Atheism is usually assumed to apply to those who do not believe in any god or gods, but actually it is much more complicated than that. Atheism is a growing movement that can encompass people who do not believe in a deity, all the way to people who just consider themselves nonreligious. Furthermore, certain groups throughout history have been accused of being atheists because they do not believe in the god or gods that a majority group believed in. This can create some confusion around the term, especially as the atheist movement is growing today, but knowing a little about it can go a long way.
Some estimates say that about 11.9% of people are nonreligious. This could mean that these people do not believe in any one religion or do not practice religion regardless of their upbringing. It could also mean that they are atheist, agnostic, or deist. These terms all mean different things but can overlap in many ways too.
Agnostics generally reject organized religion, but admit that there are questions surrounding major events, such as the world's creation. They will admit that not everything can be explained by either religion or science, and that there are many questions out there that cannot be answered. This isn't necessarily a rejection of religion or a deity, but it's an admittance that there are things that religion cannot answer.
Deists believe that the world is a creation and has a creator, but they believe in the wound clock theory. In this theory, the creator wound up the clock of the world and let it go. In this case, there is a god or gods, but they do not control every aspect of everyday life. They simply created life and let it go. Deists, in this way, also mostly reject organized religion because so much of it centers on prayer and asking for the gods to deliver something when it is asked for, or asking the gods for guidance. Deists do not believe this is possible because whoever created the world has let it run its course.
Atheists do not believe in any god or gods. This can mean that they are spiritual in a sense, and atheism can also hold a place in Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, and other spiritual belief systems. Atheists may also believe in meditation or guided spiritual growth, but reject religion and any deity as a belief.
Nonreligious People and Ethics
Many argue that nonreligious people are not ethical people because organized religion teaches ethics as a core belief. This simply is not true. A belief in a deity is not the only thing that creates ethics in a person; ethics can be taught as part of a moral upbringing. While many religions believe in a fear of punishment for not acting ethically, nonreligious people rather believe that being a good, moral person, is something you must do in order to make the world a better place.
Nonreligious is Not Negative
Nonreligious people are often painted in a negative light, or are seen as not being thoughtful about religious beliefs. The truth is often to the contrary. Nonreligious people often put a lot of thought into their beliefs, and are as willing to share their beliefs as religious people are; all you have to do is ask. Nonreligious people are not only usually just as ethical as religious people, but are as spiritual and philosophical as well. A great amount of thought is put into nonreligion, just as it is with religion, and it is a belief that should be respected.