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Atheism leaves to man reason, philosophy, natural piety, laws, reputation, and everything that can serve to conduct him to virtue; but superstition destroys all these, and erects itself into a tyranny over the understandings of men.

It may come as a surprise, but atheism (the absence of a belief in deities) is the oldest worldview of modern humans and predates the first religion by 190,000 years. It developed in Africa some 200,000 years ago and spread wherever human beings went to live.

The first group of Homo sapiens, some time during the Middle Stone Age, probably lives on roots and carrion and has primitive stone tools. They know they have only themselves to thank for, and possibly their ancestors who showed them how to make and use them.

None of them ask where they come from. They'd need a more complex language for that, anyway.

And once they improve the ability to articulate themselves, they have more important things to discuss. Coordinating hunts, for example, and agreeing on rules to live by to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the group.

As the millennia go by, they might become curious about their origins. We don't know whether they already start asking where they come from, but we know for certain that they don't come up with any nonsensical pseudo-answers. Not just yet.

A lot of humans leave Africa and start populating the rest of the world. Many of them are burying their dead. They're still atheists, though, and the burial is not a ritual but a way to remove a decomposing body from the community for hygienic reasons. Cremations serve the same purpose.

Men start making figurines of naked women. They still don't believe that those women have superpowers, they just like naked women.

People start painting caves. They still haven't invented the supernatural, they just enjoy painting pictures, each to their own taste and ability: some paint buffalo, some paint spirals, and some just do a handprint.

The first hard evidence of the existence of religion comes from the first written documents from about 5,000 years ago, such as the Kesh Temple Hymn, the Legend of Etana and the Pyramid Texts, all of which indicate that society at that time had been entirely religionised.

It is most likely that religion is created during the early stages of the Neolithic Revolution around 11,000 years ago. At the beginning of the current interglacial (which results in flood myths in coastal areas), humans develop agriculture and husbandry, and their communities for the first time reach sizes in which the individuals don't personally know each other any more, and the desire to dominate such large groups must be strong in many. However, we can imagine that nobody rules for long, and whoever comes to power is replaced by someone stronger shortly afterwards.

So what would a successful ruler need to secure his power? Ideally, he would be able to justify his authority. And since there is no logical justification of his authority, he has to think of an illogical one, something like a supreme being that nobody can see and hear, apart from himself, but who is all-powerful and who will squash all his enemies (who incidentally happen to be the ruler's enemies, too). Basic magic tricks like ventriloquism or optical illusions may help to convince the others. (As Arthur C. Clarke so aptly put it, ‘any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.’ [1] )

The recently discovered Göbekli Tepe [2] [3] , an impressive hilltop structure in the Urfa Province of Turkey, has been dated to the very beginning of the Neolithic Revolution 11,000 years ago (which makes it more than twice as old as Newgrange, Stonehenge or the Egyptian Pyramids). Food remains indicate that the builders are still hunters, challenging the traditional view that settlements only occurred after the development of agriculture. It is less than twenty miles away from Karaca Dag [4] [5] , the settlement where 2,000 years later the first wheat is domesticated. While its purpose isn’t yet clear since only an estimated 3-5% of the complex have been excavated, many claim that this is the first temple ever built. And even though there is no proof of Göbekli Tepe having served a religious purpose so far, this may well be the case.
The structure consists of 20 stone circles, each of which has been deliberately buried (in 19 cases to make room for the next one). Every circle contains two massive pillars which may have supported a roof and are covered with reliefs of wild and domesticated animals. The image of a decapitated corpse surrounded by vultures may indicate sky burials which are still common for Zoroastrians.
The task of building this complex, and in particular raising the pillars which weigh up to 60 tonnes without any technical equipment, would have required hundreds of obedient and dedicated workers. This means that a large community already existed, and if they didn’t live in Göbekli Tepe themselves, they are most likely to have come from a settlement in the surrounding area. It is a far shot, but one day we might be able to trace the origin of religion.

Now religion is born. The idea spreads like a virus, even to the Americas (which had been populated before the Neolithic Revolution), probably through contact with Polynesians. [6] Within a few hundred or thousand years the world is entirely infected by religion. Well, not entirely… one small island community that has been separated from the mainland by the current interglacial some 10,000 years ago stays uninfected because it was cut off from all other humans, and so Tasmania remains atheist until the first British settlement. [7] [7a]

To be frank, we still don't know much about the early stages of the Religion Age. But since religion was created to justify authority, we can be sure that it is totalitarian and strictly enforced from the very start, that there is no place for reason any longer, and that whoever doesn't go along with worshipping and sacrificing to the new deities will be killed in their names. In a short period of time, 190,000 years of atheism are wiped out, and it is pretended that it never existed in the first place. Being rational is not an option any more.

In the beginning, the rulers declare themselves high priests (or even deities) of their cults, but over the years another caste takes control of the gods and all their business (literally): the priests. Deciding everything from the character of the deities to their rituals and sacrifices (which, of course, benefit the priests), many of them even manage to keep a tight grip on the ruler himself whom they can sacrifice to his subjects as a heretic at any time.

Over time religions are refined to serve multiple purposes. For example, they are used to explain natural phenomena like thunderbolts and hurricanes. And the afterlife, which used to be the privilege of a few chosen ones, soon is opened to the general public. That way a subject's loyalty can be ensured by telling them that their status in the hereafter depends entirely on their obedience, servility and piety in real life.

Besides authority over others, deities are also used to justify other institutions that make non-religious humans cringe, such as genocide and slavery.

Of course there can't be one all-powerful deity since otherwise the world would be flawless, and so the pantheons include several gods who constantly step on each other's toes.

