Definition Failures

Friendly reminder that if one more person compares asexuality to atheism, I’m going to explode.

It’s bad enough to have a sexual orientation likened to an ideological belief, but the worst part is that in the midst of these comparisons, atheism has at least once been defined as a “lack of religion”.

Yzma rubs her temples in exasperation.

[ incoherent grumbling ]

It’s all right there in the name: atheism is the absence of theism.  It’s the lack of belief in gods.  There are further specifications about all sorts of different types, but I’ll leave it to the atheists to talk about that.  Many atheists may not be religious, but atheism is not the “lack of religion” because theism is not the sole defining trait of religion and not all religion is theistic.

Buddhism, for example, does not require theism — and there are some who would argue that Buddhism is a philosophy, not a religion, but regardless, someone can have a religion similar to (or based on) Buddhism without theism ever entering the equation.  Animism, the belief in spirits, is another example of a religious belief that does not require theism.  There is more to religion than just the idea that “at least one god exists”.  In the same way that a romantic relationship does not need sex to count as a romantic relationship, a religion does not need theism to be a religion.  In sum: atheism and religion are not mutually exclusive.  Quit saying otherwise and giving the wrong definition.

Sincerely,

a monotheist on the asexual spectrum who cares about specificity

There’s a lot more that could be said on the subject, too, thought I won’t get into much of it today.  Apart from definition failures, I don’t like to see asexuality and atheism compared because there’s already enough of a misconception that asexuality is some sort of intentional ideological position — that it’s an opinion, a decision, a lifestyle, a state or perspective that can be chosen, a belief that someone can be swayed from.  And so people think they can sway us from it.  The decision to label oneself as ace is a choice, but regardless of what we identify as, no one can choose whether or not to experience sexual attraction.  We can change the words we use to describe ourselves, but we cannot “change our minds”.

Really, you could have a much larger discussion about this topic, but for now let’s leave it at this: I don’t think the prefix is really what confuses people about asexuality, so even with correct definitions, it doesn’t seem like there’s much use in comparing it to another word when the shared prefix is about all they have in common — unless we’re getting into a discussion about intersectionality, which I haven’t seen happening.

Anyway, on a more positive note, thinking about this reminds me of how I came to the name of this blog in the first place.  Can’t remember exactly how my train of thought went, but I must’ve been mulling over the prefix of atheism or something (not too long after I’d discovered asexuality and decided I must be somewhere on the ace spectrum) and I noted to myself that people don’t usually call themselves just “theists” very often. That’s mostly because many theists use more specific labels like Hindu or Catholic and such, and if the tag on WordPress is any indication, it seems like “theist” is a term that atheists use more often than anyone else.

Still, it seems a decent word, a useful one, an accurate one, one I wouldn’t mind calling myself.  That’s about when it hit me: “I’m an ace theist.”  I proceeded to start giggling like a child and was eager to tell my roommate.  See, this is the reason why I seem like I don’t have a sense of humor: because I waste it laughing at junk like this.

Almost a year later, when I decided to make an asexuality blog, I knew exactly what to name it.

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11 responses to “Definition Failures


  • Atheism is not a lack of belief in God, it is the belief that God doesn’t exist. It’s a wrong belief, but still a belief.

    • acetheist

      I would categorize the belief “God doesn’t exist” as a lack of belief in God. However, you’re right, I wouldn’t say that it’s not a belief itself, because that doesn’t make sense. Apologies if I misworded the post to make it seem otherwise.

      • Calum P Cameron

        As I understand it, atheism is not a-theism but athe-ism. Thus, not a lack of belief in gods, but a BELIEF IN THE LACK OF GODS. It is possible to lack any belief in gods without specifically believing that there aren’t any gods – ask an agnostic.

        • acetheist

          True, they’ve got some overlap with agnostics there, but a lack of belief is still a requirement for a belief in absence. I’m not really sure what you mean by that “athe” affix though. Hm. I guess I should wait for some atheists to weigh in.

      • Calum P Cameron

        I used “athe-” as a prefix to mean “relating to the lack of gods”. My point was that atheism refers to a belief in or adherence to (“-ism”) a cosmos which lacks any gods. This is more specific than simply not being a theist – although you are right that it IS required for someone to not be a theist in order to be an atheist, it is not ALL that is required to meet the definition, and I felt it was worth making that clear.

      • Midori Skies

        Hi. Ace atheist here (not nearly as catchy as ace theist, I must admit).

        Atheism is NOT a belief. It is, as Acetheist correctly stated in the post, a lack of belief in gods. One could even be an agnostic atheist–lacking belief in any gods, but not knowing for certain whether or not any gods exist (or perhaps even holding the position that it is impossible to know).

        I’m technically an agnostic atheist myself, but I consider the existence of gods to be extremely unlikely, so I just call myself an atheist 99% of the time.

        More on topic to the original post, I also tire of comparisons between atheism and asexuality. Usually they contain misconceptions about at least one of those two things, if not both. Comparing one thing you do not understand to another thing you do not understand is not even remotely helpful.

      • Calum P Cameron

        Ah, OK. Was kinda semi-waiting for an actual atheist to turn up and confirm or correct there.

        I withdraw my comment. I was under the impression that atheism was, if you like “on the other side” of agnosticism from theism. Rather than one being a more-specific subset of the other. But that was probably because most self-defined “atheists” I know are like that, whereas everyone I know who neither believes in any god nor necessarily believes there aren’t any gods inevitably prefers “agnostic”.

        Hmm. We really need a word for people who actually believe with some certainty that there are exactly 0 gods. There’s this entire religious demographic going undefined here, and it’s causing clarity issues.

        I imagine, however, that I am not the person to come up with such a word, nor is this blog the place for it.

      • Calum P Cameron

        Huh. Cool. I did not know that was actually a term. Thankyou.

        Although “gnostic atheist” sounds like it could also mean someone who follows the principles of Gnosticism but doesn’t believe in the Gnostic Demiurge.

        I wonder if such people actually exist…

      • bramblesandbriars

        Chiming in late, but as an agnostic theist I’d quibble with the implication that agnosticism is an “intermediate” or more specific form of atheism. I see it as more of a separate axis, dealing with belief in human knowledge rather than belief in divine absolutes? I believe that there is probably at least one entity/force that fits our accepted conceptions and definitions of “God,” but I also have severe doubts as to humankind’s ability to understand such an entity on a level that makes our definitions accurate. Which isn’t to say that I think that religion is bunk or that attempts to better understand or connect with God are folly – even partial understandings are valuable and reaching for unattainable goals often produces unexpectedly useful results. But as I don’t feel that any one tradition can authoritatively lay claim to an “accurate” conception of God, I don’t feel comfortable labeling myself as an adherent to any one tradition, so I just call myself a theist. And since uncertainty about God is an important part of my personal beliefs, I call myself an agnostic.

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