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,