Religion becomes the greatest business, and its salesmen, the priests, not only become rich but also very influential and powerful. In Egypt they exert so much control that the pharaohs themselves seem powerless, until Pharaoh Akhenaten [8] decides to put an end to their activities. He simply declares that the sun god is the only god, and that he is the sun god's only priest. The worship of any other gods is forbidden, and their former priests are hunted down and killed.
Neither Akhenaten nor his sun cult survive for very long, but his revolutionary concept of monotheism is picked up by a group of Semites.
The concept of monotheism turns out to be quite problematic, though, especially if the world is not perfect and the deity is supposed to be omnipotent and benevolent. In order to solve the problem, they resort to Zoroastrian dualism and sneak an evil god into the mythology - without calling him a god, of course. Just like religion itself, the story isn't very plausible but highly successful.

But throughout History there are people who stand up for reason and sanity, even if it means risking their lives for their non-belief. Of course their testimonies and memories would be destroyed, but all the supposedly holy scriptures bear witness to the existence of unbelievers and infidels by warning against them.

The oldest examples known to us are Greek scientists and writers. Around 2,600 years ago, Thales of Miletus [9] establishes the Milesian School which is the first known scientific approach to explaining the world. And although they dare not deny the existence of gods, he and his followers believe and try to prove that everything can be explained without resorting to the supernatural.
In order to avoid prosecution, philosophers and playwrights have their lead characters make explicit atheist statements, such as Euripides ('Doth some one say that there be gods above? There are not; no, there are not. Let no fool, led by the old false fable, thus deceive you') [10] or Aristophanes ('Shrines! Shrines! Surely you don't believe in the gods. What's your argument? Where's your proof?') [11]

Another possible candidate is Hippocrates [12] , the founder of modern medicine. He is the first to claim that disease is not a punishment of the gods but the result of environmental factors, and he develops ways of diagnosis and treatment without employing any supernatural elements.
One of the many stories about him tells us that he once burnt down a healing temple. And even though historians dismiss the story as a legend, the telling of it clearly demonstrates his opposition to religious superstitions.
Although the Hippocratic Oath he designs (and in which the practitioner swears to use his knowledge for the good of his patients, never to harm anyone, not to perform abortions or euthanasia, and to keep his patients' secrets) starts with 'I swear by Apollo the Healer, Asclepius, Hygieia, Panacea, and I take to witness all the gods and goddesses,' this phrase is probably a legal requirement for any kind of oath in those days.

Around the same time, Democritus of Abdera is the first person to formulate the Law of Conservation of Energy which is finally proved 2,200 years later. He argues that because the number of atoms in the universe never changes, that they are eternal and have no beginning and no end – and without a beginning, the universe can’t have been created. Consequently he demands the removal of all beliefs in gods. [13]
(It is said that Plato wanted all of Democritus’ books burnt; sounds familiar? [14] )

Others, such as the philosopher Epicurus [15] , teach their followers to make the best of life. He does not deny the existence of the gods, but claims they do not concern themselves with human beings; it is possible that he was an atheist and tried to get rid of the gods by making them irrelevant to the fate of humans, like many deists after him.
600 years after his death, the Christian writer Lactanius also credits him with what is known as the Epicurean Paradox: 'Either God wants to abolish evil, and cannot; or he can, but does not want to. If he wants to, but cannot, he is impotent. If he can, but does not want to, he is wicked. If God can abolish evil, and God really wants to do it, why is there evil in the world?'
But even though this argument is perfectly in line with Epicurean philosophy, he is unlikely to be its author since the Greek pantheon consists of a multitude of gods, none of whom claims to be omnipotent or benevolent.

Several philosophers, writers and scientists in Ancient Greece (just like any other culture) are being labelled atheists, such as Socrates, but since none of their writings survive and the accusation of atheism is a common way to have one's opponents executed, these claims can be neither verified nor disproved.

It also appears that in small pockets enlightened communities survive for a while, although these would be extremely rare. One that we know of is the Carvaka (or Lokâyata) [16] school in India of which we have very little information, but there are indications that its origins date back as far as 2,600 years ago, and that it was still being taught around 600 years ago.
Other Indian and Far Eastern philosophies have been called atheist, too, but while they don't include teachings of any deities, they don't explicitly deny their existence, either. Besides, many of them are still dogmatic, and any dogma corrupts the mind, be it religious or not.

The most successful religions are the ones based on Akhenaten's [8] model of monotheism (although, after sneaking in the evil deity, they are, technically speaking, ditheistic) which draw from a multitude of Indian, Egyptian, Persian, Chaldean, Assyrian, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian and Greek sources for their mythology [17] to compose the most vulgar, violent and pornographic book written in human history, introducing a schizophrenic misanthrope called Abraham as their patriarch and giving detailed advice as how to kill those of other races, beliefs and sexual orientations, and how to stone disobedient children to death. (Some claim their god turned nice after having killed his son, but their actions and teachings speak a different language.)

In Ancient Rome the position of atheists is the same as in Ancient Greece. The consul and philosopher Marcus Tillius Cicero phrases it quite diplomatically: 'The first question is: do the gods exist or do they not? It is difficult, you will say, to deny that they exist. I would agree, if we were arguing the matter in a public assembly, but in a private discussion of this kind it is perfectly easy to do so.' [18]

Around this time, the Roman philosopher Lucretius writes his didactic poem De rerum natura [19] [20] (‘On the Nature of Things’) which outlines in detail Epicurean philosophy and atomism. He demonstrates that since nothing can come from nothing, atoms are eternal, and therefore no creation could have taken place. He argues that all human suffering originates in the fear of deities and post mortem punishment and torture, and that ceasing the worship of the gods is the only way to create happiness for mankind.
The poem also points out why atoms have to be surrounded by empty space (‘the void’ or ‘the inane’) and even shows a basic understanding of evolution (‘by Nature each / slowly increases from its lawful seed’).

