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What is antitheism?

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Antitheism is a broad term referring to active, intentional opposition to belief in God or religion in general. The word describes a person’s intent and approach more so than his beliefs, as a person might well hold to an agnostic or atheistic worldview but not be considered an antitheist. Antitheism holds that theism is harmful and should be countered. As with other political or social philosophies, there are varying levels of antitheism and numerous applications.

As one would expect, the Bible has nothing positive to say about the attitude of antitheism. While simple ignorance is viewed as a forgivable error (John 9:41; Luke 23:34), willful hatred toward God is not. Those who purposefully defy God (Romans 1:18–23) as a result of disbelief or hatred are labeled as “fools” (Psalm 10:4; 14:1) and warned of dire consequences (Proverbs 29:1; Romans 1:24–25).

The most visible expression of antitheism in the modern world was the rise of the so-called New Atheists just after the turn of the century. Catalyzed by the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, a more antagonistic, hostile attack on religion came into fashion. This was spearheaded by personalities such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, and Christopher Hitchens. These men openly and aggressively attacked belief in God as both false and damaging to society. Most of these figures had written and spoken to that effect long before, but their ideas became far more popular during the time after 9/11. Though the effects of New Atheism have lingered, its popularity has waned as both religious and non-religious figures have criticized it for shallow, divisive approaches.

From a historical perspective, there is nothing “new” about New Atheism or antitheism. The only truly novel aspects of New Atheism were an unusual level of social popularity and an extraordinary level of arrogance. Even fellow atheists frequently faulted the rhetoric of New Atheism for being more derogatory than reasoned and more snide than rational. The modern antitheists’ tendency to demean and belittle is seen in the titles of their books The God Delusion and God Is Not Great and the movie Religulous. In eras past, such attitudes have been described as misotheism (“hatred of God”) or maltheism (“belief in an evil God”).

The remnants of New Atheism continue in the public work of Lawrence Krauss, Jerry Coyne, Victor Stenger, and others. Actors and comedians such as Bill Maher, Ricky Gervais, and Penn Jillette could be fairly described as antitheists. In some cases, antitheists are former professing believers, such as Dan Barker and John Loftus.

Non-believers are not necessarily antitheists; a person who merely disbelieves in God but does not hold theism to be stupid or immoral would not be considered an antitheist. Nor is antitheism always identified with one political group. Some antitheists hold worldviews remarkably similar to pantheist or New Age systems. The common theme of antitheism is not necessarily political or social or even spiritual. Antitheism is primarily an attitude of aggressive hostility toward religion and, by extension, religious people and ideas. Unfortunately, antitheism tends to express itself in negative ways, with arrogance, derision, or outright bigotry.

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This page last updated: January 5, 2022