A very Christian friend of mine recently were discussing a Book I am working on for publication, and I thought I would share his statement and my response.
Friend: "Atheism is religion without a god"
Me: Intellectual Atheism, is the understanding that Humanity created various Religious concepts, in order to make sense of the unknown.
Religion started with Nature Spirits and by endowing aspects of nature, such as the Elements, ancient Man was able to make sense of the chaos that the elements often created. As, it is much easier to accept that ones actions, or failures, served as a catalyst for the destructive aspects of said Elements.
The concept of Nature Spirits evolved into Totemism, this concept allowed individuals to commune with said Nature Spirits and attempt to “borrow” their powers, thus lending a sense of “control” of those Elements.
Totemism, with the additive of “Control”, then evolved into Shamanism. Instead of just “communing” and “borrowing” these “powers” individuals soon understood that by “controlling” these things they also could control other individuals and thus the first Ruling Class was established, the Shaman.
Now utilizing the aspects of both “Nature Spirits” and “Sacred Totems”, the Shaman created specific “beings” that controlled the unknown, in this manner the Shaman then could speak with, and “control” these supernatural forces.
Early instances of this took the form of Totems and the beings that controlled these things were Animals. The aspect of nature that these animals controlled differed from culture, to culture and the specific type of animal differed from location, to location.
However, as an example, the Eagle would represent the Sky Spirit.
It did not take long for such things to evolve and soon the “Nature Spirits” and “Sacred Totems” were anthropomorphized and were given Human type attributes. One can see this cross over in such things as Satyrs and Nymphs.
As Human society grew and Humans became more prideful, arrogant and egocentric, they could not accept that “Nature Spirits” and “Sacred Totems”, or even half animal, half man beats were their “Gods”, so these concepts of power changed to ones with familiar Human forms.
In this way, Humanity was able to make sense of the various aspects of the “Gods” because they were like Humans now, they wanted things, loved/hated each other and had emotions. Now the new Human “Gods” were direct reflections of Humanity itself.
In this short span of “Religion” we see man attempting to understand the things they feared, then control it, then familiarize it, then in pride, change it to reflect themselves. One can see this progression of religious thought in ALL cultures throughout time. The names change, but the concepts and the reasons remain the same.
This is why so many Religions and Mythologies have significant cross overs, not because they were “once the same”, but because the process was a shared aspect of Humanity itself.
The Ruling Class created in the form of the Shaman also evolved, so did the rituals, and customs and all were based on various cultural aspects. Of course all of these things grew, changed and evolved as well, with one notable exception.
That exception was the concept and reality, of the control that those who had direct connections with the “Spirits” and the “Gods” held over the common people. Thus, this control over the common people became the first form of Government called Theocracy.
Later, this evolved and warriors and politicians were able to wrestle the power away from the Religion that created the Government, yet the concept of “POWER” and “GOD” was still retained and we then see the new leaders come into play as Kings, who were the “chosen favorite of God”.
Social and cultural aspects changed overtime, but this concept griped the entire world for the majority of Human History. This only changed in recently modern times, because of three things that happened.
First King Henry the VIII overthrew the control held by the Pope in Rome and then established the Law that anyone could go into a Church and read the Bible and even encouraged literacy. This was the first time in Human History that the “Holy Secrets” were opened to the common person.
The real big win for Humanity here, was that King Henry the VIII encouraged literacy, as prior to this, only the Greeks and Romans allowed those outside of the Church to learn to read and even then, that was allowed only to some individuals and those in lower classes were not allowed to become literate.
Second, shortly after King Henry's actions the reformation lead to outright religious war and the result was the Puritan and Protestant migration to the American Colonies.
This act was just a catalyst though and set the stage for the third thing that changed the world as we know it.
Third, in the mid 1700's King George the III broke the Charter of Law with the American Colony of Massachusetts. This act resulted in the American Colonies breaking away from the King and the Church and created what would become America, whose basis of freedom was ensured by removing the Church from the State Government completely.
Now that the Church had no say in Government Politics, everyone was allowed to be literate and everyone was allowed the right of following any religion they desired. This last bit broke the chains of power and control that Religion had used for 1000's of years, because it completely abolished the ability of any one religious following, to control the Government and thus the people.
So, given all of this, I do not see the statement of “Atheism is religion without a god” as reflecting the truth of the matter of Atheism at all.
As to me, Atheism is the understanding that Humanity created various Religious concepts, in order to make sense of the unknown. It is further the understanding that Religion itself reflects a fundamental aspect of Humanities social conscious evolution and that Religion and Mythology, are just aspects of the same coin.
Of all the Religions on Earth, the vast majority have been allowed to fall into the mists of Mythology, save the Abrahamic God who is shared by the Muslim, Jewish and Christian faiths. They were allowed to do so, because Humanity has accepted the truth that these concepts are nothing more than Humanities own creations and a real reflection of Humanities fears and Ego.
To me, a more accurate statement would then be: “Atheism, is the acceptance that religion was created as a means to control Humanity and is now, nothing more than Mythology”.
I do not hate God, I do not hate, or reject Religion. I am an Atheist because Science, Logic and History demands that I see the concept as God and Religion through the lens of a literate and objective scholar of Anthropology and Sociology.
Anthropology means by definition, the "science of humanity" and Sociology is “the scientific study of human society”. After all, what branches of science are better suited to study religion, than the science of humanity and human society?
In closing, this belief is not substituting Science, for Religion. Rather, it is substituting fear and ego, with knowledge and humility.
No supernatural force rules the destiny of Humankind and the responsibility of our destiny is in our hands alone.