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Godless: Negative View of Atheism As Old As Faith

Updated on January 8, 2012
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The word "godless" is generally defined as an individual who does not recognize a god or is without a god. In a society where atheism is an accepted alternative to the various faiths and lifestyles that recognize the existence of god in some form, we have to question if being godless is truly as negative as the word has always implied. Why is it so hard for those of us who believe in a god, goddess, or set of gods to understand someone who does not? A small step into the history of the world may help us to paint a clearer picture.

Ancient Cultures

From the first stirrings of human faith, beliefs, and superstitions, polytheism has existed. Although there may have been more ancient cultures that we do not have written accounts of, we do know of the relations to and understanding of gods as far back as the Sumerians. In terms of concepts of deity, the ancient cultures were very peaceful toward one another, even as they warred for other reasons. The main exclusion, of course, being against monotheistic faiths, which we will discuss in the next section.

How did such varied cultures maintain peace in terms of religious differences? It was the idea that each civilization and its people had their own gods. The Egyptians did not care that the Romans had different gods and traditions. The traditions were to appease a specific set of gods; different gods called for different traditions. Some households had patron gods, or a god that they honored above the others. However, the other gods of the pantheon were not denied. There were no disputes over who was right or wrong, as the Greek gods were the right gods for the Greeks and so on. When there was argument over right and wrong or who was better, it was one civilization against another, not against their gods.

To be godless in those times, then, would have meant you did not have a home or family. You were outcast not only from society but from the gods themselves. You were an orphan of sorts with no deities to guide and protect you. Being godless was not a matter of a difference in religion or spirituality. It was a statement of how removed from everyone else someone was. Being godless, then, was looked at either with pity or fear. The latter reaction because associating with someone the gods disown may make you lose favor in the gods' eyes as well.

Norse Gods Odin, Thor, and Frey
Norse Gods Odin, Thor, and Frey | Source

Monotheistic Battles

Monotheism of and by itself is not bad in the least. It actually began with the idea of peace and focus on individual families. Akhenaten was the first to introduce the idea of a single deity to the ancient world. In doing so, he took Egypt from a time of success and plenty and nearly destroyed it out of pure negligence to the duties of a pharaoh. Egyptians, then, did not take too kindly to those who belonged to a single god.

Akhenaten's failures aside, monotheism brought about a problem worse than being godless. It sent a loud message that there is only one god and that all others do not exist. This, of course, angered all the civilizations that had grown strong and were protected and favored by their sets of gods for more generations than they could count back to. To say their gods did not exist was to deny all the centuries of what they perceived to be evidence for the existence of their gods. Monotheistic faiths, then, were far more dangerous than associating with an individual or group of individuals who were godless.

The "only one god" belief became worse as monotheistic faiths clashed. They could all agree that only one god existed, but they could not agree that the god they revered was one and the same. As a result, they often battled against each other in the name of their gods so that they could declare the victor as the one and only true god. The understanding of each individual having their own gods was gone. Now, you either followed the one true god (as declared by whichever monotheistic faith was in charge at the time) or you were godless.

Is being "godless" a bad thing?

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Now What?

With a return of polytheistic thinking and the building of interfaith relations including monotheistic beliefs that were previously incompatible with different faiths, the term "godless" takes on more of the older meaning. To be godless has less to do with not following a specific god and more to do with the fact that an individual does not believe in or follow any gods. However, the term still carries the negative connotation. Atheists and many agnostics are looked down on for not having a god or set of gods. They are often excluded from interfaith talks and discussions, not so much from their own choice but because those who recognize and follow a god or gods fail to understand that "godless" does not mean "faithless." Only by recognizing this truth can the term "godless" lose the long-standing negativity that comes attached.

© 2012 Evylyn Rose

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    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Thanks for the comment and feedback, DFiduccia. :)

    • DFiduccia profile image

      DFiduccia 5 years ago from Las Vegas

      This is a good presentation on the intricacies of our various belief systems, and the resulting confusion in social interactions of our diverse cultures.

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      Perspycacious, thank you for the comment and vote!

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 5 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Interesting read and helpful thinking. Up/Interesting.

    • Evylyn Rose profile image
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      Evylyn Rose 5 years ago from Colorado, USA

      secularist - My thoughts exactly! Having an atheist brother and several friends and relatives who are either atheist or agnostic, I have been forced to examine my feelings on the matter. For me, the thought of no deity is contradictory to every experience I've had and observation I've made. However, those same experiences and observations by others has led to the conclusion that there is no deity. It's mind-boggling for both sides. Luckily, the experience has taught me that even in the absence of faith in a god has in no way led to an absence in morals, meaning, and direction.

      hawkdad - Considering that religion is nothing more than a value system and way of life centered around a theology, there is nothing to say that one cannot have a value system and way of life without the theology. I have not read that book but it sounds fascinating! Thanks for the suggestion.

      T B - Great points! I have also met self-proclaimed atheists who, with deeper observation, appear to be more upset by religion than with the concept of god. These individuals often remind me of many of the "fluffy" Wiccans who come to our faith because it is so different from what they were raised with. They either will stick around for awhile without actually learning or doing anything, or they leave before ever gaining any real understanding of what they thought they were practicing. Then they return to their former faiths. In such cases, it's generally a matter of individuals who had bad experiences or were part of a religion that was right for them, but not the right denomination or congregation.

      That said, many atheists, although they do share the same disdain for some religions, truly do not believe in any god or set of gods. To them, the idea of some supreme being or even a superhuman being simply sounds like a folly to them. Not all are just angry at religions. Some truly believe (or in this case, do not believe) exactly what they claim to.

    • T B DeForge profile image

      T B DeForge 5 years ago

      Here's a thought from an long time open minded monotheist. Faiths and Ideologies are so close they often cross over. A faith seeks, examines, and lives truth in as much as we can understand it. An Ideology creates its own truth and defends it to death, war and embitterment.

      I find no reason to believe there isn't one god, only a bad history of most monotheistic faiths. I do not condemn the atheists, but I do not agree with most of them either. I've had a lot of interesting discussions, and the general feel I get from most atheists and agnostic's I've met is that they are less concerned with believing in a god than with the idea of belonging to a faith (or ideology as I would refer to them in this context) with the potential for violence, contention, and immorality much graver than the morality it encourages.

    • hawkdad73 profile image

      hawkdad73 5 years ago from Riverside, Iowa

      Evylyn,

      I think you summed it up when you said that godless doesn't mean faithless. A long time Christian, I found myself agnostic and now would label myself (if I have to) an atheist. It was much easier for me to say this as I realized that I do not have to have religion to be moral and have ethics.

      Have you read Davis's 'Don't Know Much About Mythology'? I think you would find it fascinating; it talks about how religions and such have evolved over the centuries.

      Great hub.

    • secularist10 profile image

      secularist10 5 years ago from New York City

      Very interesting article. Today, the two main problems most believers have are morality and purpose. They cannot imagine that morality is possible, or that life has any larger meaning or purpose, in the absence of a god.

      As long as someone believes in some kind supernatural force, they may believe in something greater than themselves. But a truly godless person with no interest in the supernatural is dangerous and bizarre to them because they do not seem to have a basic source for morality, purpose or meaning.

      As a result, it is often assumed that the godless must be totally self-centered, amoral, directionless and nihilistic. People can accept different gods and different versions of divine truth, but to do away with the supernatural altogether is a step too far. This helps to explain why polls indicate that of all "nontraditional" groups (women, blacks, gays, etc), Americans are least likely to vote for an atheist for president.