In Judea under Roman occupation, the native belief of the coming of a messiah meets with stories of Roman deities, and the most successful and destructive mythology of them all is created: Christianity.
It is most likely that the first Christians are Ebionites [21] , and that the pagan elements such as virgin birth and resurrection are introduced by Apostle Paul who had a Roman upbringing.

The more the Roman Empire spreads, the more tolerant it becomes of other cultures and religions (with the exception of Christianity, because of the Christians’ open defiance of Roman law, their refusal to pay taxes and their cannibalistic doctrine), but still atheism is not an option; much less after 4632 RT (391 CE) when Christians take over the empire and butcher everybody else.

Starting in 4851 RT (610 CE), an illiterate shepherd in Mecca creates another religion, together with a manual, the Quran, which is loosely based on the Torah and several gospels which he had studied under Waraka ibn Nawfal [22] , a relative who is an Ebionite [21] priest. With Islam, yet another force of Abrahamic violence is unleashed upon the world.

For more than two millennia the globe is being terrorised by those who claim theirs to be 'the one true god', massacring all those who refuse to join them in their spree of terror, genocide, slavery, war, torture, child abuse, crusades, witch hunts, honour killings, exploitation and oppression. And besides slaughtering the members of so-called 'primitive religions' (Primitive religions as opposed to what? Are the Abrahamic religions based on decades of scientific research?), the followers of 'the one true god' even bash each others' heads in because they can't agree on how to worship him. Needless to say that anyone refusing to subscribe to any of their superstitions suffers the same fate.

In the early years of Islam, some atheists speak out openly against religion and still survive. One of them is the philosopher Ibn al-Rawandi [23] , another the poet Abul Ala Al-Ma’arri who writes in one of his verses, 'The inhabitants of the earth are of two sorts: those with brains but no religion, and those with religion but no brains.’ [24]
But this is soon about to change.

The invention of the printing press makes the spreading of ideas a lot easier and is immediately countered with censorship by Church and State. Many books are indexed and burnt (often together with their authors) throughout the centuries, and while censorship becomes rare in Christian countries over the past few decades, it is still the norm in Islamic ones. However, censorship has become increasingly difficult since the introduction of the Internet.

The Renaissance gives birth to Humanism, a movement which focuses on the individual human being, with protagonists like Leonardo da Vinci. And even though it is not an atheist movement per se, it paves the way for many secular philosophies.

In 5754 RT (1513 CE) Niccolo Machiavelli [25] , the father of political science, finishes writing The Prince [26] , which is a manual for political rulers how to hold on to their power and oppress the masses. (It is still disputed whether he is sarcastic or serious.) In his work he points out that a successful ruler must never be religious himself, but that he must force his subjects into religion to secure his power.
The Prince is not allowed to be published until 5773 RT (1532 CE).

With the Reformation, alternative (and often less expensive) kinds of Christianity are introduced and unsuccessfully fought by the Roman Catholic Church. One would think that the Protestants who themselves suffer persecution would be sympathetic to the situation of other minorities, but the likes of Martin Luther ('I should have no compassion on these witches; I should burn them all.' [27] ) and John Calvin receive just as much pleasure from killing atheists and heretics as the Catholics do. [28]

And scientists whose results contradict religious dogmata suffer the same fate. One that we know of is Giordano Bruno [29] , an astronomer who believes, like Copernicus (who was lucky enough that his theory didn't come to the Inquisition's attention until after his death), that the Earth revolves around the Sun, and that all other stars are suns as well. His concept of an infinite universe is an early model of quantum mechanics. He is burnt in 5841 RT (1600 CE).
His execution is defended as recently as 6241 RT (2000 CE) by John Paul II through his cardinals Angelo Sodano and Paul Poupard. [30]
Sixteen years after Bruno’s death, Galileo Galilei is found guilty of heresy and forced to recant and refrain from spreading his ‘foolish and absurd’ heliocentric theories by the Inquisition; when he violates this condition of his release, he is placed under house arrest for the rest of his life, escaping a more severe fate due to his connections. [31] In 6231 RT (1990 CE) Cardinal Ratzinger, who later would become Pope Benedict XVI, still proclaims that ‘the Church remained much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself. The process against Galileo was reasonable and just,’ [32] but two years later Pope John Paul II admits on behalf of the Catholic Church that Galilei was right. [33]

Over the years (with Socrates being the first known victim), countless philosophers, writers, scientists and others are being accused of atheism or heresy and executed all over the world, often because their own beliefs are not in line with mainstream doctrine, or because someone influential wants them out of the way. Which of these are in fact atheists, we'll never know.
Neither will we ever know anything about the closet atheists. Some of the greatest men of the previous millennia are probably atheists afraid to come out (for good reasons).
And as for those who admit to being atheists, we can be sure about their fate. And we can also be sure that no trace of their reasoning is left for future generations.
Many believers would have us believe that the lack of known atheist manuscripts and their authors suggests that there was no atheism in those days. But the permanent warnings against unbelievers, the continuous and fruitless efforts of apologetics to prove the existence of God and the countless persecutions indicate that they were always around.
And although they are rare, there are cases we know of: for example Casimir Liszinski [34] , a Polish nobleman, who reads a book in which the author attempts to prove God's existence. Liszinski finds contradictions which he notes at the margins, with the conclusion 'ergo non est Deus' ('therefore God does not exist').
Unfortunately, the book is found by Jan Brzoska, the nuncio of Brest, who happens to owe him a lot of money and turns him over to the authorities. Later a treatise entitled De non existentia Dei ('The Non-Existence of God') surfaces in which Liszinski argues that God can't possibly exist.
Another bishop who was involved in his prosecution describes his execution in 5930 RT (1689 CE): 'After recantation the culprit was conducted to the scaffold, where the executioner tore with a burning iron the tongue and the mouth, with which he had been cruel against God; after which his hands, the instruments of the abominable production, were burnt at a slow fire, the sacrilegious paper was thrown into the flames; finally himself, that monster of his century, this deicide was thrown into the expiatory flames; expiatory if such a crime may be atoned for.' [34]

In 5938 RT (1697 CE) the 20 year old student Thomas Aikenhead becomes the last person executed for blasphemy in Great Britain for describing religion as 'a rhapsody of ill-invented nonsense'. The Privy Council is willing to grant a reprieve if the Church of Scotland intercedes on his behalf, but the Church urges to go ahead with his execution. [35]

But a few decades later, in a Europe torn by religious wars, an attitude of religious tolerance starts to grow which, at the height of the Enlightenment, also suffers the voice of reason to speak up once again - in hushed tones at the beginning, but soon taking a firmer stand against religious oppression.

The small community of Etrepigny in Champagne is devastated when Fr. Jean Meslier [36] dies in 5974 RT (1733 CE). The priest had served the parish for thirty years, and there seemed nothing too remarkable about him, apart from the way he stood up against the arrogance of the lord of the village and the fact that he led a spartan life in order to give all that remained of his salary to the poor. A true Christian, one may think, provided one considers Christianity a good thing.
We can imagine the type of conversations his flock has at the wake: 'Do you remember the time the archbishop forced him to pray for Antoine de Touilly?' - 'Yes, and he prayed that Antoine may be converted not to wrong the poor and despoil the orphans.'
They probably also talk about his rejection of any medical help when he got ill, and how towards the end he even rejected food, just as if he had wished to die.
They are in for a surprise. In Fr. Meslier's home several copies of a 366 pages long handwritten manuscript, addressed to his parish and entitled My Testament [37] , appear, in which he disproves the existence of God, attributes the invention of deities to the desire to dominate others, demonstrates how religion perverts morality and apologises to his parishioners for not having taught them the truth earlier: 'I would have preferred to enlighten you sooner if I could have done it safely. […] What remorse I had for exciting your credulity! A thousand times upon the point of bursting forth publicly, I was going to open your eyes, but a fear superior to my strength restrained me and forced me to silence until my death.' (I think that the fear of burning at the stake is a sufficient reason for delaying his revelation.)
Apparently he is afraid his testament might fall into the wrong hands and be destroyed, so he writes several copies of it, three of which survive.

Over the next decades, some philosophers of the Enlightenment, such as Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron d'Holbach) [38] , who quotes Meslier in saying 'Ignorance and fear are the two hinges of all religion' and that religion hinders moral advancement, write atheist works which are published anonymously or under pseudonyms outside of France.

In 5989 RT (1748 CE) Julien Offray de La Mettrie [39] , whose previous books had been burnt already, publishes his essay Discourse on Happiness. He states that religion is the root of all evil, and he is the first author to point out the feeling of guilt which is acquired by children who are exposed to a religious upbringing. This work earns him the hatred of the rest of the Enlightenment and causes outrage even in places as liberal as the Netherlands. Fortunately he manages to flee to Prussia where Frederick the Great offers him sanctuary and appoints him court reader.

The French Revolution, despite popular belief, is not driven by atheists, even though most of its participants are dedicated to the destruction of the Catholic Church which had caused so much terror and suffering in the past, and some also support the dechristianisation of France. But there is only a small faction of atheists who create the short-lived Cult of Reason which the deist Robespierre, on assuming his dictatorship, replaces with his Cult of the Supreme Being.

For a while at least some writers get away with calling themselves deists or pantheists rather than atheists and criticising organised superstition. One of them is Thomas Paine [40] , one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America (and the one who actually coined that name) and author of The Age of Reason [41] :
'The Christian religion is a parody on the worship of the sun, in which they put a man called Christ in the place of the sun, and paid him the adoration originally paid to the sun.' [40]
'My own mind is my own church. All national institutions of churches, whether Jewish, Christian or Turkish, appear to me no other than human inventions, set up to terrify and enslave mankind, and monopolize power and profit.' [40]
'One would think that a system loaded with such gross and vulgar absurdities as scripture religion is, could never have obtained credit; yet we have seen what priestcraft and fanaticism could do, and credulity believe.' [42]

With the first British settlement in Tasmania in 6044 RT (1803 CE) the last known atheist community [6] [7] is discovered and finally destroyed. (This is unless reports quoted by Charles Darwin [43] , John Stuart Blackie in his The Natural History of Atheism [44] and historian Will Durant [45] [46] are correct which claim the existence of certain tribes, namely a number of Pygmy and other African tribes, who still have no religion.)

In the following years, atheism in the Western world is not a capital crime any longer, but outing oneself as an atheist still incurs serious repercussions. For example, Percy Bysshe Shelley [47] is expelled from Oxford for writing an essay entitled The Necessity of Atheism, generally considered the first outspoken atheistic manuscript in the English language.
Charles Bradlaugh [48] , the first atheist in the British Parliament, is not allowed to take his seat as he refuses the religious oath. Four by-elections are held to fill the vacant seat, all of which Bradlaugh wins, and even though he now offers to take the oath, he is only allowed to take it on the fourth occasion.

