I Love Religion: Atheism vs. Antitheism

I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in God, gods, an afterlife, a Heaven, a hell, angels, demons, souls, reincarnation, karma, etc. I could explain why, but that’s a different story for a different time. Unless you’re trying to convert me, I doubt you really care why I’m atheist.

But, people seem to think that because I’m atheist, I hate religion. This is what my post is about, because that’s a pretty grand (not to mention completely inaccurate) assumption.

The word atheism can be broken up into the Latin prefix a-, the Greek prefix the-, and the Greek suffix -ism. Here’s a little lesson:

a- : meaning “away from” or “lacking”
the- : meaning “god” (any old god, not the God)
-ism : used in the formation of nouns denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion, belief or adherence, etc.

So, by putting it all together, we can determine that atheism means “a lack of belief in the existence of deities.” This isn’t exclusive to the Judeo-Christian God. This is pretty much everything. All the gods. From Greek mythology to Hindi gods to the  Zoroastrian god Ahura Mazda. I don’t believe any of these deities exist. I don’t believe in the planes on which they live nor the miracles that they perform. I don’t believe in many of the stories in religious texts. They just don’t add up to me.

This is much different than antitheism. Lesson number two:

anti- : Greek prefix, meaning “against, opposed to, preventive”
the- : again, meaning “god”
-ism: once again, used in the formation of nouns denoting action or practice, state or condition, principles, doctrines, a usage or characteristic, devotion, belief or adherence, etc.

When we put all of this together, we can define antitheism as “the opposition to theism, or the belief of deities.” Antitheists generally share the notion that religion, more specifically organized religion, is destructive and dangerous to humanity as a whole. Author and journalist Christopher Hitchens wrote in his Letters to a Young Contrarian, “I’m not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful.”

This is what I am not. I believe that religion and faith have the amazing power to bring people together under a common cause, be it salvation, community, love, morality, or charity. I’ve seen religion transform people. Some of the most empowering stories of the oppressed overcoming unbeatable odds are found in religious texts. People mold their lives around faith. And even though I don’t have faith, I find it absolutely beautiful when others do.

So don’t assume that all atheists hate religion. That’s simply not the case. I can’t speak for everyone, but I personally love religion and its power to heal a sometimes depraved world. That’s not to say that religion hasn’t been used to oppress and harm, because it has. It still is, all the time. But at its core, I believe that religion is meant to be used to protect, empower, and heal.

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