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What Is Atheism?

Updated on July 8, 2011

Updated July 19, 2010

In the Beginning...

Many people are confused about modern atheism these days and the broad range of views that it actually represents. The earliest atheists started out with a genuine scientific skepticism. They were unorganized individuals who simply did not believe that God (in any form) existed. I think that the general feeling among atheists was that since the existence of God could not be scientifically proven to their satisfaction, that it was unlikely that God actually existed. They likely had nothing "against" God (or his followers). They simply didn't believe that he existed, much in the same way that most Christians don't believe in the existence of Bigfoot or Alien Abductions.

Many still fall into this category of "original" atheists today. These tend to be people who don't really talk about religion, because they don't have much of an opinion on the subject or find it to be something relevant to their lives. Most have never spent any serious time researching the matter to the point of being 100% convinced either way in their beliefs. For most, it is simply much easier (and in some circles, much more socially acceptable) to claim to be an atheist than it would be to explain their beliefs/un-beliefs in any type of religion. In modern western society, one doesn't usually question the beliefs of an atheist, while those who "believe" in a religion are often needled for information as to why they hold their beliefs.

A typical outdoor sign promoting atheism.
A typical outdoor sign promoting atheism.

Atheism In Your Face

Over the past 1-2 decades some of the more "visible" atheist groups have become much more organized and are actually seeking out publicity to spread their message, where it used to be that atheism was a belief that one usually kept to themselves.

Atheists often claim to be discriminated against when it comes to obtaining jobs, and in other situations. However, I am unaware of any specific laws that protect one's right to a "lack" of belief insofar as discrimination goes. If you are aware of any, please add links to our comments section, so that we can follow-up.

"Separation of Church and State"

Many atheists in these groups have not only rejected the possible existence of God, but also find the very use of his name or likeness in any public manner as being offensive to their "beliefs".

This seems to be especially true when any type of public funding is involved. Thus, it is common nowadays to see organized atheists suing small cities, towns, counties, school districts, etc. for merely mentioning the word "Christmas", erecting Christmas trees or (gasp!) displaying a manger scene during the holidays. In a very real sense, mainstream atheism has now become a belief system (or perhaps even a religion) unto itself.

The goal of these highly visible, organized atheists groups in the United States seems to be the complete separation of "church and state", as they interpret it. Although the phrase "separation of church and state", is not actually used anywhere in the United States Constitution or Bill of Rights, it seems to be the goal of these newly visible groups to eliminate any mention of God or Christianity that may be present in government, at any level. Some of the many complaints that Atheists groups have brought up in the past, and would like to see changed are:

1. Removing any mention of God on U.S. currency. Currently, the term "In God We Trust" is imprinted on some American coinage.

2. Ending the requirement (in some states) for people to swear "on a Bible" in court when they are placed under oath to testify. This has led to a change of procedures in many individual states, which no longer include bibles in the court room.

3. The removal of any mention or depiction of God from government owned buildings.

4. Ending displays of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public places.

5. Eliminating traditional prayers invoked at any type of official government function.

6. Elimination of non-profit status for religious organizations.

7. Changing lyrics to patriotic songs and the original text of the pledge of allegiance to omit any mention of God.

8. Ending any public displays that point out the religious meaning behind holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

9. Ending all prayer in schools, as well as restricting school clubs on campus that have anything to do with religion.

10. Banning any clothing (t-shirts, etc.) or jewelry in public schools that depicts religious symbols or quotations.

The most radical fringe of the modern Atheist movement goes even one step further. Led on by Hollywood celebrities like Bill Mahr, these people seem to want to not only ridicule those who believe in God, but blame them for almost every negative facet of human behavior throughout the world's history. They seem to not only reject the existence of God, but view anyone who believes in any form of God as bring either evil or incompetent. This may not be Atheism in its original form, but it is quickly becoming a more and more visible part of the movement. See the recent Bill Mahr movie "Religious" for an example of what I'm talking about.

If you want a textbook definition of Atheism, it would simply be a person who does not believe in the existence of God. Some do not believe in God due to the lack of what they honestly believe to be tangible scientific evidence. Others don't really seem to care about the science. They simply "believe" (have faith?) that no such entity as God exists. The latter group would technically fall into the category of its own religion, since it is simply based on a belief system, rather than being open to any type of future scientific evidence of God's existence that may be found in the future. These groups would probably be more accurately labeled as simply being "anti-God" believers than Atheists, but since they label themselves as such, it's a rather blurry line to define.

My intention here is not to criticize any of the parties I am mentioning. I am just trying to define them to the best of my ability. Atheism is an evolving movement, religion, or whatever you care to define it as. Therefore, any definition of it must be purposefully flexible in nature.

One of many organized Atheist groups
One of many organized Atheist groups

Who's In Charge?

