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There are so many questions than answers provided to understanding the whole universe. Some people turn to those that supposedly to have the answers, such as our family members, people with higher authority, or someone greater than us. On the other hand, others tend to let the questions be and live life unanswered, since that is the way of life and life is vast and unpredictable. As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. Even some, find the answers for themselves in the most discreet and controversial way as possible. One for instance is criticizing the existence of an all-powerful God. Devout believers might counter argue this notion by stating what’s written in the “Good Book” that anyone who claims ‘There is No God’ is described as a fool (Ps. 14:1, New King James Version).
That might be plausible for many creationists or believers in intelligent design; however, majority of skeptics would argue: Well if God is all-powerful and knowing, why could not HE prevent all the malicious acts that man devised since the dawn of time such as genocide, rape, murder, racism, and the like? Does God even exist? Where does God play during the basic scientific fundamentals of existence? How can HE save all people and give us life when people keep on dying every day by disease or get murdered by other people who praise HIS name? Questions mentioned here can make a person turn into a nonbeliever towards the existence of an omnipotent deity, and that is one of the mentalities of atheists. In short, atheism is the lack of belief that there is no such thing as God or gods. Majority of places such as the United States of America and Europe are highly non-religious or have no interest with piety. During the Industrial Age, Freethinkers were on the rise to preach that man and technology are in charge of the world rather than the hands of God. The most significant year of atheism was around the nineteenth century or during the time of the Industrial Age, along with the aftermath of World War I and World War II. Brilliant minds during that time were booming with the age of technology: the invention of the light bulb, automobiles, AC/DC electricity, and the like was all the rage to the public masses. Although religion in the nineteenth century was still important, the majority of people even doubted and withdrew their own faith for many intellectuals.
A climate for both intellectual and religious was already changing by the beginning of the 1800s. Nowadays, atheism is considered commonplace in our society. Well-known physicist, Stephen Hawking, and other popular celebrities and consider the existence of God as invalid, comparing the Bible with that of a fable. The bigger issue is how atheism in the 19th century went from a radical organization to an acceptable, commonplace lifestyle today? How did atheism rise to power? What was the cause and the effect through the course of history? And how does atheism relate us right now socially, individually and in our youth?
Well to start off first, where did atheism or any form of anti-religious activity originate from? Historical timelines may vary. Although Hinduism, for instance, is considered to be a Theistic religion, the Carvaka school was perhaps the most irreligious and materialistic school of philosophy in India. Originated in India circa 6th century BC, the understanding of Carvaka philosophy is inconsistent and it is not considered part of the six orthodox schools of Hinduism; however, it notably rejected the doctrine of Vedas and denied the notion of a creationist god or an afterlife.
Around the same century in Ancient Greece, atheism also has its roots in pre-Socratic Greek philosophy, especially Thales, Anaximander and Anaximenes, the Milesian philosophers since they were the first to renounce mythological accounts for rational, naturalistic ones, and introduced the then revolutionary idea that nature could be understood as a self-contained system – the basic origins of science. One of the first notable anti-religious figures was Diagoras ‘the Atheist’ of Melos circa 5th Century B.C. He was one of the sophists who highly speaks out against ancient Athenian Religion by chopping up the wooden statue of Heracles into pieces and burning it to make his lentils just to reveal the secrets of the Eleusinian Mysteries. As a result, the Athenians banished Diagoras of Melos from his sacrilege and later lived and died in Corinth; however, nobody followed him during his banishment or even succeeded in what he believed in. Usually, when someone goes against the flow of what the majority follows, some either despise the person who committed against what was supposed to be followed, while others tend to follow the one who is the non-conformist just out of curiosity. The concern was to the reason why atheism during the ancient civilizations were not as commonplace as that of modern era? Well, since the dawn of time, it was religion that gave us purpose, how life was made. Religion taught us to be united as if compared to one person and this is what separates man from the animals, as well as choose to become a better person or better network.
