"Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without theism and other supernatural beliefs, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity." -American Humanist Association
“Atheism is the lack of belief in a deity, which implies 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.” – American Atheists
“These individuals are undecided about the existence of God. Further, they do not really consider the question to be particularly important. They have derived their moral and behavioral codes from secular considerations. Their ethical behavior would not be altered if a deity were proven to exist.”- Religious Tolerance
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What is Atheism?
"What is atheism?" is usually the one question never asked of most atheists. Most people do not ask this question because they already have their own ideas about what atheism is and what atheists are. Where these ideas originate vary.
Older dictionaries define atheism as "a belief that there is no God" and/or "denial of God." Some dictionaries go further and say that atheism is "wickedness," "sinfulness," "heathenism," "paganism," and "immorality." Some dictionaries even say that atheism is the "doctrine that there is no God." At least The American Heritage ® Dictionary says "God and gods" after the word "doctrine," but that does not detract from the fact that use of the word doctrine is incorrect.
The fact that the dictionary's definition uses the phrase "there is no God" betrays the theistic influence in defining the word atheism. If dictionaries did not contain such influence, then the definition would read, "A belief that there are no gods." The use of god in singular form, with a capital G, is indicative of Christian influence.
In addition, using words like "doctrine" and "denial" betray the negativity seen of atheists by theistic writers. Atheism does not have a doctrine at all and atheists certainly do not "deny" that gods exist. Denial is the "refusal to believe." Atheism does not "know there is a god but refuse to believe in him" (or her). That would be like saying that you know Big Foot exists but you refuse to believe in him. If the evidence of gods was insurmountable and provable, and atheists still refused to believe, then that would be an act of denial.
Speaking of the original meaning, the word atheism comes from the Greek atheos, which means "without god." The original meaning of the word, based on its Greek origins, mentions nothing about "disbelief" or "denial." A short and single-word definition would be "godless."
Is Atheism a belief system or religion?
Theists usually define atheism incorrectly as a belief system. Atheism is not a belief system. Atheism is not a religion.
Atheism is a lack of belief in gods, from the original Greek meaning of "without gods." That is it. There is nothing more to it. If someone wrote a book titled "Atheism Defined," it would only be one sentence long.
Let us look at the different definitions of religion and see if atheism belongs in any of them.
1. Belief in and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship.
No atheism resides in that definition. Atheists do not believe in a supernatural power or powers.
2. Beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
Atheism does not have a spiritual leader and atheism does not have any rites or rituals (practices) around such a spiritual leader. Atheism requires no initiation, no baptism, there is no Atheist Bible (Koran, Vedas, etc) to read, no rituals that atheists must go through to join an Atheist Church (temple, mosque, synagogue, sect, etc), and no central beliefs that all atheists must adhere to in order to be "true atheists."
The common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Every atheist is as unique as a fingerprint when it comes to his or her individual philosophy, convictions, and ideals.
Why are you Atheists?
There are many reasons why people become atheists. A common misconception is that most atheists rejected gods because of some traumatic event in their personal or theistic lives. When asked this question during debates or discussions the theist assumes atheists were driven from religion because of some psychological crisis associated with the churches, religions, or gods that atheists may or may not have had as younger theists, or that atheists had some major event happen in their personal lives that made them hate gods. It is not that complicated. In order to hate gods, atheists would have to believe in gods.
Atheists we have talked to have entered high school, college, or a technical school as theists and have left as atheists. Some entered seminary or theology school as theists and left as atheists. For some atheists this transition did not take place until later in life.
The majority of atheists we have met told us that they started by simply questioning some of the core beliefs of their religion. These questions led them to ask their religious leaders. The religious leaders’ answers left them unsatisfied. They would then go out and learn on their own, researching their theology and often the theology of other religions. For some that journey took months or a few years and for some that journey took decades.
Some atheists grew up in non-religious households. Other atheists questioned the theology from their youth and never became a "true believer" in any religion.
We are atheists because in our view theisms and religions cannot and do not provide the answers to the biggest questions in life, the very questions that religionists often claim they are the sole providers of the answers.
We are talking about questions like "Why am I here?" "What's the meaning of life?" and "Where did I come from?" The religions of the world fail to answer these questions in a meaningful way. Religions fall short significantly by reciting or parroting answers that are not logically sound or just fanciful. Sure, it is nice to think that when we die that we will go to an afterlife full of peace and tranquility beside loving gods who care for us for all eternity. However, the reality is completely different.
There is no proof or evidence for the existence of gods. There is no need for or use for gods. Superstition and ignorance have never served mankind in a good way. Religions have shown themselves to be intolerant and bigoted. Religions have impeded scientific progress, liberty, and reformation.
Man has invented many gods over the tens of thousands of years and the majority of them have fallen by the wayside in the scrapheap of mythology. The modern manmade gods will be no different than the gods of the early Shamans or Greeks.