Defining Yourself By What You’re Not

10 Oct


One of the anti-atheist gems that started popping up around the early 2000s (at least, when I started noticing it) was the claim that atheism has no merit because atheist define themselves by what they’re not. It’s such a negative self-identification. Why not have a positive identification?

This post is going to attempt to be the one-stop potshot to end the whole “defining-yourself-by-what-you’re-not-because-of-Greek-etymology-and-is-therefore-bad” line of reasoning. Ready?

John 14.6

λέγει αὐτῷ Ἰησοῦς Ἐγώ εἰμι ἡ ὁδὸς καὶ ἡ ἀλήθεια καὶ ἡ ζωή: οὐδεὶς ἔρχεται πρὸς τὸν πατέρα εἰ μὴ δι᾽ ἐμοῦ.

Oh that wily Jesus, defining himself by what he’s not!

I suppose you didn’t notice it. Jesus, in John 14.6, calls himself the truth. How do you say truth in Greek? ἀλήθεια or aletheia. Well, there’s an alpha at the beginning of that word, just like there is for the word “atheist”. And it has the same function, too. Aletheia literally means something like “un-concealment” or “not-oblivion”.

It might not be too farfetched that the highly educated Greek-writing author of the gospel of John was aware of this etymology and purposefully had Jesus — who is supposed to be offering eternal life — declare himself to be “un-oblivion” or “un-concealment” in this gospel; the only gospel to do so. It may also be one of the reasons why this gospel had so many ties with Gnostics.

So. Defining yourself by what you’re not doesn’t seem very vacuous now, now does it?

1 Comment

Posted by on October 10, 2014 in greek


One response to “Defining Yourself By What You’re Not

  1. Brian M

    October 16, 2014 at 5:41 pm

    Heck…I am more than ready to use a different prefix in my self description….MIS-otheist, because Christianity is such a horrifying religion. 🙂

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