What is an atheist?

This is the question that has launched innumerable intensely boring screeds across the world wide web.  Most end up being one of two things: The first is an overly long and mildly apologetic article attempting a desperate neutrality of tone which explains the rich history of non-theistic belief and why atheism won’t hurt anybody.  Written by an atheist, this article is quick to point out all the very nice and influential atheists the author can find, and is very respectful in its treatment of alternate points of view.

This is a man
Fig.1 — This is a man.

The second type is the somewhat snooty believer’s attempt to simultaneously explain and subtly belittle atheists. This is usually accomplished by talking about the “different types of atheists”.  They divide atheists into two or three groups, each one clearly flawed in some way or other. Each of the groups is explained in terms that only barely mask the author’s exasperation that anyone would believe this crap, and usually at the end of the page somewhere you’ll find a harmless looking link offering more “information” about atheists which will direct you to a list of reasons why the bible is way more logical than anything science can come up with.

All these articles are good for a little bit of a laugh (provided they’re not too long), but none really hit the mark for our taste.  That’s why we’ve decided that, since we’re doing an atheist website here and everything, we’d better make it clear what we mean when we use the term.  Here, then, is a glossary of terminology that we’re sure will make frequent appearances on this site (in quasi-alphabetical order):

Glossary of Religious Terms 



2 thoughts on “What is an atheist?

  1. Dan-

    The person who taught me the meaning of the word “athiest” was Mrs. Romney, our 7th and 8th grade English teacher. She taught us two vocabulary words each day; the other word she defined for us that day was “agnostic.”

    Stephen Colbert later revolutionized my understanding of “agnostic” when he opined:

    “Isn’t an agnostic just an atheist without balls?”

    Do you think you first learned the meaning of the word “atheist” from Mrs. Romney, or somewhere else?

  2. Rob-

    I have no idea where I first heard it. When I was in Mrs. Romney’s class I was a devout tween believer, and probably just looked down on those words as describing sad, pitiful people. The only words I remember from her are dun and oxymoron (sounds like a Wall Street firm: “Invest your money safely with Dun and Oxymoron”)

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