Credit: The New Yorker
What is Atheism?
Atheism basically is the lack of belief in the existence of God or spiritual beings within our universe. In other words, it posits that there is not enough evidence for the possibility of deities. Atheists, much like those who are agnostic, believe there is not enough evidence to prove that a God or Gods exist in our world. However, atheists deny entirely the concept of religion while agnostics are noncommittal by definition and are open to being proven wrong.
Atheism defends its beliefs with the following basic arguments:
Because knowledge in it itself is not able to be completely achieved and due to the lack of evidence, God cannot exist.
If we live in a world with a benevolent god, as preached by most religions, suffering should not exist.
The nature of the universe is homogeneous and so it cannot include a supernatural component such as a deity.
Due to the nature of Gods being inconsistent as described in sacred texts the existence of many religions, concepts such as perfection cannot exist and deity status cannot be given.
Since there are people in the world who don’t recognize that God exists, God cannot exist.
Types of Atheism
While many people can be categorized as atheists, there are many different types that differ in how active they are in opposition, their purposes for being a part of the belief system, and how an atheist defines deities. Below are the main types of atheism:
Non-Religious Atheism: These atheists subscribe to no major religion nor do they dedicate themselves to a particular creed. Instead, beliefs surrounding this type of atheism do not involve a God or Gods and may involve other things such as ancestor worship or other spiritual practices.
Non-Belief Atheism: This is considered the most commonly known form of atheism and these types believe that all religious institutions are spreading false beliefs. Those of this belief system tend to attack the values of the religion and question its foundations.
Non-Committal Atheism: Atheists that subscribe to this type are by definition not committing to any belief system regarding religion. Thus, this type does not take any commitments to any particular belief but does not believe in deities by a lack of practice of religious teachings.
Antitheist Atheism: Also called positive atheism, those of this philosophy take the strongest stance and believe religion is detrimental to society and is completely false. These types of atheists actively try to dismantle religious institutions and speak out actively about their possible harm to overall society.
Ritual Atheism: Like most atheists, these types do not believe in God, but they believe value still exists within religious teachings. Thus, some habits of thought professed by religious institutions are believed to be valuable and can provide benefits to society.
A Brief History of Atheism
Atheism has a long, albeit fractured history. This owes largely to fundamental differences in the reasons people might be atheistic and to the repression these groups have faced for their views. This fragmentation has allowed Atheistic individuals and groups to arise separately throughout much of human history.
It was in Ancient Greece that Atheism was first definitively seen. Diagoras of Melos is widely considered among the first known true atheists in history. He was a sophist and skeptic taught by the famous philosopher Democritus and was known to be openly against religion and mysticism. Diagoras openly flouted religion, openly declared that there was no God, and leaked secret religious texts to the wider public. This combined with his being ethnically Melian eventually led a bounty to being put on his head, prompting Melos to flee Athens.
A century later, the Hellenistic philosopher Epicurus framed a philosophical argument for atheism. Epicurus pushed for mechanistic explanations for natural phenomena and believed everything in the universe was composed of simple, fundamental particles. This led him to believe that there is no life after death as every compound body can and inevitably will be broken down. Though he claimed to be religious, his arguments have been constructed by rivals of the time and contemporary historians to suggest that Epicurus was an atheist. This is because, under his theory, gods would fall prey to the same mortality as everything else due to their inherent complexity. This, combined with his rejection of personal deities, suggests that he viewed the gods as an ideal to be aspired to as opposed to actual beings.
The Charvaka was the first openly atheist school of philosophy. The school, which based its understanding of the world in materialism and empiricism, developed in India around 600 BCE. Though all known original Charvakan texts have been destroyed, Hindu and Buddhist works hostile to the philosophy suggest it entirely rejected the supernatural as inventions of imaginary people. It is thought to have been developed by Brhaspati in response to what he viewed as superstitious nonsense that fooled people into believing obvious falsehoods. This proved a rejection of the duty-focused morality of the time, instead arguing that the purpose of life is to enjoy it. These ideas outraged the powerful priest caste of the time, thus resulting in the eradication of the belief system
Modern Era and Today
Atheism was next seen in Europe during the Enlightenment as a form of political and social rebellion. It arose in response to abuses of political authority committed by the Church. This was seen when Thomas Hobbes criticized the Anglican orthodoxy and was subsequently denounced and called an Atheist despite his claiming to be Christian. This form of Atheism was also seen during the French Revolution as clergymen were actively targeted by revolutionaries alongside other powerful figures. Similar abuses led to the Communist Revolution in Russia. Lenin viewed the Orthodox Church as fundamentally tied to the Tsarist state he was attempting to overthrow and opposed it to further his political ends. Over time these strands of Atheism began to tie themselves to the ideas of science and progress and discarded their origins in politics and philosophy.
Atheism’s Effect on the World
When you look at the modern world, atheism is everywhere, especially within more developed nations. Most social justice movements across the western world typically hold contempt for religion as well as the idea of God and thus are rooted in atheist belief. In the United States, those who believe in religion have shifted drastically making those that identify as having no religion/religious belief the second largest group in the country. Much of politics has become separated from religion worldwide and education is becoming more and more secular as the years go on.
Within the social sphere, there has been more of a focus on spirituality-based beliefs and practices all around the world to fill in the gap of religion. Many speakers such as Sadhguru along with many social media influences have massive audiences dedicated to spiritual discovery regarding human nature, practicing positivity, and other ideas focused on reaching our true potential. While this can be a force for good, it can be confusing as this type of media is saturated with so many people. Some of the practices can also be easily misinterpreted since the “focus on yourself” mantra can be taken to mean isolating yourself from others.
Modern philosophical thought has also shifted away from religious morals. Instead, modern thought has found new roots in modern philosophies like nihilism, existentialism, moral relativism, and other concepts that disregard ideas within religious texts. While the effects of this are still debated, there has been an overall rise of unhappiness among younger generations which could be in some part due to these types of belief systems. Religious faith often served as a coping mechanism for meaning for most folks in the past and the loss of this can cause a shake-up within society. However, many of these secular thought processes will not be going anywhere anytime soon and we still have yet to see the full effects of these types of thought processes.
Atheism: Key Takeaways
While Atheism is a simple philosophy at heart, there are some things you can learn from it regardless of religious affiliation. Below are some key takeaways to take from this philosophy:
Be open to being proved wrong: Every idea should be put up to scrutiny because otherwise there is no way of getting closer to the truth. So, being flexible enough to allow criticism in your conversations will help you and others grow, creating a better environment for learning.
Faith is more than religion: Faith, while often boiled down to religion, is much more than that. Spiritual practices, habits of thought, and the beliefs you hold as part of your identity are all types of faith whether they are purposefully practiced or not.
There is value in everything: While it can be easy to dismiss a particular concept, like all philosophies and most things in life, they are not perfect. However, the mistakes or successes of ideas are the best to learn from. Even if religion is not your cup of tea, there are still things you can learn from it like core moral beliefs and aspects of what makes a community. So, don’t disregard a learning opportunity just because you don’t like it. There is too much to learn in this life, so take every opportunity to do so.
Atheism: Additional Resources
Sources and Other Resources: