This is my lexicon, a work in progress, subject to expansion and refinement. I understand that you may be accustomed to using many of these terms differently from the way I do. If you have suggestions for improving my definitions, pass them on to me. I won’t necessarily give up my meanings for yours, but we can talk. I am still learning. Some of the following are denoted “Believer’s def.” to identify the way a religious person uses the term, in contrast to a skeptic/nonbeliever such as myself.

Working Definitions

Agnostic: One who does not accept that it is possible to know with certainty that any god does or does not exist. (See also Gnostic.)

Atheist: 1. One who does not have faith in the existence of any gods. (See God.) 2. One who, regardless of personal beliefs, lives as though there are no gods interacting with the universe. (See also Gnostic Atheist, Ignostic.)

Atonement: The doctrine that the Crucifixion was a human sacrifice to make restitution for the sins of mankind. One explanation of this is that someone had to die to appease YHWH. (See also Lord’s Supper.)

Believer: One who claims to be convinced of a particular set of ideas that are necessary to qualify for membership in a particular group, especially a religious sect.

Cosmos: Reality; everything that exists, known and unknown, including other universes in the multiverse, other dimensions that we can’t perceive, and supernatural realms and spiritual beings, should such things exist. Philosophical note: Imagination is part of the cosmos; imaginary things are not. The concepts exist in reality, but the referents do not. For instance, the concept of unicorns exists, the mythology describing them exists, but actual unicorns do not, as far as we know.

Cult: A religious or quasi-religious organization using devious psychological techniques to gain and control adherents. (Adapted from Collins English Dictionary.)

Divine: Having characteristics usually attributed to gods, such as mysterious power, unworldly beauty, inscrutable insight, or superhuman compassion.

Doctrine: That which is taught, especially the approved teaching of a religion.

Elohim: The plural form of El, Hebrew for “god,” used in the Bible to refer to YHWH, angels, and possibly other spiritual beings.

Enlightened: Being aware of the unity of reality; acting as if life is important. (Compare with Spiritual.)

Faith (religious): 1. Believing or claiming to believe something without adequate evidence. 2. (Believer’s def.) Belief based on an awareness that has been placed in one’s mind by a god.

Faith (secular): Better terms would be “trust” or “confidence.” Belief that a particular object or process is reliable, or a person is trustworthy, based on evidence or personal experience.

Fold: An enclosed flock of sheep, or the community of believers. Implies that, like sheep, members of the congregation should be subservient to the master/owner, i.e., a god.

Free Will: 1. Acting of one’s own volition, without duress. 2. (Believer’s def.) The mystical ability to act independently of causality.

Glory: 1. That which sparkles and shines. 2. (Believer’s def.) The appearance or sensation of the presence of a god or spirit, often described in terms of bright light.

Gnostic: 1. Traditionally refers to an ancient religious movement that relied on esoteric knowledge of a supernatural existence, and was condemned as heresy by the early Christian churches. 2. In more general terms, a gnostic theist is one who believes it is possible to know with certainty, without evidence, that a Supreme Being (which see) exists. (See also Religionist.)

Gnostic Atheist: 1. One who claims to know with certainty that no entity exists that would qualify as a god.

God: 1. The generic name theists use to reference a unique supernatural (which see) being who created the universe and cares for human beings as their children (theism). 2. An unknowable force which created the universe (deism). 3. The universe itself as a conscious entity (pantheism). 4. Powerful superhuman beings within the cosmos, who may or may not be concerned with human beings (polytheism). 5. Personifications of large, complex parts of reality that provide a way to conceptualize mysteries of the cosmos (imagination). (See Trinity.)

Grace: 1. Treating an individual with respect and dignity without regard to merit.

Heaven: 1. The sky. 2. (Believer’s def.) The mythological place where gods, angels, and the spirits of dead people live.

Hell: 1. A terrible experience. 2. (Believer’s def.) The mythological place where “bad” or faithless people who have died live, and are either eternally tortured or annihilated.

Hope: Believing that events will turn out better than available evidence indicates they will.

Human Spirit: The creative, compassionate aspect of life; a process which developed within the community of mankind that makes it more than the sum of its parts. That which we recognize in the eyes of other sentient beings as consciousness, that image of courageous creativity which inspires us to greater things. That which connects people in subtle ways, that causes individuals and groups to act in ways that seem illogical or maladaptive, yet results in outcomes beneficial to the group and to life. That which may yet be evolving to be something greater than humanity.

Ignostic: Holding the opinion that supernatural issues, in particular concepts of gods, cannot be meaningfully discussed without specific, comprehensible definitions.

Intelligent Design (Creationism): The unfounded hypothesis that the universe and life evolved under the direction of an unidentified sentient being (a god), apparently in a way that is indistinguishable from natural processes of physics and natural selection.

*Creation Science: Roy Zimmerman thinks you need a break from all these definitions:

Karma: The inevitable and often unpredictable results, good or bad, that result from personal actions, that apply in this life or to future generations.

Lord’s Supper (Communion): Small pieces of bread and little cups of grape juice or wine that symbolize the body and blood of Jesus and are consumed in a ceremony commemorating his execution. Some churches teach that the bread and wine literally turn into the flesh and blood of Jesus before being consumed. This ceremony allows the participants to somehow share in the divinity of Jesus. (See Atonement.)

Mystery: 1. An observable process or entity we don’t understand yet. 2. A non-observable (imaginary) process or entity for which there is no explanation.

Myth: A memorable story or legend which may or may not be based on actual past events, intended to explain parts of reality in a way that teaches a lesson.

