How to Understand the Difference Between Theism and Atheism

Throughout human history, there have been people of faith, and people who do not believe in any supreme being. Problems occur when one side misunderstands the other. This article will help you avoid those problems.


  1. Image titled Understand the Difference Between Theism and Atheism Step 1
    Understand what the terms theist, atheist, and agnostic mean. The theist believes in a god or gods while the atheist denies this belief and all others like it. An agnostic is one who believes that there is currently insufficient evidence to determine the existence of any deity. An agnostic will still always fall into the category of a theist or an atheist, also being an agnostic simply means they are admitting they don't know for sure that their viewpoint is true. In a strict philosophical sense, some scholars would argue that we are all agnostics about everything (epistemology) because we can never truly know anything, including our own existence.
  2. Image titled Understand the Difference Between Theism and Atheism Step 2
    Understand the difference between monotheism, polytheism, pantheism and omnism. Monotheists believe in only one god or divinity and reject any other form of deity. Polytheists believe in a set of many gods. Pantheists believe that everything in the universe is divine. Omnists (omnitheists) accept all gods and religions as equal. Of course, these statements may over-simplify for the sake of being concise.
  3. Image titled Understand the Difference Between Theism and Atheism Step 3
    Notice that proponents of each ideology hold their beliefs strongly. Theists may view atheists as immoral because they do not believe in a god/gods, while atheists may view theists as deluded for believing in a god/gods. Both parties hold their beliefs strongly and necessarily make sacrifices by subscribing to one over the other. Understanding this intensity will lead to more productive and personable debate that will further human understanding and community.
  4. Image titled Understand the Difference Between Theism and Atheism Step 4
    Find a common ground. Most ethical elements of many religions are agreeable to theists and atheists alike, e.g. the golden rule of Jesus: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you," or as Rabbi Hillel put it, “Don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you." Most people agree with such a statement, and recognizing this common ground provides a buffer for the emotional issues surrounding belief vs. disbelief.
  5. Image titled Understand the Difference Between Theism and Atheism Step 5
    Study your "opponent". Most atheists were once theists (or were raised in a theist tradition), but those who were not should consider the ideas of various forms of theism before discounting such ideas, and those who were raised as theists should study theist ideas with which they are unfamiliar. Many theists have been theists for their entire lives. Before satisfying debate can occur, both parties must understand their opponent by critically examining their ideas.


  • Some people promote the idea that atheism is a religion. It is not. It is simply the absence of belief in any god or gods.
  • To come to a broader understanding of human beliefs and understanding of life through folklore and religion, read Joseph Campbell’s works, including Hero With a Thousand Faces, and his series on Primitive, Creative, Occidental, and Oriental Mythologies. Whether theist or atheist, these works will help you recognize the common human experience, and the similar ways mankind has developed for understanding it across ages and cultures.


  • Likewise remember that just because someone in a certain religious group did something awful does not mean it's the religion's fault. People are individually responsible for their actions (and inaction), and many are inspired by their faith and courage into amazing acts of self-sacrifice and love.
  • Anytime you come to a balanced view on such issues, there will be people who try to put you back on an imbalanced path, e.g. "But what about all the horrible things (theists/atheists) have done?!" Just counter with the fact that throughout history people have done wonderful and horrible things regardless of belief or ethnicity, so there seems to be no correlation.

Article Info

Categories: Atheism | Religion