Antitheism (sometimes anti-theism) is active opposition to theism. The etymological root of the word comes from the Greek 'anti-' and 'theismos'. The term has had a range of applications; in secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to belief in any deity, while in a theism context, it sometimes refers to opposition to a specific god or gods.

Opposition to theism

An antitheist is defined by the "Oxford English Dictionary" as "One opposed to belief in the existence of a God." The earliest citation given for this meaning is from 1833. Furthermore, an antitheist may be opposed to belief in the existence of any god or gods, and not merely one in particular.

The concept allows a useful distinction to be made between the simple rejection of theism, atheism, and a position of antipathy or opposition towards such beliefs.


Antitheism may be adopted as a label by those who take the view that theism is destructive. One example of this view is demonstrated in "Letters to a Young Contrarian" (2001), in which Christopher Hitchens writes: "I'm not even an atheist so much as I am an antitheist; I not only maintain that all religions are versions of the same untruth, but I hold that the influence of churches, and the effect of religious belief, is positively harmful." [ [ Christopher Hitchens | Book Excerpt ] ] However, here Hitchens' use of the word seems to be as general anti-religious belief rather than exclusively as opposition to belief in deities. There is some support for this use, but it may be regarded as a misuse of the terminology by others, most of whom hold that antitheism is a subdivision within, or even a synonym of, atheism. For example, "Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary (1996)" defines "antitheist" simply as a "disbeliever in the existence of God". [ [ Antitheist - Definitions from ] ] It is not listed at all in Webster's Third New International Dictionary through the 1976 addenda, nor in the online version of Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary. [ [ Dictionary and Thesaurus - Merriam-Webster Online ] ] . Hitchens himself is, in fact, also an antitheist in this sense: "I say I'm an antitheist because I think it would be rather awful if it was true; if there was a permanent, round-the-clock, divine supervision and would be like living in North Korea" []

According to historian Michael Burleigh, antitheism found its first mass expression in revolutionary France in response to organised resistance to "organised ... 'anti-clerical' and self-styled 'non-religious' state. [ Michael Burleigh "Earthly Powers" p 96-97 ISBN 0-00-719572-9] Another well-known quote from this period is "Men will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest", by Denis Diderot. In Soviet Russia the Bolsheviks originally embraced "an ideological creed which professed that all religion would atrophy" and "resolved to eradicate Christianity as such." In 1918 "Ten Orthodox hierarchs were summarily shot" and "Children were deprived of any religious education outside the home" [Michael Burleigh "Sacred Causes" HarperCollins (2006) p41, p42, p43] . Increasingly draconian measures were employed. In addition to direct state persecution, the League of the Militant Godless was founded in 1925, churches were closed and vandalised and "by 1938 eighty bishops had lost their lives, while thousands of clerics were sent to ... labour camps" [Burliegh op. cit. p49 and p47]

Militant atheism

The active antitheist stance is sometimes called "militant" atheism. [cite book| last=Baggini| first= Julian| year=2003| title=Atheism: A very short introduction| location=Oxford| publisher=Oxford University Press| id= ISBN 0-19-280424-3| pages=101] In 1922 Lenin wrote an essay "On the Significance of Militant Materialism", in which he commended the journal "Pod Znamenem Marksizma" as a "militant atheist" journal. He defined this as "carry [ing] on untiring atheist propaganda and an untiring atheist fight". ["Lenin’s Collected Works", Progress Publishers, Moscow, Volume 33, 1972, pp. 227-236 available on the web [ here] ] The League of the Militant Godless was established in the Soviet Union as a militant atheist organisation, [see the books cited in League of the Militant Godless, also "The fruits of militant atheism in the new USSRBy Brian Moynahan "The Faith: A History of Christianity" Doubleday,NY (2002) pp. 670-674.] [Note that безбожников is [ usually translated] "Atheists"] and the term has also been applied to a number of key figures in the development of Marxism, including Karl Marx, [Richard Drake "Apostles and Agitators" Harvard University Press (2003) p3 available on the web [ here] ] Friedrich Engels [ [ from Irving Hexham's "Concise Dictionary of Religion"] ] [ [ Concise Encycolpedia Britannica] ] and Joseph Dietzgen. [ [ Marxist Glossary] ]

Today the term is sometimes used pejoratively by theists to describe people believed to campaign actively or outspokenly for atheism and against religion. Catherine Fahringer of the Freedom From Religion Foundation has suggested that the label "militant" is often routinely applied to "atheist" for no good reason–"very much as was the adjective 'damn' attached to the noun 'Yankee' during the Civil War." [Catherine Fahringer, [ The militant atheist] , "Freethought Today", October 1997.]

