A Brief History of Atheism Part IV
A Brief History of Atheism Part IV
Charles J. Hunsinger
Of Rome we think Romans, Centurions, and Caesars, constant war, slaves and Jesus Christ. Rome was more than that. She brought a great deal to humanity, with organizational genius, invention and philosophy. The day to day doings in Rome were not unlike what we would see in one of our own cities, but Rome, due to our Judeo-Christian heritage is, like many other things, a vilification of that which is not Christian or Jewish. Rome was founded in the 7th century BCE and collapsed in the 3rd century CE with the rise of Christianity. Greece fell to Rome during the Punic wars of the 2nd and 1st centuries BC
As far as the gods go Rome imported many of the Greek deities that were part of the proto-Indo-European pantheon of gods. Rome was very utilitarian though and gods were used to provide or promote a specific need. Other gods were left to fade away. But than; is that really any different than our current societal thinking? We too, no longer worship Isis, Zeus, Ra or the many Roman gods. They are left to fade. Are we not Atheists?
Rome had a population of about 3.5 million people. The city had opinion centers (free speech) where one could voice dissent, shopping centers, literature and art played important roles in daily society. Children were educated from the age of six (6), sports, such as handball and soccer were also an active part of the Roman society, indoor and outdoor entertainment were free. At this point Rome was a direct democracy, but only adult, male property owners could vote. The family was important in Roman society with the father, as head of the house.
Rome, like Greece, had a pantheon of gods, a god for almost everything. This, in itself, is quite interesting, as many of these gods were transformed under the Catholic Church, after its take over of Rome in the 3rd century CE, into saints of the Catholic Church. This was accomplished to appease and to accommodate the pagan beliefs of the new Catholics.
In terms of philosophical thought and one of the best to come from either, Greece or Rome was the Skepticism of Sextus Empiricus, 160 to 210 CE. Sextus asserted that nothing was really knowable and therefore judgment on all things should be suspended.
“Those who claim for themselves to judge the truth are bound to possess a criterion of truth. This criterion, then, either is without a judge's approval or has been approved. But if it is without approval, whence comes it that it is truthworthy? For no matter of dispute is to be trusted without judging. And, if it has been approved, that which approves it, in turn, either has been approved or has not been approved, and so on ad infinitum.” Acknowledgement to Wikipedia
It would hold then that faith in a god lacks any knowledge of existence or truth of existence. Simply to assert a truth, that a god exists is not a truth. That I believe a goat is a cow does not make it so, but then why do I call it so? What than makes the cow a cow? That I believe a god exists does not make it so.
Truth, I think, and it is a bit awkward to think that I can add to such an intellectual pursuit, can be best defined, as reason for the sake of reason without prejudice. As Sextus and too, later Hume would essentially assert that truth is unknowable is, I believe, almost true, as it would seem this claim of truth or knowledge by Sextus and Hume would fall into the same claim of truth, as the theist who claims a god.
Truth and the pursuit of truth is an inherent human mandate by virtue of our capacity to reason, predicated on our current and growing base of knowledge. Thunder, for example, is the anger of gods. No, thunder is caused by the super heated air of a lightning strike. Perhaps tomorrow, because we continue to search and to question we may find that thunder has a deeper cause, a truer cause.
Truth is reason for the sake of reason without prejudice. It is an evolutionary pursuit of knowledge, again, inherently mandated by our capacity to reason. It can be said, I think, that human reason is a contradiction to the natural (chaotic) order of the universe. It is only us, the reasoning being that asks the question and then proceeds to provide an answer, right or wrong. It is only us who pursues knowledge and then more knowledge. It is only us, the possessors of reason, who chase tomorrow in our unquenchable thirst for better.
That the Civil War happened and is a truth cannot be proven in a conversation, but that the doubter requests evidence of the assertion; it is then incumbent upon the asserter to provide that evidence. The doubter, with evidence in hand, verifies said evidence and then the conclusion—the Civil War did happen. It is a truth. But what of Sextus; who verified that evidence used to verify the original claim? Truth is a quest for that, which is most reasoned with evidence, until tomorrow.
So, from the great Roman Empire we get more critical thinking and more Atheistic thought. The thread of Atheistic continues, but the antiquity of Atheistic thinking is beginning to enter the New Age of Ignorance, The Age of Christian Domination. Before we enter that mystical realm of mandated ignorance, a brief look into, what is referred to as the Axial Age, 800 BCE to 200 BC, a turning point in human existence would be beneficial. It is that period of time that we have been discussing. I say that because I have received some very insightful and well thought responses, so it is a discussion and not a monologue. It may be of interest, as well, to spend some time on the Catholic (Christian) take over of the Roman Empire; just to get a perspective between the two philosophies of Atheism and theism.