Sunday, November 22, 2015

Why Islam Is More Violent Than Christianity: An Atheist’s Guide

Why Islam Is More Violent Than Christianity: An Atheist’s Guide

Robert Tracinski
The Charlie Hebdo massacre once again has politicians and the media dancing around the question of whether there might be something a little bit special about this one particular religion, Islam, that causes its adherents to go around killing people.
It is not considered acceptable in polite company to entertain this possibility. Instead, it is necessary to insist, as a New York Times article does, that “Islam is no more inherently violent than other religions.” This, mind you, was in an article on how Muslims in the Middle East are agonizing over the violent legacy of their religion.
It is obviously true that all major religions have had violent periods, or periods in which the religion has coexisted with violence. Even those mellow pacifist Buddhists. These days, especially the Buddhists, who are currently fomenting a pogrom against a Muslim minority in Burma.
But in today’s context, it’s absurd to equate Islam and Christianity. Pointing to the Spanish Inquisition tends to undermine the point rather than confirm it: if you have to look back three hundred years to find atrocities, it’s because there are so few of them today. The mass crimes committed under the name of Islam, by contrast, are fresh and openly boasted about.
As an atheist, I have no god in this fight, so to speak. I don’t think the differences between religions make one more valid than another. But as the Charlie Hedbo attack reminds us, there is a big practical difference between them. In fact, the best argument against the equivalence of Christianity and Islam is that no one acts even remotely as if this were true. We feel free to criticize and offend Christians without a second thought—thanks, guys, for being so cool about that—but antagonizing Muslims takes courage. More courage than a lot of secular types in the West can usually muster.
So it’s a matter of some practical urgency to figure out: what is the difference? What are its root causes?
As I see it, the main danger posed by any religion to its dissenters and unbelievers lies in the rejection of reason, which cuts off the possibility of discussion and debate, leaving coercion as an acceptable substitute. I’m with Voltaire on that one: “If we believe absurdities, we will commit atrocities.” But all religions are different and have different doctrines which are shaped over their history—and as we shall see, that includes different views on precisely such core issues as the role of reason and persuasion.
I should preface this by saying that I am no expert on theology, particularly Muslim theology. Yet there are a number of big, widely documented differences between Christianity and Islam that can be seen in the traditions established by their history and in the actual content of their religious doctrines.

The life of Christ versus the life of Mohammed.

Mohammed was a conqueror who gained worldly political power in his lifetime and used it to persecute opponents and impose his religion. He also fully enjoyed the worldly perks of being a tyrant, including multiple wives. Jesus, by contrast, was basically a pacifist whose whole purpose on earth was to allow himself to be tortured to death.
He even explicitly forbade his followers to use force to defend him. Here’s John, Chapter 18: “Then Simon Peter having a sword drew it, and smote the high priest’s servant, and cut off his right ear…. Then said Jesus unto Peter, Put up thy sword into the sheath: the cup which my Father hath given me, shall I not drink it?”
This does not imply that all Christians ought to be pacifists. But it certainly sets a tone for the religion. The life of the founder of a religion is held up to his followers as a model for how they should live their own lives. The life of Mohammed tells the Muslim that he should expect to rule, whereas the life of Christ tells the Christian he should expect to sacrifice and serve. Which leads us to a deeper doctrinal difference.

“What you do to the least of these, you do to me.”

In Matthew, Chapter 25, Christ tells his followers what will happen during the final judgment, when he separates the righteous from the wicked.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?

And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Similarly, there is an episode during the Last Supper when the apostles are squabbling about which of them is greatest. Christ intervenes and tells them that the greatest is he who serves others the most.
And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
This is a very profound idea that goes against the grain of most of human history. I’m a big fan of the Classical world, but the pagans still regarded it as normal, right, and natural that the physically strong set the terms for everyone else. Thucydides famously summed it up in the Melian Dialogue: “The strong do as they can and the weak suffer what they must.” Thucydides was clearly critical of that view, but the Classical world didn’t have a clear alternative. As far as I know, Christ was the first to insist that even the lowest, least significant person has value and that we will be judged by how we treat him.
The distinctive idea here is not a belief in self-sacrifice—Islam, with its emphasis on the glory of dying in battle, has that idea in abundance. Nor is it the idea of a duty to serve others—Communist regimes were built on the idea that the individual exists only to serve the collective. Instead, it is the idea that each individual has a supreme and sacred value. Even Ayn Rand declared this to be the idea from Christianity that most impressed her.
Islam has no corresponding idea. The news is constantly bringing us a story of some imam somewhere declaring it consistent with Islam for a man to beat his wife, and the rise of the Islamic State in Syria has provided us current examples of Islam sanctioning slavery, including the capture and systematic rape of sex slaves. This is a religion that is still very much in the “rights of the conqueror” mode, in which the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must.
Again, this goes back to the beginning. Consider the story, from one of the earliest Arab biographies of Mohammed, of Asma bint Marwan, an Arab poet in Medinah who spoke out against the rise of Mohammed. According to legend, he asked his followers, “Who will rid me of the daughter of Marwan?” (His version of Henry II’s “Will no one rid me of this meddlesome priest?”) One of them took it on himself to sneak into her house and murder her in her sleep. There are questions about the authenticity of the story, but the fact that it was widely believed and reported indicates the example Mohammed set.
To be sure, this brutal attitude is partly because of the backwardness of some of the quasi-feudal societies that are majority-Muslim, where divisions of tribe and caste still dominate. But then again, Islam hasn’t done much to elevate those societies, despite having more than a thousand years to do so.