Further examples of use

* Key figures around the French Revolution and in the thinking leading up to it are sometimes described as militant atheists, for example Julien La Mettrie. [ [ Marxist Reference Writers] ] The same applies to some of their international sympathisers, such as Thomas Holcroft. [ [ Review of "The French Revolution and the London Stage 1789-1805". New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000.] ]
* The 19th-century political activist Charles Bradlaugh has been described as "the first militant atheist in the history of Western civilization", [ [ Charles Bradlaugh was the first militant Atheist in the history of Western civilization] ] and the term has also been applied to other 19th-century thinkers such as Ludwig Andreas Feuerbach [The Debate Between Feuerbach and Stirner: An Introduction, in "The Philosophical Forum" 8, number 2-3-4, (1976)- available on the web [ here] ] and Annie Besant. [ [ entry] ]
* Figures in the 20th century in the USA and the UK who have been described as militant atheists include Joseph McCabe [ [ A Rebel to His Last Breath: Joseph McCabe and Rationalism] ] and Michael Newdow. ["The New American" Vol. 18, No. 15 July 29, 2002] [Commentary by Les Kinsolving [ here] ] In his book "Schopenhauer, Religion and Morality: the Humble Path to Ethics" Gerard Mannion disputes "the textbook assessment of Schopenhauer as militant atheist and absolute pessimist." [ [ Ashgate book description] ]
* In 1965 Francis Crick explained that some lectures of his "will not be "militantly" anti-Christian, but nevertheless will be directed against the sort of ideas at present held by many religious people." [Letter 14 December 1965 PP/CRI/E/1/14/5 cited in [ Wellcome Trust biography of Crick] ] More recent examples of the use of the term include an opinion piece by Charles Moore in the "Daily Telegraph" entitled "Militant atheists: too clever for their own good", [ [ "Militant atheists: too clever for their own good"] ] and an article in the same newspaper by Raj Persaud, who applies the term to Richard Dawkins. [ [ "Holy visions elude scientists"] ] The editor of "Quadrant Magazine" also refers to Dawkins in these terms, and suggests that Dawkins' views are an extreme example of intolerance. [ [ Science versus Religion. Quadrant Magazine February 2007] ] Kevin Drumm in the Washington Monthly applies the term to Polly Toynbee. [ [ Huffing over Narnia] ] RJ Eskow in The Huffington Post refers to Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, saying "I believe most atheists are progressive, enlightened people who are simply 'nonbelievers.' My quarrel is only with those who advocate the elimination of "religion based on grandiose and unsubstantiated claims"." [ [ 15 Questions Militant Atheists Should Ask Before Trying to "Destroy Religion"] ]
* The Argentinian Supreme Court Judge Carmen Argibay apparently describes herself as a "militant atheist", [see refs in her Wikipedia article] and the journalist and campaigner Paul Foot has been praised as a "militant atheist". [ [,6903,1268684,00.html Nick Cohen pays homage to his friend Paul Foot] in The Guardian] Comedian Kathy Griffin identifies herself as a militant atheist. [cite news | url= | title=Foul-Mouthed and Funny | work=OutSmart | author=Blase DiStefano | date=June 2007 | accessdate=2007-07-01]

Atheistic evangelism

Atheistic evangelism, or evangelical atheism, is a pejorative term used by Christian apologists to describe the approach of those who actively promote atheism. Some Christian apologists have described the characteristics of "atheistic evangelism" during the past century and a half. [ [ Fort Hard Knox on Evangelical Atheism] ] The term "Evangelical atheism" is also used by atheist Dan Barker.


Some consider Thomas Huxley to be the first atheistic evangelist.Fact|date=April 2007 Huxley himself denied that he was an atheist, preferring the term agnostic, which he coined in 1869. ["Agnosticism", Britannica 1911 Edition, fetched April 2007, [] ]

Harvard botanist and Christian Asa Gray, one of the first supporters of Darwin's theory of evolution, first noted the phenomenon in 1868 when he referred to "the English-materialistic-positivistic line of thought". [Browne, Janet The "Power of Place", Volume 2 of the Biography of Charles Darwin (Alfred Knopf, 2002), page 310] Such thought was usually associated with Thomas Huxley at the time.

The religious nature of Huxley's beliefs were referenced in Janet Browne's biography of Charles Darwin:

Huxley was rampaging on miracles and the existence of the soul. A few months later, he was to coin the word "agnostic" to describe his own position as neither a believer nor a disbeliever, but one who considered himself free to inquire rationally into the basis of knowledge. . .

The term fitted him well . . . and it caught the attention of the other free thinking, rational doubters in Huxley's ambit, and came to signify a particularly active form of scientific rationalism during the final decades of the 19th century...

