(Musings in response to a Philosophy class)
Crudely defined, the term ‘atheism’ refers to a disbelief in God. This disbelief is actually not restricted to God per se, but instead to any specific deity. However, as per running popular theory, the deity mentioned is attributed to be God.
Atheism usually had negative connotations attached to it, the most common including that of being looked down upon and condemned to impiety by the religious sect – the people of faith. Faith, however, is a very broad term.
Philosophically speaking, faith holds no value, simply because it is based on mere assumptions and beliefs and not facts and reasoning, which is what philosophy is about. Be it the Romans’ belief in the god Jupiter, Zeus as the god of the ancient Greeks, the Hindu god called Vishnu or the Muslim terminology of calling god Allah, all of these have some attributes in common. While the names and even the forms may differ, all these gods signify a higher being or entity that is all-knowing, all-merciful and the likes. The question, however, is one of ‘why’ and ‘how’. Why do blindly accept the powers and attributes we attach to these deities, and how do we justify this blind faith?
Theists say that belief in God does not require any justifications because it is a matter of faith, and faith is beyond any justifications. Such are the people who condemn atheism by labelling themselves as ‘people of faith’ and thus putting atheists in a category outside of it.
Can atheism be a ‘faith’? That becomes the question. Atheists, unlike theists, reject the claim that there is a supernatural being. They believe in what can be seen and proven, and while neither of those apply to the proposition that there is an existing God, they reject it on these grounds. So then, how is this faith? In a somewhat ironic play on things, both the theist and the atheist approach stays somewhat withing the parameters of faith. Both of them are based on blind faith – theists cannot prove that God exists, and atheists cannot prove that God doesn’t exist. Indeed, both these approaches lack a rational approach. Just because something cannot be proven doesn’t mean it does exist, and just because something cannot be proven doesn’t mean it does not exist. When putting it like that, both approaches seem eerily similar.
Why, then, do we condemn atheism?
Atheists reject the concept of a God by saying that is God is benevolent and merciful, then why is there so much hardship and suffering in the world? Why do natural disasters occur? They also reject the theist approach because it serves as a missing piece of information for where there isn’t any to explain a certain event, and all they say is to not factor in God as the only answer when there can be alternative ones. This approach is a somewhat logical one, because it is based on rational thinking. Does this not make atheism as something to not be looked down upon then?
Then again, Holy Books and scriptures serve as maybe not concrete proof, but still substantial enough proof for the existence of a Supreme Being. Factoring in miracles and unexplained phenomenon and the belief starts to gain more weight. This, then, makes atheists sinners because they reject the concrete proofs present in front of then regarding God’s existence.
The purpose of this piece has not been to glorify or vilify atheism. The purpose here is to try and look at the similarities between the theist and the atheist approach to faith (and broadly, religion), the approaches atheists use in believing what they do believe, and then using those to see where they stand as far as moral judgement goes. As a philosophical approach, atheism cannot be labelled as something wrong without looking at it rationally, instead of emotionally which seems to be the case. This opens up new avenues in the question on the morality and righteousness of atheism, and the debate on whether they are saints or sinners is still open-ended.