Posted Wednesday, July 3 2013 at 01:00
“Atheism” is a word that presupposes what it contradicts. Like the word “atypical”, it can only be defined by explaining what it is not. “Atheist” simply means “not a theist”, which begs the question: What is a theist? Well, a theist is a believer in God or gods.
Atheism, therefore, concerns unbelief in gods. Most people today manage to worship or trust one God, forsaking and disbelieving in all the other thousands of gods that have been worshipped by human beings since the earliest forms of writing appeared.
Atheism, therefore, is about as much a religion as celibacy is a sexual position. Since it is not a religion or sect, not all believe in similar things. There are many different forms of scepticism, disbelief, and atheism, so it is hard to speak of atheism as a single entity.
Non-believers do not have a guiding doctrine or book, they do not meet and rationalise and praise evolution and Carl Sagan. And not all are without religion. For example, Buddhism is an atheistic religion. All Buddhists are atheists, but not all atheists are Buddhist.
Public atheism is a recent luxury of the secular age. Throughout the ages, a disavowal of whatever local god your community worshipped was met with ostracism and even death. In the past, religious belief was deeply intertwined with political power, so to doubt the local religion was considered an act of sedition.
The king used to rule by divine right, so if you doubted a god’s existence you would be denying the king his right to rule. That is why atheism, if it was there in many traditional societies, had to be hushed up. To stand up and claim in traditional African society that witchcraft was not real was to identify yourself as a witch. Only a witch would try and make others less wary of their charms.