There are a few, large organizations that claim to represent Atheists, of which I've included some links to below. Whether or not these groups actually reflect the views of the majority of Atheists or not is questionable, since Atheism itself seems more geared towards those who consider themselves independent thinkers. Getting a large group of independent thinkers to agree on anything has rarely proven to be successful. Thus, I would not consider any of these organizations, or their manifestos, to represent the true beliefs of a majority of self-declared Atheists

What's All The Fuss About?

Shortly after I finished publishing this hub, I started getting feedback that refuted some of what I wrote. You can find some of these posts and their responses below.

What really intrigues me about the particular topic of Atheism is how controversial and emotion provoking it is for a great number of people, especially Atheists themselves. Atheism seems to have many similarities to religion itself, especially when it comes to how personally people seem to take it and the divergence of views within.

Things That Anger Atheists

Copies of the Ten Commandments on Public Display
Copies of the Ten Commandments on Public Display
God is mentioned by name on the U.S. $1 bill.
God is mentioned by name on the U.S. $1 bill.

More "Sign Wars"

Atheism billboard ad on a public bus.
Atheism billboard ad on a public bus.
A fair trade-off?
A fair trade-off?

Bill Maher

Bill Maher's latest movie promotes Atheism using comedy as its backdrop.
Bill Maher's latest movie promotes Atheism using comedy as its backdrop.

"Religious" Movie Trailer


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    • diabetesreporter profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Eureka, California

      The big bang theory only explains the initial explosion, not how/why it happened or predicts what will happen next. It is still up for debate in cosmology/physics as to whether the "explosion" of matter will keep on expanding infinitely (open universe theory) or eventually the attraction of matter will cause the explosion to "reverse" back into an implosion (closed universe theory).

      Of course, 1,000 years from now this may all look like some primitive science experiment and we will all be considered little smarter than cavemen in our time. In that case, this is just being written by a monkey on a typewriter. :-)

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 

      6 years ago from Earth

      A bit more than a theory?

      I could use the "big crunch" theory against such, and say that the whole entire fabric of the universe exhales and inhales due to the collapse and expansion due to gravity, if I wish to believe.

      Popular models are like today's trends, as in what is in...

      Either way, unless you are an independent thinker, one usually falls under one category, title or another...

    • diabetesreporter profile imageAUTHOR


      6 years ago from Eureka, California

      Well, the big bang theory is a bit more than a theory, since it is based upon the observation of background "noise" (a residual effect), which has no other plausible explanation. I don't think that any major religions even dispute that the big bang theory is essentially correct. The main point of contention is HOW it happened. There is no evidence of any type that explains the big bang's origin, which would also have to explain nearly every other aspect of physics. Even string theory, which is currently the most popular model for a "grand unified theory" only makes some semi-educated guesses as to how it happened.

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 

      6 years ago from Earth

      Atheism is a form of belief that involves the practice of denying any existence of God or Gods/Divine beings; duh!

      In my opinion, it requires as much faith as most faith-based religions, but lacks open-mindedness - like most religions - and doesn't really say a whole lot, other than "it is magic." Sort of like the magic from the big bang theory that just went "bang" and the life that spawned from the primordial soup theory that just magically went "poof."

      Oh, well, the fish in my aquariums never asked me such questions, as to where their food came from or why their water conditions continued to sustain life; blah!

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      I am a fairly lazy person with a short attention span so I admit that I didn't read all your post so please forgive me right away. I am at the start of my quest to define atheism in a way that I can understand - this is more a research type questioning than trying to change anyone's mind. It looks like you consider yourself an atheist so I would like to ask what do you believe in? I am pretty clear on what you don't believe in (have done a lot of reading) but is there a manuel or something I can access that tells me what you do think about - beginning of the universe and what happens after death, that sort of thing. One guy told me that he just knows what is right and wrong and just goes with it, then admits about himself that he is a jerk and is alienated from everybody. Your post looked like you are a "regular" person. I hope you accept that I am just curious and have no wicked intent here. Thanks

    • diabetesreporter profile imageAUTHOR


      7 years ago from Eureka, California

      Thank you for the compliment! Anything I can do to get anyone thinking on their own is my greatest reward. God doesn't shy away from questions. If he did, he simply wouldn't be God. I wish you the best of luck on your path to enlightenment and personal happiness. God bless you, always.

    • Vapid Maven profile image

      Vapid Maven 

      7 years ago from California

      Good read.. Thank you.

    • profile image

      William Van Hefner 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for the feedback! Always nice to know that someone is actually reading. :-)

    • schoolgirlforreal profile image


      7 years ago

      What a very enlightening hub, now I know a more concrete reason why atheists are so insulting in the forums. Wow.

    • Pcunix profile image

      Tony Lawrence 

      8 years ago from SE MA

      History lesson for you: the founders put "Liberty" on our coinage. No mention of gods, just the value, United States of America and "Liberty". A few coins added "E Pluribus Unum"

      That was our coinage until 1864, when a bunch of bible thumpers got Congress to change it.

      Another history lesson: it was Baptist churches, not atheists, who campaigned for separation of church and state.

