Nontheism or non-theism is a range of both religious[1] and nonreligious[2] attitudes characterized by the absence of espoused belief in a God or gods. 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; it has been used as an umbrella term for summarizing various distinct and even mutually exclusive positions, such as agnosticism, ignosticism, ietsism, skepticism, pantheism, atheism, strong or positive atheism, implicit atheism, and apatheism. It is in use in the fields of Christian apologetics and general liberal theology.

Within the scope of nontheistic agnosticism, philosopher Anthony Kenny distinguishes between agnostics who find the claim "God exists" uncertain and theological noncognitivists who consider all discussion of God to be meaningless.[3] Some agnostics, however, are not nontheists but rather agnostic theists.[4]

Other related philosophical opinions about the existence of deities are ignosticism and skepticism. Because of the various definitions of the term God, a person could be an atheist in terms of certain conceptions of gods, while remaining agnostic in terms of others.

Origin and definition

The Oxford English Dictionary (2007) does not have an entry for nontheism or non-theism, but it does have an entry for non-theist, defined as "A person who is not a theist", and an entry for the adjectival non-theistic.

An early usage of the hyphenated non-theism is by George Holyoake in 1852,[5] who introduces it because:

Mr. [Charles] Southwell has taken an objection to the term Atheism. We are glad he has. We have disused it a long time [...]. We disuse it, because Atheist is a worn-out word. Both the ancients and the moderns have understood by it one without God, and also without morality. Thus the term connotes more than any well-informed and earnest person accepting it ever included in it; that is, the word carries with it associations of immorality, which have been repudiated by the Atheist as seriously as by the Christian. Non-theism is a term less open to the same misunderstanding, as it implies the simple non-acceptance of the Theist's explanation of the origin and government of the world.

This passage is cited by James Buchanan in his 1857 Modern Atheism under its forms of Pantheism, Materialism, Secularism, Development, and Natural Laws, who however goes on to state:

"Non-theism" was afterwards exchanged [by Holyoake] for "Secularism", as a term less liable to misconstruction, and more correctly descriptive of the real import of the theory.[6]

Spelling without hyphen sees scattered use in the later 20th century, following Harvey Cox's 1966 Secular City: "Thus the hidden God or deus absconditus of biblical theology may be mistaken for the no-god-at-all of nontheism."[7] Usage increased in the 1990s in contexts where association with the terms atheism or antitheism was unwanted. The 1998 Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics states, "In the strict sense, all forms of nontheisms are naturalistic, including atheism, pantheism, deism, and agnosticism."[8]

Pema Chödrön uses the term in the context of Buddhism:

The difference between theism and nontheism is not whether one does or does not believe in God.[...] Theism is a deep-seated conviction that there's some hand to hold [...] Non-theism is relaxing with the ambiguity and uncertainty of the present moment without reaching for anything to protect ourselves [...] Nontheism is finally realizing there is no babysitter you can count on.[9]

Nontheistic religions

Nontheistic traditions of thought have played roles[1] in Buddhism,[10] Christianity,[11][12] Hinduism,[13] Jainism, Taoism, Creativity, Dudeism, Raëlism[14][15] Humanistic Judaism,[16] Laveyan Satanism, Unitarian Universalism,[17][18] and Ethical Culture.[19]