The early history of Christianity vs. Islam

Christians started as a persecuted minority in a pagan society, so that gives them a certain comfort with being powerless. Those who find themselves out of step with the sinful modern world regard this as more or less the normal state of things.
The early history of Islam, by contrast, was further conquest and dominance, as Muslim invaders marched out into Persia and across North Africa. That’s why Muslims tend to look at the modern situation, in which other creeds and political systems are wealthier and wield greater military power, as an aberration that is not to be tolerated.
This history is connected to a specific doctrinal issue.

The kingdom of god vs. the kingdom of man.

When you’re a persecuted minority, it’s more natural to say that the ultimate reward and total justice have to be found in another world, because you know you’re not going to get them in the decadent Roman Empire. In Christianity, this produced a distinction between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of man. When Pilate asks him if he is a king, Jesus responds, “My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence.”
This idea is extensively developed in Christian theology and is widely accepted among religious conservatives today as the main explanation for the failure of Communism and other utopian schemes: they were arrogant, misguided attempts to achieve heaven on earth. Or if you are inclined to the use of unnecessarily long and obscure words, this is referred to as trying to “immanentize the eschaton.”
The idea is that human beings are not capable of achieving the ultimate holy order of things in this world, so it is folly to try.
But when your prophet is the dictator, it’s more tempting to think that you can just mandate a perfect society. Hence the Islamist obsession with creating a pure Islamic State, usually with a special division of zealots who call themselves something like the Ministry for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, whose job is to enforce a long list of intrusive religious prohibitions. An Islamic state is the kingdom of God brought to earth—exactly the approach that has been widely rejected at various points in Christian theology.

The different roles of “falsafa.”

There is another important legacy of Christianity’s early history among the pagans—in this case, not a reaction against pagan rule, but a part of the Classical influence that rubbed off on Christianity.
Christianity took hold among Greeks and Romans steeped in the Classical philosophical tradition, and that left its mark. The now-retired pope, Benedict XVI—who I’m really missing right now, by the way—made this the central point of an important speech he gave in 2006 at the University of Regensburg, in which he addressed the relationship between Christianity and Islam. Benedict argued that “the critically purified Greek heritage forms an integral part of Christian faith,” and defended the “Hellenization” of Christianity. (More on this later.) There was some controversy about this within early Christianity—Tertullian famously asked, “What has Athens to do with Jerusalem?”—and at first the anti-Classical side won out. But those early controversies made it easier for Christianity to re-absorb Classical ideas during the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.
Islam went through an opposite progression. It encountered Classical science and philosophy, “falsafa” in Arabic, during its conquest of various Mediterranean countries, and the Muslim world would produce great scientists and philosophers steeped in the ideas of the Greeks, including ibn Sina (Avicenna) in Persia and ibn Rushd (Averroes) in Muslim Spain. But by the late Middle Ages, just as the West was rediscovering Classical philosophy, the Muslim world purged it. This is generally blamed on the theologian al-Ghazali, who denounced “The Incoherence of the Philosophers” and caused Muslim theologians to reject the Classical influence as incompatible with faith. The result is that Islam allows much less room for philosophical discussion and debate over the meaning of the religion.
Again, this history is connected to a deeper doctrinal issue.

Is God rational?

This was the issue Benedict focused on in his Regensburg speech. He approvingly cited a dialogue in which one of the Byzantine emperors was debating with a Muslim and argued that in Christian theology, God is rational: he acts according to reason and is understandable by reason. He cited a Biblical passage about God being “Logos”—which means both “word” and “reason” in Greek—as evidence that “the world comes from reason” as part of the animating spirit of God’s creation.
Islam rejects this view. Al-Ghazali even rejected the law of cause and effect. The Muslim God does not establish laws of nature and leave them to operate. He is personally involved in causing every natural event by a direct act of will. Thus, al-Ghazali insisted that when a ball of cotton is placed into a flame, the fire does not burn the cotton. Instead, “when fire and cotton are placed in contact, the cotton is burned directly by God rather than by the fire.”
If you think this is very old, Medieval history, consider that there was a controversy in the 1980s in Pakistan, when Islamists insisted that chemistry textbooks had to say that when hydrogen and oxygen are combined, then by the will of Allah, water is created—directly borrowing al-Ghazali’s formulation. The rejection of scientific laws and secular reason was codified in Islam long ago, and those who depart from this orthodoxy continue to be ostracized, as seen in Pakistan’s rejection of one of its most eminent physicists.
All of this has a lot of implications for how you deal with disagreement and whether you think religion is a subject that can be debated. The Byzantine emperor quoted by Benedict argues, “Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats,” to which Benedict added: “The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.” Whereas if reason is itself heretical, then why should anyone tolerate your arguments and philosophical debates?

Secular law versus Sharia law.