Beginning in the 1850s, many secular, humanist, atheist and freethought societies emerge in Europe and North America, and over time they spread all over the non-Islamic world. Their purposes vary greatly – while some just provide an opportunity to meet likeminded people and exchange ideas, others actively promote issues such as separation of Church and State, the removal of privileges for religious organisations, equal rights and opportunities for the non-religious, the removal of religious customs, rituals and displays from public life, the closing of religious schools, the removal of superstitions from school curricula and freedom of expression over blasphemy laws.

Literature soon helps spreading the ideas of atheism, in particular Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species which presents his theory of evolution and is published in 6100 RT (1859 CE). Even though it is not explicitly atheist, it replaces a religious view with a scientific one, leading to a lot of controversy.
Darwin himself was a devout Christian until he was about forty years of age, and the process that led him to disbelief was, according to himself, a slow one. He calls himself agnostic because of the stigma that is attached to the term atheist ('I am with you in thought, but I should prefer the word agnostic to the word atheist'). Interestingly, it was not the discovery of evolution that drove him from Christianity but the 'damnable doctrine' of eternal punishment for unbelievers. [49]
He, too, points out the dangerous effect religious indoctrination has on the minds of children: 'Nor must we overlook the probability of the constant inculcation in a belief in God on the minds of children producing so strong and perhaps as inherited effect on their brains not yet fully developed, that it would be as difficult for them to throw off their belief in God, as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.' [49]

Starting with Charles Darwin, the greatest scientific minds in the Western world can now openly admit to not believing in gods, and most of them do so. Trying to conceal their hatred of science, believers often point out that the great scientists of previous centuries, such as Abu al-Qasim Al-Zahrawi, Leonardo da Vinci, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei and Isaac Newton were religious. - Did they have a choice?

Many scientists and philosophers openly promote atheism now, and with the works of Karl Marx, who calls religion the 'opium of the people' which allows the suppressed masses to escape reality, the concept of atheism enters the political arena.
But when that concept is finally applied, atheism, for the first time, shows a rather ugly face, as can be seen in the ruthless and inhuman politics of communist dictators like Joseph Stalin [50] , Mao Zedong [51] and Pol Pot [52] . However, I would classify these men as believers rather than atheists; even though they don't believe in a supreme being, they and their followers believe in and enforce a doctrine, and every doctrine corrupts the minds of its devotees, no matter whether it is religious or not.
Interestingly, despite being atheists in adult life, all these dictators suffered a religious upbringing.

Atheism becomes tolerated to a certain extent, but there are backlashes, especially under fascism. Shortly after coming to power in Germany, Hitler starts his anti-godless movement, bans all atheist and freethought organisations and closes all secular schools. After less than a year in power he proclaims, 'We were convinced that the people need and require this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out!' [53]

Awareness of the importance of early childhood indoctrination for the next generation’s political and religious views leads some denominations to resort to organised and inhuman crimes. During the Civil War in Spain, the Catholic Church begins to rob newborn children of socialist and single mothers; while the mothers are told their offspring died at birth, the Church sells the children to fascist and Catholic couples. This practice continues at least into the late 1990s, and in all probability a lot longer. [54] [55]

Though far from being the norm, there have always been a few believers who put their morality and humanity before their religion. In Nazi Germany the likes of Dietrich Bonhoeffer [56] and Albert Willimsky [57] defy their churches by opposing the Hitler regime and helping its victims. Around the same time Mahatma Ghandi (‘I am prepared to die, but there is no cause for which I am prepared to kill’ [58] ), a practicing Hindu, denounces the inhuman caste system, which is as fundamental to Hinduism as the Eucharist is to Christianity.
(One may wonder whether these men are closet atheists, keeping up a religious facade in order to secure broad support for their humanitarian causes, but of course this is mere speculation.)

Sigmund Freud, the founder of psychoanalysis, dedicates many of his works to analysing the origins and the symbolism of religion. In The Future of an Illusion he demonstrates that dogmatic religious training weakens the intellect by denying lines of inquiry and predicts that 'in the long run nothing can withstand reason and experience, and the contradiction which religion offers to both is all too palpable,' concluding in the 'hope that in the future science will go beyond religion, and reason will replace faith in God.' [59] [60]

Throughout his life, Albert Einstein [61] (whose IQ is closer to 200 than to 100, but who is still naïve enough to believe the US government would use their knowledge of the A bomb only as a deterrent) refutes repeated claims that he is an atheist, as well as those that he believes in a personal god. Calling himself an agnostic at times, and sympathising with pantheism and deist concepts like that of Baruch Spinoza, he still has no time for Abrahamic religions:
'The idea of a personal God is quite alien to me and seems even naïve.' [62]
'For me the Jewish religion, like all other religions, is an incarnation of the most childish superstitions.' [62]
'A God who rewards and punishes is inconceivable to [me] for the simple reason that a man's actions are determined by necessity, external and internal, so that in God's eyes he cannot be responsible, any more than an inanimate object is responsible for the motions it undergoes. Science has therefore been charged with undermining morality, but the charge is unjust. A man's ethical behaviour should be based effectually on sympathy, education, and social ties and needs; no religious basis is necessary. Man would indeed be in a poor way if he had to be restrained by fear of punishment and hopes of reward after death. It is therefore easy to see why the churches have always fought science and persecuted its devotees.' [62]
'I cannot imagine a God who rewards and punishes the objects of his creation, whose purposes are modelled after our own - a God, in short, who is but a reflection of human frailty. Neither can I believe that the individual survives the death of his body, although feeble souls harbour such thoughts through fear or ridiculous egotisms.' [62]
'In giving out punishments and rewards he would to a certain extent be passing judgment on Himself. How can this be combined with the goodness and righteousness ascribed to Him?' [63]
'The foundation of morality should not be made dependent on myth nor tied to any authority lest doubt about the myth or about the legitimacy of the authority imperil the foundation of sound judgment and action.' [62]
'I do not believe in immortality of the individual, and I consider ethics to be an exclusively human concern with no superhuman authority behind it.' [62]
‘You may call me an agnostic, but I do not share the crusading spirit of the professional atheist whose fervour is mostly due to a painful act of liberation from the fetters of religious indoctrination received in youth.’ [62]
'Some centuries ago I would have been burned or hanged. Nonetheless, I would have been in good company.' [62]

While other countries start enforcing the separation of Church and State, the United States, who were founded as the world’s first secular state, go the opposite direction. During the Cold War, Republicans as well as Democrats use the fact that communists promote atheism to create the impression that atheism and communism are identical. Their witch hunt under Joe McCarthy is aimed at everyone who does not conform to traditional Christian right-wing politics, and they succeed in turning the United States into a Christiocracy by adding the words 'under God' to the pledge, printing 'In God we trust' on their money etc. [64]

In 6212 RT (1971 CE) John Lennon releases the song Imagine which instantly becomes a bestseller. The song simply envisions an ideal world without borders, wars and religion. Lennon says about it that it is 'anti-religious, anti-nationalistic, anti-conventional, anti-capitalistic, but because it's sugar-coated, it's accepted.' [65]
Nine years later he is murdered by a mentally confused religious fan.
Even though the vast majority of atheists are not organised, Imagine is considered the unofficial atheist anthem by many.

Because they don't base their lives on a book teaching the inferiority of females and certain races, atheists have always been at the forefront of civil rights movements. The woman's rights movement, known as Second Wave Feminism [66] , which begins around 6204 RT (1963 CE) and reaches its peak 10 years later, is no exception. Fighting against the gender discriminations of both society and the law makes perfect sense. But other than the staunch pro-lifers of First Wave Feminism [67] who fought for their right to vote and own property 50 years earlier, this movement also claims every mother's right to abort her child, calling it 'reproductive rights' and creating the successful myth of the 'tissue blob'. The first time legal abortion is demanded by feminists is in the Bill of Rights of the National Organization of Women, composed by Betty Friedan and Pauli Murray in 6209 RT (1968 CE) after being approached by two male abortion campaigners who are looking to find a larger platform for their agenda. [68]
While generally atheists are better informed and think more independently, many make an exception when it comes to the issue of abortion. There appears to be a lot of pressure to conform or otherwise, depending on one's gender, being branded a traitor or a male chauvinist. Besides, the focus of most pro-life supporters in the discussion is on religious aspects rather than on scientific ones, which of course are not valid in an atheist's view: 'The science is there. We know when life begins. We understand fetal development. The facts are on our side, yet we choose to carry around signs that say "Pray to end Abortion" and "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you". We approach a pregnant woman who is walking into the abortion clinic and hand her a brochure with Jesus on the front instead of a fetal development brochure.' [69]
That facts are more effective than sermons is proved by Norma McCorvey, the plaintiff in the infamous Roe vs. Wade case, who had fabricated a rape story in order to get an abortion. Being the person responsible for the legalisation of abortion in the United States and working in an abortion clinic, Christians confront her with prayers, Bible quotes and death threats for two decades without any results. Then one day she sees a fetal development poster and realises she has been wrong. She has since become a pro-life activist and campaigns to have Roe vs. Wade overturned. [70]
While many atheists (as well as Christians) are not familiar with embryonic and fetal development, some athistst who are, such as Richard Dawkins in his book The God Delusion, create the most bizarre pseudo-philosophies to morally justify abortion. ('There is no general reason to suppose that human embryos at any stage suffer more than cow or sheep embryos at the same developmental stage'; a perfect example of cognitive dissonance.)
But despite the seemingly clear split between believers and atheists on this topic, mothers in religious countries are more likely to abort their children than in secular ones. [71] This has two reasons: firstly, the daughter of religious parents is less likely to have received a proper sexual education, and she is also less likely to use contraceptives - therefore, she has a considerably greater chance of an unplanned pregnancy.
Secondly, when she gets pregnant, the atheist mother has the option to give birth to her child without feeling guilty, and in most cases does so. The religious mother, however, will be under pressure from both her environment and her conscience to destroy the evidence of her supposed 'sin'.

Since the beginning of religion, their proponents have protected their helpless god(s) against sharp tongues by means of blasphemy laws. A lot of countries, such as Saudi Arabia and Ireland, still have these in place with varying definitions and penalties.
The last person to be prosecuted and sentenced for blasphemy in Great Britain is John William Gott who serves several prison sentences for it, the last one in 6162 RT (1921 CE) for describing Christ as entering Jerusalem 'like a circus clown on the back of two donkeys'. Due to ill health resulting from the prison conditions, he dies a year after his release. [72]
In many Islamic countries, blasphemy is still punishable by death.
In 6229 RT (1988 CE) the British Indian author Salman Rushdie [73] publishes his novel Satanic Verses which contains a number of dream sequences, including one in which Muhammad writes down several verses allowing the worship of ancient gods before realising that these verses were revealed by the devil and not by God. Another sequence introduces a character loosely based on the Supreme Leader of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini.
The Islamic world is outraged, and Khomeini issues a fatwa calling all Muslims and their sympathisers to kill Salman Rushdie and his publishers. The fatwa is reaffirmed as recently as 6246 RT (2005 CE) by Ayatollah Khamenei. [73]

