A working definition of atheism

Unlike some prominent public figures who seem very caught up in semantics, I’m happy to acknowledge that I am an atheist, just as I’m also happy with the terms sceptic, bright, and secular humanist.

Having said that, let’s just make sure we all understand what an atheist is.

Being an atheist does not mean that I believe there are no gods.

It means that I do not believe that there are any gods.

See the difference? It’s subtle but really important. Atheism is not a belief system, let alone a faith or religion. It is simply the absence or lack of belief that there is a deity or deities.

There’s a popular and helpful quote here (I’m not sure where it originated):

Atheism is a belief in the same way that bald is a hair colour.

So religious folks who say “well, you still believe in something – you believe that God doesn’t exist” haven’t got it right. My lack of belief in a god isn’t a belief itself – indeed, it’s the opposite.

But neither do I believe in nothing, which is another thing atheists are often accused of. I believe some things that others may contend are not certain. I believe that I’m quite good at my profession, for example. I believe that peace in the Middle East is not achievable in my lifetime. I could go on. It just happens that the existence of a deity is not one of the things I believe.

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