Knowledge Blast: Understanding atheism

We all at some point in our life when discussing religion or some aspect of belief, will be asked the trivial yet important question, “Do you believe in a God?”. To some the answer is “yes”, to others the answer is “no” and then there are those (especially igtheists), that question the meaning of the word, “God”, which they argue needs first to be defined before any enlisted answer can be provided. Generally to those who answer this question with a “yes”, they are presumed to have an active belief in that God and they are generally referred to as a “Theist” (an individual who holds a belief in a Deity); to those who answer with “No”, they are generally referred to as “Atheist” (an individual who are without a belief in a Deity or ‘lack a belief’ in one.). These are the only two positions when it comes to belief in a God, you either are actively believing in one (or many) making you a theist (or any branch attached to it) or you do not actively believe in a God, making you an atheist. Simple is it not? Yet some people, even academics, seem to be fine with theism but not atheism…why is that? Let’s find out shall we.

We are all born not believing in any notion particularly associated with a God/Gods; implicit atheism, is what we all are born with. We all are born with an absence of belief in a God/gods, this is the default state of belief for every child born into this world. Generally the notion of a God is introduced via cultural means; either one will learn it from parents, learn it in a religious studies class and so on. No matter where we learn the term it is still introduced from the culture we are born into, if not, another culture, but culture none-the-less. It is only when faced with the notion, that one can either accept it (with good merit and reason; as no one chooses to believe or not believe in anything, they are brought good reason as to either reject or accept the notion, this goes for the god notion as well) or reject it (with good merit or reason etc); however it should be noted that before the introduction of the notion, the default stance is non-belief i.e. atheism. When one rejects the notion of a God, with whatever reason or argument; they are enacting explicit atheism, which is the active rejection of belief in a God/gods (disbelief). Agnosticism (the epistemological position concerned with whether we can know a notion to exist or not) can be associated with atheism; as agnosticism concerns knowledge (a subset of belief) well atheism concerns belief itself. One may ask the question how this is possible, in which the reply can be that atheism rejects the belief in the notion of a God/gods, well agnosticism concerns itself on whether that notion of God/gods can be known at all to exist. Agnostics may wish to distance themselves away from atheists but the fact is this; if one actively believes in a God they are a theist (or any branch of theism) if one does not believe in a God, they are an atheist. There is no middle position when it comes to belief, either belief or non-belief, they cover all positions. Agnosticism is thus not mutually exclusive to atheism, rather it is compatible with atheism; as it concerns (and here it will be repeated) itself with whether we can know a God to exist at all, whereas atheism concerns itself with lack of belief in that notion, not on whether it exists or not.

“This is where the difference between ‘Agnostic’ and ‘Atheist’matters: Theism and Atheism deals with belief. Gnosticism and Agnosticism deals with knowledge. Gnostic think they KNOW the existence/nonexistence of a god, agnostics claim to not know. Theists and Atheists can be on either sides of that, were they believe or not believe in a god while also either claim to know or not know for certain if that belief is true. There are agnostic atheists, agnostic theists, gnostic atheists and gnostic theists.”-Fooly’s Mind

Positive atheism is where the problem resides, it is the explicit or strong conviction that a God/gods do not exist. This is what most anti-theists (or those actively who hold a disdain for religious beliefs.) hold when they refer to their atheism. Negative atheism includes all forms of irreligion or non-belief, from the absence of a belief in a God/gods and so on. Both positive and negative atheism are but two side to the same coin, they are both ways of defining non-belief or “atheism” (as already mentioned); they are both varying degrees of the same thing such as the case with hot water and warm water. The problem really resides around those who look from the outside into atheist thought, they may have the tendency to view it as a religion (which, if so makes them under a grievant misapprehension) by the way it may conduct itself in the world; it may be called “dogmatic” or by more ‘sower opponents’ as “dogmatic as religion”. Yet, let one dispense with the critics; to all those who do not believe in a God for whatever reason, you are an atheist. One can take this as a breach of one’s ‘personal beliefs or lack of’ but that is the fact. It is more common to see fellow atheists criticize atheism itself by the way many who hold to the title may act. Yet, many may hold to their non-belief as ‘a means to an end’ or may promote it, however the case it must be noted that atheism should only be considered a block of non-belief. It should not press issues, it should not be given so much attention as it has been given (this goes for theism to); it should not be even mentioned. Now this may seem strange given the previous words and advocation in the last couple sentences of this piece, but let me explain what I mean. Atheism, as already mentioned almost countless of times before, is simply “the lack of belief in a God/gods” that would be the end of it, yet so many individuals have labelled those who do not believe in their god as being ‘atheist’, this is why the word exists at all! And for this reason it is important that those who do hold onto the word must understand why it exists, and what it means now. What atheism means today is the stance against oppression; the stance of those willing to not be contempt in their thinking, it is the stance against those willing to die for their belief; for the word ‘atheist’ may be a ‘means to an end’ for some, to others it is simply another way of promoting defiance when needed and the stance against oppression (this is not an over-exaggeration of the word either, given its history, atheism has been on the receiving end of tremendous intolerance). Yet, It does not affect political beliefs (not by itself), what one does when he gets up in the morning, It is the starting block. Those who live their life as if there is no notion of a God existing are known as practical atheists or apatheists, and one can say that there are a great deal of practical atheists in both the non-religious and religious circles.