The differences between Islam and Christianity are not just about the laws of nature. They’re also about laws for man.
Christianity has its own religious law, laid down by Moses in the Old Testament, though much of it does not survive Christ’s revisions. But Christianity also has a long tradition of coexisting with secular systems of law. This comes from the Roman context, where there was an established, codified Roman system of law which Christianity did not seek to overthrow. This, as I understand it, is part of the significance of Christ’s admonition to “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s.” So the idea of religion as the source of law was not well-established under Christianity. Or to be more exact, religion is viewed as source of general moral principles, but there is plenty of room for debate on what those principles mean and how to translate them into specific laws.
By contrast, Islam recognizes no room for any law other than what was supposedly revealed to Mohammed, and that is the source of a whole lot of trouble. The explicit argument offered by Islamists against representative government is the complaint that laws voted on by the people are laws created by man, whereas God is the only one who can make law. Similarly, one of the main issues of contention in newly created governments across the Middle East—Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Egypt, Tunisia, and Libya—was the question of whether Islam should be cited as the sole source of law. Then there is Saudi Arabia, where the Koran is the constitution.
But what is really telling is the concreteness of Islamic law. As it is usually interpreted, Sharia is not a set of general principles that leave room for individual judgment in their application. It is a set of extremely detailed, specific requirements and prohibitions. This is why we see Islamic clerics asked to issue “fatwas” on every triviality under the sun, from soccer to tomboys to Mickey Mouse, which can lead to some very weird results.
As British Islamist Anjem Choudary explains to us, “Islam does not mean peace but rather means submission to the commands of Allah alone. Therefore, Muslims do not believe in the concept of freedom of expression, as their speech and actions are determined by divine revelation and not based on people’s desires.” Note how total this is—everything is determined by revelation—and how little room it leaves for individual choice. So no wonder it is used as a license for unlimited coercion.
The concrete nature of Islamic law and its devaluation of individual judgment reflects a deeper aspect of the difference between Christianity and Islam.

Is it normal to struggle with faith?

Christianity has a tradition of being an introspective religion, one that is about plumbing the depths of one’s soul—and about struggling with one’s faith. In the Bible and in Christian lore, there is a long tradition of openly talking about struggles with doubt, the sense that faith is something that can be difficult to maintain, so that lapses or skepticism or a crisis of faith are understandable and to be tolerated. The put-upon Job debates with God. Even Jesus struggled with temptation and doubt in the Garden of Gethsemane as he faced the prospect of crucifixion. That’s why the typical piece of Christian “hate mail” I get is annoyingly non-hate-filled. They mostly tell me that they’re praying for me so I will one day see the light.
By contrast, Muslims widely accept a particularly literal version of what the Christian would call “salvation through works.” In its crudest version, this is the “die in jihad and get 72 virgins in paradise” outlook. Getting into heaven is less about reordering your soul or trying to introspect some greater meaning in your life—and more about punching a checklist of external actions, of being obedient to a long list of strictly enforced requirements and taboos.

The history of religion in America.

The final big difference between Islam and Christianity isn’t something that’s wrong with Islam, but rather something that happened uniquely in the West that influenced Christianity: the history of religion in America. From the beginning we had a profusion of different religious sects, many of which had come here seeking freedom from persecution. So from early on, at least from Roger Williams, American religious leaders were deeply involved in developing the ideology of religious freedom. While Enlightenment ideas had a wide influence in America, demands for religious freedom did not come primarily from anti-clerical types who wanted to abolish religion. Instead, religious freedom was literally preached from the pulpit, which is why it so naturally made it into our founding documents.
That’s only one aspect of Christianity in the West, of course, but it has had a global influence on the religion and its approach to liberty.
I have painted with broad strokes, and there are some who will no doubt come back to me citing Muslim leaders who espouse better views, as no doubt you could go out and find Christians with much worse views.
And of course, many of those who kill in the name of Islam don’t even know this history. One of my favorite stories is about British jihadists who headed off to join ISIS in Syria after buying a copy of the book Islam for Dummies. These guys aren’t following the narrow doctrinal disputes. What they absorb is an overall sense of what the religion means and how it is to be practiced.
If you add up all of these things, you see what an explosive mix you get from Islam: the expectation that religion dictates everything and that their religion ought to be totally dominant here in this world, combined with the notion that religion is not open to reason and leaves no room for doubt, questioning, or debate.
Religious ideas can be, and often are, recombined and reinterpreted in more or less benevolent ways. There will always be a tension between faith and reason; the concept of service to others can be used to demand service to the state; the concept of man’s sinfulness and imperfection can be interpreted to mean that the perfect religious society cannot be imposed on earth—or that humans can’t be trusted with freedom, so the state needs to curb our vicious impulses. Certainly, the recent comments by Pope Francis on the Charlie Hebdo attack should make us wonder how committed he is to the principle of freedom of speech.
But this should make us appreciate all the more the way in which, after centuries of contentious and often bloody history, our culture’s dominant faith has settled into a more benevolent and liberal form.
We can hope that Islam will do the same. But in terms of their history and doctrines, they still have a long way to go—and I’m afraid they still have some of those contentious and bloody centuries ahead of them.