Unfortunately, religion became dominant and controversial as time forward to the Medieval Period. So controversial enough that it labeled Christianity, for example, from a spiritual peace-making group in the First Century to a murderous, blood-thirsty organization throughout the dark ages. The union between church and state was something to be feared and as soon as the megalomania of Christianity became widespread throughout Europe and the Middle East, the inhumane activities even followed along that it slowly became too uncomfortable for followers to continue. The Spanish Inquisition were known for religious brutalities on heretics or people who chose not to unite under Papal order, slaughtering thousands of people in Spain and its colonies while arresting an endless amount from 1478 until 1834 and their reason was to eliminate heresy to its core, and that time, it tolerable to hunt after infants and even entire families. All those who opposed religious doctrines against the Catholic Church by any means would be banished from their own hometown and veered as a heretic, or worse be killed because of such impieties. Another reason for the Inquisition, which had minimal or none to do with the sincerity of conversions. Once Jews converted to Christianity they had an open access to the playing field, economically and politically. And, of course, they prospered mightily. That engendered a lot of hostility from the Western Christians – a pattern we have seen in Jewish history ever since the enslavement of the Israelites by the Egyptians.
Even religion gave birth to horrible events such as the Crusader War where Templar crusaders fought against the Muslims in order to claim the Holy Land, Jerusalem. During the time, the Muslims were very tolerant towards Christians and Jews, whom they permitted to pray and worship. All minorities co-existing in the Holy Land benefited equally from this atmosphere of tranquility, created by the moral code of Islam. Unfortunately, since the means of communication at the time were poorly primitive compared to today’s, medieval Europeans were not aware of this. Western Europe knew little about the Eastern Orthodox Church or the Greek-speaking Byzantium, and even less so about Muslims, since they owed allegiance to the Roman Papacy and performing Latin services.
In 1099, the crusaders eventually reached Jerusalem after plundering and inflaming many settlements and killing countless Muslims by the sword. The city of Jerusalem fell after a five week siege. According to one of the historians, as soon as the victors finally entered Jerusalem, “They killed all the Saracens and the Turks they found… whether male of female”. Crusaders slaughtered everyone they met and looted everything they could get their hands on. They murdered frantically those who had taken refuge in the mosques, whether young or old, and devastated the Muslim and Jewish holy sites and burned places of worship setting the city’s synagogues, burning alive Jews who had hidden inside. This slaughter remain until no longer could the Crusaders could not find anyone to kill.
Not only did religion gave internal strife between Christianity and Islam in the Medieval Period, but also in the present day since western civilization always politically and socially veer at Muslims back and forth. Even religion during the dark ages, regressed all forms of basic knowledge and learning for their so-called holy devotion. For instance, the sole purpose the Catholic Church rejected the teaching of heliocentrism as a fact was that it was conflicting to the science of the time. Amongst the modern myths about early science is the persistent idea that the opposition to heliocentrism was one of ‘science’ versus ‘religion’. According to this story, early modern astronomers like Copernicus and Galileo ‘proved’ the earth went around the sun and the other scientists of the time agreed; however, the Catholic Church clung to a literal interpretation of the Bible and rejected this idea purely out of a fanatical faith, insisting that the earth had to be the centre of the cosmos because man was the pinnacle of all creation. What the church believes in back then, was the Earth being the center of the universe since it was the planet whom God made and loved, however, many philosophers and scholars opposed that belief from the Church and realized that it was the Sun that was the center of the universe which was coined to Heliocentric Cycle, or in-present Solar System. Unfortunately, this study on the universe became radical for the Church that they excommunicated, and/or even executed those who go against what the Church commands. Anyone who teaches any form of doctrine, whether heretical or non-religious, that goes against the Church will most likely to end up in execution.
So what gave rise to Atheism? Surprisingly, within the rise of both Renaissance and the Enlightenment Period, the majority of people slowly drove away religious tolerance from public interests and continued to focus on what things make sense on Earth as well as the universe, as opposed to the Heavenly divine. Humanism and Mathematics slowly proceeded to become dominant over religious doctrine and Humanism turned into the main subject of education in the 1500s, so popular that it was dividing into a range of sub-developments. As perfected texts passed to other specialists, such as mathematicians and scientists, the recipients also became Humanist thinkers.
