(Religious) belief and atheism from a semiotic viewpoint

Peet Lepik


The article attempts to give a semiotic definition of the intellectual attributes of belief (in its broader sense), religious belief and atheism, treating all three of them as sign systems – cultural languages.

To define the formal structure of the phenomenon of religion, five aspects of the corresponding communicative act should be considered – the orientational, the sign-creating, the cognitive, the teleological and the energetic ones. Belief as an orientational act cannot be treated without including autocommunication: the I-you relation is accompanied by the I-I relation in the form of vertical and horizontal topological imaginations. The sign-creating aspect of belief is expressed, on the one hand, in the performative characteristics of utterances (utterance = act) and, on the other hand, in symbolic mnemonic programming. As a cognitive act, communication typical of belief is mythological, expressing identification with the addressee and the subjective eternity of the relation. Teleologically, belief is connected with the existential projection; energetically we treat belief as energeia – the creative force of man. Relying on the Scriptures and theological literature (mainly the works of Paul Tillich), the article analyses the appearance of all these communicative characteristics in religious sign-creating.

Atheism as negation of God is formally an antithetic structure of thinking, which is characterized by the symmetry of the antithetic plus-side with the intellectual characteristics of the minus-side. Based on the characteristics of belief, it is particularly interesting to observe how Marx (and his disciples) have “furnishedˮ the orientational, teleological and energetic characteristics of atheism, and how the dedicative structure of thinking has also given birth to earthly gods.


phenomenon of belief; religiosity; atheism; autocommunication; formal features of dedicational communication

Full Text:


DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.12697/SSS.2015.43.1.03

SIGN SYSTEMS STUDIES. ISSN 1406-4243 (print), 1736-7409 (online). E-mail: sss@ut.ee. Postal address: Sign Systems Studies, Dept. of Semiotics, University of Tartu, Jakobi St. 2, 51014 Tartu, Estonia