Islam is not a religion like any other, here's why. (self.atheism)

submitted by [deleted]
I live in a small country in Europe named Belgium. We have "freedom of religion". There is a strict separation between Church and State. Officially, we are a catholic country but nowadays we have mainly agnostics and atheists, our churches stay empty on sundays.
We have many different religions, and many different cultures here in Belgium. None of them posed a big problem, but Islam really is an exception.
What I have learned is that Islam is not a religion like any other. Let me explain: Most religions and most cultures are compatible with Belgian culture and law, and just fit in. Islam however, is not just a religion as how we here define "religion". Islam is a whole package. Islam contains a political system, economic system, justice, education, culture and religion.
When Muslims come to Europe to live their lives, this creates impact.
We have Police here who's job is to make sure that the citizens follow the law. People with Islamic roots are showing some kind of immunity against the police. They show this in how they behave towards the police, by not accepting the police as an authority. They literally say and admit that Allah, the Islamic God, is the only authority.
Every week there are cases of violence against police and it always shows the same pattern: 1 Muslim gets arrested, and then suddenly a group of sometimes up to 50 Muslims gather and attack the police. This has happened so many times that the police has decided to no longer patrol certain neighborhoods, because their authority is no longer accepted there so they are just outnumbered by the ( Islamic ) civilians. I'm not speculating about the future here, this is the reality here today in 2012.
Then there is education. We have Belgian laws which guarantee a minimum level of education. It's a book full of facts that must be taught in every school, they are called the "end terms". One of those subjects is evolution. The theory of evolution must be taught in both science class and history class. Creationism is not allowed. If a teacher teaches his pupils the theory of creationism instead of evolution, then this is against the end terms.
I personally know a teacher who had the task to teach evolution to her pupils. The children with an Islamic background, we are talking about 9 and 10 year olds here, said to her: "You are talking bullshit, you are just a dumb woman, my parents tell us that we should not listen to you about this evolution crap, Allah has created us and all the animals." They are ordered by their parents to not do any homework on the theory of evolution and they deliberately fail the tests. This problem is not limited to pupils. There are 20-year olds studying to become teachers, who also deny evolution. There are various reports of Islamic teachers who got their job as a teacher, and they are teaching creationism to Islamic children, denying evolution, and not following the end terms that are actually protected by law and by separation of church and state.
They not only deny the authority of the police, they also deny our education system and its rules.
Then there is the problem of food. Islam does not accept pork as "clean" food. Therefore, they do not buy food in our supermarkets. Instead, they build their own stores which do not allow the sale of pork or alcohol. Here I have an example of one of my relatives: a family member was celebrating her birthday at work. She gave away boxes of chocolates containing alcohol. She got a complaint from an Islamic employee that she apparently had not shown respect for his "beliefs" by not having any non-Alcoholic chocolates. This might sound like a stupid small issue but I'm trying to make a point here: I'm not talking about extremist Muslims here blowing themselves up, I am talking about the everyday Muslim.
Now economy. Belgium has banks, our banking system is interweaved with economy ( ok I know this is not the ideal period to start defending banks with all the economic mess we are into but still ... ). They do not use our banks: they keep their money in foreign banks located in Turkey, Morocco, Saudi-Arabia etc... because those banks follow certain Islamic rules. They are constantly draining and transferring money out of Europe. They do not accept our banking system because it's not compliant with the Islamic view of economy.
I know I'm writing a long text here, but I hope you are still with me, because there is an important point I want to arrive to:
The number of hate crimes against homosexuals is increasing every year. It started a few years back with taunting and attacking homosexual persons around areas with gay bars. Since last year, the first murders of gays have happened, by Muslims. No provocation, just hate crimes, hate against gays. The gay community is aware of areas in Belgium where they are no longer safe simply because they are gay. This wasn't the case 10 years ago. Then there are the increasing reports of honor killings. Just recently, a 22 year old Belgian bared the child of her 19 year old Islamic ex-boyfriend. The family of this Muslim had arranged a wife and a marriage for him, and this child would bring a shame on the whole family. That's why he and his nephew have killed this young 22 year old girl, to save the honor of the family.
I hope I'm getting my point across here. Although Islam is being defined as a religion, it is not just that. Islam is much more, it's a whole package, it's a culture, it's an entire social system.
And it's impacting with another system. It's not impacting with Christianity, it's impacting with the Western world. We can see it slowly unfolding here in Europe. Slowly but certain.
Let me stress out that Muslims are more attached to their Islamic system, than the European people are attached to the Western system. This is because the Islamic system has a God as the authority, which is a more powerful psychological motivation, than the European people who just have the government as the authority. Muslims are therefore not showing as much indulgence as other Europeans, resulting in an increasing amount of rights for Muslims and a decreasing amount of rights for Europeans.
Other cultures and religions have had no problem with fitting in. But Islam is not just a religion. It's something different.
When "Freedom of Religion" was written in the Belgian law, it wasn't meant for something like Islam. This is the mistake and the problem that we are facing. And at this moment nobody knows how to deal with it.
tl;dr We should reconsider defining Islam as "just a religion"

Studying Islam has made me an atheist

Studying Islam has made me an atheist

Douglas Murray says that he stopped being an Anglican after analysing Muslim texts and deciding that no book — of any religion — could claim infallibility

