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What is Atheism?

Updated on December 26, 2016

Atheism, denial of the existence of a god. A sect is very apt to charge its opponents with atheism merely because their doctrines are not understood. Thus Xenophanes, who rejected the gods of the popular Greek religion, incurred the charge of atheism, though his attitude was almost monotheistic. Socrates, too, was charged with atheism because he did not believe in the gods that the city worshipped. The early Christians were called atheists by the Romans, because they denied their gods and were at variance even with Judaism. Philosophic atheism fails to find evidence of a god manifest in the universe. In Greece positive atheists were the followers of Democritus, Leucippus, and the materialistic schools. In Rome there were very many sceptics but very few atheists. Lucretius was unique, standing apart from his age. His book De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things) is one of the most fervent denials of the divine ever permed. 'Gods' there are, but these 'gods' are not immortal, according to Lucretius, but only beings endowed with a happier and longer life than ordinary mortals. Lucretius had no followers in Rome, and his book was ignored for many generations.


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