History of religion

Modern Atheism

(Published 2015)

Atheism is "As old as human thought, as old as belief, and the conflict between the two is a constant feature of western civilization" (2).

In fact, there were doubts about religions even in antiquity, and early philosophers such as the pre-Socratic Xenophanes expressed their reservations. (See box). Xenophanes was lucky because a century later, in 399 BC, Socrates was sentenced to death for wickedness.

“Blunt-nosed and black: that's how the people of Ethiopia see the gods
Blue-eyed and blond: that's how their gods see the Thracians
But the cattle and horses and lions, if they had hands
Hands like people, for drawing, for painting, to form a picture,
Then horses would be the gods like horses, the cattle like cattle
Painting, and their shapes, the shapes of the divine bodies,
Created in her image: each one in his own. "
Xenophanes (around 570-470 BC).

In the 19th century it was then - in a modification of this quote and of Genesis 1:27 - correspondingly:
"Man created God in his own image." (3)

In the Judeo-Christian West, monotheism (belief in one god) was a matter of course that was hardly questioned for many centuries. As in the Islamic Orient, where one can still endanger one's life today if one dares to doubt Islam - and thus Allah. Because for a Muslim, turning away from his religion is a crime worthy of death.
But in Europe the old traditions and the religions as such had to allow themselves to be questioned since the time of the Renaissance and the Baroque. In a centuries-long intellectual dispute that is still ahead of the Orient.

Doubts about the ecclesiastical worldview
In the 16th century, the "New Astronomy" with its heliocentric view of the world (the sun in the center of the planetary system) contradicted literal interpretations of the Bible.
In the 17th century, the “New Science” - natural science - refuted Aristotle's failed physics with Newtonian mechanics. This pagan was worshiped almost like a saint in the Christian Middle Ages, and his theories were considered sacrosanct by theologians.
The pioneers of the New World View, such as Copernicus (1473-1543), Giordano Bruno (1548-1600), Galilei (1564-1642), Kepler (1571-1630), Newton (1642-1726) were all Christians who had no doubts about the Creators sowed nor wanted to attack the Church. But their scientific knowledge collided with the teachings of the Church or even with the sacred Scriptures, which are considered sacrosanct - the Bible.

The Catholic Church, already badly shaken by the successes of Protestantism in Northern Europe, saw itself attacked and its claim to power threatened. Astronomers and philosophers who embraced the new astronomical view of the world had to fear all the harshness of the Inquisition.
Copernicus only published his heliocentric worldview on his deathbed, which Aristarchus of Samos had already contemplated in the 3rd century BC. Giordano Bruno ended up at the stake and Galileo had to renounce what he said. Kepler and Newton worked in somewhat more tolerant, Protestant regions and escaped the inquisition of the Catholic Church.

Even the philosophers of the Enlightenment were by no means all godless. Just think of one of their most famous, Voltaire (1694-1778), branded as an atheist, who fought a lifetime against superstition, injustice and the failings of the church. His last statement, dated February 1778, reads:

"I die confessing God by loving my friends, not hating my enemies, and abhorring superstition." (4).

In the 19th century, a bitter dispute arose over Darwin's theory of evolution, which was not compatible with the biblical story of creation. Charles Darwin (1809-1882) was also not an atheist, more of a believer, who, however, did not want to accept illogical church teachings (cf. "Darwin and Evolution", under "Science").
This is how progressive scientists got into unnecessary arguments with the church and its unrepentant representatives into the 20th century. They stuck rigidly to old, misunderstood traditions as "basic religious truths"; if only because they often did not understand or did not want to understand modern, scientific knowledge.
Anyone who questions unsustainable religious teachings or turns away from failing religions is sometimes branded an "atheist" even today.

But some scientists strike back. They not only question church dogmas, but also deny the meaning of religions or even the being of God. Although it has been sufficiently proven since Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) at the latest that the existence of God can neither be proven nor refuted with material or philosophical means. So the atheist is also a "believer", namely one who believes that it is none God gives. Recently, the biologist Richard Dawkins (born 1941) made headlines with his book “Der Gotteswahn” (1), his “Foundation for Reason and Science” and the “Atheist Bus Campaign” he supported. He would like to do away with the religions entirely, which unfortunately have continually failed in history and which have often not only brought good things. (See. "Why other religions", under “History of Religion”).

The declaration of the world
In both animate and inanimate nature, countless more or less complicated physical and chemical processes take place alongside and with each other. The prerequisites for understanding these natural processes were lacking in antiquity and the Middle Ages. Useful theories were lacking, as were suitable instruments for investigation. It seemed hopeless to bring order to this confusing diversity of natural processes.
The religions provided the necessary explanations of the world. First with pagan myths and legends, then with revelations that claim to proclaim the will of God. If no one knew what to do next, the priests could finally rely on the "Inexplicable will of God, who leads everything to the best" withdraw. People could live with such primitive explanations of the world, even if much was not understood in the dark.

