Is The Atheist Movement Gaining Ground?
Much has been said about how atheism has over the years has reached a level of unprecedented prominence .
It appears to be ironic that in a nation where polls routinely show that nine out of ten participants affirm a belief in the divine.
Statistics estimate that the number of atheists in the United States ranges from 1 percent to 10 percent and even higher.
Experts say atheists are becoming more and more visible, more so than in 1963, when the late atheist leader Madalyn Murray O’Hair won a landmark Supreme Court ruling barring prayer from the public schools.
Since then, several best- sellers made their mark in the world of unbelief.
For example, In May 2007, the popular writer and polemicist Christopher Hitchens published God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, "a volume that is expected to join Sam Harris’ The End of Faith: Religion, Terror and the Future of Reason and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion as widely cited arguments against religion and religious faith," according to a review on religonlinks.com.
Professor Harvey Cox of the Harvard Divinity School compared Richard Dawkins, the author of The God Delusion "as the kind of Jerry Falwell of the atheists."
He explained in a Religion & Ethics Newsweekly segment from Jan. 5, 2007, that Dawkins takes what he terms, " legalistic and narrow view of religon, and lashes out against it."
David P. Barash in his essay The DNA Of Religious Faith," explored the notion of neo-atheists or "brights," (as they are referred to in some circles.),that they can explain scientifically the details surrounding religious impulse.
Barash wrote: "In his 2004 book, The End of Faith, Sam Harris pointed out that alone of all human assertions, those qualifying as "religious," almost by definition, automatically demand and typically receive immense respect, even veneration. Claim that the earth is flat, or that the tooth fairy exists, and you will be deservedly laughed at."
There is more evidence of atheism around us apart from the empty pews on Sundays.
Atheists have also started an observance of "National Day Of Reason" in May, in order to compete with the National Day of Prayer, an American long-standing tradition. And atheists have made political efforts to be heard.
According to Jane Lampmann writing for The Christian Science Monitor ( Jan.4, 2007 edition), atheisits have challenged the religious right. "For some time, the religious right has decried "secular humanism," a philosophy that rejects the supernatural or spiritual as a basis for moral decisionmaking. But now, nonbelievers are vigorously fighting back," Lampmann wrote.
Many agree that belief in a God is foundational as an integral part of American life.
Others say that if unbelief in all its related forms continues to make its presence known, then we need to consider it part of an evolutionary piece of American religous history, we cannot ignore.
Most scholars support the notion that atheism has its origins in the Enlightenment period in the late 18th century, a time in history when rationalists identified themselves as having no belief in the divine or supernatural.
Certainly Freud, Sartre, Nietzche, and Marx have made a profound impact on modern day atheists, and their philosophy of human existence is worth exploring in more depth.
But do the so-called neo-atheists reflect back to the ideas of renowned philosophers, or are they as Prof. Harvey Cox said, a breed of fundamentalists?
Nietzche explored the human condition by elaborating on his notion that "God is dead."
He asserted that man has no use for what he termed "externally imposed values," and that man creates meaning for himself.
Through this process, Nietzche explained, man is able to regain "lost freedom."
According to Nietzche, man finds meaning and expression through "value creating acts," but is separated from God in what he called a "Godless" world.
Sartre expounded on the role of God and man as well. He compared the human condition as an experience with the "elements of nausea".
Further, he viewed the world as a clausterphobic place, where breathing and movement were impossible.
He asserted that man in such a state of "nothingness" continued to strive for "being," and in order for man to do this effectively, man, Sartre elaborated, created the idea of God.
For Sartre, this idea was contradictory because in his view, "nothingness" in "a godless world" would be the closest man could ever attain to the state of "being."
Freud, obviously was not popular in religious circles of his day as he appeared to be a skeptic.
By some, he was regarded as "the enemy of religon." Freud believed that religon had the power to promote self-love and narcisism, by influencing the religous person to see their position as priveleged in some way.
Freud asserted that the intimacy with God the religous person attempted to build, interfered with gaining new knowledge about reality.
Paul Tillich, the Protestant theologian compared Freud to " a biblical prophet attackig the idolatry of the faithful."
Freud acknowledged the great efficacy of symbols, and so Paul Tillich compared him with a biblical prophet by the manner in which he perceived the "authoritarian manner of religous leaders," according to author, Richard McBrien.
Marx and Freud addressed the role of alienation in dealing with human problems.
They asserted human probelms, including belief, and unbelief could be traced back to conflicts produced by alienation; Freud affirmed alienation was a product of "one's true self," or it derived from inner turmoil, whereas, Marx believed alienation's source came form the work of one's hands, so to speak.
Marx insisted that the industrialized world and society caused alienation, and in order for man to be free of the burden of it, its causes needed to be destroyed. He identified the causes as private property, and the division of labor.
Marx and Freud aside, it is still a matter of speculation whether the high-profile of atheism can be anything more than a fashionable trend, yet many people think the main reasons for atheism's current visibility might be connected the increase in religious conservatism, or renewed debates over creationism and evolution.
Among other causes why the atheist movement may be in the forefront than it otherwise would be, might be, experts agree, the global focus on religiously motivated violence, which has sparked a debate about whether religion is inherently harmful.
Harvard Divinity School