In his hands, agnosticism became as doctrinaire as anything else—a religion of skepticism. Huxley used it as a creed that would place him on a higher moral plane than even bishops and archbishops. All the evidence would nevertheless suggest that Huxley was sincere in his rejection of the charge of outright atheism against himself.

To inquire rigorously into the spiritual domain, he asserted, was a more elevated undertaking than slavishly to believe or disbelieve. "A deep sense of religion is compatible with the entire absence of theology," he had told [Anglican clergyman] Charles Kingsley back in 1860. "Pope Huxley", the [magazine] Spectator dubbed him. The label stuck." [Browne, Janet "The Power of Place", Volume 2 of the Biography of Charles Darwin (Alfred Knopf, 2002), pages 309-310]

Dan Barker is an American atheist writer, and the founder of the Freedom From Religion Foundation. In 1993, Barker wrote an article on "Evangelical atheism" in which he provided advice to atheists interested in promoting atheism:

I am not suggesting that every atheist should be an evangelist. Some are better off temporarily keeping their views to themselves for job security or family harmony. Some freethinkers wisely wait until they retire, when they have little to lose, before they become vocal. In certain communities, open unbelief can be costly. [...]

If you decide to be evangelistic, then ask yourself what you hope to accomplish. Are you trying to win an argument? To simply end an argument? To demolish the enemy? To chase bigoted theocrats from your door?

We want to enhance self image, not squash it. You can't yank someone out of the fold. If your objective is to end up with a friend, then woo them, don't boo them. You may not respect their current views, but you can respect their potential to learn. [Barker, Dan "Evangelistic Atheism: Leading Believers Astray" in Freethought Today, 1993]

Paul Kurtz, editor in chief of Free Inquiry, has written an opinion piece criticizing the criticism of Dawkins, Harris and Daniel Dennett in which he discusses the usage of the term "evangelical" in this context. [Cite web |first=Paul |last=Kurtz |authorlink=Paul Kurtz |url= |accessdate=2007-03-28 |title=Religion in Conflict: Are ‘Evangelical Atheists’ Too Outspoken?]

Richard Dawkins' book "The God Delusion" has been successful in this approach, not only having sold over 1.5 million copies (as of November 2007), [cite web |url= | publisher= Richard Dawkins at Point of Inquiry | title= Richard Dawkins - Science and the New Atheism | accessdate=2008-03-14 | date=2007-12-08] but winning the Author of the Year Prize in 2007 at the Galaxy British Book Awards. [cite web |url=,809,Richard-Dawkins-Author-of-the-Year,Galaxy-British-Book-Awards | title=Richard Dawkins Author of the Year | accessdate=2008-03-27]

Opposition to God

Some sources, particularly religious ones, have defined antitheism as opposition to God, holiness or the divine rather than general opposition to "belief" in gods.

The Chambers Dictionary defines "antitheism" in three different ways: "doctrine antagonistic to theism; denial of the existence of a God; opposition to God." All three match Hitchens' usage, not only a generally anti-religious belief and disbelief in a deity, but also opposition to a god's existence [] . The second is synonymous with strong atheism. The third and first, on the other hand, need not be atheistic at all.

Earlier definitions of antitheism include that of the French Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain (1953), for whom it is "an active struggle against everything that reminds us of God" (p.104), and that of Robert Flint (1877), Professor of Divinity at the University of Edinburgh. Flint's Baird Lecture for 1877 was entitled "Anti-Theistic Theories". [cite book| last=Flint| first=Robert| title=Anti-Theistic Theories: Being the Baird Lecture for 1877| edition=5| year=1894| location=London| publisher=William Blackwood and Sons] He used it as a very general umbrella term for all opposition to his own form of theism, which he defined as the "belief that the heavens and the earth and all that they contain owe their existence and continuance to the wisdom and will of a supreme, self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient, righteous, and benevolent Being, who is distinct from, and independent of, what He has created." [Flint, p.1] He wrote:

In dealing with theories which have nothing in common except that they are antagonistic to theism, it is necessary to have a general term to designate them. Anti-theism appears to be the appropriate word. It is, of course, much more comprehensive in meaning than the term atheism. It applies to all systems which are opposed to theism. It includes, therefore, atheism... But short of atheism there are anti-theistic theories. Polytheism is not atheism, for it does not deny that there is a Deity; but it is anti-theistic, since it denies that there is only one. Pantheism is not atheism, for it admits that there is a God; but it is anti-theism, for it denies that God is a being distinct from creation and possessed of such attributes as wisdom, and holiness, and love. Every theory which refuses to ascribe to God an attribute which is essential to a worthy conception of His character is anti-theistic. Only those theories which refuse to acknowledge that there is evidence even for the existence of a God are atheistic. [Flint, p.2-3]

