Letters to the Editor: Defining What Is Atheism

Dear Editor,

I am an agnostic atheist. To those who understand what this means this article may be quite irrelevant to you. However, if you don’t understand the term, or believe that agnosticism and atheism are mutually exclusive and cannot both define the same person, then you should probably keep reading. This letter is not meant to attack or debate, it is merely meant to enlighten. Of course feedback and other thoughts are always appreciated.

First of all, many people do not know what atheism is. Some people believe it is a fervent disbelief in a deity; others believe it is some liberal attack on the government meant to destroy any morality humanity may have left. Atheism is nothing as complicated as some people want it to be. I asked myself, “What is atheism” recently, and found the answer surprisingly simple. Atheism is simply a belief that there is no god, or deity. Notice the word belief in there. By definition; atheists have as much faith as theists, it is simply a matter of what you have faith in. A pure atheist is not some bigot who hates religion. He isn’t out to burn priests at the stake.  An atheist, by definition, is simply somebody who doesn’t believe in a higher power. Simple. Easy.

Onto agnosticism, which has held this misconception of being mutually exclusive from atheism. Agnosticism has nothing to do with your belief in a deity. Gnosticism has nothing to do with your belief in a deity. Neither care about what you believe. They care about what you know. Somebody who is gnostic knows that their belief holds true. So a gnostic atheist does not believe in a god, and knows one does not exist. Conversely, an agnostic atheist believes there is no god, but also doesn’t dispute the fact that one may exist. Agnostic is the opposite of gnostic, note the “a” in front of agnostic.

If you argue that a god certainly does not exist, you are a gnostic atheist. If you argue that god certainly does exist, without a doubt, you are a gnostic theist. Agnostic theists believe there is a god, but don’t claim to know for sure there is one. And finally, agnostic atheists believe there is no god, but won’t dispute that one may exist.

Notice how gnosticism and theism are completely unrelated. However, I feel I must also press that there is a final label to this mess, which is simply “agnostic.” Somebody who is agnostic, and neither atheist or theist, doesn’t believe one way or the other whether a god exists or not. They argue that it is impossible to know one way or the other, and until there exists indisputable proof you cannot claim one or the other. There is also “weak” versus “strong” agnosticism, but that would take a lot more words to define, and I only get so many per article. If you’re truly curious the Wikipedia page is very enlightening.

Now, a final note to all theists. We atheists are not out to hang you. We have nothing against you. We hope we can live in peace. Also, to you atheists out there, a theist is simply a person who believes in god. Whatever practices their religion constitutes does not concern you, nor does it define the person. They don’t want to hang you. They have nothing against you, They also want peace. I hopefully speak for a majority of both parties, but we cannot ignore the zealots who actually DO want people to burn. That’s not everybody. Don’t assume as much. In fact, don’t assume anything. Assumptions make for poor arguments and definitions. Now go out into the world and spread the word of what an atheist truly is, and what agnosticism means. Please, for everyone’s benefit.


– George Essig, ‘13

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *