Written by Alex Ashley
“A little philosophy inclineth man’s mind to atheism, but depth in philosophy bringeth men’s minds about to religion.”—Francis Bacon, Essays.
There was a time in American history when the phrase “one nation under God,” was customary, vastly uncontroversial, and proudly worn as an insignia on the heart of loyal Americans. Such was a time of Sunday church and “Sunday best”; a time of “excuse me neighbor, can I borrow cup of flour?”; a time of Saturday Evening Post Norman Rockwell covers. That was the “Christian nation” portrayed in the minds of so many.
That’s not really where we live…
The Missing Link
These days, does the phrase “one nation under God,” seem incongruous to anyone else? What, with the ideological, ethnic, and religious diversity and all. I would even venture to say that atheism is almost developing into a type of trend or fad. It’s “old-fashioned” to believe in God. There has been a sweeping, stiff breeze of controversy blowing through the streets of this nation that has begun to segregate the masses: Religion vs. Atheism. God or no god. And it’s starting to really show. But the really quandary remains almost transparent: Similarity.
There, I said it. There is a common ground upon which theist and atheist alike tread. And, although they would sooner excavate it and bulldoze it into the sea than admit it, it does exist. Please do not misread this column as a personal attack on atheism and those who support it; I don’t want a crowd of “freethinkers” joining hands and picketing on my front lawn. But for the sake of analysis, I think it’s fair that an atheist’s disbelief fall under the same scrutiny as does a theist’s belief. Contemplate:
Atheism, noun: The doctrine that there is no deity.
Religion, noun: A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.
Faith, noun: Belief that is not based on proof.
Doctrine + faith = a form of religion.
“Now just hold on a second!” an atheist reader may scoff. “Atheism isn’t belief; it’s a lack of belief. If atheism is a belief system, then bald is a hair color.” The fact is, however, that atheists and most of Christendom alike share a commonality…
No matter which way you look at the issue, believers round the globe have never been able to give the rest of the world sufficient evidence—at least by secular standards—that their god or gods exist and are a scientific fact. But, to be totally fair, atheists hold in their hands the same empty tote bag. To say there is no deity is a statement. If you hold a conviction in what you perceive to be a truth, but which is not immediately susceptible to rigorous proof, that’s called belief. If you hold fervently to a belief or system of beliefs with ardor and faith, that’s a form of religion. It takes faith to believe something you can’t prove. Sure, atheism isn’t an organized tribe of worshippers that looks to a deity for answers and wisdom and guidance. But in a sense of the word, ladies and gentlemen, atheists and theists alike stand equal.
Atheism as a Religion
Defined in the contemporary, western sense, atheism isn’t just “a lack of belief in a higher power”—a definition some have become so accustomed to. That’s the difference between atheism and agnosticism; the latter lacks the prime ingredient that takes atheism to the next level. The atheist is one who makes an assertion about the non-existence of God, gods and divine or supernatural beings. So it brings me a great combination of equal parts sorrow and pleasure to inform you that atheism is not just a lack of belief. It is a declaration, an assertion and a testimony that the world is without God.
American Atheists, an organization whose goal is “supporting civil rights for atheists and the separation of church and state,” commented on its official website that one of its core objectives is “to develop and propagate a social philosophy in which humankind is central and must itself be the source of strength, progress, and ideals for the well-being and happiness of humanity…” Not that such an organization serves as the voice for every atheistic individual on the planet, but it does serve to illustrate something I’ve observed as a journalist and researcher, and that is this: It isn’t just that many people lack faith in a god or gods, but that they take it a step farther—many demonstrating offense at the very mention or implication of a divine being, even organizing efforts to eradicate a belief in God and the Bible from society.
Not all. Many.
Last year, in schools across Lancashire, United Kingdom, for example, the Christian Post Reporter noted that a new syllabus was being introduced with the purpose of “making children aware of non-belief.” Six major faiths—Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Sikhism were all part of the Religious Education curriculum. “Humanism” was added to the list.
“We don’t want the future to be blind,” Chris Thayne, the chair of Blackburn with Darwen Standing Advisory Councils on Religious Education, told a local publication. “We want it to be illuminated. We want understanding without prejudice.”
Then, Rev. Kevin Logan, a regular columnist for the Lancashire Telegraph, and religious community leader, added: “It’s quite a change but it is completely right to recognize atheism and humanism They are religions like any others. It is just that people worship man instead of a god.”
Another good point.
Elsewhere in Britain, the Huffington Post reported earlier this month that “Britain’s first atheist church held its very first meeting at The Nave, a former church-turned-performance space, in Islington, North London.” The church, dubbed “Sunday Assembly,” drew in around 200 worshippers for its first service, which included talks, a session of eyes-closed meditation, and a rendition of Oasis’ “Don’t Look Back in Anger,” sung during the gathering.
I suppose the reason for publishing this scrutiny—and I do so with great respect for individuals, regardless of their beliefs—is that the amalgam of humanity is slowly drying and crumbling. People have forgotten that the house of civilization is on fire and slowly burning to the ground; just because you are in separate rooms of that house doesn’t mean it isn’t going to affect you just the same.
Rev. Scott Lewis, who taught an eight-week course on atheism at the Jesuit-run Regis College at the University of Toronto, made a point of extreme validity: “One idea for atheists to leave behind is that people who believe [in God] are stupid or naïve. And perhaps we should leave behind the idea that an atheist is someone who is not ethical or a good person. A person can be a believer and be quite intelligent. A person can be an atheist and be quite a morally upright person.”
Really, the world of mankind is like many threads, woven into a strong rope. A rope can hold a great deal of weight. It can withstand a great deal of stress, and hold great loads. But when you begin to separate the strands from one another, that is when the rope loses strength, begins to fray and eventually snaps.
May that never happen to us.