Douglas Murray says that he stopped being an Anglican after analysing Muslim texts and deciding that no book — of any religion — could claim infallibility
Just over a year ago I told a lie. In print. In this magazine. I was one of those asked by The Spectator last Christmas whether I believed in the virgin birth. Since it had always seemed to me that if you believed in God a ‘pick and mix’ approach to the central tenets of the faith was pointless, I said ‘yes’. But in fact I felt ‘no’. It wasn’t that I had been wrestling over the doctrine of the incarnation, I simply felt that if I didn’t believe in the virgin birth, I would not believe in God. The truth is I didn’t and don’t. The guilt has been lingering since. This is my atheist mea culpa.
Many people hold on to belief as an unquestioned part of their make-up. They never have to confront the source of their belief, and as long as nothing actively pushes them into addressing it, they keep it as something which rarely does much harm and might actually do some good. I have been an Anglican since birth — and not just a cultural Anglican but at times (rarest of things) a real, worshipping, believing Anglican. Like a lot of believers, I knew that there were parts of my belief that wouldn’t stand up to analysis. But that was fine. I didn’t need to analyse them. I only lost faith when I was forced to.
Charles Darwin didn’t do for God. German biblical criticism did — the scholarship on lost texts, discoveries of added-to texts and edited texts. All pointed away from the initial starting-block of faith — that the texts transmitted immutable truths. Realising that ‘holy’ texts are, like most other things in life, the result of an accretion of human effort and human error is one of the most troubling discoveries any believer can make. I remember trying to read some of this scholarship when I was younger, and finding it so terrifying, so ground-shaking, that I put it off for another day.
But it found me via another route. Some years ago I started studying Islam. It didn’t take long to recognise the problems of that religion’s texts — the repetitions, contradictions and absurdities. Unlike Christianity, scholarship on these problems in Islam has barely begun. But they are manifest for anyone to see. For a holy book which in its opening lines boasts ‘that is the book, wherein is no doubt’, plenty of doubt emerges. Not least in recognising demonstrable plagiarisms from the Torah and the Christian Bible. If God spoke through an archangel to one illiterate tradesman in 7th-century Arabia, then — just for starters — why was he stealing material? Or was he just repeating himself?
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Gradually, scepticism of the claims made by one religion was joined by scepticism of all such claims. Incredulity that anybody thought an archangel dictated a book to Mohammed produced a strange contradiction. I found myself still clinging to belief in Christianity. I was trying to believe — though rarely arguing — ‘Well, your guy didn’t hear voices: but I know a man who did.’ This last, shortest and sharpest, phase pulled down the whole thing. In the end Mohammed made me an atheist.
Though it was a supplementary realisation, the problems that these texts have caused cannot be avoided either. Where else does your real bona-fide bigot find his metier? Anyone can repress a woman, but you need ‘dictated’ scriptures to feel you’re really right in repressing her. In the same way, homophobes thrive everywhere. But you must feel you’ve got scripture on your side to come up with the tedious ‘Adam and Eve not Adam and Steve’-style arguments instead of just recognising that some people are different to you.
Anyone can be a bigot. But divine bigots must count as the most intractable — the most infuriatingly impervious to reason. Besides — to a bibliophile, indeed bibliomaniac — the idea that there is any book ‘wherein is no doubt’ is insulting as well demonstrably untrue.
Even when I stopped believing I pretended I did, or said I did for a bit, for fear of the break in the dike. Like many people, the first thing that troubled me about leaving religion was fear of meaninglessness. Where would ethics come from? If nothing was revealed then surely everything would be relative — and that way lay nihilism. As it happens, it becomes clearer the more I look at it that religious texts are not only unnecessary to the ethical life. More often than believers like to admit, they are directly contrary to it.
Then there is the loss of the guiding hand. It is the one utterly irreplaceable aspect of belief. Without God, where is the enduring melody — the cantus firmus — of life? Alexander Herzen asked, ‘Where is the song before it is sung?’ It is impossible to replace the belief in a deity’s plans for you. Though less comforting, it is simply observably truer that there is no song before you sing it — no path before you tread it. You make the song as you sing it. You make the path as you tread it. It makes life more precarious, certainly — but just as the risk of falling is greater, so, likewise, is the possibility of soaring.
My final fear was one which I think a lot of Christians in this country feel, particularly as they see Islam re-emerging and gaining adherents in spite (or perhaps because) of its intransigence and intractability. It is, I suppose, a sense of cultural abandonment. We know how much of what we enjoy and relish comes through Christianity. Can we really go on without it? Doesn’t it leave our building without foundations? Slowly I discover that it doesn’t. I still can’t pass a country church or cathedral without going in. The texts are still essential to me. They are just (and ‘just’ hardly does the job here) no more divine than Shakespeare.
The question of how, without believing it, we transmit the good of our historical faith to another generation is certainly problematic. Perhaps like many Jewish people who rejoice in their identity but don’t believe in God we could be better — and franker — at being cultural Christians. I tried it this year, at my first atheist Christmas.
I went to church on Christmas morning, and went with my family to the carol service a few nights before. The readings were comforting not only because of their familiarity but because taken as great stories they still transmit, like all great literature, truths which you can live by. The momentousness and simplicity of Adam’s fall was as tragic and resonant to this atheist heart as it once was to the believing one.
Fundamentalist Islam challenges us politically. But tackling literalism of one kind with literalism of another doesn’t work. Complexity is harder to accept, but more evident to the eye. After long struggle, I find reason enough.
My first non-believing Christmas was different, certainly. Different — but, contrary to my fears, no shallower. Quite the opposite. Things this year seemed both more open and more possible. More fragile and more precious. It also struck me, in ways which are hard to explain — and the religious language cannot be avoided — that it was all, if anything, even more miraculous.

Atheism and religion

Atheism and religion

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Some movements or sects within traditionally monotheistic or polytheistic religions recognize that it is possible to practice religious faith, spirituality and adherence to tenets without a belief in deities. People with what would be considered religious or spiritual belief in a supernatural controlling power are defined by some as adherents to a religion; the argument that atheism is a religion has been described as a contradiction in terms.[1]


Abrahamic religions


Main article: Jewish atheism
In general, formulations of Jewish principles of faith require a belief in God (represented by Judaism's paramount prayer, the Shema). In many modern Jewish religious movements, rabbis have generally considered the behavior of a Jew to be the determining factor in whether or not one is considered an adherent of Judaism. Within these movements it is often recognized that it is possible for a Jew to strictly practice Judaism as a faith, while at the same time being an agnostic or atheist. Reconstructionist Judaism does not require any belief in a deity, and certain popular Reform prayer books, such as Gates of Prayer, offer some services without mention of God. Jewish atheists who practice Humanistic Judaism embrace Jewish culture and history, rather than belief in a supernatural god, as the sources of their Jewish identity. One study found that only 48% of self identified Jews believe in God.[2]
Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook, first Chief Rabbi of the Jewish community in Palestine, held that atheists were not actually denying God: rather, they were denying one of man's many images of God. Since any man-made image of God can be considered an idol, Kook held that, in practice, one could consider atheists as helping true religion burn away false images of God, thus in the end serving the purpose of true monotheism.[3]


Main article: Christian atheism
High rates of atheism have been found among self-identified Christians in the United States. For example, 10% of self-identified Protestants and 21% of self-identified Roman Catholics were found to be atheists in a HarrisInteractive survey from 2003.[2]
There is no single Christian approach toward atheism. The approach taken varies between Christian denominations, and Christian ministers may intelligently distinguish an individual's claims of atheism from other nominal states of personal perspective, such as plain disbelief, an adherence to science, a misunderstanding of the nature of religious belief, or a disdain for organized religion in general.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church makes this explicit. While it identifies atheism as a violation of the First Commandment, calling it "a sin against the virtue of religion", it is careful to acknowledge that atheism may be motivated by virtuous or moral considerations, and admonishes the followers of Roman Catholicism to focus on their own role in encouraging atheism by their religious or moral shortcomings:
(2125) [...] The imputability of this offense can be significantly diminished in virtue of the intentions and the circumstances. "Believers can have more than a little to do with the rise of atheism. To the extent that they are careless about their instruction in the faith, or present its teaching falsely, or even fail in their religious, moral, or social life, they must be said to conceal rather than to reveal the true nature of God and of religion."[4]
A famous idiosyncratic atheist belief is that of Thomas J. J. Altizer. His book The Gospel of Christian Atheism (1967) proclaims the highly unusual view that God has literally died, or self-annihilated. According to Altizer, this is nevertheless "a Christian confession of faith".[5] Making clear the difference between his position and that of both Nietzsche's notion of the death of God and the stance of theological non-realists, Altizer says, "To confess the death of God is to speak of an actual and real event, not perhaps an event occurring in a single moment of time or history, but notwithstanding this reservation an event that has actually happened both in a cosmic and in a historical sense."[6]
A 2001 survey by "Faith Communities Today"[7] found that 18% of Unitarian Universalists (UU) consider themselves to be atheists, with 54% considering themselves humanist. According to this study 16% of UUs consider themselves Buddhist, 13% Christian, and 13% Pagan.


