The classical version of atheism is vastly different than the atheism that is known today. – Some consider “modern atheism” as one of the greatest achievements of human intellect. Immortalization in Greek myths meant “infinite extension of existence, not the infinite projection of moral qualities” – Classical Greek atheism denied “traditional religion of the Athenian establishment” – Protestant reformers wrote against church’s corruption and straying from “authentic models of the New Testament” – Protestantism eventually gained popularity in Western Europe in 1600s -“Historical origins of modern atheism lie primarily in an extended criticism of the power and status of the church – The 18th century was regarded the “most creative period of atheist experimentation and reflection”
Historians date the birth of ‘avowed’ or intentional atheism in Britain to around the year 1782 Credit for the serious advancement of atheism on he eve of the Victorian era is most due to William Godwin.
He believed that social vision rested on the assumption of the perfectibility of humanity through reason.
Mary Robinson wrote that, “nature was emancipated from being God’s creation, and became a divinity in its own right. Percy Shelley argued that since compelling evidence for the existence of God is lacking, here is no intellectual obligation to believe in God.
However, Shelley never explicitly denies the existence of a God in general. Shelley seems to argue against institutional religion. Mary Ann Evans aka George Eliot, grew up an evangelical, but turned into an atheist because she was of the increasingly dogmatic and impersonal constructs of the Christian faith.
Evans/Eliot turned to a religion of human sympathy, she believed that the moral aspects of faith could be maintained without Christianity. A. C. Swinburne was more avant-garde and aggressive in his approach to spreading atheism. He visualized god as a birch-wielding tyrant that oppresses humanity.
Swineburne believed that only the rejection of God would open the way to human self-fulfillment. By the middle of the Nineteenth Century Jesus was seen as a moral sage, or as a role model. George Tyrrell was appalled that Jesus was seen as less captivating, but conceded that the Christ was a “pale reflection” of his biblical self. Chapter 6 Dostoyevsky was a Russian novelist that wrote on a fictional Russia that turned to atheism to solve its problems. While he showed attractive of that choice, he also presented some of its more troubling features.
His criticisms were directed more toward the world God supposedly created, more than critiquing God himself. Nietzsche emphasized that the belief in the Christian God became unbelievable. Nietzsche admits that the realization that “God is dead” will travel slowly because it is just too “unthinkable”. For nihilism, a religious worldview is oppressive because it insists that we will be held accountable for our actions. In a nihilistic view, there are no sins, because nothing matters in the end. Albert Camus argued that human life is rendered meaningless by death, which prevents the individual from making sense of existence.
For Camus death is not to be seen as a realize but as a denial of all of our accomplishments. However Atheism did not materialize as well in the United States. Many thinkers believed that if God was not in heaven, he could be found somewhere else. Chapter 7 “new atheism” embraces those who question God; people who consider themselves Agnostic. McGrath writes that atheism is not about the suspension of judging whether God exists, he states that true atheism is a firm disbelieve in God. He writes that true atheists view religion as outdated, enslaving, and a self-contradiction.
McGrath criticizes the idea that if there was a God, why does he allow suffering, by showing the fact that many of the atrocities committed to humans are caused by other humans – the ones that are supposed to be the “new gods” In the 19th century people were invited to in-vision a world without God, but in the 20th it had already been attempted through the Soviet Union. But by 1980 it was obvious that this had not happened, in seemed to have reversed. John Henry Newman wrote that Christianity was a, “living organism still in the process of evolving and developing”.
Pentecostalism seemed to become very popular in the years after the second World War. Pentecostalism stresses a direct, immediate experience with God, apposed to the more dry forms of worship in Christianity. It also uses a language that allows it to bridge cultural gaps easily. Chapter 8 – McGrath believes that Protestantism helped Atheism develop in some way. -Durning the Reformation the distinction between nature and God were widened a bit. The idea that the natural world was not sacred spread amongst popular thinkers. -They believed that even if God did create the world, we could not conceive God through it.
They believed that God had to be known indirectly. Protestant reformers suspected that that medieval Catholicism occasionally degenerated into a folk religion of nature. -They believed that God revealed himself through the bible and preaching. He states that Protestantism encouraged the notion that God was absent from human culture and experience. This idea seems to mirror some of the ideas the budding ideas of Atheism. McGrath argues that protestantism took away some of the creativity of religion, which in turn made atheism seem more appealing.
Atheism had a view of universality and a notion that it was above the common person. – Atheism has always been on the sidelines of American life and perhaps will remain there. – Signs of loss of confidence in atheism. – “Sun seems to be setting on an…‘empire of the mind’” Chapter 11 -Future of atheism lies in private belief, not in the public domain it once had. – Proved situation specific, not universal, and oppressing and not liberating. -Radical religious change led to tinkering with vocabulary instead of eliminating vices. Atheism confirms this theory. Nietzsche wrote, “God is dead, as a meaningful reality, but the people had to believe in something else if that was the case”. -Sigmund Freud stated that, “religion encouraged unhealthy and dysfunctional outlooks on life”. -Growing awareness for spirituality instead. -Religion brings together groups of people such as immigrants, creating communities. -In the US, atheism spawns organizations, not communities. -Atheism has not learned from their leader’s mistakes, and needs to grow leaders to fix it – Greatest virtue: moral seriousness. But atheism is in a twilight zone at the moment.