Here is my understanding of the subject


Theism is broadly defined as the belief in the existence of a Supreme Being or deities. Theism

Non theism

Nontheism has generally been used to describe apathy or silence towards the subject of God and differs from an antithetical, explicit atheism. Nontheism does not necessarily describe atheism or disbelief in God Nontheism


Atheism is, in the broadest sense, an absence of belief in the existence of deities. Atheism

Reason for asking

I have encountered a great deal of confusion surrounding this subject.

It appears non-theism gets confused with Atheism.

Many Atheists appear to use the term non-theism to describe themselves.

Many theists, label non theists as atheists, and atheists and non-theists.

However my current understanding is that silence and apathy towards the subject, is not the same thing as declaring belief, or, disbelief?

  • 1
    You have consistency issues within the concepts you are using. If non-theism is the set of all things without theism that would include atheism. It would also include things that are not human beings such as cars and dogs. Athiesm by definition is a REJECTION OF DEITIES. It is not enough to say the lack of belief in a God or diety. A cat lacks belief in a diety is a cat an atheist? Most people would say that athiesm only applies to human beings not other animals & certainly not inanimate objects. If it applies only to humans those people must REJECT a God. An infant has no stance whatsoever.
    – Logikal
    Aug 1, 2020 at 23:19
  • Just wait until you try to fit transtheism into these taxonomies 😵 Aug 2, 2020 at 17:32
  • 1
    The page you linked to seems clear enough: "non-theism" is an umbrella term including atheism, agnosticism, apatheism, and more. Aug 3, 2020 at 14:56
  • In either-or thinking, one would hold that either you believe in God or you don't. Of course, thinkers like to find finer gradations in language to describe the state of affairs in the world. As such, agnosticism, pantheism, polytheism, and other terms describe belief states regarding 'gods', whatever one holds those to be. So, since athiesm is not wide enough to capture all of the types of non-belief, non-theism serves that purpose. It's merely a generalization of agnosticism, athieism, ignoticisim, etc.
    – J D
    Aug 4, 2020 at 16:20
  • If one does not know if there is a god or not. Does this make him/her a believer, or, non believer?
    – user47704
    Aug 4, 2020 at 17:56

4 Answers 4


I suspect I'll get downvoted for saying this, but such is life...

This issue is mainly a matter of social politics. It's clear that there are three distinct categories:

  • Those who believe in and aver the existence of a God or Gods: generally called 'theists'
  • Those who are ambivalent on the issue, neither accepting nor rejecting the existence of God(s): usually lumped under the term 'agnostic'
  • Those who reject the possibility of the existence of God(s): which is covered by the term 'atheist'

The sociopolitical problem, however, is that those in the last category (atheism) often assert that their objection to the first category is that the concept God(s) demands an unjustified belief, while those in the first category proudly proclaim their beliefs as justified. This has led atheists to have a distinctly negative association to the word 'belief', as something problematic that those people do, with the result that atheists actively avoid being associated with any beliefs of their own. Thus they get tangled in a problematic grammatical construction: they refuse to use active voice and say "God does not exist" (which is clearly a belief statement), and instead use a passive negational voice such as "We don't share in the belief that God exists." That passive negational voice blurs the line between atheism and the truly passive stance of agnosticism; it preserves a political talking-point — i.e., 'belief is bad' — at the expense of clear reasoning.

The 'non-theism' terminology is more of the same; a blur-word that hides the active rejection of the existence of God, because the active rejection of God is too obviously a belief in its own right.

I'll admit this kind of thing annoys me on philosophical grounds, but don't presume my annoyance is anything more than philosophical. I'm strictly agnostic.

  • Personally, i think the proof is in the word "Atheism", is A theism. "A theism". The theory being that God does not exist, and opposes the theory that God does exist. Where-as, non-theism, in order to avoid Culloden like wars, is allegorically speaking, a 33rd degree secret, regards to what one believes. A non-theist, may, or may not be, a believer. A non-theist might genuinely have no opinion on the subject, and will accept it from an academical point of view. That is my understanding
    – user47704
    Aug 2, 2020 at 19:21

In the Wikipedia article that you linked:

Nontheism does not necessarily describe atheism or disbelief in God; it has been used as an umbrella term for summarizing various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions, such as agnosticism, ..., atheism, ...

So all atheist are nontheists, but not all nontheists are atheists.

  • To the point. According to OP's definitions, a person who does not believe in God but is not vocal about it is both atheist and non-theist.
    – armand
    Aug 2, 2020 at 2:33

Usually, when we want to know the meanings of words, we start with the dictionary definitions. If we're going to move beyond the dictionary, this should be clearly explained before we begin throwing fancy words around. So, if you see the word "nontheist" used in any context where the author has not given a specific definition, and where the context does not imply some standardized definition, you should assume they are using the dictionary definition.

You already know what a "theist" is, according to your OP, and I don't really see anything wrong with your definition, so I'll skip it.

"Non-" has a number of meanings, but they're all variations of "not" or "without." A "nontheist," therefore, is a person who is not a theist:

a person who does not believe that there is a god or gods : a person who is not a believer in theism

"nontheist," Merriam-Webster

Logically, then, we expect this to include not only atheism ("gods don't exist"), but also positions such as theological noncognitivism ("the word 'god' is ill-defined"), apatheism ("I don't care if gods exist or not"), and several other beliefs and ideologies besides.

  • If there's anything I can change to improve this answer, please let me know.
    – Kevin
    Aug 4, 2020 at 15:50
  • A prefix non does not always equal a NOT. There are false cases. If you want to believe all non cases are not cases then it is true only on Tuesdays. One can show counter examples: symmetric, non symmetric and a-symmetric (this is the not case). All three categories are not identical nor equivalent. Each has it's unique definition. So there are cases where a non is used that is NOT a variation of the term NOT. Secondly an athiest is a person who rejects the idea of a God. The lack of belief is nonsense. A newborn lacks belief, so does a chair, etc. Why would persons only apply to athiesm?
    – Logikal
    Sep 7, 2020 at 3:28
  • @Logikal: As I explained, we start with the dictionary. If you don't like the definition they gave (and which my answer cites), go argue with them, or explicitly state whatever meaning you prefer every time you use the word "nontheist." I'm not here to debate the relative merits of a definition which I did not write in the first place.
    – Kevin
    Sep 7, 2020 at 3:58

Non-theism is Atheism if and only if one believes in the law of the excluded middle.

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