From: perryc@wheelie.Sun.COM (Perry Cross)
Subject: Re: Atheism as religion (was Wake Up...)
In article <943NETOPRWA@NCSUVM> NETOPRWA@NCSUVM.BITNET (Wayne Aiken) writes:
>The more I hear from other atheists, the more I think that there are at
>least as many brands of atheism as there are atheists. One of the best
>definitions of atheism that I've heard yet is that it describes all of
>the lifestyles and philosophies which, though they may be very different
>from each other, do not contain certain aspects; namely belief in the
>supernatural or religion.
>Wayne Aiken email@example.com "You can BE what
I'm glad you brought this up. I tried to explain my position earlier
but think that Bertrand Russell says it better:
Are agnostics atheists?
No. An atheist, like a Christian, holds that we can know whether or
not there is a God. The Christian holds that we can know there is a
God; the atheist, that we can know there is not. The agnostic sus-
pends judgment, saying that there are not sufficient grounds either
for affirmation or for denial. At the same time, an agnostic may
hold that the existence of God, though not impossible, is very im-
probable; he may even hold it so improbable that it is not worth
considering in practice. In that case, he is not far removed from
atheism. His attitude may be that which a careful philosopher would
have toward the gods of ancient Greece. If I were asked to prove
that Zeus and Poseidon and Hera and the rest of the Olympians do
not exist, I should be at a loss to find conclusive arguments. An
agnostic may think the Christian God as improbable as the Olymp-
ians; in that case, he is, for practical purposes, at one with the
Since I've got a few minutes and am a touch typist (90 wpm) . . .
Since you deny "God's law," what authority do you accept as a
guide to conduct?
An agnostic does not accept any "authority" in the sense in which
religious people do. He holds that a man should think out questions
of conduct for himself. Of course, he will seek to profit by the
wisdom of others, but he will have to select for himself the people
he is to consider wise, and he will not regard even what they say as
unquestionable. He will observe that what passes as "God's law"
varies from time to time. The Bible says both that a woman must not
marry her deceased husband's brother, and that, in certain circum-
stances, she must do so. If you have the misfortune to be a childless
widow with an unmarried brother-in-law, it is logically impossible
for you to avoid disobeying "God's law".
How do you know what is good and what is evil?
What does an agnostic consider a sin?
The agnostic is not quite so certain as some Christians are as to
what is good and what is evil. He does not hold, as most Christians
in the past held, that people who disagree with the government on
abstruse points of theology ought to suffer a painful death. He is
against persecution, and rather chary of moral condemnation.
As for "sin", he thinks it not a useful notion. He admits, of
course, that some kinds of conduct are desirable and some undesirable,
but he holds that the punishment of undesirable kinds is only to be
commended when it is deterrent or reformatory, not when it is
inflicted because it is thought a good thing on its own account that
the wicked should suffer. It was this belief in vindictive punishment
that made men accept hell. This is part of the harm done by the
notion of "sin".
How does an agnostic regard the Bible?
An agnostic regards the Bible exactly as enlightened clerics regard
it. He does not think that it is divinely inspired; he thinks its
early history legendary, and no more exactly true than in Homer; he
thinks it moral teaching sometimes good, but sometimes very bad.
For example: Samuel ordered Saul, in a war, to kill not only every
man, woman, and child of the enemy, but also all the sheep and cattle.
Saul, however, let the sheep and cattle live, and for this we are told
to condemn him. I have never been able to admire Elisha for cursing
the children who laughed at him, or to believe (what the Bible
asserts) that a benevolent Deity would send two she-bears to kill the
How does an agnostic regard Jesus,
the Virgin Birth, and the Holy Trinity?
Since an agnostic does not believe in God, he cannot think that
Jesus was God. Most agnostics admire the life and moral teachings
of Jesus as told in the Gospels, but not necessarily more than those
of certain other men. Some would place him on a level with Buddha,
some with Socrates and some with Abraham Lincoln. Nor do they
think that what He said is not open to question, since they do not
accept any authority as absolute.
They regard the Virgin Birth as a doctrine taken over from
pagan mythology, where such births were not uncommon. (Zoroaster
was said to have been born of a virgin; Ishtar, the Babylonian
goddess, is called the Holy Virgin.) They cannot give credence to it,
or to the doctrine of the Trinity, since neither is possible without
belief in God.
I agree with Bertrand except where he distinguishes agnosticism from religion;
like I've said, I view religion with a broader definition that includes