See also


  1. ^ a b Williams, J. Paul; Horace L. Friess (1962). "The Nature of Religion". Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Blackwell Publishing. 2 (1): 3–17. doi:10.2307/1384088. JSTOR 1384088.
  2. ^ Starobin, Paul. "The Godless Rise As A Political Force". The National Journal. Retrieved 29 July 2010.
  3. ^ Kenny, Anthony (2006). "Worshipping an Unknown God". Ratio. 19 (4): 442. doi:10.1111/j.1467-9329.2006.00339.x.
  4. ^ Smith, George H (1979). Atheism: The Case Against God. pp. 10–11. Properly considered, agnosticism is not a third alternative to theism and atheism because it is concerned with a different aspect of religious belief. Theism and atheism refer to the presence or absence of belief in a god; agnosticism refers to the impossibility of knowledge with regard to a god or supernatural being. The term "agnostic" does not, in itself, indicate whether or not one believes in a god. Agnosticism can be either theistic or atheistic.
  5. ^ "The Reasoner", New Series, No. VIII. 115
  6. ^ Buchanan, James (1857). Modern Atheism under its forms of Pantheism, Materialism, Secularism, Development, and Natural Laws.
  7. ^ Cox, Harvey (1966). Secular City. p. 225.
  8. ^ Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. Naturalism. 1998. p. 252.
  9. ^ Chodron, Pema (2002). When Things Fall Apart. Shambhala Publications, Inc. pp. 39f. ISBN 1-57062-969-2.
  10. ^ B. Alan Wallace, Contemplative Science. Columbia University Press, 2007, pages 97-98.
  11. ^ Spong, John Shelby, A New Christianity for a New World: Why Traditional Faith Is Dying and How a New Faith Is Being Born, ISBN 0-06-067063-0
  12. ^ Tillich, Paul. (1951) Systematic Theology, p.205.
  13. ^ Catherine Robinson, Interpretations of the Bhagavad-Gītā and Images of the Hindu Tradition: The Song of the Lord. Routledge Press, 1992, page 51.
  14. ^ "Raelians and Cloning: Are They for Real? Researcher Massimo Introvigne Talks About an Atheistic Religion (Part 1)". Center for Studies on New Religions. 16 January 2003. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  15. ^ Berryman, Anne (4 January 2003). "Who Are the Raelians?". Time.
  16. ^ "SHJ Philosophy". Society for Humanistic Judaism. Archived from the original on 13 August 2013. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  17. ^ "Humanism: Theological Diversity in Unitarian Universalism". Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  18. ^ "Atheism and Agnosticism: Part of the Theological Diversity Within Unitarian Universalism". Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations. Retrieved 18 August 2013.
  19. ^ "American Ethical Union". Retrieved 18 August 2013.

External links

A Secular Humanist Declaration

A Secular Humanist Declaration was an argument for and statement of support for democratic secular humanism. The document was issued in 1980 by the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism (CODESH), now the Council for Secular Humanism (CSH). Compiled by Paul Kurtz, it is largely a restatement of the content of the American Humanist Association's 1973 Humanist Manifesto II, of which he was co-author with Edwin H. Wilson. Both Wilson and Kurtz had served as editors of The Humanist, from which Kurtz departed in 1979 and thereafter set about establishing his own movement and his own periodical. His Secular Humanist Declaration was the starting point for these enterprises.

Amsterdam Declaration

The Amsterdam Declaration 2002 is a statement of the fundamental principles of modern Humanism passed unanimously by the General Assembly of Humanists International (HI) at the 50th anniversary World Humanist Congress in 2002. According to HI, the declaration "is the official statement of World Humanism."

It is officially supported by all member organisations of HI including:

Humanistic Association Netherlands (Humanistisch Verbond)

American Humanist Association

British Humanist Association

Humanist Canada

Human-Etisk Forbund, the Norwegian Humanist Association

Humanistischer Verband Deutschlands, the Humanist Association of Germany

Council of Australian Humanist Societies

Council for Secular Humanism

Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association

Humanist Association of Ireland

Indian Humanist Union

Sapiens Foundation, India

Philippine Atheists and Agnostics Society (PATAS)A complete list of signatories can be found on the HI page (see references).

This declaration makes exclusive use of capitalized Humanist and Humanism, which is consistent with HI' general practice and recommendations for promoting a unified Humanist identity. [1] To further promote Humanist identity, these words are also free of any adjectives, as recommended by prominent members of HI. [2] Such usage is not universal among HI member organizations, though most of them do observe these conventions.


