Atheism: the Beliefs in the Absence of God

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  • Topic: Atheism, God, Richard Dawkins
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  • Published : February 3, 2013
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ATHEISM

Atheism can be defined simply as ‘the absence of belief in gods’. There is, unfortunately, some disagreement about the definition of atheism. It is interesting to note that most of that disagreement comes from theists — atheists themselves tend to agree on what atheism means. Christians in particular dispute the definition used by atheists and insist that atheism means something very different. No claims or denials are made — an atheist is just a person who does not happen to be a theist. Sometimes this broader understanding is called "weak" or "implicit" atheism. Most good, complete dictionaries readily support this. There also exists a narrower sort of atheism, sometimes called "strong" or "explicit" atheism. With this type, the atheist explicitly denies the existence of any gods — making a strong claim which will deserve support at some point. Some atheists do this and others may do this with regards to certain specific gods but not with others. Thus, a person may lack belief in one god, but deny the existence of another god. Unfortunately, misunderstandings arise because many theists imagine that all atheists fit this most narrow, limited form of the concept of atheism. Reliance upon dishonest apologists and cheap dictionaries only exacerbates the problem. So, when someone identifies themselves as an atheist, all you can do is assume that they lack belief in the existence of any gods. You cannot assume that they deny any gods or some particular god. As a matter of fact, many exchanges between atheists and theists turn out to be frustrating and unsatisfactory because no one ever bothers to stop and explain what is meant by the key term "god." Unless and until that happens, no serious, productive, or rational discussion can take place. Unless we know what the theist means by "god," we'll never have any chance to judge if anything said in defense of belief is adequate. Only when we know what the theist means by "god," will we be able to seriously critique their concepts. Nietzsche spoke of the death of God, and the theme became a catch-phrase. Faith, hope and charity are based on a fact; a fact which includes the death of God and his victory over death. God is risen! What surprised the ancient world- and we too easily forget this-was not that God was dead, but that, once and for all, he had risen from the dead. For the Stoics the death and rebirth of God was a never-ending process. At the close of each great cosmic year everything was renewed; the eternal return ruled the cycle of birth and death. Weighed down with this monotony, ancient people sought a God who would die but once and thus accomplish the mystery of a true transcendence which would be impassible no longer because it had undergone real death. The theme of the death of God is not just another more modern name for the problem of atheism. But the juxtaposition of these two meanings is not without reason, for they are less alien to each other than a first glance would lead one to believe. The true atheist is the man for whom God is totally and finally dead. Nietzsche did not mean, as some erroneous interpretations would have it, that man killed god. He meant rather that god was already dead, despite men’s efforts to ignore the fact. He meant that men had killed god unwittingly, and that now, terrified by their act, they were seeking to forget it, refusing to take responsibility for it and continuing their lives as if nothing had happened. Thus, because of an act for which they repudiated the responsibility, men had become prey to a morbid sense of guilt. Atheism, guilt, resentment-these three are related in Nietzsche’s mind. We cannot afford to ignore this association if we wish to understand one of the essential elements in the denial of God. On the other hand, the theme of the death of god is no longer in the forefront of atheist thinking. To many it now seems as ridiculous to attempt to prove non-existence as the existence of god. For...
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