Presenting my case to the jury of my peers: using or NOT using the term HEATHEN for the nonreligious...

In another discussion thread completely unrelated to this discussion (the mega-thread, What xian/religious sayings get on your nerves? ) , Benjamin Miller posted a response which began,

"We are using the same data, we just have different interpretations" saith the creationist to the heathen.

I, the heathen, typically respond something akin to "Assuming that we are looking at the same data, has it ever occurred to you that you shouldn't start with a conclusion and force the data to fit the conclusion?"


Halidom casually corrected Benjamin Miller at the beginning of his response to Benjamin,

Ben a heathen is not an atheist it was usually referred to tribes that had their own god outside of the main religions.


** emphasis mine in the above quotes --Rock

I have seen this type of correction for the usage of "heathen" many times, on many boards, and in many ways - so this is in now way a slight to Halidom; in fact Halidom was quite courteous and offhand about it, much moreso than I've seen in other discussions. Halidom's response did, however, trigger my desire to open this up to a "broader audience" and have my stance on the term heathen, its definitions, and its uses be condoned or condemned by my peers.

No I've already posted the meat of this response in the other thread; however, like I said above, I wanted to get it out from a neck-deep thread and into its own light, and give everyone a chance to weigh in.

As you can guess, I am convinced that the term heathen is a correct and proper shorthand - even a synonym - for atheist and/or nonreligious. I know that I, like many people, use them interchangeably - although I must admit I use heathen more when using it to refer to myself, and most often in a humorous fashion. However I don't view it as an insult, and I believe that when it is used it is widely accepted as being completely interchangeable with atheist.

What proof do I have? Well, it comes from the internet, or course! Everything you read on the "interwebs" is true, right? (OK, OK, removing tongue from cheek now...). I did a quick Google search for the definition for "heathen", since I know that the major, respected dictionaries are available there. Here are my results:

Google Definition (found by searching for "definition heathen" on G...

Noun:A person who does not belong to a widely held religion (esp. one who is not a Christian, Jew, or Muslim) as regarded by those who do. defintion for "heathen"

1. Offensive
a. One who adheres to the religion of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.
b. Such persons considered as a group; the unconverted.

1: an unconverted member of a people or nation that does not acknowledge the God of the Bible
2: an uncivilized or irreligious person

1.  an unconverted individual of people that do not acknowledge the God of the Bible; a person who is neither a Jew, Christian, nor Muslim;
Now that I've presented my thoughts and proof, I'd like to get your side - am I in the right? Should my fellow heathens be allowed to use the term referring to us atheists, without implying Multiple Personality Disorder?

Tags: Atheist, Heathen, Language, Pigmy_Chickens, Synonym

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Don't include me in the heathen group, I'm Orthodox Heathen, if you please.


I thought we were the Popular Orthodox Heathen Front?

And I am a New Age Reformed Heathen


Any Conservative Heathens out there?

@Rich H. - but don't you think that your definition is rather outdated? In my lifetime I remember, as a kid watching 60 Minutes (or maybe National Geographic?) and they used it when referring to native, primitive tribes as heathens; however I distinctly remember a number of people - adults - referring to the atheistic masses a heathens. And of course as an adult I hear people refer to us as heathens all the time, interchangeably, with atheism.

As a side note, I am 47 (13 JUN 1964), so I've seen a bit (FSM, I feel old... ;)  )

I think the respectable authorities on the English/American language (that I listed in the original post) bear me out.

So I embrace the term heathen as a nice colloquialism for atheism.

Today, "Heathen" is often used by Nordic Pagans to distinguish themselves from other varieties, like Wiccan Pagans. Historically, it described the people out in the heath, ie; country dwellers who hadn't yet converted to Xtianity. Using it to describe atheists is pretty inaccurate & not at all helpful to a clear argument.

Using it to describe nordic pagans is also inaccurate, but then it's not exactly an accurate word to begin with. The same goes for the word 'pagan'.

In the cases where I've heard atheists refer to themselves as heathens, it has almost always (if not always) been colloquial and rhetorical.

I've referred to myself as a godless heathen for 20 years. I see no problem with the term. However, Halidom is technically correct. Heathen doesn't specifically mean atheist. There are many people who believe in a god concept and could still be considered heathens.

He said "a heathen is not an atheist" 

If a heathen is simply a non Christian, this statement is not entirely accurate, it is simply true that only some heathens are not atheists.

Or to put it more formally, all atheists are heathens but not all heathens are atheists, they could be Jewish, Hindu, Buddhist....

Hey, I prefer to call myself Heathern Mary and proud of it. But, I use the older

English (and north Georgia mountain) pronunciation of Hea-the-ryn.

@Rich H and @Artor:

Are you saying that some of the leading, authorative sources available are wrong? I only produced a few, but I have more if you want me to produce them. I guess I'm just trying to understand what authoritative source you're hanging your respective hats on? We force xians to "cite their sources"; and I know - I KNOW - that until relatively recently (probably in the last 20-30 years or so - but that's a guess, I don't have a source for it) heathen was synonymous for pagan. I believe (once again no source, just a statement) that the Religious Right/conservative & Penecostal xians have switched the meaning of heathen to be synonymous with atheist - and they probably think it is inflammatory and bothers us.

Silly xians. ;)

Just as a follow-up, here more information about my sources, before someone tries to minimize their authority. Each quote came directly from their site, usually from the About Us:


For more than 150 years, in print and now online, Merriam-Webster has been America's leading and most-trusted provider of language information.

Each month, our Web sites offer guidance to more than 40 million visitors. In print, our publications include Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (among the best-selling books in American history) and newly published dictionaries for English-language learners.

All Merriam-Webster products and services are backed by the largest team of professional dictionary editors and writers in America, and one of the largest in the world. is an online dictionary and encyclopedia that gathers information from a variety of sources. This site cross references the contents of Wikipedia, Columbia Encyclopedia, Hutchinson Encyclopedia (subscription), The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Computer Desktop Encyclopedia, the Acronym Finder database, several financial dictionaries, legal dictionaries, and other content.'s trusted content comes from 15 authoritative licensed and proprietary reference sources, that have helped define the English dictionary as we know it today.

So, I'd like your response to understand where you're coming from.

Thanks! can be a bit dodgy in some the definitions it provides, but Merriam-Webster is decent.




  1. derogatory a person who does not belong to a widely held religion (esp. who is not Christian, Jewish, or Muslim) as regarded by those that do.
  2. an unenlightened person; a person regarded as lacking culture or moral principles


  1. of or relating to heathens; pagan
  2. having no religion



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