in the church or buys water under the label of homeopathy.


A metaphor:  There are as many different descriptions of monsters in Loch Ness as there are people, who believe to have seen one.   But nobody can define the monster by traits, as there are no real specimen.   Rejecting the claim of a monster in Loch Ness is meaningless, when nobody can define the monster.   Amonsterism by rejecting the belief in the monster, but believing in sauriers instead, makes no sense.
Rationally, all claims of the existence of any entity in Loch Ness need to be rejected, unless at least one specimen has been found.


Skepticism is a method of evaluating claims by using evidence.    When skepticism is applied to the suggestion or claim of any irrational belief,  the result of the rejection is the absence of this specific belief.   This is not only the case for the rejection of specific religious deities.   Someone rejecting the belief in homeopathy can be called an a-homeopath, rejecting the belief in reincarnation makes him an a-reincarnationist.   But it is difficult to know, what the atheist has rejected, because of the lack of a clear definition of a deity.

When someone has consciously rejected an irrational belief, then this is an indication of the ability for skeptical and rational thinking.   This allows the conclusion, that when someone rejects the belief in a christian god, he most probably also rejects other weird beliefs.  This qualifies him to be called apistic.

Anybody, who does not belief in a deity, but has other irrational beliefs, is not skeptical and rational, but just gullible.   When there is no belief in a deity, but this belief has been not consciously rejected, the belief in the deity just happens not to fulfill the needs as much as do other beliefs.    When someone believes in homeopathy or reiki instead of prayers and candles, this is just the haphazard consequence of who and what happened to have the most influence.   This is literally atheism, but it is not apistia.

This is a copy from my ERCP-blog.

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Comment by Maruli Marulaki on January 18, 2012 at 4:32pm

There are certainly criteria to classify irrational beliefs, only the difference between a deity and no deity is too arbitrary.   Belief in the existence of an entity, belief in specific attributes of entities, belief in causations.  

But supernatural to me is just another irrational claim.   I reject the claim of anything supernatural in the same skeptical way as I reject deities:   I do not believe in it until I am presented with evidence.

Comment by paul babcock on January 18, 2012 at 11:57am
I am with you on "atheism" not necessarily bei11ng t most precise word, but in continuing to favor it over other candidates as other candidates cause more confusion, usually from being too obscure. Personaly I have always liked "naturalist", as opposed to 'supernaturalists". But that gets confused w conservationists. So that is no good either.

I differ w you tho, on some other points, as it seems you are failing to make a distinction between supernatural concepts and natural concepts.

It is not likely but it is possible for some sort of consciousness to have emerged from the feedback loops associated w gia/mothernature. If someone wants to revere nature to an extreme extent, then I don't see that as t most irrational action one could take.

And while some forms of Bhudism do focus on the supernatural others don't, and instead focus on fostering certain mental habits. I am hesitant to describe this as certain thoughts as, as I understand it, it is being instead of thinking. Either way tho it isn't anything supernatural.

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