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About Atheism and Atheists:

Description of Atheism. US: Religion & nationalism

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Description of Atheism:

Atheism is not a religion in the sense that Christianity, Islam, and Judaism -- the three largest religions in North America --are. Conventional religions usually include a belief in the nature of deity, other theological beliefs, a moral code, religious rituals and sacraments, and a membership in a religious community. Rather, an Atheist's belief system is confined to one factor: the existence or non-existence of a deity. He or she will have a personal moral code. However, it would generally be derived from purely secular considerations, and will be unrelated to any religious texts. Typically, Atheists have few if any rituals, seasonal days of observance, and sacraments. Some belong to a religious group such as a Unitarian Universalist congregation or fellowship or an Ethical Culture Society.

Most Atheists have analyzed the available material evidence about deities (gods and/or goddesses) and have concluded that there is no real evidence of their existence. Many regard the concept of deity to be devoid of meaning. They generally believe that the universe, Earth and its life forms came into existence and evolved by perfectly natural processes. They see no evidence of intervention or guidance by a supernatural entity. Other Atheists are people who have simply never been exposed to belief in a deity or deities and therefore have no belief in them.

Atheists generally feel that ethical and moral systems governing human behavior can be developed without reference to any code of behavior of allegedly divine origin. One method to accomplish this is described by Sam Harris in his 2011 book "The Moral Landscape." 1

In ancient Greece, the term "Atheist" was used to refer to people who did not believe in the official pagan religion; i.e. unbelievers. "Atheism is derived from the Greek, atheos, and means simply 'away from the belief in a god or gods.' " 2 In ancient Rome, Christians and Jews were often called Atheists because they did not believe in the pantheon of Roman gods and goddesses.

Agnostics see no conclusive proof either of the existence or non-existence of god(s) or goddess(es). Until the term Agnosticism came into general usage during the 19th century, people who we now recognize as Agnostics were commonly lumped together with Atheists.

The Constitution of Texas, and those of a few other states -- as originally written -- allowed Atheists to be discriminated against in employment, jury selection, and public office. Fortunately for religious minorities, these sections of individual state Constitutions have been nullified by subsequent provisions in the federal Constitution. However, they remain included in the wording of the Constitution.

In North America, Atheists are:

bullet Not all Communists. However, many Communists are Atheists. Communism is primarily a political and economic belief system. Atheism is a type of religious belief. The two are not necessarily related.

bullet Not all Satanists. Most Satanists view themselves as Agnostics or Atheists; they look upon Satan as a symbol, not as a living entity with a personality.
 
bullet Not all secular Humanists. However, the vast majority of Humanists are Atheists.

bullet Not all homosexuals or bisexuals. However a small minority of people with a minority sexual orientation are Atheists.

bullet Not all anarchists. However, some anarchists are Atheists. Again, anarchism is a political belief system whereas Atheism is a type of religious belief.

The antonym of Atheism is Theism - belief in the existence of a deity. There are thousands of different forms of Theism, just as there are thousands of gods and goddesses that Theists believe in or have believed in. 

Atheists have always constituted a very small percentage of the population. However, the number of people who identify themselves as Atheists has grown rapidly in many countries including all predominately English speaking countries, particularly over the last few decades. This increase may have been partly caused by the decline of attendance at Sunday schools, and churches. It probably also reflects the general increase in secularism within society. Many Atheists who feel a need for spiritual discussion, fellowship in a religious community, and ritual join a congregation of the Unitarian-Universalist Association.

Madalyn Murray (later O'Hair), wrote an eloquent document used in the court case Murray v. Curlett, 1961-APR-27. It reads, in part: 

"An Atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An Atheist knows that heaven is something for which we should work now - here on earth - for all men together to enjoy. An Atheist thinks that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue, and enjoy it. An Atheist thinks that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment. Therefore, he seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist knows that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist knows that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life. He knows that we cannot rely on a god nor channel action into prayer nor hope for an end to troubles in the hereafter. He knows that we are our brother's keeper and keepers of our lives; that we are responsible persons, that the job is here and the time is now." 3

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Religion and nationalism in America

National feelings have become so integrated with religion in the United States that many people do not even consider an Atheist to be a true citizen. Some quotations: 4

bullet Chief spokesman for National office of the Boy Scouts of America: "...once a person admits to not believing in God, this raises the question of whether or not that person believes in America..." [The Boy Scouts reject Atheists as potential members and expel them where found]

bullet"The Boy Scouts of America maintain that no member can grow into the best kind of citizen without recognizing his obligation to God." Statement on the Boy Scouts of America membership form.

bullet "The recognition of God as the ruling and leading power in the universe and the grateful acknowledgment of His favors and blessings are necessary to the best type of citizenship..." Boy Scouts of America policy, 1970.

bullet "Who are beneficiaries of the Court's protection? Members of various minorities including criminals, Atheists, homosexuals, flag burners, illegal immigrants (including terrorists), convicts, and pornographers." US Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan, Address to the Heritage Foundation, 1996-FEB-29.

bullet"No, I don't know that Atheists should be considered as citizens, nor should they be considered as patriots. This is one nation under God." George H.W. Bush 5

bullet"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being." Jerry Falwell.

On the other hand, the U.S. Constitution guarantees religious freedom to all persons, including the right to be an Atheist:

bullet"The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least this: neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or remain away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief in any religion." U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, majority opinion; Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1 (1947) 6

bullet"No person can be punished for entertaining or professing religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or nonattendance." U.S. Supreme Court Justice Hugo Black, majority opinion; Everson v. Board of Education 330 U.S. 1 (1947) 6

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Book cover image Sam Harris, "The moral landscape: How science can determine human values," Free Press, (2011). Read hundreds of reviews and/or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store Available in hardcover ($17.81), Paperback ($10.20) and in Kindle eBook format ($13.92). The Kindle price is a ripoff by the publisher Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc. who set its price significantly higher than that of a paperback copy even though they do not have to print or ship the book.
  2. "Atheism," American Atheists, at: http://www.atheists.org/ 
  3. Liz Burcin, "American Atheists in Pennsylvania," at: http://www.geocities.com/
  4. "Atheist and Agnostic Quotes" at: http://www.math.unl.edu/
  5. "George Bush: Citizen's quote," at: http://bennyhills.fortunecity.com/
  6. "Supreme Court Cases: Emerson v. Board of Education, 1947," at: http://www.phschool.com/

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Copyright © 1996 to 2012, by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2012-AUG-12
Author: B.A. Robinson

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