What is the origin of the word "atheism" or "atheist?"

Many people believe the term "atheist" indicates someone who says "God does not exist" or "There is no God". This is not true. This is a common misconception among theists, that the term "atheist" implies a person has a belief in the non-existence of God.

Let's look at the source of the word:

"Atheism", from the Greek:

  • atheismos : noun, from
  • a- : lacking, without, or not having something; akin to the English suffix "-less"
  • theos : a god, deity, mighty magic entity
  • -ismos : a state, quality, or condition; an "-ism"

Therefore, "atheism" is "the state, quality, or condition of being without a god or deity". "Atheos" would literally mean "godless", and "atheismos" ("atheism") would literally mean "godlessness".

Notice that the prefix "a-" does not mean "not" or "against". It's a common mistake to think so. That would require the use of the Greek prefix "anti-", such as in the term antikhristos ("antichrist").

Now, let's change that suffix. "Atheist", from the Greek:

  • atheistês : noun, from atheismos +
  • -istês : one who supports, subscribes to, or performs something

An "atheist", then, would be "a person who supports or subscribes to a godless state, quality, or condition".

This does not necessarily mean that atheists positively believe that there is no god. It simply means that they advocate a lifestyle that is devoid of one. They live their lives as if there were no god.

See also

Last updated by Nelson Feb 8, 2009.

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