Atheism 101: The Western Religions


Now that things have settled down and I’m feeling better, I think it’s about time to get back to the Atheism 101 posts. Since I talked about the Bible and Koran in the last two posts, I will now be talking about the Western religions as a whole.

The Western religions include many forms of Paganism (anything from western Europe and the Americas) and Judaism and Christianity (due to where the majority of their followers can be found). Scientology would also be included in this list. I will not discuss these religions separately here but as a whole.

So why don’t atheists agree with Western religion? Well, not all atheists don’t agree with the western religions. In fact, some atheists practice different forms of Paganism (actually, there are atheists who practice Christianity and Judaism too). Many of them do so because they enjoy the culture and the traditions even though they don’t believe in the gods. However, many of the atheists who have a problem with western religion have a problem because of the institutions involved. This isn’t so much the case with Paganism, since Pagans don’t really have any power in our society. However, a lot of religious institutions use their status as religious to unfairly regulate the actions of people, including those who aren’t a part of the religion. A number of religious institutions have also caused a lot of harm. Both Scientology and some forms of Christianity have been accused of holding people, generally children, against their will. Children have been abused and killed at the direction of those with power within a religion. People have been conned out of their money and been made to feel guilty for things that aren’t necessarily wrong. And religious institutions have created wars. Those things tend to make atheists uncomfortable with the power of religious institutions. Most atheists are less concerned with people simply holding to one of these belief systems, but we do view them as false. It is the fact that we believe religions (or rather, belief in gods) are false that cause a number of atheists to criticise believers, because they believe that the believers are either being conned into believing a falsehood or are willingly believing a falsehood (sound familiar?).

On a side note, it is the fact that atheists criticise believers for believing what we believe to be false that has led me to think of atheism as more than simply a lack of belief in gods. If we merely lacked a belief, then we wouldn’t care what others believed. However, if we also actively believed that gods don’t exist, then we have a reason to care what others believe. As such, I define atheism as the belief that there are no gods, not as a lack of belief in gods.

Back to the main article. As I have already stated, not all atheists disagree with western religions. We just disagree with the gods premises. Some atheists like religion. Some atheists are religious. Some atheists wish they could be religious. Some merely don’t care about religion. Others feel annoyed at the power of religion. Some feel annoyed at the people who are religious. And others believe that religion should be gotten rid of. It all depends on the atheist.

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6 responses to “Atheism 101: The Western Religions

  • rura88

    I understand in the case of emphasising location over historical and cultural origin, it is convenient. Then why do you define European paganism as rooted in Europe?

    I point this out because this is the confusing part about your post. I referred to Aristotelian tendencies for a reason. Sometimes the apparent need to categorise something introduces a bias that can redefine the thing that is categorised.

    I do not think the “western” and “Eastern” divide are problematic. It is there for historical and cultural reasons. To rename something without acknowledging its origins has been done so much by “Imperial Europe” that to this day it limits our understanding of certain cultural feats.

    For good example, read the original “Kamasutra text” and compare it with the thing the British imperialists made it: exotic pornography. Another good example is the Bible itself. People like Luther brought it to the people whereby it transformed from legendary book of holy truths to the composed written accounts of the Biblical writers. The reader can thus form his or own opinions.

    If you really want to get to root of atheism and “Western” religion look at the Roman Catholic legacy, in particular Scholastic-ism for no atheist can deny the influence of the scholastic teachings.

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  • M Semet

    I think that western religions have some good values, but it’s not because of god–it’s because these were basic, common sense values in the first place. Don’t kill or steal? I say that’s a value all can get behind, regardless of religion.

    I definitely agree that some “traditions” may be more appealing than others. I have been an atheist since 11 or 12, during a time when people were much more intolerant (I am 38 now, for reference) and at least from personal experience I like Christmas better than Ramadan or Channukah (much more).

    Perhaps the attraction is the ritual. I think people mistake atheists as a people devoid of tradition and ritual (though of course, some traditions and rituals need to be sent to the dustbin of history). When some people insist on religion, it is not based on logic–it is all based on emotional need. Logic cannot possibly beat emotion, for better or for worse. And to be fair, emotion is actually what fuels our individual logic for the most part.

    I know plenty of people who are religious because they just don’t want to be alone. Fair or not, this is a real emotional need for many people. Today, I would say that atheism is no longer so lonely–many people can “come out” and not be ostracized in many places. But back then, forget it. Just my 2 cents.

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  • Atheism 101: The Western Religions | Christians Anonymous

    […] Source: Atheism 101: The Western Religions […]

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  • rura88

    Interesting read. Do you know what is peculiar?

    Often Judaism and Christianity are called “Western.” That is historically and culturally incorrect as Jesus was a Hebrew and Jew first in the New Testament.

    After the Romans made Christianity their state religion Christianity became “Western” in all kinds of ways, first of all Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox.

    The Aristotelian tendency of categorising everything because “Western” scholars know better is really hurting our perception of things as they are.

    Liked by 1 person

    • hessianwithteeth

      Christianity is dominant in the west, but not in the east, and most Jews live in the west (the US has as many or more Jews living there than Israel does). This is why they are called western religions, not because they are from the west.

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    • hessianwithteeth

      I do agree that the “western” and “eastern” divide can and has been problematic, but it’s actually useful where religion is concerned: Eastern religions tend to have significant differences from western religions.

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