Atheism

by Linh Dinh & Charlene Pimentel

Introduction

The word Atheism means ( atheos meaning "without gods; godless; secular; denying or disdaining the gods") the absence or rejection of the belief that deities exist. Although this is the meaning of the word, all Atheists are different. Some Atheists completely disbelieve in gods, and some lack belief in gods. (There is a difference. Disbelief = Rejecting or denying belief. Lack of belief = you don’t actively believe in something, but you don’t deny it either.)


Atheism is not a belief system nor a religion. It does not have an organized set of beliefs or a founder, and all Atheists have their own different set of ideas. The only thing Atheists have in common is their lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings.

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  • Having no religious affiliation is now the world's third biggest 'faith' after Christianity and Islam.
  • Self-identified atheists comprise anywhere from 2% to 13% of the world's population.
  • In Scandinavia, the Netherlands and particularly in China, atheists and the nonreligious are the majority.
  • Western atheism did not emerge as a distinct world-view until the Enlightenment.
  • The U.S Christian population is declining, while the number of U.S. adults who do not identify with any organized religion is growing, according to an extensive new survey by the Pew Research Center.

Differences in Atheism


  • Over the centuries, atheists have supported their lack of belief in gods through scientific, philosophical and ideological notions.
  • Some of the early examples of atheism/agnosticism/nontheism involve Eastern religions such as Jainism, Buddhism and Taoism, which do not have a deity.
  • Agnostic Atheist: Does not believe any god exists, but does not claim that this belief is true.
  • Agnostic Theist: Believes that a god exists, but doesn't claim that this belief is true.
  • Gnostic Atheist: Believes no god exists and claims that this belief is true.
  • Gnostic Theist: Believes that a god exists and claims that this belief is true.
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The Enlightenment

Also known as the Age of Reason, The Enlightenment was the time period when scientists like Isaac Newton or writers like John Locke began to challenge the old order. Enlightenment thinkers throughout Europe questioned traditional authority. This promoted scientific reasoning and logic.
  • Modern atheism did not begin until the Enlightenment.
  • The French Revolution increased the spread of atheism in Europe.
  • People began to base their reason on science; churchgoing declined.
  • A book of a Catholic priest who died in 1729 was found, telling French Parishioners how much he detested and disbelieved the religion he’d taught them for 40 years.
  • Philosophers in France, Germany, and England were openly challenging religious power and ideas and establishing modern concepts of human rights and individuality.

ATHEISM IN THE 19TH CENTURY

The French Revolution opened way to the 19th century movements of Rationalism, Freethought, and Liberalism.


  • Romantic poet, Percy Shelley, was expelled from England's Oxford University in 1811 for writing an essay about Atheism.
  • It was considered to be the first pamphlet about atheistic ideas in English.
  • Karl Marx believed people turn to religion to dull the pain created by social situations. As they create class oppression, they hope for relief in justice in life after death.
  • Atheist feminists also oppose religion as a main source of female oppression and inequality.They believe that the majority of the religions are sexist and oppressive to women.

ATHEISM IN THE 20TH CENTURY

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely" was a phrase used a lot in the 20th century.


  • Atheists in Western societies became more active and even militant.
  • They rejected the idea of an interventionist God and said that Christianity promoted war and violence, though the most ruthless leaders in the Second World War were atheists and secularists who were intensely hostile to both Judaism and Christianity.
  • Examples: Mao Zedong in China, Joseph Stalin in the USSR, and Pol Pot in Cambodia

Atheism in Religions

The Rig Veda, which is the the oldest of the sacred books of Hinduism, deals with a lot of skepticism about the creation of the universe.


  • In Hinduism, an atheist isn't someone who doesn't believe in God, but someone who rejects the authority of the Vedas.
  • Believing in God is optional depending on the school of thought a Hindu follows.
  • Even within the Hindu tradition, there are many people who are atheist.
  • Buddhism is sometimes described as Atheistic because of the lack of a creator god.
  • The historical Buddha taught that believing in gods was unnecessary in Buddhism. For this reason, Buddhism is more accurately nontheistic.

FUN FACTS!

  • About two-thirds of atheists (69%) identify as Democrats (or lean in that direction), and a majority (56%) call themselves political liberals (compared with just one-in-ten who say they are conservatives).

  • Atheists overwhelmingly favor same-sex marriage (92%) and legal abortion (87%). In addition, three-quarters (74%) say that government aid to the poor does more good than harm.

  • The share of Americans who identify as atheists has roughly doubled in the past several years.
  • John Lennon, Morgan Freeman, Bill Gates, Daniel Radcliffe, Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Stephen Hawking, Kiera Knightly are atheists.