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  Wikipedia: Atheism

Wikipedia: Atheism
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Atheism is disbelief in gods, particularly the doctrine which rejects belief in the supreme creator called "God" by Jews and Christians or "Allah" by Muslims.


The term atheism (French athéisme, from athée, meaning atheist, from Greek 'Αθεος, atheos, meaning godless : a-, without; + Θεός, theos, meaning god; it has Indo-European Roots) is formed of the Greek prefix α- (a-), meaning "without" or "not", and the Greek-derived theism (from Θεϊσμός, theismos), meaning a belief in a god. The literal meaning of the term is therefore "without a god".

Definition and scope

In modern usage as reflected in most dictionaries, atheism is the disbelief in, or denial of, the existence of any and all gods.

Some [1] distinguish between a narrow, strict category "strong atheism" (the explicit rejection of the existence of any deity) and "weak atheism" (a lack of belief in any deity but no explicit rejection). They also use these two terms in describing whether one believes in the existence of any deity as an impossibility (strong atheism), or that the existence of a deity is possible but no evidence indicates one does exist (weak atheism). In the freethought tradition, terms such as "positive atheism" and "negative atheism" are used.

The term agnosticism is distinct from atheism in that it holds the existence of any deity to be unknown.

The term has also been used to refer to someone who does not believe in some particular deity, even if they do believe in another. An example would be its use an an accusation of the pagan Romans against the early Christians, and vice versa.


Atheism is more common in Europe than in the United States, and more common among scientists, particularly natural scientists, than among the general population (see the relationship between religion and science). However, due to some societies strongly promoting atheism, and some strongly condemning it, atheism may both be overreported and underreported in different countries. There is a great deal of room for debate as to the accuracy of any method of measurement, as the opportunity for misreporting (intentional and otherwise) a belief system without an organized structure is high.

Atheism in history and society

In Europe's Middle Ages, atheism was regarded as amoral, often criminal; atheists could be sentenced to death by burning, especially in countries where the Inquisition was active. While Protestants (and many others) suffered from discrimination and persecution by the then dominant Roman Catholic Church, Calvin was also in favor of burning atheists and heretics [1] [1]. It must be noted that the witch hunters as well as the inquisition were quite liberal in dispatching profoundly cruel and shocking tortures and deathss upon those who they found imperfect, atheist, witch, or otherwise.

In some cultures, promoting atheism has been criminalized, and even many western European countries such as Spain and Germany still have (rarely enforced) anti-blasphemy laws on the books. Those who hold theistic views often consider those without a belief in a deity to be amoral or untrustworthy — unfit as members of society. The scriptures of most religions contain denunciations of non-believers; see, for example, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 in the Christian Bible.

Atheists themselves vehemently deny the charge that they are amoral and would insist in most cases that the moral code of Humanism is superior to the type of code which tortures or kills people who believe differently from what the authorities want. Others see this as an innaccurate assesment, pointing out the number of charitable religious organizations such as the Salvation Army. Atheists and other secularists would point to useful secular charities like Oxfam. Since atheists very rarely contribute to charities "in the name of atheism" but may contribute just as much as theists for other reasons, it may be inaccurate to measure overall charitability in this manner.

On the other hand, atheism has been the official stance of most communist countries, including the now defunct Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China. Karl Marx, an atheist, wrote that religion is "the opiate of the masses", meaning that it exists in order to blind people to the true state of affairs in a society, and thus make them more amenable to social control and exploitation.

In the Soviet Union and in the People's Republic of China, some churches that submitted to strict state control were tolerated. Because of the communists' goal to eradicate religion as what they perceived to be an irrational belief system, powerful religious groups such as the Catholic Church were among the strongest enemies of communism since its very inception. Communist doctrine aside, many dictatorships have regulated or forbidden religious groups which were viewed as possible centers of opposition against their totalitarian rule. On the other hand, western intelligence agencies have often cooperated with local religious groups in order to build up opposition in hostile countries (an extreme example being the training and funding of the radical fundamentalist Mujaheddin in Afghanistan by the CIA in the 1980s).

Every military buildup in the United States since World War II has been accompanied by frequent use of the saying "There are no atheists in foxholes." During the Cold War, the fact that the communist enemies of the United States were officially atheists ("Godless Communists") added to the view that atheists were unreliable and unpatriotic. As recently as the 1987 presidential campaign in the (officially secular) United States, George H. W. Bush said "I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic. This is one nation under God." [1] Similar statements were made during the controversy surrounding the inclusion of the phrase "under God" in the American Pledge of Allegiance, words which were added to the pledge early in the Cold War period.

Notwithstanding Cold War attitudes, atheists are legally protected from discrimination in the United States and they have been among the strongest advocates of the legal separation of church and state. American courts have regularly, if controversially, interpreted the constitutional requirement for separation of church and state as protecting the freedoms of non-believers, as well as prohibiting the establishment of any state religion. Atheists often sum up the legal situation with the phrase: "Freedom of religion also means freedom from religion." [1]

In early 2004, it was announced [1] [1] that atheism would be taught during religious education classes in Great Britain. A spokesman of the 'Qualifications and Curriculum Authority' (QCA) stated the following about the decision: "There are many children in England who have no religious affiliation and their beliefs and ideas, whatever they are, should be taken very seriously."

See also

External links

Atheism in communist countries


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 
Modified by Geona