What to call yourself…

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There seems to be a huge amount of confusion surrounding the definitions of the words atheist, agnostic, and anti-theist, among others, so in this post I’m going to attempt to sort out this confusion and offer my knowledge on what these terms mean, and how they should be used.

Now lots of people prefer to call themselves ‘agnostics’ instead of atheists, but in reality most atheists are agnostics anyway. Atheism deals with belief, whereas agnosticism deals with knowledge. The way I see it, you can’t just be an agnostic – it’s all well and good saying you don’t know, but that doesn’t deal with the question of whether you believe or not. You have to be either an agnostic atheist, or an agnostic theist.

Atheism is specifically defined as a disbelief in deities, so therefor does not say that you believe that there is no God. That would be Gnostic atheism, or as far as my knowledge goes, anti-theism. But anti-theism itself can mean a range of things, from holding the belief that there is no God, to just actively opposing theism.

Sometimes there is the misconception that atheists believe that life is meaningless, but atheism doesn’t even cover that either. The correct terminology for someone like that would be Nihlism, which is the rejection of all religious or moral principles and the belief that life is meaningless.

Now all of this seems like a lot of terminology and confusion, and, as one of my earlier posts showcased, it can get a bit complicated. Some may think that it is better to abandon all of these seemingly pointless little classifications altogether, but someone on YouTube brought up a very good point a few weeks ago, which is that these labels, while seemingly annoying, help to better define a group of people into subsections for easier identification. This may all seem obvious to some, but after being around a lot of people that hold the view that we should abandon all of these little labels, it came as a sort of revelation to me.

What are your thoughts on the matter?

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7 thoughts on “What to call yourself…

  1. I’ve never heard “anti theism” used to refer to gnostic atheism. Seems to me that to use it in that way would only breed confusion.

    Do you have any examples of it being used or defined in that way?

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    • Unfortunately I cannot find any citations, however I do know that I was told that by a few people when I first entered the atheist community and started debating.

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  2. I find that labels, though they can be simplistic, they do convey meaning on what someone does believe.
    I have only run into the concept of “anti-theism” as being actively against religion e.g. speaking out against religion, countering the claims of theists. Gnostic atheism aka “I know that there is no god”, is a useful term, and it has been my experience that one can indeed say that one knows that certain gods don’t exist, no evidence and vanishingly small probability that this evidence will be found. It is a bit harder when a theists, like a fair number of modern Christians, make up a god that is so vague it has no attributes at all and could indeed be a worm under some rock on Ceti Alpha V.

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  3. I like “agnostic atheist” for myself personally, although it’s not the only term I use. I’ve always held that “anti-theism” means a belief that theism is bad for people, and should be discouraged. I’m not sure we have a good word for a person who actively believes gods don’t exist, other than “gnostic atheist” I think we could use a better word for that, if anybody can think of one.

    “Skeptic” is another term that gets confused. So is “secular”. My working definitions: a skeptic proportions their confidence in a claim to the amount and strength of the evidence presented. Skepticism does not automatically equal atheism, but there is a huge overlap, since a good skeptic will apply the same standards to religious claims as to any others.

    A “secular person” would be one who has no involvement in any religion, regardless of whether they have a god-belief. A “secular government” would be one that remains neutral on religion, not favoring any religious group over any other, or favoring religion over non-religion. I’m still working out how to precisely define a “secular society”, that one’s trickier.

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  4. For me, anyone who believes there are no gods is an a-theist. It doesn’t matter that the non-existence of a god cannot be proved but just that you believe there are no gods is what is important. Theists tend to believe in one god but are a-theists when it comes to the other guy’s god. So for me, if you are a non-believer you are an atheist, no matter what you like to call yourself.

    I assume everyone knows about Bertrand Russel’s “Tea Pot” argument that concludes one can logically “know” something is not true, god for instance, even though we cannot “prove” it. (Scientifically, one cannot prove a negative.) Basically he argues that there is a teapot that circles the sun between Mercury and Venus. It is so small that even the most advanced telescopes cannot detect it but Bertrand “knows” it is there because he believes it to be true. One Christian website denounced the argument because there was no “evidence” for the existence of the the teapot!

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