When rational explanations of the world were sought and the old traditions were questioned, a natural philosophy arose in antiquity that initiated a split between science and religion, as it has become so important in modern times. Because with increasing knowledge of the laws of nature, the space for the belief in miracles of religions, which wanted to close knowledge gaps, shrank. The biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) spoke of the “God's housing shortage".
But justified criticism of religion is not synonymous with atheism!

The split between science and religion
This split is based on a misunderstanding: Because natural sciences and religions are two different endeavors in the search for truth with different questions.
The religions ask about that Causes and according to the meaning; the natural sciences observe them Apparitions.
The basis of the natural sciences is the exploration of phenomena, its field of work is matter.
True religiosity, on the other hand, can only be a spiritual endeavor to establish contacts with areas beyond the limits drawn by our physical ability to perceive. So science and spirituality are two fundamentally different approaches to understanding the world and life. The power of religions begins where earthly power ends.
Today the natural sciences are highly developed and provide an apparently closed, hard-to-attack materialistic worldview. Spirituality, on the other hand, is underdeveloped, located on the fringes of society and has a hard time being taken seriously. Spirituality has largely been suppressed from today's religions.

The Dilemma of Faith
From their origin, religions should be the bridge between the "two worlds": the one on this side, the world of matter, and the other, the spiritual world. Even in biblical times, many people gave this bridge-building to others, to prophets, seers or priests.
The mediators between the earthly realm and the spiritual realm should be eminent personalities who have a deeper insight into the web of creation or contacts with the beyond. If these personalities fulfill their task, they are respected and have authority. A vocation to the priesthood is therefore about experienced knowledge of creation that defies theological sophistry - beyond animism, deism, pantheism, polytheism or monotheism.

But here lies the dilemma, the deep problematic of all religions: A mediator between the spiritual and the earthly must be a spiritual person; best of all a gifted one, chosen by "higher powers". This leads to the question of who or what decides that they are “higher powers”? Who decides which source is true? The answer can only lie in the feeling of each individual; because no one can be relieved of personal responsibility for their earthly and spiritual life. From nobody!

Earthly training may be useful and helpful to a priest, but it is not enough for a spiritual guide. Far higher intellectual and spiritual qualities are required of this than of the average person. If priests cannot meet these requirements, they must fail in the fulfillment of their actual task. Your religion is degenerating, losing its credibility. Crimes can be done in the name of faith, and disappointed believers ultimately doubt even God himself.

Neither scientists nor theologians can claim to know the "truth". At most, natural scientists find “factualities”, and theology, with its old, uncertainly handed down and often misunderstood traditions, has been going in circles for centuries.
Because the truth as such lives only in God. It is eternal and unchangeable, inviolable. Our limited, very sketchy one Understanding the truth but is one inner Subjected to a process of development that will never end. Wrong paths and steps backwards cannot be ruled out.

Why the "new fashion" atheism?
Materialism has become the world's dominant hypothesis that hardly tolerates any other approaches. The epitome of materialism is provided by physics, the working method of which - the combination of observation (measurement) and calculation - was so tremendously successful that it affects all areas of our life, sometimes almost crushing it.

The materialistic hypothesis excludes extra-material influences. She wants to explain all phenomena in the world from the properties of matter. Accordingly, everything that has an impact on our world must also be measurable, and what cannot be measured is considered to be insignificant, negligible, non-existent. Our scientific worldview does not leave room for spirituality, religiosity, or even for God.
Not even for the concept of a divine order of creation, a superordinate ethic. Just as little as for a further life after death, where we have to give an account in the hereafter for our thoughts and actions in this world.

The thought of the "Creator of Heaven and Worlds " is uncomfortable for many; for he vaguely suggests that HE may make demands on us that we do not meet.
This is how one suppresses such thoughts and takes the easy path of materialistic thinking, which the great majority has long since taken. One denies everything higher, in which religious people see the more essential, and one becomes agnostic or atheist.
Today's person thinks above all of himself and his personal well-being; maybe to his children and grandchildren. He does not believe himself to be really responsible for the fate of the globe, and there is no higher, spiritual responsibility.
But a society without any spiritually or religiously based ethics; a community that does not feel responsible to a higher authority is doomed to failure.

(1) Dawkins, Richard, Der Gotteswahn, Ullstein, Berlin, 2007.
(2) Minois, Georges, Geschichte des Atheismus, Böhlau, Weimar, 2000, page 29 f.
(3)> wiki> Atheism.