    • diabetesreporter profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Eureka, California

      FYI, I've added links above this thread to what Google considers some of the leading Atheism information websites, as well as a link to a counter-Atheism Christian apologetics website. I did not do an extensive amount of investigation into any of the sites or groups listed. They are simply the ones that Google seemed to believe were most relevant to the issue of Atheism. I'll try to include more as time goes on. Feel free to submit any websites that you feel should be included in the list by adding a link to it here. Thanks!

    • diabetesreporter profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Eureka, California

      I have no idea what you are talking about in regards to "suggesting" anything about changing the country's currency. Personally, I don't really care one way or another what is printed on it. Money is just money ("Render unto Caesar what is Caesar's", covers the bases for me). There are way more pagan symbols and speech on U.S. government currency than there are mentions of God, the last time I checked. I'm not pushing for those to be removed.

      I stated that God is mentioned on some of the country's coinage. I'm not sure what you feel is dishonest about that statement. It's not like I wrote the phrases, let alone know the intent behind those who created our currency. I never even expressed an opinion as to whether or not mentions of God should still remain on currency. Again, I really do not care, and I'm not tying to push any viewpoint on the matter. In order to push my own viewpoint on the matter, I would have to have an opinion to begin with. I just don't care or think about it seriously though.

      I'm not sure why you are taking this to a personal level by accusing me of being intentionally dishonest. If I said anything that was false or misleading, please feel free to point it out. All I did was mention that God's name was mentioned on coinage. The last I checked, that statement was true. I'm not sure how anyone could possibly be misled by that statement.

      As for all the stuff about sacrificing animals, etc., again, I have no clue what any of that has to do with anything I have said or the issue we have been discussing. I can't argue with a statement that I can't make any sense out of, so I won't.

      Hope you have a nice day, wherever you are. Please enjoy the freedoms that our fellow citizens have fought and died to protect for the past 200+ years. I may not always agree with you, but I would defend to the death your right to express your views.

    • Mark Knowles profile image

      Mark Knowles 

      8 years ago

      I see - so the words "in god we trust" on money is a "mere mention"? LOLOLOL

      Why are you guys so dishonest in your arguments? This is why there is a back lash against this ridiculous belief system. It creates liars. When the government expresses an opinion in favor of one point of view it necessarily censors the others.

      Is there an explicit law or anything in the Declaration of Independence against sacrificing goats on the steps of government buildings on Mondays?

      Dear me.

      How about "In Allah We Trust" on 25% of the coins, "There is No God So you Better Trust Yourself" on 25%

      and "Kill a Kid For Satan" on the other 25% to balance things out - that seem to be what you are suggesting. LOLOL

    • diabetesreporter profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Eureka, California

      As far as I know, there is no explicit law or anything in the Declaration of Independence that forbids the mere mention of God by anyone, including any part of the government. That's likely why the mention on coinage, buildings, etc. is allowed to exist.

    • Mark Knowles profile image

      Mark Knowles 

      8 years ago

      Quite right. That is why a lot of atheists do not want a reference to god on money or on the walls of government buildings.

      As to religion being a form of government - I suggest this is why the founding fathers were so keen to separate church and state. Read any history book as to why.

    • diabetesreporter profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Eureka, California

      I wasn't aware that religion is a form of government. If it is, who do we pay our taxes to? :-)

      Like I said previously, Atheism seems to be an evolving movement, and the word itself can refer to a fairly wide range of "beliefs". No definition could possibly cover all the bases of everyone who considers themselves an Atheist. After all, anyone can call themselves an Atheist. Who can say whether they are a "real" Atheist or not?

      To be fair, much the same can be said for Christians, since there really is no "official" definition of Christianity. Many Christian denominations directly contradict one another. Many people would argue that Mormons are not Christians at all for example, although you would get a lot of Mormons arguing against that.

      Fortunately, we have a constitution that ensures that all opinions are able to be expressed openly and freely, and without fear of government censorship based upon one's ideas. Discussions such as this are proof enough of that. Maybe you're right. Maybe I'm right. Maybe we're both wrong? Either way, at least we are free to express our ideas, opinions and faith without government telling us what to believe.

    • Mark Knowles profile image

      Mark Knowles 

      8 years ago

      Yup - not a great definition - just your own opinion - and sadly inaccurate in a lot of places. I am an atheist - I just don't believe people who tell me there is a god.

      Call that "faith" if it makes you feel less stupid for having faith that there is a god by all means. That is what it is to be religious. No rationality expected.

      But I can say with 100% certainty - Show me some proof of a god and I will change my tune. Especially if you can narrow it down to one of the infinite possibilities.

      One thing is sure - many atheists are sick and tired of the hypocritical inclusion of irrational belief systems in their lives and feel religion is a dangerous form of government that we are happy to see on the wane.

      I will keep ridiculing people who insist on sharing their belief in the invisible Super Daddy all the time there are morons prepared to die for it.


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