A*the*ism (popular meaning:) focusing on the power of science over superstition. synonyms: naturalism, humanism, European enlightenment thought, irreligion and skepticism
This brief article introduces the idea of Atheism and some religious objections to it. It ends with a discussion question.
Atheism, literally “no-God-ism”, arose in societies weary of the power of the clergy and aware of the many ways in which religion could be used to abuse rather than liberate.
As Europe became more aware of scientific explanations for what had been previously considered supernatural phenomena, many intellectuals became emboldened to criticize a religious understanding of the world.
More recently, atheists have even challenged agnostics (those who claim to be uncertain of God’s existence) to get off the fence and join with them to counter what they view as the dark forces of religion: ignorance, bigotry, sexual repression, superstition, manipulation and violence.
A number of recent writers are now using the phrase “spiritual atheist” to describe their views, a combination which tries to balance the “no” of atheism to religion with a “yes” to ideas of beauty, truth and goodness.
These writers insist rather than leading to a dry and analytical approach to life, atheism provides a solid foundation for a sense awe and connection between all of life.
Religion Fights Back
Many religious believers have not been happy with these developments.
They object to the characterization of faith as innately violent and have charged that atheism itself is lacks the ability to teach and inspire that one critical element which the church imparts to society: morality.
Thus, religionists have observed that renowned atheists of the past, like Stalin, have led the world into darkness.
The logical outcome of an atheist future, they charge, is a “godless immorality” resulting in the eventual emergence of one megalomaniac dictator guided by nothing but pride, greed and desire for more power.
What the world truly needs, say these believers, is the moral inoculation of religion. Only then can society be sustained through inevitable “political infections” like atheism.
“He [Gene Roddenberry] was a secular humanist and made it well known to writers of Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation that religion and superstition and mystical thinking were not to be part of his universe. On Roddenberry’s future Earth, everyone is an atheist. And that world is the better for it.”
-Brannon Braga, producer with the most writing credits in the Star Trek franchise. ‘Every Religion Has a Mythology’
The dark vision of an atheist future painted by some religionists is at odds, however, with the reality of atheism in many western countries.
In contrast to Stalin, there are many atheists who promote a peaceful political agenda and even a secular spirituality.
Many atheist figures hated by religious people arose in times of social upheaval when the religion of the state was itself complicit in supporting an oppressive status quo.
What if society were to gently and consistently become atheist by nature? Would this future be the immoral night of terror envisioned by some religious adherents?