Gloss — Pretending to believe the atheist tenets

Definition — Disbelief in, or denial of, the tenets of atheism all while calling oneself an atheist.

Inflections — simatheist, simatheistic, simatheistical, simatheistically

Pronunciation — si-'mȯth-ē-ˌi-zəm. (Merriam Websters)


While drafting The Atheist's Journey, after I had covered the differences between the atheist who believes what he says vs the atheist who says the same thing as the real atheist who doesn't believe what the real atheist says, I faced a problem of nomenclature. What follows is the process that I followed in resolving that difficulty...

The question which we must therefore ask is, what word best describes the type of person who participates in the fraud of only pretending to be an atheist? The answer that immediately comes to mind is simply 'fraud,' but because 'fraud' is so general, so well known, and applicable in so many scenarios, we must find something better. I also don't want to be forever condemned to having to prefix an appropriate adjective to qualify the word 'atheist' for those who use it to falsely describe themselves, e.g. 'faux,' 'pretend,' 'counterfeit,' you get the point. The word that came to mind was philodoxer, to which I was introduced via the writings of Russell Kirk: first in The Roots of American Order, and then in a review he wrote in 1958 where he defined it thusly:

a philodoxer is a purveyor of doxa, illusory opinions and vain wishes. Out of the doxa comes disorder, in the soul and in the body social.

Russell Kirk Review of The World of the Polis; Plato and Aristotle by Eric Voegelin, The Sewanee Review, vol. 66, no. 3, 1958, pp. 494–507. JSTOR, (Accessed 7 Mar. 2024).

In the mind of the demos, the word 'philosopher' connotes someone who is concerned with things that don't really matter. This belief sticks with them because due to their lack of education, all they really know about philosophers is what the mass media has told them, that being that in the main, the opinions of philosophers on just about anything can be ignored. While there certainly is some truth to this, especially in the more recent decades and centuries, it was the philosophers of old who thought through the hardest problems and played a pivotal role in establishing the intellectual supplements of this civilization where the people could live lives of such ease and freedom from care that they could choose to ignore reality, rather than, as Hobbes put it, live lives that were nasty, brutish, and short. Thanks in no small part to the simatheists, we're on the very precipice of a return to that state. The one exception to the typical response of the man on the street to the word 'philosopher,' is when a 'philosopher' is used as an 'expert' on some subject where license is given to some morally reprobate practice or belief, and then the citizen takes that and files the opinion away in the argumentum ad verecundiam repository to use in rationalizing at some later point.

A particularly acute problem with 'philosopher' is, as Eric Voegelin points out at length in the book reviewed by Russell Kirk above, is that in most instances today (and in fact for decades) what are thought of as 'philosophers' are actually philodoxers, which means that in order to use the one, we have to use the other and then reformulate the familiar one as the unfamiliar one, and then inform what a lover of wisdom actually is. It's a big ask today. I have used 'philodoxer' in these pages myself, but it wasn't until I was drafting The Atheist's Journey that I really tried to figure out a word that would mean 'fake atheist,' and 'philodoxer' is too general.

I spent some time thrashing about, searching in the OED and Webster's Unabridged for an existing word that means, in essence a 'pretend atheist,' and I could not find one. 'Pseudoatheist' didn't pan out either because it doesn't fit the atheist's journey and already has several divergent definitions associated with it. So, I have decided to play the part of neologist and coin one: simatheism. It is a hybrid word, and such words have a long and established history in the English language. It is, in essence, a shortened form of 'simulated atheist.' The first syllable 'sim' is formed from the Latin 'simulo' which glosses as counterfeit, feint, imitate, look like, pretend, simulate. So far so good. The second word, 'atheism' is the anglicization of the Greek word 'ἄθεος,' which the BDAG glosses as one who disdains or denies God or the gods and their laws, god-denier, atheist.