Atheism definition Study Sections

    Atheism (french athyisme from Greek – without god, atheism) – denial of God (gods). Since no assertion is necessarily associated with negation, the concept of “atheism” can be meaningfully determined only in a concrete historical manner. In different contexts, atheism can denote heterogeneous phenomena: religious free-thinking (free-thinking); the doubt that God can be known (religious agnosticism), a categorical denial of the existence of God (radical atheism). Like every denial, atheism depends on the object of negation, that is, theism, which also appears in various forms: polytheism, genoteism, monotheism, pantheism and deism. Atheism in itself already therefore does not exist. As a “criticism” of religion, atheism is not necessarily its rejection, but rather an explanation of the entire religious history of mankind; it is represented in a variety of forms, due to changes in the historical and cultural context. As a sociocultural phenomenon, atheism is determined not only by the object of negation, i.e. religion, but also by the totality of factors of social life and acts predominantly in the forms of secular consciousness – philosophical, scientific, political, etc.

    In the ancient era, atheists called those who did not recognize the gods of official worship. So, Socrates was accused of atheism, because he worshiped his deity, and not the gods “state.” The first Christians in Rome were also accused of atheism, since the biblical monotheism abolished the god in his former polytheistic understanding, the god of the plural and as a god of “something” – state, city, class, labor or natural phenomenon. The pagan consciousness did not perceive the biblical God as one, over all standing and all guiding force, it was incapable of seeing the humanized Christian God, to see God in Judah Jesus of Nazareth. It is no accident that in the Nicene Creed, adepts of polytheistic cults are regarded as atheists (Eph. 2:12): they do not know God and worship “man-made gods,” idols. Godlessness in the epoch of antiquity is represented by the mythological figure of the “wicked one” who does not respect God and violates the will of the “God-fighter”, for example, in the image of a “cultural hero” who conveys to people what belongs to the gods, in general showing self-will: “The fool in his heart : “There is no God” (Psalm 13: 1).

    Those who said so were atheists, those who “perverted, did evil deeds”, among them “there is no one who does good.” Atheism, thus, acquires an “evaluation” character: atheism is presented as a charge. Naturally, not all those who were called atheists were such in their own understanding. Socrates’ answer to the charge of atheism was this: if I am atheist, then I did not introduce new deities, and if I introduced new deities, then I’m not atheist. Dosokratiki-natural philosophers did not realize themselves as atheists, but with tzr. traditional mythological consciousness, they were such as they explained the universe not mythologically, but through material elements (although they were endowed with attributes of omnipotence, omnipresence, eternity and even animate). In Ancient Greece, some philosophers from the pre-Socratics, and first of all Democritus, sophists (Protagoras, Gorgias), Epicurus and his school, early cynics and skeptics represented atheism as a conscious position. In the cultural lexicon of the early Middle Ages, there was no place for atheism. While the symbolic system of dogmatic Christian monotheism dominated the medieval cosmos and served as the only cultural matrix, dissent was closed within theism: the true religion was opposed to “false” orthodoxy – heresies. When the mind was admitted to the knowledge of God (Anselm of Canterbury, Thomas Aquinas), godlessness appeared as a denial of the existence of God as the “first, rational and insubstantial cause” of the created being, and moreover as a greater, in comparison with idolatry, evil: “Since the latter leaves the existence of virtues, which, on the contrary, do not exist in the system of godlessness, and are useless.”

    The decisive factors that determined the content and function of atheism in the Modern Age were the birth of science and the formation of civil society. The problem of atheism in the sociocultural context of the post-medieval civilization was set in new ways and included two main questions: first, whether the scientific picture of the world leaves a place for God, and secondly, on the political and ethical implications of faith in the Christian God, about how this faith relates to human freedom and responsibility.

    The criticism of religion focuses on the problem: what role does religion play in society and whether it can exist without religion. P. Beil first admits the possibility of a moral society consisting entirely of atheists; F.Volter, on the contrary, assures that without religion a social order is impossible. Political atheism marks the revolution of 1789. But still, the “enlightened man” can be not only an explicit atheist, but also a deist or agnostic. It is important that religion does not contradict reason, it is “natural”, it corresponds to human nature.

    The growth of the influence of atheism in the Age of Enlightenment was due not only to social and political factors. The significant role played by the emergence of a mechanistic picture of the world. Christian theism was transformed into deism, preserving God as the first principle, but denying its interference in what is happening in nature and society. Coupled with materialism, mechanism led to the radical atheism of the French materialists of the 18th century.

    In Germany, the overcoming of deism went differently. In the critical philosophy of I. Kant, in the philosophy of history of I.G.Gerder, in Spinoza’s pantheism of F. Schleiermacher and I.V. Goethe, it was not a question of denying God, but of how to understand it. IGFichte in the “Dispute about Atheism” (1798) identifies God with the moral order of the world. In early Romanticism, in Schleiermacher, God becomes an experience of the human soul, a sense of the presence of the Eternal, the inclusion of the individual in the Whole. While classical romanticism and German idealism (FW Schelling) return to philosophically interpreted theism, atheism finds its way underfoot in the new philosophical currents – in A. Schopenhauer and L. Feuerbach. In the first case, this is philosophical irrationalism, in the second – materialistic anthropology. After Feuerbach, Marx also argued that it was not God who created man, but a man of God. However, Marx offers a different view of religion: since a person should be viewed not as a natural, but as a social being, religion is an illusory consciousness, but not because it distorts the world, but because it reflects an underworld that is yet to be realized solve the problem of “human emancipation”, overcome alienation in all forms, including religious.