Nietzsche gives an important note on belief in God as “not being necessary any longer”; does one see those who believe in a God, when crossing the street, look both ways? Yes. It seems that everyone now in the modern age lives as if there is no God. Believers put on their seat belts, look both ways well crossing the road; they live their lives as if the belief in God is not necessary. Putting the cross on, on Sundays, and flipping it upside down on Mondays. the notion that is often promoted by believers is the façade “You need god to have meaning in your life” but what is the gross double standard they are setting? Atheism, is the underpin of all religions, no one actively believes in a God twenty fours a day, seven days a week, do they? Of course not! If one really had to do a study on the amount of “prefaced believers” in this world one could almost certainly say that the numbers of “real believers” would be “0”; as no one actively can believe in a notion every hour of every day.

New atheism, (a movement started from the post years of 9/11, popularly called a movement by the media) Is a movement set on the notion that; religious belief should be held to the same criticism as any other belief, and it should not be given respect just because of its own sake this means it must be laid to the same standard amount of scrutiny as any other subject. “The End of faith” and “Letters to a Christian nation” (2004) can be credited as the books that started the movement. This breed of atheism is a prolific atheism the kind at which wishes to dispense with religion. Yet, despite such vitriol by the religious to this “new” form of atheism, it must be noted, that if the religious think their views are untouchable and thus cannot be scrutinized; then let it be said that such “privileged delusion” needs to be quelled effective immediately. New atheism does not attack the belief in God per-seas, then it attacks what the belief in God does to individuals; atheists who are a part of this movement do not care what the individual believes in, they care about what the individual does with that belief. This is why the aim in recent times has been for social justice and equality, to replace organized belief that demands it cannot be criticized, with practical humanism. To dispense with the notion, that you need a God to find meaning and happiness, that the universe can only have come from a deity and morality could only be dispensed by a deity; is to dispense with the final hook that holds man in his infancy. The modern atheist movement seeks to show that individuals can indeed be good without God, find meaning in their lives, and gain a greater understanding of the world through enquiry. New atheism brings with it, not just atheism, but secularism, humanism, liberalism, gender equality and the slogan “Good without God”. They argue that “Religion and the belief in the supernatural have crippled society, crippled the need for enquiry and scepticism, resulting in the overall denigration of progress among humanity and thus must be made rid of as soon as necessarily possible.” Religion as it stands has morphed into a form of practical humanism, and any good that the religious hold, is in fact a goodness of humanism and the two are not to be confused with one another. Science and healthy scepticism is overall better than an impermeable faith in a God, this in a sense, can be summed up as the movement’s main aim; which is to push the need for religion out of society.

What is the point of a belief in God, when individuals who preface such a belief as being the “be-all-to-end-all”, are not even acting as if there is a God in their daily life? This incipient need to believe in that which, at the end of the day, does nothing overall to affect one’s character; is useless. If one harbours any form of belief or disbelief for not any good particular reason or any particular justification, it can be said that such individuals have no reason to be who they proclaim they are. Those who wish to keep their belief for the sake of security and moral fulfilment, need to realise that they are holding onto to the notion of a God for the sake of psychological need, and not because of whether it is true or not. Belief in anything is acquired through substantial evidence to prove and good reason to accept that evidence’s notion, non-belief comes as a default from not finding that evidence substantial and zero reason to believe in the notion. This is with all claims, we believe because we have substantial evidence to provide good reason, which is the standard ‘evidence’. Without evidence in the form of justification to believe in any notion that departs from justification, no matter sincere, is done so for stupid reasons. No amount of belief in the prospect of any notion makes that notion so. Every adult and child has to come to this realisation that you only believe in something because of justification and good reason, and you stop believing in something when the notion or belief departs from that. This is why non-belief will always be the default when it comes to notions like God(s), anyone who says otherwise has no idea what he or her are talking about. No one chose to not believe in anything, as they did to believe in something, they were given good reason to believe, and zero reason not to believe, it was not an active “oh I’ll decide not to believe” or ‘I’ll start to believe” are brains do not work like that, and it is naïve to think they do.

Every individual expressing their belief in any form of matter will need to know this when talking to an atheist of any sort unless to foolishly lump an atheist into a camp or an ideology he/she is not a part of. Though criticism (valid ones) have been made by people like Sam Harris, who say non-belief should not be given a label, just like not believing in Zeus should not be given the label “A-zuesist”. Valid criticisms like these do highlight the point that labels do carry baggage, sometimes unwanted baggage. For example, when theists use the argument that atheists are immoral because Stalin was an atheist, and he killed in the name of no God. Though this argument (if it can be called that and not a grievance whine) is not true, Stalin was indeed an atheist, but he had other motivations for doing the things he did that are too multiple to mention here. This goes for both atheist and theist a like who make claims that certain “bad guys” in history killed because of their faith or lack of it, must remember that there are a lot of facts that go into each event and each context, that it has become naïve to try use the Crusades to lump the evils of Christianity, or communism to lump the evils of atheism and so on. Ladies and gentlemen from across the aisle, hear me when I say that the only way we are going to unite, is if we dispense with belief being a dividing block on issues (this may be hypocritical given the amount of things that I write against “organized religion”, but that can be justified as I am against social injustice perpetrated by theocratic fascists) we should try to help one another and care for the merit of arguments alone, and not on whether they are uttered by a believer or a non-believer. We should love all despite what they believe, and only hold them accountable for their actions. This is why one has to say that humanism is the greatest uniter of both non-believer and believer, and that is what we should all aim for, a state by which we can obtain some form of unity based on humanism.

Knowledge is Power

Use it

Written By: Anthony Avice Du Buisson

Knowledge Blast: Totalitarian Thought
Dissecting Thought: NOMA and religion: a naturalist perspective

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