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What Is Atheism?

Updated on July 8, 2011

Updated July 19, 2010

In the Beginning...

Many people are confused about modern atheism these days and the broad range of views that it actually represents. The earliest atheists started out with a genuine scientific skepticism. They were unorganized individuals who simply did not believe that God (in any form) existed. I think that the general feeling among atheists was that since the existence of God could not be scientifically proven to their satisfaction, that it was unlikely that God actually existed. They likely had nothing "against" God (or his followers). They simply didn't believe that he existed, much in the same way that most Christians don't believe in the existence of Bigfoot or Alien Abductions.

Many still fall into this category of "original" atheists today. These tend to be people who don't really talk about religion, because they don't have much of an opinion on the subject or find it to be something relevant to their lives. Most have never spent any serious time researching the matter to the point of being 100% convinced either way in their beliefs. For most, it is simply much easier (and in some circles, much more socially acceptable) to claim to be an atheist than it would be to explain their beliefs/un-beliefs in any type of religion. In modern western society, one doesn't usually question the beliefs of an atheist, while those who "believe" in a religion are often needled for information as to why they hold their beliefs.

A typical outdoor sign promoting atheism.
A typical outdoor sign promoting atheism.

Atheism In Your Face

Over the past 1-2 decades some of the more "visible" atheist groups have become much more organized and are actually seeking out publicity to spread their message, where it used to be that atheism was a belief that one usually kept to themselves.

Atheists often claim to be discriminated against when it comes to obtaining jobs, and in other situations. However, I am unaware of any specific laws that protect one's right to a "lack" of belief insofar as discrimination goes. If you are aware of any, please add links to our comments section, so that we can follow-up.

"Separation of Church and State"

Many atheists in these groups have not only rejected the possible existence of God, but also find the very use of his name or likeness in any public manner as being offensive to their "beliefs".

This seems to be especially true when any type of public funding is involved. Thus, it is common nowadays to see organized atheists suing small cities, towns, counties, school districts, etc. for merely mentioning the word "Christmas", erecting Christmas trees or (gasp!) displaying a manger scene during the holidays. In a very real sense, mainstream atheism has now become a belief system (or perhaps even a religion) unto itself.

The goal of these highly visible, organized atheists groups in the United States seems to be the complete separation of "church and state", as they interpret it. Although the phrase "separation of church and state", is not actually used anywhere in the United States Constitution or Bill of Rights, it seems to be the goal of these newly visible groups to eliminate any mention of God or Christianity that may be present in government, at any level. Some of the many complaints that Atheists groups have brought up in the past, and would like to see changed are:

1. Removing any mention of God on U.S. currency. Currently, the term "In God We Trust" is imprinted on some American coinage.

2. Ending the requirement (in some states) for people to swear "on a Bible" in court when they are placed under oath to testify. This has led to a change of procedures in many individual states, which no longer include bibles in the court room.

3. The removal of any mention or depiction of God from government owned buildings.

4. Ending displays of the Ten Commandments in courthouses and public places.

5. Eliminating traditional prayers invoked at any type of official government function.

6. Elimination of non-profit status for religious organizations.

7. Changing lyrics to patriotic songs and the original text of the pledge of allegiance to omit any mention of God.

8. Ending any public displays that point out the religious meaning behind holidays such as Christmas and Easter.

9. Ending all prayer in schools, as well as restricting school clubs on campus that have anything to do with religion.

10. Banning any clothing (t-shirts, etc.) or jewelry in public schools that depicts religious symbols or quotations.

The most radical fringe of the modern Atheist movement goes even one step further. Led on by Hollywood celebrities like Bill Mahr, these people seem to want to not only ridicule those who believe in God, but blame them for almost every negative facet of human behavior throughout the world's history. They seem to not only reject the existence of God, but view anyone who believes in any form of God as bring either evil or incompetent. This may not be Atheism in its original form, but it is quickly becoming a more and more visible part of the movement. See the recent Bill Mahr movie "Religious" for an example of what I'm talking about.

If you want a textbook definition of Atheism, it would simply be a person who does not believe in the existence of God. Some do not believe in God due to the lack of what they honestly believe to be tangible scientific evidence. Others don't really seem to care about the science. They simply "believe" (have faith?) that no such entity as God exists. The latter group would technically fall into the category of its own religion, since it is simply based on a belief system, rather than being open to any type of future scientific evidence of God's existence that may be found in the future. These groups would probably be more accurately labeled as simply being "anti-God" believers than Atheists, but since they label themselves as such, it's a rather blurry line to define.

My intention here is not to criticize any of the parties I am mentioning. I am just trying to define them to the best of my ability. Atheism is an evolving movement, religion, or whatever you care to define it as. Therefore, any definition of it must be purposefully flexible in nature.

One of many organized Atheist groups
One of many organized Atheist groups

Who's In Charge?

There are a few, large organizations that claim to represent Atheists, of which I've included some links to below. Whether or not these groups actually reflect the views of the majority of Atheists or not is questionable, since Atheism itself seems more geared towards those who consider themselves independent thinkers. Getting a large group of independent thinkers to agree on anything has rarely proven to be successful. Thus, I would not consider any of these organizations, or their manifestos, to represent the true beliefs of a majority of self-declared Atheists

What's All The Fuss About?

Shortly after I finished publishing this hub, I started getting feedback that refuted some of what I wrote. You can find some of these posts and their responses below.

What really intrigues me about the particular topic of Atheism is how controversial and emotion provoking it is for a great number of people, especially Atheists themselves. Atheism seems to have many similarities to religion itself, especially when it comes to how personally people seem to take it and the divergence of views within.

Things That Anger Atheists

Copies of the Ten Commandments on Public Display
Copies of the Ten Commandments on Public Display
God is mentioned by name on the U.S. $1 bill.
God is mentioned by name on the U.S. $1 bill.

More "Sign Wars"

Atheism billboard ad on a public bus.
Atheism billboard ad on a public bus.
A fair trade-off?
A fair trade-off?

Bill Maher

Bill Maher's latest movie promotes Atheism using comedy as its backdrop.
Bill Maher's latest movie promotes Atheism using comedy as its backdrop.

"Religious" Movie Trailer


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