    Parallel to Marxism, positivism (Comte, Spencer) also regards religion as a social phenomenon. In the 19th century. is widely spread science-oriented atheism, based primarily on biology, Darwinism. He appears in various forms: vulgar materialism (Buchner, Focht), agnosticism (Huxley), monism (Haeckel). In all its forms, the atheism of this time was associated with the unevenly evolving process of the modernization of European society, with the process of secularization that had also affected the spiritual sphere, which began with a “reassessment of values,” including Christian morality (Nietzsche).

    In the 20th century. Atheism develops, on the one hand, in the context of existentialism: the person’s freedom and courage to be himself in the face of depersonalizing, depriving the meaning of his life forces – this is the line of development of atheistic thought from F. Nietzsche to J.-P. Sartre and A. Camou. On the other hand, in dialectical materialism, atheism becomes an integral part of communist ideology, state doctrine; becomes an antithesis, a means of opposing ideological dissent in a religious form. By discrediting atheism in the public consciousness, the militant antithesis contributed to the fact that the spiritual resistance to totalitarianism was largely channeled into the mainstream of religious revival (not only in post-Soviet Russia, but also in other countries of the former socialist camp).

    In modern studies, the phenomenon of atheism is represented in many ways – both in time, with the identification of historical stages and forms of manifestation, and typologically. It is accepted to distinguish between practical and theoretical atheism, and within the framework of the latter – scientific, humanistic and political. With all the conventionality of this typology, it has a certain cognitive value. The most common type of atheism is the belief that in the world, as it appears in the scientific picture of nature and society, there is no room for God; the development of science abolishes God as a scientific, sociological and philosophical hypothesis. Atheism of this type is represented by a materialistic world view (Lametrie, Holbach, Feuerbach, Marx) and “methodological atheism”, ie. as a principle of scientific explanation of the world from himself (I can illustrate Laplace’s words that he did not need a reference to God for building a cosmogonic theory). In a relaxed form, this position is presented as an agnostic by Huxley, who distances himself from both theism and atheism, since the very word “god” from his point of view has no reasonable meaning.

    Similarly, neopositivists believe that statements that affirm and deny the existence of God are equally unverifiable (Carnap, Schlick). The question of whether science leaves room for faith in God remains open and is solved in different ways, but in any case, as a way of knowing and explaining the world, science replaces religion. Atheism of another type is based on the perception of the world, within which man acts as the creator of himself and his history. It can be the perception of the world as rationally ordered and self-sufficient, in which man, with the help of reason, relying on science, solves the problems of his being, which can not be solved by faith in God (Russell B. Why I am not a Christian, 1957). But atheism can be based on the experience of imperfection of the world and the denial of God in view of the evil that reigns in the world. A person either takes on the task of organizing the world, considering it to be principally achievable on the paths of scientific and social progress (an optimistic-humanistic option), or chooses as the only worthy position a heroic opposition to the world of absurdity, the meaning of which is the acquisition of freedom by man.

    The content of atheism is the drama of the liberation of man from the power of God: a man must be freed from it to become free and take his destiny into his own hands (Nietzsche); if there is a God, there is no man (Sartre, Camus); belief in the divine legislator denies ethical freedom, is incompatible with the ethic of values(N.Gartman); the problem of atheistic existentialism is the problem of man’s self-realization, overcoming his “homelessness and orphanhood” (Heidegger). Refusal of God is the price of human freedom.

    At the source of this type of atheism stands Marx’s concept of “human emancipation” by overcoming alienation. The assertion of man, according to Marx, is not achieved by denying God (as in Feuerbach), but by eliminating the socioeconomic foundations of alienation in all forms, including religious ones. Program atheism, from the point of view of Marx, is unacceptable for the socialist movement: political atheism exhausts itself with the solution of the task of “political emancipation” in bourgeois revolutions, where the modern system of political power is asserted (the rule of law, human rights, etc.).

    In consciousness, for which the negation of God loses any serious significance, atheism gives way to atheism, i.e. religious indifference, and irreligion. Consciousness of this type is formed in those areas of activity that become autonomous in relation to religion; for example, science explains the phenomena studied by it as if there were no God, leaving the question of God beyond its competence, that is, not turning methodological atheism into a worldview. In this consciousness, it is found that, together with theism, it loses its meaning and atheism in the proper sense of the word, as a denial of God. It turns out that the mechanisms developed by culture, ways of satisfying human needs, developing values, regulating behavior, etc. far exceed the limits indicated by the opposition “theism – atheism”, and these concepts themselves are gradually “dissolved” in the notion of culture.

    Tags: Greek Philosophy
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