See also: Muslim atheist
In Islam, atheists are categorized as kafir (كافر), a term that is also used to describe polytheists, and that translates roughly as "denier" or "concealer". Kafir carries connotations of blasphemy and disconnection from the Islamic community. In Arabic, "atheism" is generally translated ilhad (إلحاد), although this also means "heresy".
The Quran is silent on the punishment for apostasy, though not the subject itself. The Quran speaks repeatedly of people going back to unbelief after believing, and gives advice on dealing with 'hypocrites':
Sura 9:73,74
"O Prophet, strive hard against the unbelievers and the hypocrites, and be firm against them. Their abode is Hell,-- an evil refuge indeed. They swear by God that they said nothing [evil], but indeed they uttered blasphemy, and they did it after accepting Islam; and they meditated a plot which they were unable to carry out: this revenge of theirs was [their] only return for the bounty which God and His Apostle had enriched them! If they repent, it will be best for them; but if they turn back [to their evil ways], God will punish them with a grievous penalty in this life and in the Hereafter. They shall have none on this earth to protect or help them."
— Qur'an, sura 9 (At-Tawba), ayat 73-73 [8]
The Hadith expound upon dealing with apostates:
Narrated Abdullah: Allah's Messenger said, 'The blood of a Muslim who confesses that none has the right to be worshipped but Allah and that I am His Messenger, cannot be shed except in three cases: in Qisas (equality in punishment) for murder, a married person who commits illegal sexual intercourse and the one who reverts from Islam (Apostate) and leaves the Muslims."
Narrated Abu Qilaba: Once Umar bin Abdul Aziz sat on his throne in the courtyard of his house so that the people might gather before him....He replied 'By Allah, Allah's messenger never killed anyone except in one of the following three situations: 1) A person who killed somebody unjustly, was killed (in Qisas,) 2) a married person who committed illegal sexual intercourse and, 3) a man who fought against Allah and His messenger, and deserted Islam and became an apostate....'
Narrated Ikrima: Some Zanadiqa (Zanadiqa refers to those who innovate within Islam, adding rules to Islam which didn't previously exist) were brought to 'Ali and he burnt them. The news of this event, reached Ibn 'Abbas who said, "If I had been in his place, I would not have burnt them, as Allah's Apostle forbade it, saying, 'Do not punish anybody with Allah's punishment (fire). I would have killed them according to the statement of Allah's Apostle, "Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him."
The Qur'an refers to atheism in this verse: The term commonly used for atheists is "Dahriyyah" from the Arabic word for "time" in a verse which speaks of people "who says that our death and Decimation are caused only by the passing of time". (in aljathiah,) 24)
[045:024] And they say: "There is nothing but our life of this world, we die and we live and nothing destroys us except Ad-Dahr (time)." And they have no knowledge of it, they only conjecture.
Other relevant Hadithic verses include Bukhari, volume 9, #58, 64, 271.
Muslims are not at liberty to change their religion or become atheists. Atheists in Islamic countries and communities frequently conceal their non-belief (as do people with other condemned qualities, such as homosexuality).

Indian religions

Atheism is often considered acceptable within Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.


Although atheism is valid in Hinduism, it views the path of the atheist as very difficult to follow in matters of spirituality.[9]
Among the six fundamental Astika schools of Hindu philosophy, the Samkhya do not accept God and the early Mimamsa also rejected the notion of God.[10] Samkhya lacks the notion of a 'higher being' that is the ground of all existence. It proposes a thoroughly dualistic understanding of the cosmos, in which two parallel realities Purusha, the spiritual and Prakriti, the physical coexist and the aim of life is the gaining of liberating Self-knowledge of the Purusha. Here, no God (better stated theos) is present, yet Ultimate Reality in the form of the Purusha exists.
Cārvāka (also Charvaka) was a materialist and atheist school of thought in India, which is now known principally from fragments cited by its Astika and Buddhist opponents. The proper aim of a Cārvākan, according to these sources, was to live a prosperous, happy, productive life in this world (cf Epicureanism). There is some evidence that the school persisted until at least 1578.


See also: Transtheism
Jainism believes that the emancipated soul is itself God.[11] Jains do not believe in a creator God, but there is belief in numerous gods within the cosmos.[12]


Buddhism is often described as non-theistic, since Buddhist authorities and canonical texts do not affirm, and sometimes deny, the following:
  • The existence of a creation, and therefore of a creator deity
  • That a god (deva), gods, or other divine beings are the source of moral imperatives. Instead, the Dharma is an attribution of the universe
  • That human beings or other creatures are responsible to a god or gods for their actions
However, all canonical Buddhist texts that mention the subject accept the existence (as distinct from the authority) of a great number of spiritual beings, including the Vedic deities. From the point of view of Western theism, certain concepts of the Buddha found in the Mahayana school of Buddhism, e.g. of Amitabha or the Adibuddha may seem to share characteristics with Western concepts of God, but Gautama Buddha himself denied that he was a god or divine.

Chinese religions

Some forms of Confucianism and Taoism do not explicitly affirm, nor are they founded upon a faith in, a higher being or beings. However, Confucian writings do have numerous references to Tian (Heaven), which denotes a transcendent power, with a personal connotation. Neo-Confucian writings, such as that of Chu Hsi, are vague on whether their conception of the Great Ultimate is like a personal deity or not. Although the Western translation of the Tao as "god" in some editions of the Tao te Ching is highly misleading, it is still a matter of debate whether the actual descriptions of the Tao by Laozi has theistic or nontheistic undertones. Religious forms of Taoism do believe in a variety of cosmological beings, which are analogies to the cosmic forces within the universe.


LaVeyan Satanism is atheistic, rejecting belief in God and all other deities, including, to the surprise of many, Satan. "Satanism begins with atheism," said Church of Satan High Priest Peter H. Gilmore in an interview. "We begin with the universe and say, 'It’s indifferent. There’s no God, there’s no Devil. No one cares!'"[13] The function of God is performed and satisfied by the satanist him/herself. The needs of worship, ritual, and religious/spiritual focus are directed inwards towards the satanist, as opposed to outwards, towards a deity. It rejects concepts such as prayer, the after-life, and divine forces.