Over the past few years publishers and non-believers have become more confident and taken a step forward in what is called New Atheism [74] , spearheaded by prominent authors like Sam Harris, Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens. No longer confining their efforts to demonstrating why gods (or God) can't possibly exist, they also point out the actual harm religion is causing, to society as well as to the individual. One focus of the movement is on children of religious parents who are considered property of their parents (and therefore of their parents' religion) rather than individuals, and whose abuse is sanctioned in the name of religious freedom.
The disastrous impact religious myths have on the minds of innocent children has been described by a father on Yahoo: 'Despite my telling the school quite clearly that we are not Christian and my daughter was not to be exposed to any violent or frightening Christian stories, my daughter was told at the age of six that God turned rivers into blood and killed all the first born children. She was absolutely terrified, began to have trouble sleeping for thinking about it and is still very anxious and fearful. She has been referred for counselling.' [75]

Francis Crick, co-discoverer of the DNA structure, suggests that ‘Christianity may be okay between consenting adults in private, but should not be taught to young children.’ [76]

While the Internet gives those who are subjected to religious oppression the chance to make their voice heard, it makes them more vulnerable to denunciation at the same time. One of many examples is Hamza Kashgari, a Saudi poet who in 6252 RT (2011 CE) posts a few remarks on Twitter in which he respectfully disagrees with the Prophet Muhammad; days later almost 30,000 Facebook users demand his execution.
King Abdullah calls for his arrest. Trying to flee to New Zealand in search of asylum, he is arrested in Malaysia and extradited to Saudi Arabia (where he faces the death penalty for apostasy and blasphemy) without due process. Malaysian authorities even spread a rumour of Interpol involvement to give the operation an air of legitimacy.
After spending 20 months in prison, faced with the permanent possibility of his execution, he is released in October 6254 RT (2013 CE). [77]

Genital mutilation of children for religious purposes is tolerated in every country of the world. But in 6253 RT (2012 CE) a German court rules that child circumcision constitutes bodily injury and is therefore illegal. This causes quite a stir amongst Jewish and Muslim communities, and even though a few months later the German parliament passes a law that legalises the religious mutilation of children, there are many voices in support of a ban. [78] [79]

Ironically, religions tend to claim authorship of morality. Morality is the innate capability of feeling empathy and compassion for others which is shared to an extent by all creatures and enables them to function in units, be it the immediate family or a flock of thousands.
In a rather macabre experiment in 1963, macaques delivered electric shocks to other macaques when they reached for food. As a result, they refused to eat for up to twelve days. [80]
Many animals go beyond that and display altruistic behaviour outside their own species, such as velvet monkeys warning other monkeys of predators at the risk of attracting attention themselves, dolphins helping injured sea animals, or gorillas protecting human children. [81] [82]
This natural sense of morality is corrupted by religion by instructing its adherents how to act instead of letting them decide right from wrong. This is why atheists are generally far more compassionate and law-abiding than believers. [83] [84] . (As H.L. Mencken put it, 'Morality is doing right, no matter what you are told. Religion is doing what you are told, no matter what is right.’ [85] )
For example, crime rates in secular countries are significantly lower than in religious ones [86] . And in the United States atheists and agnostics make up 15% of the general population [87] , but only 0.2% of the prison population [88] [89] , proving that religion is as essential to morality as asparagus is to a wine tasting.
While some Christians actually claim that God punishes atheists in disasters like in Fukushima or massacres like in Utøya, you won't find a single atheist gloating over catastrophes that befall Christians, such as Hurricane Katrina. And when someone is hit by a tragedy such as the sudden loss of a loved one, the atheist may be speechless, but they will never be heard to make heartless comments like 'He's in a better place now,' 'God had other plans for her' or 'Maybe God wanted to prevent him from becoming a sinner.'
Furthermore, atheists are accountable for their actions. While believers have to answer to an imaginary friend who is willing to forgive any wrongdoing and believed to even issue orders that defy all morality, atheists have to answer to themselves - and they tend to be a lot less lenient and immoral than a deity when it comes to judging their own conduct. This is why nobody who was spared a religious or otherwise dogmatic upbringing ever became a serial killer, mass murderer or child abuser. [90]
Still, even in this day and age, some believers make statements blatantly contradicting the facts, like the cheerleader of Christian fundamentalism, Sarah Palin, who claims that 'morality itself cannot be sustained without the support of religious beliefs.' [91]
For those who stick to their religion, it has become increasingly difficult to reconcile the God of the Torah, the Bible and the Quran with rediscovered moral values. God is a racist, God is a misogynist, God is a xenophobe, God is a warmonger, God is a tyrant, God is unjust, God is egocentric, God is a psychopath. God is the exact opposite of a politically correct being.
And the Christian claim that their god underwent a personality change 2,000 years ago is based on a New Testament that provides quotes for every purpose and occasion: besides his message of love, Christ (according to the Bible) also states that he came to divide and to bring the sword instead of peace (Matthew 10:34) and, in a parable, orders to kill everybody who doesn’t accept his authority (Luke 19:27).
Although the god of Judeo-Christian mythology set down a few elementary moral rules for his people that go for others without saying, such as not to kill and not to steal, he also orders them to wipe out other peoples or enslave them, such as the Amalekites and Canaanites, and to steal the latter’s country and plunder their belongings. How could the followers of a hypocritical deity that sends such mixed messages possibly know right from wrong?

