Atheism - a positive statement

  (05 November 07)
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The following is a statement about atheism found on www.atheist.org/Atheism that rejects the negative "what atheists don't believe" for a more positive formulation.

"Atheism is a doctrine that states that nothing exists but natural phenomena (matter), that thought is a property or function of matter, and that death irreversibly and totally terminates individual organic units. This definition means that there are no forces, phenomena, or entities which exist outside of or apart from physical nature, or which transcend nature, or are “super” natural, nor can there be. Humankind is on its own.

The following definition of Atheism was given to the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Murray v. Curlett, 374 U.S. 203, 83 S. Ct. 1560, 10 L.Ed.2d (MD, 1963), to remove reverential Bible reading and oral unison recitation of the Lord's Prayer in the public schools.

“Your petitioners are Atheists and they define their beliefs as follows. An Atheist loves his fellow man instead of god. An Atheist believes that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth for all men together to enjoy.

An Atheist believes that he can get no help through prayer but that he must find in himself the inner conviction, and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and enjoy it.

An Atheist believes that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help to a life of fulfillment.

He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An Atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An Atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An Atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man.

He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter.

He believes that we are our brother's keepers; and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now.”

Is this our view of what it is to be an atheist? 

10 comments

"man" always refers to male."People" is often a useful inclusive term, and better also than "humankind."
"Seeks to love." rather than "loves."
"Seeks to be responsible."

Posted by Roger Swain

Scott McKenzie has presented us with a rousing statement of the Atheist Faith. Or should it be, Faith in Atheism? Or, perhaps, faith in an Atheist ideal?
At least it is positive, rather than the usual negative way in which Atheism is viewed by the other Freethinking schools of thought - Humanism, Rationalism, Secularism, Skepticism. Atheism is negative, they say. Old fashioned, out of date, anachronistic.
But does an Atheist ideal stand up to harsh reality more resolutely than any other ideal? This question reminded me that back in 1995 I had written on this sort of subject for The Skeptic Journal. I found the article after a search through old boxes. Here it is for your perusal :-

THE SANCITY OF MORALITY: ARE VALUES SACRED?

Some of us may be religious. Some of us may have supernatural beliefs. There are those who have paranormal beliefs. Then there are those who have secular belief-systems. The most notorious secular belief-systems are Nationalism, Fascism and Communism. These latter three give an imagined assurance of superiority to the in-group and, at worst, involve intense blind hatred toward the out-groups, be it based on nationality, race or class.
Some of us have become so sceptical of our belief systems that we have lost them. Yet we feel the need for some sort of belief-system, if only to underpin our values. One secular grouping, the Rationalists, offers us a belief in rationality, reason and science. Another such grouping are the Secular Humanists. One type of description of
Humanism is that it is a set of ethical ideals and moral values considered to be of ultimate concern by the individual holding them.
The Humanist Society of Victoria states its objectives as, "To help create a society in which a person may reach his or her potential free from supernatural beliefs; and to foster a scientific approach to human problems". On the other hand, the Humanist Society of New South Wales has declared itself to be a Religion; if not on the same level as the supernatural religions, then at least in the sense of a Life Philosophy or a Life Stance, in the manner of Confucianism.
Modern Secular Humanism has been plagued by this debate ever since its inception. For example, the young Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels held Humanist values. Socialism, their ideal socio-economic system, was to be the means of achieving those values. However, following the criticism directed at their guru, Ludwig Feuerbach, by Max Stirner (another Young-Hegelian philosopher), Marx and Engels dumped both their Humanist values and their Socialist ideal. Why?
Max Stirner (1806- 1856) published his book, 'The Ego and Its Own', in 1844, causing a furore among his acquaintances, 'Die Freien' (The Free Ones), a Berlin group of intellectuals with diverse viewpoints, amongst whom Marx and Engels are the best known.
Max Stirner denounced all ethical and moral principles as `Sacred', in that all such ideals are above and beyond the individual. Individuals must serve the ideal and not their own interests or desires. Individuals must revere the ideal and be prepared to sacrifice their lives for the ideal if called upon to do so. This situation applies no matter what ideal it is one's duty to serve:- God, Queen, Country, Nation, Family, Tribe, Community, Society, Class, Colour, Race, Goodness, Truth, Justice, Freedom, Humanity, etc. The ideal is everything, the individual nothing. The ideal is Sacred.
Stirner further argued that the various religions are simply sets of moral and ethical ideals, and that the gods of each particular religion are merely the personification of that religion's set of ideals.
Stirner contended that the Humanist philosopher Ludwig Feuerbach, in his 1841 book 'The Essence of Christianity', had replaced one sacred ideal with another. Feuerbach had replaced God with Man, Mankind, Humanity. Instead of it being God to whom individuals were duty bound to sacrifice their interests, it was now a new sacred ideal, Humanity. Stirner further contended that his concept of Sacred also applied to ideal socio-economic systems such as Socialism.
Engels, in a letter to Marx (19 November 1844), initially expressed partial agreement with Stirner, but later, Marx and Engels when writing their book 'The German Ideology' in 1845-6, included a section entitled `Saint Max', containing 350 pages vilifying, parodying and lampooning their colleague, Max Stirner, whilst at the same time utilising many of his ideas, and by so doing inaugurated what we now know as Mature Marxism or Historical Materialism.
This marks the turning point where Marx and Engels, although dumping their Humanist ideals, nevertheless began the attempt of resurrecting their Socialism as `Scientific'. Socialism would not be the outcome of any ethical or moral values held by Humankind, but was inevitable. Socialism would be the historical outcome of the inexorable movement of objective economic forces.
Consequently, this outcome would have had nothing whatsoever to do with ethical ideals, it would be value-neutral. By this method Marx and Engels believed that they had avoided Stirner's claim that their Socialism was Sacred.
Where does that leave modem Secular Humanism? To follow Marx and Engels into the metaphysical alchemy of inverting Idealism and adding Materialism? Hey Presto, a new pseudoscience, Dialectical Materialism! Or should the Humanists ditch all their ideals and risk becoming totally lost like the Existentialists? Skeptics warn, "Don't take your scepticism too far!". The Existentialists did take their scepticism too far, and fell off the edge. Many of them are floundering in a meaningless and purposeless void, a situation which can often become life-threatening.
Another German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche (1844 - 1900), is accused by some scholars of plagiarising the ideas of the lesser known Max Stirner. Consequently, Stirner is now considered to be the first atheistic Existentialist. Yet some label Stirner a Nihilist rather than an Existentialist. Nihilism shares with Existentialism the realisation of the meaninglessness of both belief and value systems. The Nihilist, like Stirner, wallows in this realisation and rejoices in the release from such shackles.
On the other hand, the Existentialist is horrified by his loss of belief and despairingly searches for a replacement, knowing that he will not be able to really believe in it. An Existentialist can be said to be a Nihilist who cannot stand being a Nihilist. Meaninglessness might make a Nihilist joyful, but it gives the Existentialist `angst'. This makes him flail about trying to generate a new meaning and desperately attempting to believe in this newly created meaning.
But Humanists already have their own created meanings, values and ideals. Or they have procured some with which they are quite content. So my serious advice to the Secular Humanists is to stick to their beliefs. They may need them for their psychological well-being. They shouldn't allow themselves to be browbeaten into ditching their ideals by the Nihilist claim that all meanings, values, principles and ideals are necessarily Sacred; in other words, Religious.