Mythology: A collection of legends including superhuman characters who may be personifications of natural phenomena, intended to explain why things are as they are.

Naturalist: One who believes that knowledge is most effectively gained by observing the world around us, and using rational methods to formulate and test theories concerning those observations, and believes that “supernatural” things or forces most likely do not exist outside of imagination. (See also Religionist.)

Original Sin: A legendary act of free will (which see) that marked the transition of innocent prehumans into human beings with a moral sense. In the Abrahamic religions, this moral capacity must be stifled in order to submit to the moral guidance of the Supreme Being.

Personification: Picturing a real or imagined phenomenon as an individual being with personal aspects such as intelligence, intent, or emotion.

Prayer: 1. Meditation. 2. (Believer’s def.) Telepathically communicating with gods, asking them for favors, and attempting to make them perform feats of magic.

Progressive Religion: An attempt to reconcile any religion with some aspects of modern morality or current scientific understanding.

Religion1. A set of beliefs and practices that delineates the correct relationship of mankind with the rest of the cosmos, usually incorporating traditional rituals and a code of morals. 2. A socio-political organization that perpetuates those beliefs and practices.

Religionist: One who believes that the most important sources of knowledge are religious authority, holy scriptures, church teachings, gnosis (divinely implanted knowledge), or direct revelation from a god, rather than objectively confirmable experience and experimentation.

Revelation: Interpreting dramatic events, dreams or visions as communication from a god.

Sacrifice: 1. To offer time, valuables, or your life in service to others. 2. (Believer’s def.) To give something to the gods by destroying it, in order to win their favor or allay their wrath.

Saved: 1. Rescued from harm. 2. (Believer’s def.) Rescued from mortality or eternal torment by a god, as a reward for behaving or believing correctly.

Sectarian: A person who belongs to a religious sect and supports tribal or nationalistic solidarity through fostering negative attitudes towards other religious groups.

Sin: 1. Acting in disharmony with your better nature (see Human Spirit). 2. (Believer’s def.) Angering your god.

Sophisticated Theology: The attempt of modern apologists to modify traditional descriptions of divinity and the supernatural in order to accommodate modern scientific findings.

Soul: 1. The totality of a human being or any sentient being. 2. (Believer’s def.) The supernatural part of a human being.

Spirit: 1. The totality of the unconscious mind and emotions of a person, or what is perceived as the collective will of a group: “That organization has a compassionate spirit.” 2. (Believer’s def.) A supernatural being, a ghost, or a supernatural aspect of a being.

Spiritual: 1. Insightful; being at once realistic, courageous, compassionate, and creative. 2. Feeling at peace and connected with the cosmos. 3. (Believer’s def.) Being aware of, and in communication with, a supernatural realm of existence and acting accordingly.

Supernatural: A hypothetical part of reality that is fundamentally different from the known universe and cannot be detected or influenced by scientific means, that sometimes interacts with our world through processes such as miracles, magic, or prayer; the “sphere of influence” of gods, insubstantial spirits, demons, and other mythological beings.

Superstition: The belief that events are causally linked in ways that are not due to any natural process.

Supreme Being: A unique, supernatural, all-powerful, sentient entity that is understood to be the god of any monotheistic tradition.

Trinity: 1. A three-part personification of portions of reality. One interesting possibility is Father Time, Mother Earth, and Sentient Life. (See God.) 2. (Believer’s def.) The three beings that together comprise the god of traditional Christianity: Heavenly Father, Jesus Christ, and Holy Ghost.

True Believer: One who continues to have faith in a concept despite evidence that it is untrue.

Unbeliever: One who does not accept what is considered to be the essential doctrine of a particular religion.

Universe: All that is potentially perceivable to us. There is a large part of the universe that is beyond the reach of our best telescopes, but we can deduce something about its nature through our theories of cosmology. We will no doubt always be unable to directly observe the very distant and the very tiny. Our imagination generates hypotheses that we can only partly test.

Worship: Performing for the gods in order to win or maintain their favor.

YHWH (Yahweh or Jehovah): An Anglicized spelling of the real, private name (יהוה) of the god of the Jews and, by extension, the Christians. By tradition, Jews are not permitted to pronounce it aloud, so when referencing Scripture it is read as “Adonai,” Lord. Christians generally prefer the generic name, “God.”

YEC: Young Earth creationist, one who believes the universe was created by a god within the last ten thousand years, precluding the possibility of evolution.

supreme being tee shirt
Look for updates as I continue to add new definitions and modify what we have so far. Language is fluid and life is an adventure.

Title image credit: Wikipedia. “Supreme Being” thanks to Shirtoid.

3 thoughts on “Definitions

  1. I see more mystery in life now that I have discarded traditional ideas of the supernatural. Both the scientific discoveries that have been made and the vastness of that which no doubt remains to be known are awe-inspiring. I deny no one their beliefs, even those that are without any basis in observable reality, and I am interested in exploring the different ways individuals use their faith to make their world manageable.

    Alona, when you have a moment, I would love to hear your definition of “God.” I understand that it may be difficult to put into words, but take a shot anyway. You can’t do any worse than most theologians.


  2. Hi Steven, thank you for taking the time to define these important words. I like your definitions-very honest and straightforward. I’m one of those people like you who try to make things sensible and I pray for wisdom day and night to finally understand it all as I can. Perhaps the only thing that separates us is that I still believe in “God”. Is my God a singular or a plural form? that I do not know. Just like you I am open and I keep on learning and knowing perhaps as long as I have life. Since 6 I wondered about God and people. At 10 I’d noticed the stars and wondered about life and God.


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