People can have contradictory beliefs. For example, they can both believe there is a god, and believe there is no god. So, does this mean someone can be both a theist and an atheist?

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    Since your first sentence answers the title question what is the question for us? To confirm? Yes, people are routinely inconsistent.
    – Conifold
    Jun 27, 2020 at 0:47
  • Yes, to confirm.
    – user107952
    Jun 27, 2020 at 1:19
  • Can a person with contradictory beliefs be taken seriously? And No one can't SERIOUSLY believe in God and also reject God. Athiesm is a concept of rejecting a God exist. Don't be like the psychological emotive literal readers who read the dictionary that an athiest is a lack of belief in God. Athiesm is not just a LACK --it is expressing a DENIAL. It doesn't matter if the dictionary does not literally say rejection of God. To claim YOU DON'T KNOW if there is a God is different from athiesm & theism. This is called Agnosticism. You are not sure about God in this position.
    – Logikal
    Jun 27, 2020 at 2:52
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    One can be theist about one god and Atheist about all others.
    – tkruse
    Jun 28, 2020 at 14:46
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    If one believes in a god, any god, they are not atheist. One is either a theist or an atheist and isn't "atheist" concerning other gods. Jul 26, 2020 at 22:58

7 Answers 7

  1. If different times are involved, then there is no contradiction. S can be a theist at time t1 and an atheist at time t2.

  2. It is possible and quite common for a person not to realise the full implications of their beliefs. It is possible for S to believe b1, b2, b3 and also to believe b4, b5, b6, without realising that b1, b2, b3 imply theism and b4, b5, b6 imply atheism. This is a logical possibility. In the sense that S can hold simultaneously a set of beliefs that imply theism and another set of beliefs that imply atheism, without realising the incompatibility, S can be both a theist and an atheist.

  3. S can also be both a theist and an atheist if different senses of 'God' or 'gods' are involved. S may be a theist in the sense of believing (like J.S. Mill) in a limited God and an atheist in believing that there is no (maximum) God with the traditional attributes of omnipotence, omniscience, and omnibenevolence.


Many have contradictory beliefs, though they may not realize it. Some may even have contradictory beliefs, realize it, and hold them all the same. Being both a theist and atheist in the strong sense of each term would be a special case of this real phenomenon.

There's another answer you might find of interest though, which allows one to be an atheist and a theist without inconsistency. Specifically, one might be an atheist with respect to a specific god, e.g. Jewish, Islamic, Christian, etc., but a theist with respect to one or more other gods. Many Christians in my community growing up were atheists/theists in this way.

Perhaps rarer would be an individual who is atheistic with respect to gods of all known religions, cultures, etc., but who nevertheless believes there is a god. I'd count this individual as a theist, and many atheists.

  • That's not the definition, though. One is an atheist if they don't believe in any god. If someone believes in a god but rejects the thousands of others, he is a theist. Jul 26, 2020 at 23:01
  • If you insist atheists always have to reject the existence of all gods, that's fine. Call the term used this way 'Atheism.' But I find it more illuminating to index to specific gods. Call it 'atheism with respect to X' where X is the name of some god. You can build 'Atheism' out of an exhaustive list of 'atheism with respect to X', for each X. You can also categorize a range of positions between Atheism and various indexed atheisms with this approach. Not so, starting with Atheism and trying to construct indices; it's too coarse-grained. But hey, you're entitled to your use. Jul 27, 2020 at 2:52
  • I think it's more correct to simply say that a person is an unbeliever concerning god X and god Y, etc. "Atheist" is a universal statement. Jul 28, 2020 at 4:57

If someone has a dissociative identity disorder and at least one personality is theist and at least another one is atheist, it is possible.


For an example of an atheistic theist there is Thomas Altizer (1927 - 2018), professor of Religious Studies at Stony Brook University 1968 - 1996.

Illustrative of his prima facie contradictory stance is the title of one of his books: The Gospel of Christian Atheism 1966, updated 2003.

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Altizer has a nuanced view of God which is intrinsically bound up with the concepts of good, evil, fallenness, epiphany and redemption. The Nihil and (non-)existence feature heavily too. He holds that when philosophy properly analyses the concept of evil it becomes theology:-

"Now it is truly remarkable that so little attention is given to evil in Western philosophy. One could search in vain in our philosophical dictionaries and encyclopedias for a serious treatment of evil, ...