Apatheism (; a portmanteau of apathy and theism) is the attitude of apathy towards the existence or non-existence of god(s). It is more of an attitude rather than a belief, claim, or belief system.An apatheist is someone who is not interested in accepting or rejecting any claims that gods exist or do not exist. The existence of god(s) is not rejected, but may be designated irrelevant.Scientist and philosopher Ian von Hegner has argued that apatheism is an alternative to positions such as theism, atheism, and agnosticism, with implications that have been overlooked in modern philosophical discussions. Philosopher Trevor Hedberg has called apatheism "uncharted territory in the philosophy of religion."

Freedom From Religion Foundation

The Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF) is an American non-profit organization based in Madison, Wisconsin, with members from all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. The largest national organization advocating for non-theists, FFRF promotes the separation of church and state and educates the public on matters relating to atheism, agnosticism, and nontheism. The FFRF publishes a newspaper, Freethought Today, 10 times a year. Since 2006, as the Freethought Radio Network, FFRF has produced the Freethought Radio show.

Humanism and Its Aspirations

Humanism and Its Aspirations (subtitled Humanist Manifesto III, a successor to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933) is the most recent of the Humanist Manifestos, published in 2003 by the American Humanist Association (AHA). The newest one is much shorter, listing six primary beliefs, which echo themes from its predecessors:

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis. (See empiricism.)

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience. (See ethical naturalism.)

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

Humanist Manifesto II

Humanist Manifesto II, written in 1973 by humanists Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson, was an update to the previous Humanist Manifesto (1933), and the second entry in the Humanist Manifesto series. It begins with a statement that the excesses of National Socialism and world war had made the first seem too optimistic, and indicated a more hardheaded and realistic approach in its seventeen-point statement, which was much longer and more elaborate than the previous version. Nevertheless, much of the optimism of the first remained, expressing hope that war and poverty would be eliminated.

In addition to its absolute rejection of theism and deism, various political stances are supported, such as opposition to racism, opposition to weapons of mass destruction, support of human rights, a proposition of an international court, and the right to unrestricted abortion and contraception.

Initially published with a small number of signatures, the document was circulated and gained thousands more, and indeed the American Humanist Association's website encourages visitors to add their own name. A provision at the end states that the signators do "not necessarily endorse every detail" of the document, but only its broad vision, no doubt helped many overcome reservations about attaching their name.

One of the oft-quoted lines that comes from this manifesto is, "No deity will save us; we must save ourselves."

The Humanist Manifesto II first appeared in The Humanist September / October, 1973, when Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson were editor and editor emeritus , respectively.

Invisible Pink Unicorn

The Invisible Pink Unicorn (IPU) is the goddess of a parody religion used to satirize theistic beliefs, taking the form of a unicorn that is paradoxically both invisible and pink. She is a rhetorical illustration used by atheists and other religious skeptics as a contemporary version of Russell's teapot, sometimes mentioned in conjunction with the Flying Spaghetti Monster.The IPU is used to argue that supernatural beliefs are arbitrary by, for example, replacing the word God in any theistic statement with Invisible Pink Unicorn. The mutually exclusive attributes of pinkness and invisibility, coupled with the inability to disprove the IPU's existence, satirize properties that some theists attribute to a theistic deity.

List of converts to Christianity from nontheism

This is a list of notable converts to Christianity who were not theists before their conversion. See Nontheism for specifics of what encompasses nontheism. All names should be sourced and the source should indicate they had not been a theist, not merely non-churchgoing, before conversion.

See also List of former atheists and agnostics

List of converts to Islam from nontheism

This is a list of notable people who have converted to Islam after a period where they claimed to be atheistic or non-theistic.

List of converts to nontheism

This list of converts to nontheism includes individuals who formerly identified with a religious affiliation but have since then openly rejected their belief in a god (or gods) or professed to agnosticism. The list is organised by former religious affiliation.

List of former atheists and agnostics

For lists of atheists who converted to Christianity, Islam, or Judaism see the following links:

List of converts to Christianity from nontheism

List of converts to Islam from nontheism

List of converts to Judaism from non-religious backgroundsAll other former atheists and agnostics that have been listed so far are below.

