New research throws doubt onto the notion humans are pre-programmed to believe in deities. A study by the University of Cambridge has discovered that, contrary to popular belief, vast swathes of the ancient world did not believe in gods.
“We tend to see atheism as an idea that has only recently emerged in secular Western societies,” explained Prof Whitmarsh, a Fellow of St John’s College, University of Cambridge. He suggests that atheism was not just common in ancient Greek or Roman societies, but rather it flourished more back then than it does now. “We tend to see atheism as an idea that has only recently emerged in secular Western societies.” The "Age of Atheism" only ended, heproposes, when the generally tolerant societies were replaced by imperial forces that demanded the acceptance of one true God. He added: “The idea of a priest telling you what to do was alien to the Greek world.”
The truth is that we are all born atheist. It requires indoctrination and conditioning to become religious. It suits religious people to try to describe it as a 'belief', to try to bring atheism down to their level of thought. But you have to ask theists, how much 'belief' did it take for them to reject Odin or Brahman (and the other 380 known creation entities)? Or did they simply dismiss these creation stories because no-one insisted they were true when they were young? Why would you need to disprove unicorns and minotaurs in order to dismiss these ideas? It is up to the religious to support their assertions better, so that their magic-laden explanation of how the universe works doesn't need to be accepted almost completely on faith alone. Otherwise, their assertion is worthless, and can (and should) be dismissed as easily as any other ridiculous assertion. We're not hard-wired to believe in gods. Many pre-literate peoples seemed to have believed in spirits and demons, but this was only an extension of their animist belief that everything was alive and possessed some kind of consciousness. But these are not really gods in the commonly agreed sense of the term. In Elizabethan times, it was a capital crime to be an atheist, because it meant you denied the divine right of kings and queens. I suspect that gods have always been politically useful in some such way. The scale of the Church of England’s atrophy has been starkly set out by figures presented to its general assembly that show church attendance will continue to fall for the next 30 years.
For a Marxist materialist analysis of religion this pamphlet, 'Socialism and Religion', may be of use
An upcoming discussion meeting may also be helpful.
'Thoughts on Religion and Socialism'
Tuesday, 8 March - 7:45pm - 9:45pm
The Brighthelm Centre
(Pelham Room - First Floor - lift available),
Brighton BN1 1YD