As an experiment, ask the next ten people you encounter to spell the word ‘Atheist’. You will be surprised that quite a large proportion will do so using ‘iest’ instead of the correct ‘eist’. The word ‘Atheism’ (from the Greek – without a god) is a derivation of Theism (belief in one creator god). The spelling of Theism does not suffer the same amount of error. Why is this so?
This simple test shows that the fear of Atheism is very considerable and that those, who have most to lose by its wider acceptance, have attempted to eradicate it from thought and history.
The word Atheism has always had a bad press as well as no press. When its use could not be avoided it has been convenient to associate it with negatives. God-less, devil worship, no morality – and so on and so forth. Most people have never met an Atheist, or have they? The truth here is that most people have not known that they have met or associated with an Atheist because the underlying bad connotations of that stance have restricted disclosure.
The suppression of Atheism is not only an affair of Christianity and other contemporary religions.
In the year 89 BCE*, in his most famous work, De Rerum Natura (On the Nature of Things), Titus Lucretius Carus poetically railed against the upsurge of religious fervour. Incidentally, the phrase “from ashes to ashes”, used in many funeral services, most likely originates from it, for it is not in the Bible. The authorities of the day, or soon after, rid the world of all copies but one, which luckily was found at the time of the Renaissance.
One of the more famous heinous acts committed against free thought is the mob killing of Hypatia, mathematician, astronomer, philosopher and non-Christian, in the 5th century CE*. She was brutally killed and mutilated by the followers of Saint (sic) Cyril, the over-zealous Bishop of Alexandria. At the same time the enormous library of all the wisdom of the ancient civilisation was torched and lost forever.
It is of some amusement to note that, because the Roman’s believed in their gods, they classified the earliest Christians as Atheists. A very good example of all religions affecting all minds in similar fashion.
The 17th century had Galileo brought before the Inquisition for daring to suggest that the Earth revolved around the Sun. The threat of death forced Galileo to openly recant such a ‘blasphemous’ theory. In 1992, The Vatican acknowledged its error. Roman Catholics are certainly quick off the mark in keeping up with scientific discovery!
The 18th century produced Thomas Paine. Those in recognition of his huge contribution to humanity affectionately know him as “Tom”. That we live in a free democratic society is largely attributable to Tom. His invisibility, from then to now, is the best case one can recall of religious manipulation of historical facts. Tom was not an Atheist in those pre-Darwin days, but a Deist. He would most assuredly be an Atheist if alive today. Even Theodore Roosevelt was in on the act of diminishing the importance of Tom by calling him that filthy little Atheist. As pointed out by Keith S Cornish, long-time President of the Atheist Foundation of Australia Inc “Theodore Roosevelt was wrong on three counts. Thomas Paine was not filthy but of refined demeanour, he was not little but five feet ten inches tall and he was not an Atheist but a Deist.”
When, in the 19th Century, Charles Darwin developed his ideas on Evolution, survival of the fittest and natural selection of species, there was a delay of 20 years before he dared to publish this book. How shameful and shameless are the advocates of fixed thinking in denying one of the most important advances in natural science. They refused the light of reason to shine.
Bertrand Russell, Mathematician and Philosopher and one of the world’s greatest thinkers, also raised the ire of the religious in the 20th Century. A prolific writer and winner of the Nobel Literature prize for his book, Marriage and Morals, he suffered continual harassment and even did a stint in gaol for promoting peace. It will never be known how many developing minds were denied the unique and remarkable experience of being taught by him. Those who had him banned from teaching at the College of the City of New York did the students and the planet an awful injustice. The works of Bertrand Russell have received nowhere near the credit they deserve and it is not unusual to meet with people who have never heard of him nor have knowledge of his huge intellectual stature.
These are only tip-of-the-iceberg examples of the alteration or attempted modification of historical evidence by systemic influence. They are very obvious illustrations of the ‘forces of darkness’ at work and it is only Atheists and the astute who see the micro and macro mechanisms of a mind-control relentlessly operating on a day-to-day basis. These historical instances cannot be denied nor can it be denied that religions go out of their way to interfere with apostates in a most serious manner.
Many methods have been employed. The greatest censure, of course, is death or threat of death, not only in the past but also at the present time. Taslima Nasrin, Salman Rushdie and Larry Flynt belong in this category, along with many others. If it were not for the limitations imposed on the church by democracies, this would be common practice as it is today where religion is the key political player.
Another method that had, and still does have, wide acceptance as a ‘legitimate’ tool in separating the flock from the usurper is ‘denouncement from the pulpit’. (The Anglican clergy has subjected this writer to such denouncement. Because this has not been directly life-threatening, I have taken it as a complement in my effectiveness in combating religion.) Keep well away from so-and-so is the message, an imperative that if broken reflects poorly on the person who does so.
Religious leaders may be the instigators of censorship by various means, but it is the followers who willingly allow any unjust actions. Witches and heretics have been burned, crusades inflicted on the innocent, slavery justified Biblically, gay and lesbian people ostracised etc. Adherents of religions are influenced to follow the dictates of leaders for two main reasons – firstly, that not to go along with the crowd can create a situation where they themselves are ostracised: and secondly, overt ideas, in opposition to those accepted, take on the role of being a threat to one’s own intellectual integrity. Put simply, if they are right, then I am wrong. It is far easier to ostracise or worse.
The extremely unfortunate trait of humans feeling better at someone else’s misfortune also plays a part in supporting injustices to imagined traitors.
How gratifying it is that, after centuries of standing up for the truth, Atheists of this generation are beginning to see the fruits of past heroic actions by their kind. Religions are failing in the numerical sense because of their inability to combat the leaps in scientific understanding. As the strict childhood indoctrination of past generations wanes in its practise in democratic countries, it will be accompanied by an equal upsurge in Atheism.
The inherent danger in the death throes of religion is that the power they still wield is in high places and it continues to prevent comprehensive education of advanced ethical standards to be a ubiquitous reality. They live in hope that societies will break down to such an extent that they again will take control of the World and all that is in it, in a manner already tried. This was the time known as the Dark Ages.
Religion is the greatest folly of Humanity. It has expended great amounts of energy in an attempt to expunge Atheism but, by the greater efforts of our predecessors, they have failed miserably. We who benefit by their sacrifice, who live as only they could have dreamed, who have the benefit of advanced scientific understanding of nature and who see religion as it is and not as it is popularly portrayed, must continue the battle.
We, who are Atheists, WILL NEVER BE EXPUNGED.
BCE replacing BC and standing for Before the Common Era
*CE replacing AD and standing for the Common Era
By David Nicholls