On the other hand, this does not mean that they were still free from religious control. Although many artists, philosophers and other brilliant minds were still focusing on fundamental studies of science, they still had to incorporate God and the Heavenly order along with it in order to comply with Church and State. It was during the time of the Enlightenment Era, philosophers like Denis Diderot who was born to a family well-known for their church network, but became an atheist later in life. His early works such as Pensées Philosophiques (Philosophical Thoughts, 1746) and Promenade du Sceptique (The Skeptic’s Walk, 1747), already established his concern for the question of religion, albeit from a deistic rather than atheistic matter. Even Diderot questions Christianity’s integrity and as a result, his work was condemned by the parliament in Paris and ordered to be burned. Early Presidents of the United States during the Colonial Era like Thomas Jefferson, believed in a deistic or “watchmaker” type of divinity. These were the beliefs of many of America’s founders who edited his Bible to references to miracles and other supernaturalism. In 1803, Jefferson reexamined his own beliefs and expressed a renewed interest in Christianity by patching together a short comparison of various religions and philosophies, including Christianity. This document is generally referred to as the Syllabus. He noted, “The day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the Supreme Being as his father, in the womb of a virgin, will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter”. As time progressed from the Enlightenment Era up to the early 1800s, the majority of people were slowly delving away from religion that they want to make church and state separate.
Published in 1859, Charles Darwin’s Origin of Species turned to be the most prominent publication of the nineteenth century. Darwin’s work illustrated evolution by natural selection over millions of years and confirmed what many had suspected, that the origin of creation written in the book of Genesis was invalid. The result of the Darwin’s novel made the majority of people become agnostics when they learnt how life on earth evolved and actualized that there was no need for a deity to have created it and that Earth and all the life forms on it were not created in six days, though others continued to prefer the biblical texts. The rise of Freethinkers was flourishing the brand new ideas of human independence. “Freethinker” is a prominent term only in the nineteenth century, to label those who reject authority in matters of belief, especially political and religious beliefs which was popular at that time and is still used in different languages in some European countries by non-religious organizations. In the late 1800s, the Golden Age of Freethought came into the USA. Established in 1876, the National Liberal League reigned dominant in Philadelphia. This group re-formed itself in 1885 as the American Secular Union under the leadership of the eminent agnostic orator Robert G. Ingersoll. Known as the Great Agnostic, Ingersoll was a prominent attorney and influential at the highest level of politics. “If by any possibility the existence of a power superior to, and independent of, nature should be demonstrated, there will be time enough to kneel,” he stated. “Until then let us stand erect”. After his death in 1899 the organization dwindled, in part due to lack of effective leadership (Wikipedia). Not only atheism were the ones that showed their true colors in the 1800s, but also another group known as agonistics. While atheists clearly reject the idea that God or a deity exists, agnostics on the other hand, are pretty neutral since they believe that it’s impossible for human beings to know anything about how the universe was established and if divine beings do exist. Because of the 19th Century, a wave of atheists and relative anti-religious groups flourished to speak out and/or ignore religious tolerance.
What was the cause and effect? Politically and economically, atheism was one of the aspects that put an end to monarchy, yet established communism. Karl Marx, German philosopher and revolutionary socialist Karl Marx published The Communist Manifesto and Das Kapital, anticapitalist works that form the basis of Marxism. During the late 1800s in Europe, while members of church and monarchy were lavished in wealth, the majority of lower-class people did not have any income to buy food and necessary resources. The lower-class had no choice but to revolt against royal authorities for independence. Marx was indeed an atheist long before he developed his theory of action and he inherited a speculative atheism from Feuerbach; however, as his own theories escalated, this atheism underwent such basic changes that the two can no longer be considered to be of the same kind. In his mentality, religion was considered as “the opium of the masses”.
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