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Atheist vs. Heathen: What's the Difference?

Edited by Huma Saeed || By Sumera Saeed || Updated on November 2, 2023
An atheist does not believe in any gods, while a heathen is someone who does not follow a major or accepted religion, often used pejoratively.

Key Differences

Atheism is the absence of belief in the existence of deities. Atheists are people who do not subscribe to any form of theism or belief in gods. A heathen historically referred to someone from a non-Christian culture or religion, especially a pagan, and often carried a connotation of being uncivilized or irreligious according to monotheistic religions.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
An atheist's stance is typically based on a lack of evidence for deities or a philosophical position regarding theistic claims. It is a specific position on belief that is independent of cultural background. On the other hand, heathen is a broader term that has been used to label people as outsiders to the dominant religious culture, especially in a historical context, and it is not necessarily tied to the individual's beliefs about gods.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
The term atheist does not imply any particular moral framework or religious practice and is solely a descriptor of belief about deities. In contrast, the term heathen has often been used to suggest moral or cultural inferiority, stemming from religious ethnocentrism, and can be seen as derogatory.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
Atheism is a clear and defined concept in religious discourse, subject to philosophical debate and discussion. Conversely, the definition of heathen has changed over time and has been used variably as a cultural, religious, or moral judgment, rather than a strict categorization of belief.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023
While atheism is a globally relevant concept, applicable to modern religious discussion, the term heathen is less common in contemporary discourse, often replaced by terms like "pagan" or "non-religious" when referring to religious identity without the historical baggage of judgment or otherness.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023
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Comparison Chart

Definition

Disbelief in any deities
Non-adherence to a dominant religion
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Connotation

Neutral, descriptive
Historically pejorative, othering
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Based on

Personal belief or lack thereof
Cultural or religious background
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Relevance

Modern, applicable globally
Less common, historically bound
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Usage

Specific to belief in gods
Broader, often including culture and practice
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023
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Atheist and Heathen Definitions

Atheist

An individual without a theistic religious faith.
He was the only atheist in his religious family.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Heathen

An individual who does not acknowledge the God of Christianity, Judaism, or Islam.
The term 'heathen' was commonly used during the religious wars.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

Atheist

Someone who lacks belief in the supernatural.
Being an atheist, she did not pray.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Heathen

A person regarded as lacking culture or moral principles.
In ancient times, conquerors often labeled the conquered as heathens.
Huma Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Atheist

A person who denies or disbelieves the existence of a supreme being.
As an atheist, he sought evidence-based explanations for the universe.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023
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Heathen

Someone from a people not subscribing to the major world religions.
The villagers were considered heathens by the missionaries.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023

Atheist

One who is skeptical about spirituality and deities.
The atheist community often gathers to discuss secularism and science.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Heathen

An uncivilized or irreligious person as perceived by those with religious beliefs.
Heathen practices were often misunderstood by the religious elite.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023

Atheist

A person who does not believe in the existence of a god or any gods.
The atheist debated the theist on the existence of a divine being.
Huma Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Heathen

A historically used term for a non-Christian or a pagan.
Norse pagans were called heathens by Christian Europeans.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Atheist

Disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2022

Heathen

An adherent of a religion that does not worship the God of Judaism, Christianity, or Islam.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2022

Atheist

(religion) A person who does not believe in deities.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2022

Heathen

Such persons considered as a group.
Sumera Saeed
Oct 16, 2022

FAQs

Can someone be both an atheist and a heathen?

By definition, yes, if they do not believe in gods and are outside the major religions.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Do atheists have moral values?

Yes, atheists have morals that can come from many sources, not necessarily religion.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Is atheism a religion?

No, atheism is the lack of belief in deities, not a religious system.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Do heathens have their own religious practices?

Historically, yes, heathens could have various indigenous or pagan practices.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Is "heathen" an offensive term?

It can be, depending on context and intent, as it has historically been used derogatorily.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

Can an atheist be spiritual?

Yes, atheists can experience awe and wonder about the universe without belief in deities.
Sara Rehman
Nov 02, 2023

Can an atheist celebrate religious holidays?

Yes, atheists can celebrate holidays for cultural or family reasons.
Huma Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Is it possible to convert to atheism?

Atheism is not a belief system to convert to; it's a personal realization or conclusion.
Sara Rehman
Nov 02, 2023

Are all heathens atheists?

No, heathens may believe in gods or spiritual practices not recognized by major religions.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

Are there different types of atheists?

Yes, including strong atheists (deny gods' existence) and weak atheists (lack belief in gods).
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

How do atheists explain the origin of the universe?

Many atheists look to scientific explanations like the Big Bang theory.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

Can heathens belong to organized religions?

Historically, heathens would not belong to what were considered organized religions of the time.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023

What is a modern alternative to "heathen"?

"Pagan" or "non-religious" are terms often used in a more neutral sense.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

Are atheism and secularism the same?

No, secularism is the separation of religion from civic affairs and government.
Sumera Saeed
Nov 02, 2023

How do heathens view modern religions?

This varies widely depending on the individual's cultural and personal beliefs.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

Was "heathen" always a pejorative term?

Often, but not always, it has been used descriptively in some anthropological contexts.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023

Do atheists celebrate life events like births and marriages?

Yes, atheists celebrate such events in secular or non-religious ways.
Janet White
Nov 02, 2023

Can the term "heathen" be reclaimed or redefined?

Some modern pagans have reclaimed "heathen" as a positive identifier for their beliefs.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

Is atheism based on science?

Atheism is a position on belief that often, but not always, aligns with a scientific worldview.
Aimie Carlson
Nov 02, 2023

Are atheists against religion?

Not necessarily; atheism is simply non-belief in gods, not an anti-religion stance.
Harlon Moss
Nov 02, 2023
About Author
Written by
Sumera Saeed
Sumera is an experienced content writer and editor with a niche in comparative analysis. At Diffeence Wiki, she crafts clear and unbiased comparisons to guide readers in making informed decisions. With a dedication to thorough research and quality, Sumera's work stands out in the digital realm. Off the clock, she enjoys reading and exploring diverse cultures.
Edited by
Huma Saeed
Huma is a renowned researcher acclaimed for her innovative work in Difference Wiki. Her dedication has led to key breakthroughs, establishing her prominence in academia. Her contributions continually inspire and guide her field.

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