Introduction To
Atheistic Activism
by Cliff Walker
(This entire section is slated for revision.)

2. What Is Theism?

    If atheism is, at minimum, the lack of a god belief and, more properly, the rejection of theism, then we need to agree upon a definition for theism.

    Theism is the belief that a god (or many gods) exists. Beyond this (like atheists), two particular theists may not have anything else in common. However, agreeing on a basic definition for theism is best for two reasons.

    First, people often misuse the word god. Many people use the word god to describe something that they best describe with other terminology. This dodge introduces confusion into the discussion. One example is using the word god to refer to anything that someone reveres; guitarist Eric Clapton, for example, was once called “God” in graffiti throughout London. A possible goal for doing this may be that if we can make the word god mean a number of different things, then more people will agree that “a god” exists. But such people are not all talking about the same thing when they say the word god.

    Secondly, some theists say they believe in something they call “God,” but upon examination we cannot distinguish their beliefs from atheism. The only difference between atheism and some forms of theism is the theists’ use of the word god.

    We will try to be fair in describing the most common attributes of the gods of theism. Also, we will explain why some definitions for the word god are not valid for a discussion of atheism.

    a. Our Use of the Word God.

      When we mention a god (or gods), we refer to a being who is (said to be) supernatural or transcendent. That is (as some say), that a being exists who is somehow “above” or “beyond” the natural, knowable Universe. This necessarily would include any being who created the Universe and still exists today. If a god created the Universe, that god is not part of the Universe.

      Atheists reject the idea of such a being, or simply lack the belief that such a being exists.

    b. Any Power Greater Than Ourselves?

      Some people believe in superior beings who are not supernatural, but part of the Universe. Calling such beings gods is improper because we cannot distinguish them from the Benevolent Space Brothers that pop groups sang about in the 1970s. [7] Most atheists do not reject the possibility of Benevolent Space Brothers (though most are skeptical of the reports of alien encounters and abductions).

      Trying to equate Benevolent Space Brothers with gods injects confusion into any discussion of atheism. A common motive for using this definition for gods is to place atheists squarely within the camp of theism. Atheists reject theism, that is, they reject the notion of supernatural entities. Belief in the possibility of a superior race of aliens is not theism.

      Alcoholics Anonymous uses similar language as a bait-and-switch con game to gain the confidence of impaired, desperate people who suffer from alcohol addiction. Step Two of AA states: “Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” This, they tell us, can mean any Power (though they capitalize the word). Some suggest a doorknob, a light bulb or a 1968 Harley-Davidson motorcycle. This ruse starts to break down in Step Three, which mentions “God as we understand Him” (note uppercase “G” and “H”). AA’s position falls apart completely when you substitute something else for the word God in Step Six: “Became entirely ready to have [a Harley] remove all our defects of character.”

      As mentioned above, Stepism denies that it is religious, insisting, instead that it is “spiritual — not religious.” [8] This distinction means nothing to atheists. “This dance with semantics implies that religion is stuffy, hierarchical, or phony, whereas spirituality is spontaneous, personal, honest, and genuine. The Merriam-Webster’s Tenth Collegiate Dictionary does not support these shades of meaning.” [9]

      Nevertheless, several United States court cases have ruled that Alcoholics Anonymous fits well within the legal definition of religious, according to the Establishment Clause in the Bill of Rights. [10]

    c. Pantheism or Naturalistic Religion.

      Many people are pantheists, that is, they say the Universe itself is a god. They object to thinking of a god as transcendent, that is, distinct from the Universe. While pantheism sees Nature as the ultimate context for human existence, pantheists do not necessarily think of the god as a person, or person-like (anthropomorphic).

      This is one way to have the best of both worlds, so to speak: pantheists enjoy one advantage of theism in that they can avoid the tag atheist. Unlike traditional theists, though, they needn’t grapple with the physical and logical impossibilities inherent in the supernatural models.

      Many atheists think the pantheists’ use of the word god is, in a sense, dishonest. A likely response to pantheism is to ask, “Why bother using the word god at all? Why not just say, ‘the Universe’ and be done with it?” As Schopenhauer put it, “To call the world ‘God’ is not to explain it; it is only to enrich our language with a superfluous synonym for the word ‘world’.” [11] Martin Gardner said, “I regard Spinoza as essentially an atheist, because to him God and Nature were synonyms. In his writings you could replace the term “God” with the term “Nature” and it doesn’t change anything.” [