ST: What atheism really means

Our ex-President, Paul Tobin, wrote to the Straits Times forum to explain what atheism means. He was responding to Pastor Lawrence Khong’s comment in a previous interview that atheists are religious with belief systems. Mr Tobin responded by saying that atheism is not a belief system for it merely describes the absence of belief in god(s). Original letter submitted to the press:

Lawrence Khong misunderstood atheism

I refer to the The Straits Times interview with Pastor Lawrence Khong titled “Lawrence Khong: ‘There are no ex-Chinese, but there are ex-homosexuals’ on 7 September 2013.

In the interview, he stated that “an atheist is very religious. He has a belief system. He believes there is no God.” As the founding president of the Humanist Society (Singapore), I call myself an atheist and so do many of our members, and we find his understanding of the term both incorrect and misleading.

The prefix “a” in front of “theism” does not mean “the opposite of” or “against”. It simply refers to the absence of theism. As Ricky Gervais, an atheist comedian, wittily puts it, “Saying atheism is a belief system is like saying not going skiing is a hobby. I have never been skiing. It’s my biggest hobby. I literally do it all the time.”

Atheism is not a belief system, it merely describes the absence of belief in god(s).

Such misunderstandings of the term atheism, of which Pastor Khong’s is but one example, are very common. It is partly due to the need to correct such misconceptions that the Humanist Society (Singapore) was formed.

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