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Antitheism (sometimes anti-theism) is active opposition to theism. The etymological roots of the word are the Greek 'anti-' and 'theismos'. The term has had a range of applications; in secular contexts, it typically refers to direct opposition to organized religion or to the belief in any deity, while in a theistic 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. 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 distinction to be drawn between the simple indifference or apathy towards theism, atheism or agnosticism (cf. apatheism), and a position of antipathy or opposition towards such beliefs. Hence, Stefan Baumrin defines an "antitheist" as "one who actually espouses atheism and would try to convince theists of the error of their ways. A mere atheist might think, or even write, as in a diary or a wellworked manuscript to be left in a locked desk drawer these words but would never broadcast them." [1]

Antitheism has been adopted as a label by those who take the view that theism is dangerous or 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."[2]

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.[3] 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.[4] 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."[5] 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.[6]

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."[7]

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."[8] New's usage has reappeared in the work of Wallace A. Murphree.[9]

See also


  1. Baumrin, Stefan (2008). "Antitheism and morality." The Philosophical Forum, Vol.39 (1), pp.73-84. [1]
  2. Christopher Hitchens | Book Excerpt
  4. Flint, Robert (1894). Anti-Theistic Theories: Being the Baird Lecture for 1877 (5 ed.). London: William Blackwood and Sons. 
  5. Flint, p.1
  6. Flint, p.2-3
  7. Flint, p.444-445
  8. New, Christopher (June 1993). "Antitheism - A Reflection". Ratio 6 (1): 36–43. . See also: Daniels, Charles B. (1997). "God, demon, good, evil", The Journal of Value Inquiry, Vol. 31 (2), June, pp.177-181.
  9. Murphree, Wallace A. (1997). "Natural Theology: theism or antitheism", Sophia, Vol.36 (1), March, pp.75-83 [2]


This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Antitheism. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.