Nontheist Quakers

Nontheist Quakers (also known as nontheist Friends or NtFs) are those who affiliate with, identify with, engage in, or affirm Quaker practices and processes, but who do not necessarily believe in a theistic God, a Supreme Being, the divine, the soul or the supernatural. Like traditional Friends, nontheist Friends are interested in realizing centered peace, simplicity, integrity, community, equality, love, joy, and social justice in the Society of Friends and beyond.

Nontheistic religion

Nontheistic religions are traditions of thought within a religious context—some otherwise aligned with theism, others not—in which nontheism informs religious beliefs or practices. Nontheism has been applied to the fields of Christian apologetics and general liberal theology, and plays significant roles in Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Satanism. While many approaches to religion exclude nontheism by definition, some inclusive definitions of religion show how religious practice and belief do not depend on the presence of god(s). For example, Paul James and Peter Mandaville distinguish between religion and spirituality, but provide a definition of the term that avoids the usual reduction to "religions of the book":

Religion can be defined as a relatively-bounded system of beliefs, symbols and practices that addresses the nature of existence, and in which communion with others and Otherness is lived as if it both takes in and spiritually transcends socially-grounded ontologies of time, space, embodiment and knowing.


In the philosophy of religion and theology, post-monotheism (from Greek μόνος "one" and θεός "god," with the Latin prefix "post-" as in "after" or "beyond") is a term covering a range of different meanings that nonetheless share concern for the status of faith and religious experience in the modern or post-modern era. There is no one originator for the term. Rather, it has independently appeared in the writings of several intellectuals on the Internet and in print. Its most notable use has been in the poetry of Arab Israeli author Nidaa Khoury, and as a label for a "new sensibility" or theological approach proposed by the Islamic historian Christopher Schwartz.


Post-theism is a variant of nontheism that proposes that the division of theism vs. atheism is obsolete, that God belongs to a stage of human development now past. Within nontheism, post-theism can be contrasted with antitheism.

The term appears in Christian liberal theology and Postchristianity.

Frank Hugh Foster in a 1918 lecture announced that modern culture had arrived at a "post-theistic stage" in which humanity has taken possession of the powers of agency and creativity that had formerly been projected upon God.Denys Turner argues that Karl Marx did not choose atheism over theism, but rejected the binary "Feuerbachian" choice altogether, a position which by being post-theistic is at the same time necessarily post-atheistic. For example, at one point Marx argued "there should be less trifling with the label 'atheism,'” as he insisted "religion in itself is without content, it owes its being not to heaven but to the earth, and with the abolition of distorted reality, of which it is the theory, it will collapse of itself."Related ideas include Friedrich Nietzsche's pronouncement that "God is dead" and the transtheism of Paul Tillich or Pema Chödrön.

Sea of Faith

The Sea of Faith Network (SoF) is an organisation with the stated aim to explore and promote religious faith as a human creation.

Secular Student Alliance

The Secular Student Alliance (SSA) is a US-American educational nonprofit organization whose purpose is to educate high school and college students about the value of scientific reason and the intellectual basis of secularism in its atheistic and humanistic manifestations. The SSA also offers these students and their organizations a variety of resources, including leadership training and support, guest speakers, discounted literature and conference tickets, and online articles and opinions.

Theological noncognitivism

Theological noncognitivism is the position that religious language – specifically, words such as "God" – are not cognitively meaningful. It is sometimes considered synonymous with ignosticism.


Transtheism is a term coined by either philosopher Paul Tillich or Indologist Heinrich Zimmer referring to a system of thought or religious philosophy which is neither theistic, nor atheistic, but is beyond them.

Zimmer applies the term to the theological system of Jainism, which is theistic in the limited sense that the gods exist, but become irrelevant as they are transcended by moksha (that is, a system which is not non-theistic, but in which the gods are not the highest spiritual instance). Zimmer (1953, p. 182) uses the term to describe the position of the Tirthankaras having passed "beyond the godly governors of the natural order".

The term has more recently also been applied to Buddhism, Advaita Vedanta and the Bhakti movement.

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Concepts in religion
Conceptions of God
Existence of God
Religious language
Problem of evil
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