Question: "What is apatheism? What is an apatheist?"
Answer: Apatheism is a somewhat modern word, describing a particular view of God and spiritual issues. The primary concept involved is apathy: the state of being disinterested or having little concern about something. An apatheist, one who exhibits apatheism, thinks topics such as God and religion are irrelevant, meaningless, or disinteresting. The term apatheism refers more to an attitude than to any actual set of beliefs, but it can be useful to summarize how a great many people think—or don’t think—about God.
Some people have clear, strongly held opinions about religion and spirituality. Belief in a single, active deity is called theism. The idea of a single, uninvolved deity is labeled deism. When a person positively states, “There is no God,” that is an expression of atheism. When a person says, “I’m not sure if I believe in God,” that’s agnosticism. And when a person just doesn’t care, one way or the other, that’s apatheism. Those who rarely think about God or have no interest in spiritual matters can be described as apatheists.
Unlike atheism or agnosticism, apatheism doesn’t describe any particular claims about the nature of God or God’s existence. Since apatheism reflects a lack of interest, few people will apply that label to themselves. Most who actively think that God and religion are irrelevant would label themselves as atheists or agnostics. That being said, it would be fair to say that apatheism is one of the most common attitudes in modern culture.
As an attitude, not a religious view, apatheism can even show up in those who claim to belong to some faith. For instance, the person who says, “I’m Catholic,” but hasn’t attended Mass in ten years, does not go to confession, and rarely prays, is more an apatheist than anything else. The same is true of a person who says, “I’m a Christian,” but whose life is totally inconsistent with biblical standards and who gives no thought to God in daily life. Such persons might say they care about God, and they might even think they do. But, in practice, they’re exhibiting a lack of interest. They don’t think about God much. They’re demonstrating apathy for the idea of God, which is the basic definition of apatheism.
Truth be told, most people in Western cultures could be described as apatheists. When times are hard, or when pressed to discuss the topic, they’ll express some kind of belief in God. That belief is not imaginary—such persons do, in fact, have some kind of opinion about God. But, in practice and in daily life, neither God nor spirituality often enters their thinking. Most people are not actively opposed to God or confidently rejecting Him; they are simply numb to the idea.
Even those seemingly “involved” in Christian faith can, in fact, be apatheists. It’s been said that the belief system of most Western Christians is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism; this is essentially a Christian-flavored version of apatheism.
Scripture warns believers not to fall into the trap of apatheism. Hebrews 2:1, for instance, commands believers to “pay attention” to avoid “drifting” from the truth. A harsher warning comes in Hebrew 5:11–14, where those who are lazy about faith are called out for their apathy. When we’re indifferent to the truth or to God, we’re prone to making mistakes and falling for lies. Faith, in a sense, is similar to a muscle: it must be used to stay strong. When muscles are left unused, they shrink, a process known as atrophy. When faith is ignored, it also weakens through apathy.
While apatheism is not an “official” worldview, it is an important concept. Many people of many faith claims are actually disinterested and uninformed about God and the Christian faith. Knowing this can greatly help us in evangelism: God and salvation are thoughts that just “don’t occur” to most people in modern Western culture. Even those who take on faith labels, more often than not, don’t really think about, act on, or study the doctrines of their faith in a meaningful way. The primary symptom of apatheism is ignorance, which can be challenged by lovingly explaining the truth and giving others a chance to respond to the gospel.