6/24/2008                                                                                       View Comments

What is Atheism?

A paper by Psycholex

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What is Atheism? Just about everyone knows what an Atheist is, right? Well, judging by what I've read on the internet, read in chat rooms, & received in Emails; many people still have no clue what Atheism really is! Since not all Atheists have the same view of Atheism as I do, I may not cover your individual outlook on it, but I will attempt to define the basics of Atheism. Defining Atheism To define Atheism, you must first look at its root word, theism. Theism is simply the belief of a god(s). Theism by itself is not a religion; it is just simply a belief, nothing more. Theists can be either polytheists or monotheists, depending on how many gods they choose to believe in. After this we go into specific religions, like islam, judaism, & christianity. Atheism is simply the opposite of theism. The prefix A means "without" or "not", so Atheism is simply a lack of belief in god(s). It is not a religion, just like theism is not a religion, but there are specific philosophies of Atheism that can be defined as religion, thought since they all lack a belief in a god or the supernatural, they are not true religions, for example Humanism. Atheism also has branches off the basic disbelief. There are "strong Atheists" and "weak Atheists." Strong Atheism usually is a total denial of the existence of god(s); it usually is aimed at one or two specific gods for various reasons. Most Atheists, who think this way, see a belief in a particular religion's god to be totally irrational and see no possibility for the existence of their god. Weak Atheism, is what most Atheists would be; simply without belief in any god(s). Weak Atheists do not believe in god(s) for the simple reason that it is irrational and no evidence for the god has been brought to their attention. Most weak Atheists are quite ready to believe in a god as soon as there is some sort of evidence in its favour. Weak atheists will not choose a particular god to deny, they look at all gods equally. Theists & Atheism Theists generally focus on their individual gods and fail to realise that other gods are believed in besides theirs! They then use this lack of understanding to make all sorts of wild and irrational claims about Atheism. They would like to think that since Atheism does not follow their one "true" god(s), then Atheists must be against their god. We are often lumped together with other theists when this happens, since every other belief system in the world would deny the trueness of that one god, just like Atheists do. They all fail to realise that Atheism is not focuses on individual gods, in some cases they are, but not in the general definition. Atheism deals with the disbelief of all gods, not just those of christianity, islam, wicca, judaism, etc... Theists simply assume that everyone has the same image of god as they do. But the christian's gods are not even remotely similar to the gods of Wicca. So first we must define what a god is, and then can debate weather or not it exist. As long as the theist holds the belief that there is only one god, then the conversation is pointless, because of flawed logic on the part of the theist. This can lead to many headaches as the Atheist attempts to explain how everyone else in the world views god, so the theist can actually understand the position of the Atheist. Theists tend to make some very irrational assumptions about Atheism, most are based on either incorrect information or flat out lies based on hatred. 1. People stop believing in god, so they can sin and do whatever they want. This misconception stems from the idea that atheists not only cannot be moral without god, but in fact do not want to be moral. Theistic, particularly Christian, attitudes towards atheists can often be summarized by the oft-quoted verse Psalm 14:1 The fool says in his heart, "There is no God." They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none that does good. Despite numerous attempts, no theist has ever conclusively demonstrated that belief in their god is required for morality - and in fact there are many good reasons to think that such a claim is simply false. Perhaps there are atheists who rejected belief in gods in order to avoid morality - but I've never encountered any, and the many atheists I have known have had quite different reasons for their atheism. 2. Atheists hate God. This is just a misunderstanding of what Atheism is! Atheists cannot hate something that they do not and cannot believe exists. It's one of those arguments that are designed to make people hate Atheists, nothing more. 3. Atheists worship Satan. Again, we find a theist thinking that for some reason that only their god is relevant to the atheist - and if the atheist does not believe in their god, then they must worship the antithesis of their god, Satan. But the fact of the matter is, atheists who don't believe in a god also aren't going to believe in the god's supernatural competitor, either. 4. Atheist relies as much on faith as theists do. This is theists trying to place their irrational beliefs on Atheists, which is impossible, by definition! Faith is the assumption that something is their without any proof; it is pretty much wishful thinking. Theists try to say everyone has faith in something, but this degrades faith. To say Atheists have faith in science could just as easily be applied to theist’s faith in science. That would then make the theist definition of faith lose al its supernatural meaning, therefore destroying their so-called proof of god through faith. 5. Everyone worships something, so atheists must have some god. This complaint runs along lines very similar to the previous, and sometimes this idea is also expressed by claiming that "Atheism is a religion." Since they cannot imagine living their life without worshipping their god, they also cannot imagine atheists living without worshipping something, like money or humanity. We must redefine worship to make this make any sense. Worship would have to include anything that ultimate concern or most important. This is a grasp at straws, just because you can identify one "most important" aspect of your life, does not constitute worshiping it. By defining worship like this does an injustice to the religious meaning of worship. 6. Atheism is due to bad childhood experiences with false religions. It is certainly true that many atheists have had poor experiences with religion, often in childhood. It is also true that such experiences have caused people to reconsider how they feel about religion and, in some cases, to finally reject religion and even belief in gods. However, this is by far not the only reason why people are atheists. Some, for example, never believed in any gods and never belonged to any religion. 7. All atheists believe in "X." Many theists still try to pigeonhole atheists into a single philosophical straight-jacket - be it humanism, communism, nihilism, objectivism, or something else. By claiming to have identified this other belief system necessary to Atheism, they can then proceed to attack that belief system and pretend to have refuted atheism without ever actually addressing atheism itself. It is certainly true that atheism can be a part of the aforementioned worldviews, among many others, but it is not true that atheism necessitates any of them. Not only does atheism fail to imply an agreement with any one belief system, it also fails to imply agreement with any other atheists. My neighbour might also be an atheist, but we might disagree on nearly every single philosophical and social issue imaginable. Just because we agree on not believing in magic elves, unicorns or gods does not announce to the world that we agree on anything else. Psycholex