What is an -ism?

Try this. Think of words ending with the suffix -ism: Paganism, plagiarism, criticism, racism, sexism, alcoholism, Buddhism, Catholicism, Protestantism, etc. Words tied to -isms include doctrines, causes, theories, attitudes, beliefs, acts, practices, processes, prejudices, conditions, religions, adherence to a system, characteristics, and traits. (merrian-webster.com)

That same dictionary also defines atheism as “a lack of belief or a strong disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods” and/or “a philosophical or religious position characterized by disbelief in the existence of a god or any gods.”

How many -isms are defined by what they are not or do not do? There is no atheist doctrine, theory, belief, practice, process, prejudice, religion, or adherence to anything.

There are certainly atheists. I suspect more than anyone knows. There are also atheist groups and atheist organizations. People use the phrase, “as an atheist…” often. While I often push back on terms like true atheist and all atheists, both believers and atheists use such phrases. I try to avoid saying as an atheist and prefer the phrase because I do not believe any god exists. But what is atheism other than what an atheist does not believe exists?

I realize people say many false things about atheists and define what they call atheism to insult nonbelievers or to threaten, often dependent, closeted atheists, doubting believers, and their friends, family, and neighbors. Those are almost always ignorant lies, and that will not go away.

However, I, along with others, claim that while most -isms exist, atheism does not. While I am atheist, I have no doctrine to either follow or reject. I believe many things, just not that there really is any god. I have no atheist practices and worship nothing (including Satan, which, like any god, is unlikely to be). I have read social research that indicates some atheists believe there is a god. I call them enigmatic, if not confused, atheists.

There are many types of Jews and forms of Judaism. Same for Islamism. Within Christianity there is both Catholicism and Protestantism, but they are all Christians. Mormons claim to be Christians and lord knows they have their own set of practices (and underwear). Within all these groups lie doctrinaire differences, but they still have rules to debate or follow. Atheists have none of that. I, for one, want none of it.

So, how can atheism be a thing if it cannot be defined by what it is?

Happy National IPA, Underwear, Oyster, and Work Like a Dog Day.

Skeptically Yours,


36 thoughts on “What is an -ism?

      1. No, I mean, saying a given -ism doesn’t exist is different from saying a orange or a rock exists. It’s noumena at best, and a negative, or even a default concept can be as meaningful as anything positive. Hence, truth conditions for assertions about the existence or non-existence of atheism seem hard to specify.

        Liked by 2 people

  1. Pretty much from from the day I rejected any belief in Christianity, I have referred to myself as a “non-believer.” It tends to get around some of the “arguments” that some have as related to the word atheism (like trying to call it a religion).

    Liked by 1 person

    1. And a believer. Interesting that you have wondered about that. Of the many denominations, which do you follow and learn from? Are you then a “Disciple of
      Christ?” If you gain knowledge and learn from the Bible, as Nan just said, you would be a Paulist. 🙂


      1. I would disagree. I’m not a “paulist” if there is really such a thing. I’m sure both you and nan know there is much more to the Bible, the nt specifically as well, than Paul’s writings. And he himself is not advocating himself, but “Christ in you, the Hope of glory”.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Okay, Barabbas. But either the entire Bible is the inerrant word of God, or it’s not, right?

        Nan makes that case very clearly in her book, which is excellent if one wants to read an non-offensive take on scripture.

        I will defer to her regarding Paul and all of that because it is not really my wheelhouse (but yes, I have read it).

        Her argument is significant regarding the the form of Christianity that would be Paul-ism.

        My position is that I don’t think there is such a thing as atheism, by secular definition.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I won’t really get into the whole bible being “inerrant” or not. Kind of a difficult and complex discussion as well as a bit of a “loaded” term. But I understand and even agree with you about the Lable Atheist or atheism. Those also would prob be better inn a discussion of what one would mean by God and Belief. Yes?

        Liked by 1 person

      4. It does not matter to me for two reasons. One, there is no god to inspire it. Second, the books of the bible were selected and others rejected by humans.

        As far as “god” and “belief” (or faith), I agree, but they are even more “difficult and complex.”


      5. And… to answer your question about denom. The church fellowship we are part of isn’t really part of any denom. It’s kind of an offshoot or an offshoot of an offshoot (I know, right?) of a movement that was related to the Bretheren. But we meet as an extended Family. Not currently tied to or familiar with most fellowships you would probably recognize. It’s very “open participatory”, plurality of eldership, New Testament and Christ Centered.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. If one can be a denom of one church gathering/meeting? But I suppose that would be an exaggeration of the term. No, we aren’t a denom or part of one. We are just one meeting house. Little old us. Whipe recognizing and embracing the diversity of belief and practice of others who also name the name of christ. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      7. By the way, thank you and nan for being so civil and friendly with me. These are the types of interactions I would like to have with people, regardless of if they believe in Jesus or not. Thx again.

        Liked by 2 people

      8. Nan is wonderful and knows her stuff. I have never seen her be rude to anyone. In some cases she was far more patient that I might have been.
        I just ponder stuff. 🙂 I can be demonstrative, but I try (not always with success) to be civil. 🙂

        Liked by 1 person

      9. There was no “Christianity” until Paul had his “vision” and wrote his various and sundry opinions about the event. Prior to that, there were the Hebrews who believed in Yahweh. Christianity is a religion for the Gentiles.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Things that make me go Hmmmm. I’m with you in not wanting to be part of any doctrine, practices and rules, thank you, very much. I’ll just go along my merry way, letting you be you while I be Me. And all the while, avoid conversations related to anything religion. ‘Tis rare to find cool heads when such subjects arise.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. It kind of has two outcomes for most. Either one is facing eternity in hell or one must admit to a wasted life and compliance with the biggest scam ever. Not a lot of room for meeting half way.

      Liked by 1 person

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