However, Flint also acknowledges that antitheism is typically understood differently than how he defines it. In particular, he notes that it has been used as a subdivision of atheism, descriptive of the view that theism has been disproven, rather than as the more general term that Flint prefers. He rejects "non-theistic" as an alternative, "not merely because of its hybrid origin and character, but also because it is far too comprehensive. Theories of physical and mental science are non-theistic, even when in no degree, directly or indirectly, antagonistic to theism." [Flint, p.444-445]

Opposition to God is frequently referred to as dystheism (which means "belief in a deity that is not benevolent") or misotheism (strictly speaking, this means "hatred of God"). Examples of belief systems founded on the principle of opposition to God include satanism and maltheism.

Other uses

Another use of the term "antitheism" was coined by Christopher New in a thought experiment published in 1993. In his article, he imagines what arguments for the existence of an evil God would look like: "Antitheists, like theists, would have believed in an omnipotent, omniscient, eternal creator; but whereas theists in fact believe that the supreme being is also perfectly good, antitheists would have believed that he was perfectly evil." [cite journal| last=New| first=Christopher| year=1993| title=Antitheism - A Reflection| journal=Ratio| volume=6| issue=1| month=June| pages=36–43| doi=10.1111/j.1467-9329.1993.tb00051.x] In normal usage, such believers would be called dystheists or maltheists; they would however still qualify as theists since the concept of theism (contrary to common assumption) is not restricted to belief in benevolent deities.

ee also

* Antireligion
* Dystheism
* Misotheism
* Criticism of religion
* Post-theism
* Humanism

External links

* [ The New Atheism]
* [ The Rational Response Squad]



* Hitchens, Christopher (2001). "Letters to a Young Contrarian (ISBN 0-465-03032-7)". New York: Basic Books.
* Maritain, Jacques (1953). "The Range of Reason." London: Geoffrey Bles. [ Electronic Text]
** Note: Chapter 8, "The Meaning of Contemporary Atheism" (p.103-117, [ Electronic Text] ) is reprinted from "Review of Politics", Vol. 11 (3) July 1949, p. 267-280 [ Electronic Text] . A version also appears "The Listener", Vol. 43 No.1102, 9 March 1950. pp.427-429,432.
* [ Barker, Dan "Evangelistic Atheism: Leading Believers Astray" in Freethought Today, 1993]
* Browne, Janet, "The Power of Place, Volume 2 of the Biography of Charles Darwin".(Alfred Knopf, 2002)
* [ Segal, David, "Atheist Evangelist", article in the Washington Post Thursday, October 26, 2006; Page C01]
* Witham, Larry, "By Design" (Encounter Books, 2003)
* [ Wolff, Gary, in "The New Atheism", The Church of the Non-Believers reprinted in Wired Magazine, November 2006]
* Wright, N. T., "The Last Word" (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)

Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Antitheism — An ti*the ism, n. The doctrine of antitheists. {An ti*the*is tic}, a. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • antitheism — (n.) also anti theism, 1788; see ANTI (Cf. anti ) + THEISM (Cf. theism) …   Etymology dictionary

  • antitheism — /an ti thēˈi zm/ noun 1. Doctrine antagonistic to theism 2. Denial of the existence of a God 3. Opposition to God ORIGIN: ↑anti (1), and Gr theos a god • • • antithēˈist noun antithēistˈic adjective …   Useful english dictionary

  • antitheism — noun The categorical opposition to the belief in any and all deities …   Wiktionary

  • Antitheistic — Antitheism An ti*the ism, n. The doctrine of antitheists. {An ti*the*is tic}, a. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Misotheism — is the hatred of God or hatred of the gods (from the Greek adjective μισόθεος hating the gods , a compound of μῖσος hatred and θεός god ). In some varieties of polytheism, it was considered possible to inflict punishment on gods by ceasing to… …   Wikipedia

  • Criticism of atheism — Part of a series on Atheism …   Wikipedia

  • Antitheismus — („starker Atheismus“ genannt) ist die weltanschauliche Grundhaltung, die aktiv gegen jede Form von Theismus eintritt, also explizit die Existenz von Göttern verneint. In Abgrenzung dazu versteht man unter (schwachem) Atheismus das Fehlen des… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Antitheist — Antitheismus („starker Atheismus“ genannt) ist die weltanschauliche Grundhaltung, die aktiv gegen jede Form von Theismus eintritt, also explizit die Existenz von Göttern verneint. In Abgrenzung dazu versteht man unter (schwachem) Atheismus das… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • New Atheism — Part of a series on Atheism …   Wikipedia

Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”