Legal status of atheism

Generally, religion and law have been synonymous throughout recorded history from the Code of Hammurabi through (unwritten) common law to modern codex or formal written law. The practice of a state religion has generally been a legal obligation, and remains so in many traditional jurisdictions such as those incorporating sharia principles. Notably ancient law such as Babylonian law and Roman Law regulated the treatment of slaves and wives[14]
Despite the separation of church and state in late 18th century France and early USA it was only in the later part of the 20th century, following the so-called Post–World War II baby boom and subsequent sexual revolution that certain religious offenses have been selectively excluded from some European and North-American legal constraints. In most of the world many agnostic or atheistic expressions remain legally discouraged and sometimes very severely punished even by execution.
The most common (religious) offenses are heresy (wrong choice), blasphemy (evil-speaking) and apostasy (revolt or renunciation) or any behavior that implies or abandoning of a prescribed religious duty, especially disloyalty sedition and defection, but also occult mysterious or secret activities such as freemasonry, sorcery, witchcraft, alchemy and private practices such as homosexuality, contraception and of course atheism, since it challenges 'received wisdom' which is mandated as 'Absolute' or 'Truth' in many traditional legal codes which do not incorporate freedom of religion which has only evolved in the latter half of the 20th century following the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.[15]

Great Britain (English Law)

The chief law officer is called Lord Chancellor and holds the title of 'the conscience of the monarch.[16] British subjects have a long history of religious upheaval from the time when Henry VIII of England ordered the English Reformation. There followed a long period of alternate suppressions and liberalizations until, following the Restoration when common law became progressively more descriptive than prescriptive, judges were allowed some latitude in determining guilt (which is why English law is so ambiguous).[17] British 'religious atheists' are numerous and might include George Fox, John Wesley and, notably Jeremy Bentham whose body is displayed in the South Cloister of University College London[18]

United States of America

Atheism in the USA is protected under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause. There are also online churches that have been created by atheists to secure legal rights, to ordain atheist clergy to hold ceremonies, as well as for parody, education, and advocacy.[19][20][21][22]
In 1797, the United States Senate ratified a treaty with Tripoli that stated in Article 11:
As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion; as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility, of Mussulmen; and, as the said States never entered into any war, or act of hostility against any Mahometan nation, it is declared by the parties, that no pretext arising from religious opinions, shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.[23]

See also


  • Bill Maher (2012-02-03). Real Time with Bill Maher. HBO. Religion is defined as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, and atheism is — precisely not that. Got it? Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position.

  • Taylor, Humphrey. (2003). "While Most Americans Believe in God, Only 36% Attend a Religious Service Once a Month or More Often" (PDF). Archived (PDF) from the original on 9 January 2011. Retrieved January 2011. Protestants (90%) are more likely than Roman Catholics (79%) and much more likely than Jews (48%) to believe in God. Protestants (47%) are also more likely than Catholics (35%) to attend church once a month or more often. Only 16% of Jews go to synagogues once a month or more often.

  • Rachmani 2002a; Rachmani 2002b.

  • Catechism of the Catholic Church, English version, section

  • Altizer 1967, p. 102.

  • Altizer 1967, p. 103.

  • Surveys: 'Uuism' unique Churchgoers from elsewhere, Christian Century Foundation

  • Quran 9:73–74

  • Chakravarti, Sitansu (1991). Hinduism, a way of life. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 71. ISBN 978-81-208-0899-7.

  • Dasgupta, Surendranath (1992). A history of Indian philosophy, Volume 1. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. p. 258. ISBN 978-81-208-0412-8.

  • Sangave, Vilas (2006). Aspects of Jaina religion – Issue 12 of Jñānapīṭha Mūrtidevī granthamālā: English series. Bhartiya Jnanpith. p. 27. ISBN 978-81-263-1273-3.

  • Chambliss, Joseph (1996). Philosophy of education: an encyclopedia – Volume 1671 of Garland reference library of the humanities. Taylor & Francis. p. 38. ISBN 978-0-8153-1177-5.

  • Interview with Peter H. Gilmore, David Shankbone, Wikinews', November 5, 2007.

  • Henry James Sumner Maine. Ancient Law. Cosimo Classics (New York, 2005). ISBN 978-1596052260.

  • Kelly James Clark, ed. (2012). Abraham's Children: Liberty and Tolerance in an Age of Religious Conflict. Yale University Press (USA). ISBN 978-0300179378.

  • Walter Bagehot (1867). The English Constitution (Oxford World's Classics). Oxford University Press (USA 2001). ISBN 978-0192839756. Retrieved 29 June 2013.

  • Most Reverend Rowan Williams Archbishop of Canterbury (2009). The English Religious Tradition and the Genius of Anglicanism. Wipf & Stock Publisher. ISBN 978-1606082096.

  • Stephen Kim, ed. (1996). John Tyndall's Transcendental Materialism and the Conflict Between Religion and Science in Victorian England (Distinguished Dissertations). ISBN 978-0773422780.

  • "About First Church of Atheism". Archived from the original on 11 July 2011. Retrieved July 2011.

  • "North Texas Church of Freethought". Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved July 2011.

  • "Houston Church of Freethought". Archived from the original on 16 July 2011. Retrieved July 2011.

  • "Do Atheists Need a Church?". Retrieved July 2011.

    1. Matt Dillahunty. "Atheism and the Law". Atheist Community of Austin. Retrieved 20 July 2009.