Other Religions Atheism and Agnosticism Religion Is a Belief in Supernatural Beings Share Flipboard Email Print Philippe Marion/Moment/Getty Images Atheism and Agnosticism Belief Systems Atheism and Agnosticism Logic Ethics Key Figures in Atheism Evolution Atheism Myths and Misconceptions By Austin Cline Atheism Expert M.A., Princeton University B.A., University of Pennsylvania Austin Cline, a former regional director for the Council for Secular Humanism, writes and lectures extensively about atheism and agnosticism. our editorial process Austin Cline Updated June 25, 2019 Belief in the supernatural, especially gods, is one of the most obvious characteristics of religion. It's so common, in fact, that some people mistake mere theism for religion itself, yet that is incorrect. Theism can occur outside of religion, and some religions are atheistic. Despite this, supernatural beliefs are a common and fundamental aspect to most religions, while the existence of supernatural beings is almost never stipulated in non-religious belief systems. What Is the Supernatural? According to supernaturalism, a supernatural order is the original and fundamental source of all that exists. It is this supernatural order which defines the limits of what may be known. Something that is supernatural is above, beyond, or transcendent to the natural world—it is not a part of or dependent upon nature or any natural laws. The supernatural is also commonly conceived of as being better, higher, or purer than the mundane, natural world around us. What Is Theism? Who Are Theists? To put it simply, theism is a belief in the existence of at least one god—nothing more, nothing less. Theism does not depend upon how many gods one believes in. Theism does not depend upon how the term ‘god’ is defined. Theism does not depend upon how one arrives at their belief. Theism does not depend upon how one defends their belief. Theism and theist are general terms which cover a lot of different beliefs and people. What Is God? Although there is potentially infinite variation in what people mean by “God,” there are some common attributes which are often discussed, especially among those who come from a generally Western tradition of religion and philosophy. Because it relies heavily upon a long tradition of intersecting religious and philosophical inquiry, it is commonly referred to as “classical theism,” “standard theism,” or better still “philosophical theism.” Worship of the Supernatural It would be rare for a religion to promote mere belief in the supernatural—worship of the supernatural is almost always called for. One of the attributes of God in traditional theism is a being that is “worthy of worship.” Worship may take the form of ritual sacrifices, prayer, consultation, or simple obedience to commands from supernatural beings. A significant percentage of religious activity can involve the various ways humans should honor and worship supernatural forces or both. Does God Exist? A common question which atheists hear a lot is ‘why don’t you believe in God?’ Theists, religious or not, have trouble imagining why anyone would not believe in at least some sort of god, preferably their own. When a belief occupies such a central place in a person’s life and even identity, this is understandable. The fact is, there are many reasons why atheists might not believe in any gods. Most atheists can cite multiple reasons, and every atheist is different. Must Gods Be Supernatural? The concept of god is usually associated with the supernatural today, but that isn’t always the case. Greek gods, for example, are not supernatural in the way we usually think of. Greek mythology doesn’t describe their gods as creating nature. They have great power and great roles to play, but they do not exist outside of nature or even outside of certain natural constraints. They are more powerful than mortal human beings, but they aren’t better than mortals or transcendent to nature itself. Does God Matter? It should be expected that theists, and Christians in particular, will quickly say that the question of their god’s existence is indeed vitally important. It would not be unusual to find them saying that this question eclipses all other questions which humanity might ask. But the skeptic or nonbeliever should not simply grant them this assumption. Even if a god or gods exist, that wouldn’t necessarily mean that their existence should matter a great deal to us. What Is Animism? Animism is perhaps one of humanity's oldest beliefs, with its origin probably dating back to the Paleolithic age. The term animism derives from the Latin word anima meaning breath or soul. Animism is the belief that everything in nature—including living things like trees, plants and even non-living rocks or streams—has its own spirit or divinity. Animistic beliefs may have been overtaken by various sorts of theism in world religions, but they never entirely disappeared.