Posted by David Miller

“Read James Burnham and Wilhelm Reich”, George Molnar told me. He had arrived at the Sydney rendezvous in early 1959 together with another chap whose name I can’t remember.
On of the Melbourne Anarchists, the artist John Olday, had given me a copy of Libertarian No.1. Its political standpoint was just what I needed. I had recently lost my faith in the Marxist concept of the ‘revolutionary vanguard’. But, more significantly, I had also lost my faith in the ‘masses’, a faith the Anarchists still retain.
“Go along to the Royal George and meet the Sydney Push”, George had suggested. I took a few steps inside the Pub and froze. I wasn’t into alcohol, and the sight of the lurching bodies and the sound of the raucous voices rendering, ‘Rock, rock, rock everybody’, as ‘F- -k, f- -k, f- -k everybody’, was more than I could stand. I turned and fled.
The Sydney Libertarians would have found me a pain in the neck. I was far too serious. Although I had lost my fixation on fighting, and perhaps dying, for the Revolution, I had replaced it with the desire to participate in the armed struggle of an oppressed people against their imperialist overlords. By this stage I was including the Hungarians and Tibetans in my list of the oppressed.
I leapt on my Vincent HRD Rapide and motorcycled back towards Melbourne, where I jumped on a ship to Europe. On reaching London I read Burnham’s “Managerial Revolution” and Reich’s “Mass Psychology of Fascism”. So when terror gripped me and undermined my emotional commitment during my attempt to volunteer for the Algerian Freedom Fighters, I had no ‘ideology’ on which to fall back. What was the point of sacrificing oneself in order to install a local ruling class in the place of a colonial one? I hit the bottle.


After a number of years of alcoholic mind-suicide, I became serious again and found myself gravitating toward a tiny faction on the fringe of the London Anarchist Group. These were the Conscious Egoists, the followers of Max Stirner, a philosopher (1805 - 1856). We mistakenly labelled ourselves as Individualist Anarchists. Our leading light was Sid Parker, editor of ‘Minus One’ and ‘Ego”. Around 1965 our Egoist group was joined by Paddy McGuinness (future Editor of Australia's Quadrant Magazine). At the time I found Paddy’s beery frivolity to be quite tedious.
I remember an incident in 1967 at which I could have cheerfully strangled Paddy. He had managed to make himself the Chairman of the London Anarchist Group and as such was amusing himself by imposing on them an evening of extracts from the Marquis de Sade, read out by Paddy in an ever louder voice to drown out the protests. I particularly remember squirming through Paddy’s gleeful rendition of the story of the young lady who is tied up and a VD infected guy is brought in to rape her and she is then sown up. Unfortunately I had enticed a new girlfriend to the meeting by promising her that the LAG had ‘interesting’ discussions.

In 1971, a few years after returning to Australia, I created the Existentialist Society. Inscribed across the Society’s masthead is the statement, “For those who despairingly ponder whether one can live without self-deception or without hedonistic escapism; yet who, despite the anguish of life’s futility and meaninglessness, still seek purpose and an authentic existence.” The hedonistic escapism was a reference to the Sydney Libertarians; the self-deceiver was myself.


Posted by David Miller

Atheism described...such a comfort to read and intelligent piece
J

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