"Such a refusal of evil as a genuine question is surely a refusal of the very actuality of the world. Indeed, one can observe in the very history of philosophy and theology a progressive diminution of the question of evil. Perhaps at no other point do their histories more fully coincide. Yet when philosophy first deeply engages the question of evil in German Idealism, this is precisely the point at which philosophy fully becomes theology, and thereafter a non-philosophical theology progressively regresses into a fully dogmatic and ecclesiastical form."

- quoted from Godhead and the Nothing pp. 32, 37

Altizer is considered a member of the 1960s "Death of God movement". His obituary in the New York Times is informative of his influence:-

His theology was esoteric and not easily understood, leaving most people, including many clergy, to react viscerally to its basic premise. Confusing matters was that the few theologians in his intellectual circle — including William Hamilton, Paul M. Van Buren and Rabbi Richard Rubenstein — did not agree among themselves on how God had died, why he had died or what his death meant. They were essentially writing God out of the picture, but they did not consider themselves atheists; Dr. Altizer called himself a Christian atheist, further muddying the waters.

“He was one of the country’s most hated, misunderstood, radical and prophetic voices of the past century,” said Jordan E. Miller, who taught religion at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, wrote articles with Dr. Altizer and considered him a mentor.

The “God Is Dead” cultural moment, such as it was, was short-lived. A year after the Time article, Dr. Altizer lamented that he was no longer “the bad boy of theology” but felt more “like the invisible man.”

But he had inflamed evangelicals, and his lasting effect may be that he helped give rise to the religious right.

“I suggest that both evangelical and mainline Protestantism’s development from the late 1960s were a reaction against his theology,” said Christopher D. Rodkey, who is pastor at St. Paul’s United Church of Christ in Dallastown, Pa., and who also considered Dr. Altizer a mentor.

NYT Dec. 2, 2018: Thomas Altizer, 91, Proponent of ‘God Is Dead’ Theology, Dies


If a person declares himself to be both, a theist and an atheist, then the person should first clarify his/her concepts. Both terms are contradictory. Hence the answer to the OP's question is "no".


People who hold contradictory beliefs are sick. In psychology, this disease is called cognitive dissonance.

In the field of psychology, cognitive dissonance occurs when a person holds two or more contradictory beliefs, ideas, or values; or participates in an action that goes against one of these three, and experiences psychological stress because of that. -- Wikipedia, Cognitive Dissonance

However, there is a real, healthy state of being called Achintya Bheda Abheda, or simultaneous oneness and difference between an individual soul and Supreme Soul. It is also called monotheistic dualism.

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    Wrong: "People who hold contradictory beliefs are sick". All people hold at least of a small set of contradictory beliefs (otherwise we would have the answers for everything), and can't be considered sick. Cognitive dissonance is not considered a sickness, and not even a disorder. Contradictory beliefs are a human trait. Doubt is an example of contradictory beliefs, cause a doubt is the presence of contradictory ideas that require a selection. Naturally, not all decisions are good, because we're not gods.
    – RodolfoAP
    Jun 27, 2020 at 11:30

Yes. Bertrand Russell admitted that the scientific stance is agnosticism, the existence of god/s has not been proved. But said he identified as atheist for clarity in debate, that he did not believe in deities so far specified. He pointed out that nearly all religious persons believing in a deity/ies is atheist with regard to the deity/iesof other faiths.

Someone identifying as agnostic can perfectly conceive of very powerful beings, like the suggestion from the OrchOR theory that it might be possible neutron stars are sentient - that is a hypothesis that can validly be contemplated, whatever it's status. Such a being would be orders of magnitude more powerful than deities are usually pictured. The most extreme case along these lines is the Brahmajala Sutta (DN 1), where Buddha went to teach Maha Brahma, the being that thought itself to be Creator. Through discourse Buddha establishes Maha Brahma was only the first being in this realm, and that it faces the same fundamental challenges as all beings. The core of this teaching being, that a very powerful might be able to provide various blessings, but cannot help with the core business of life, is irrelevant to that - so agnosticism.

Deities have performed many types of role, like the Tuatha ne Danaan and animal spirits in Australian Aboriginal cultures, may have recorded seasonal changes and their consequences as theistic 'soap operas', potentially over very long spans of time. Greek theism, possibly amplified by competitive play-writing as a religious festival, seems to have developed an unusually sophisticated psychological model in their theology, as interpreted by Jung & others. 'Cultural' jews can even be fully observant in the orthodox tradition, while being atheist, highlighting to my mind that the assumption religions are primarily sets of cosmological assertions as being very doubtful.

Einstein's 'mind of god', interpreting existence or nature as a supreme whole, or god interpreted as reason/logos, or god as love, also blur the boundaries - Einstein for instance clarified he was an atheist, despite using this phrasing.

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