Atheism: An Alternative Philosophy
Religion is always a controversial topic, but this is just as often because of a lack of information as a difference in theology. What is not always realized, however, is that alternatives to religion do exist. Some of these alternatives are atheism, agnosticism, or simple belief (in a god, or in nature, etc.) without the benefit of a religious system. The most easily misunderstood of these seems to be atheism.
First, examine what two experts have to say about the definition of atheism. It is generally accepted that there are different ways to look at the philosophy. Below are multiple definitions from two books written on the subject.
Douglas E. Krueger writes in What Is Atheism?, "There are two views which are often considered atheism -- the broad version (that of not assenting to the theistic view) and the narrow version (the claim that the theistic view is false) (Pg. 15)." Mr. Krueger also writes, "The term 'atheism' is from the Greek atheos. The prefix 'a' means 'without,' and the Greek theos means 'god,' so atheism means simply 'being without god.' Theism asserts that there is a god, so atheism is the view which does not assert that there is a god (Pg. 17)."
In Atheism: The Case Against God, George H. Smith says, "Atheism may be divided into two broad categories: implicit and explicit. (a) Implicit atheism is the absence of theistic belief without a conscious rejection of it. (b) Explicit atheism is the absence of theistic belief due to a conscious rejection of it (Pg. 13)." Another distinction is also made:
Critical atheism presents itself in various forms. It is often expressed by the statement, "I do not believe in the existence of a god or supernatural being." This profession of nonbelief often derives from the failure of theism to provide sufficient evidence in its favor. Faced with a lack of evidence, this explicit atheist sees no reason whatsoever for believing in a supernatural being.
Critical atheism also assumes stronger forms, such as, "God does not exist" or, "The existence of a god is impossible." These assertions are usually made after a particular concept of god, such as the God of Christianity, is judged to be absurd or contradictory (Pg. 17).
Now, obviously, these are not the only possible ways of looking at atheism. But, the paragraphs quoted above show sufficient range to be considered the main definitions of atheism. From a technical standpoint, then, atheism has been defined. What else can there be to say? Much.
When one asks the question, "What is atheism?" one is likely to be greeted with a number of myths, misconceptions, and outright lies. The most prominent among these is the idea that atheists are amoral beings. While atheism contains within itself no moral imperatives, atheists are free to (and most often do) choose from numerous secular moral and ethical theories.
Another misconception concerning atheism is that atheists are devil-worshippers, or servants of a being known as Satan. This is quite plainly not true. Atheists do not believe in a devil, any more than they believe in a god. The idea that you must be against a god if you are not for it is incorrect. Atheists, by failing to lend credence to the concept of a god, remove themselves from this dichotomy.
That is what atheists are not. What are atheists? In truth, it must be accepted that the only, truly the only, idea that all atheists share is that they lack belief in a god. Some atheists are capitalists, some are communists. Some are Republicans, some are Democrats. Some are men, women, rich, poor, college or self educated. They may be pet lovers, child lovers, patriots or anarchists. Atheists are young, old, healthy, and infirm. There is no one thing that all atheists are, except atheists
A question often asked concerns the atheist's view of death, and what comes after. The average atheist views death as a natural part of life, the conclusion to one's span. Most atheists do not believe in the human soul as defined by religion. They do not believe that there is any life after death. They believe, instead, that one's consciousness ceases with one's life, and that our earthly time is the only time we have.
Another question is how someone comes to be an atheist. Some atheists find the philosophy through religion, in a way. Often a disillusionment with religion will lead to an investigation of alternatives. Other individuals simply find that they lack within themselves the feeling of faith necessary for religion. If a person cannot sustain belief in a religion's teachings, they are apt to find another philosophy. A small percentage are raised in families without religion, and find atheism as natural as most would find Christianity.
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