Believers have a tendency to be offended at any criticism of religion. And while this feeling is perfectly legitimate, just like the offence a racist may take at the criticism of slavery or genocide, it should not cause that criticism to be hushed in the name of religious tolerance.
Besides, believers tend to be blissfully ignorant of the fact that they themselves are causing grave offence to atheists by calling us sinners, threatening us with eternal fire and claiming that unbelievers are morally inferior, in palpable disregard of the facts which show the opposite to be true.

Only recently the Religious Trauma Syndrome [92] has been identified which affects all those who had or have a religious upbringing, and which is largely caused by the fear, anxiety and the feelings of guilt and self-loathing that have been planted in the children in the course of their indoctrination.
We have to keep in mind, though, that in most cases this damage is not done intentionally. In general, parents, guardians and even clerics believe in the superstitions they preach because their own parents, guardians and clerics have indoctrinated them the same way. Religion is a vicious circle, but as soon as one generation is able to break free, the danger is past.
While more and more people turn their backs on their parents’ beliefs and become unbelievers, hardly anybody goes the opposite direction. Those who enjoy a secular upbringing (i.e. free of indoctrination of any kind) generally develop a healthy self-respect because they are not taught that they are worthless without the blood of Christ, the mercy of God/Allah, the Communist Party etc. They also learn to take responsibility for their actions rather than attributing mistakes and failures to a divine plan. And growing up with a sense of reality, self-respect and responsibility is the best possible immunisation against the virus of religion.

One of the most disturbing points about religion is the fact that until a few years ago it has been favoured by evolution. While some writers consider religion an evolutionary by-product, others believe it was an adaptation technique that made people less self-centred and more empathic, enabling humans to co-operate with each other. [93]
If this were the case, one single religion would have been sufficient, rather than the thousands that have divided mankind from times immemorial. Besides, man was already used to co-operate as an individual in a group from the days he lived in family and tribal units.
The reason goes a lot deeper than that. In the days of the Neolithic Revolution, growing populations compete for limited food sources and farmland (especially in the Fertile Crescent), and religions help them eliminate each other or deny access to resources. Evolution favours the strictest and most aggressive religions, because their adherents have the least qualms about killing members of other religions and, if required, those of their own.
This finally gives rise to the Abrahamic religions which terrorise the world for almost 3,000 years.
But, seemingly out of the blue, the past few years have seen a shift in priorities of people's values. Technological advances now make it possible to feed the world’s entire population, although this is not the done thing yet. Still, by the end of the last century, starting in Western Europe, hunger was virtually eradicated in many parts of the developed world.
In the wake of this development, most of the developed countries have amended their priorities – their racist, nationalistic, discriminatory and chauvinistic policies gradually change to favour equality, integration and mutual respect. At the same time, the number of non-believers increases drastically - wherever hunger is defeated, so is religion.
We have finally eliminated the need to fight each other, and this is exactly why moral values are gaining ground at the expense of religion. Religion is no longer necessary to compete for food, and consequently it is on the decline. This can be seen in the rapidly growing number of atheists and agnostics, especially in countries with a high quality of life. - And this happens even though believers are more procreative, because the majority of atheists comes from the folds of religion.

If any other product were as harmful as religion, it would either be banned, or we would protect minors and vulnerable adults from it and enforce the display of mental health warnings on all places of worship and religious media (including the supposedly holy scriptures). But as long as the majority of mankind is infected, this won’t happen.

Even though it should be the other way round, there is still a lot of prejudice against atheists, but I think it is fair to say that the lot of atheists in the Western world, with the possible exception of the United States, has become bearable over the past few decades when the separation of Church and State was enforced (although the fight against religious oppression continues). Still, we should keep in mind the fate of those who are not so lucky: in the poorer parts of the world, there are still people who have to subscribe to a religion to be fed by missionaries (and in many cases it is the same religion that is responsible for the spread of HIV), in most Muslim countries atheists have an outlaw status with no citizen's rights, and in some of them they are still put to death, just like we were in Christian countries until a few years ago.

Some atheists argue, understandably, that the term atheism shouldn’t be in our vocabulary. One of them is Sam Harris who writes in Letter to a Christian Nation: ‘In fact, "atheism" is a term that should not even exist. No one ever needs to identify himself as a "non-astrologer" or a "non-alchemist." We do not have words for people who doubt that Elvis is still alive or that aliens have traversed the galaxy only to molest ranchers and their cattle. Atheism is nothing more than the noises reasonable people make in the presence of unjustified religious beliefs.’ [94]
Still I disagree with this view: as long as there is slavery, one has to be able to identify oneself as an abolitionist; as long as there is abortion, one has to be able to identify oneself as a pro-lifer; and as long as there is religion, one has to be able to identify oneself as an atheist.

We won't be able to get rid of religion, just like we won't get rid of astrology or ufology. But with the rising level of education, the atheist community will continue to grow, and I imagine that, due to a snowball effect, some time in the future - maybe in 100 years, maybe in 300 - we will outnumber believers and create a society free of superstitions and injustice in which we might even be able to protect children of religious parents by outlawing indoctrinational child abuse.
This may sound rather optimistic, but (besides evolution’s dwindling support for religion) there are a number of reasons for this prognosis.
Firstly, the number of non-believers in a personal god is a lot higher than that of self-declared atheists. Besides the closet atheists like the non-believers who still practice religion to appease their family or because they fear to be shunned or isolated (or because they fear for their lives, as in some Muslim countries), it includes agnostics, deists, pantheists etc. And while some of these believe in a deity, none of them believe in a god who is concerned about humans, so they don't practice any rituals, follow any doctrines or pester anybody else. (As the agnostic Carl Sagan said, 'The idea that God is an oversized white male with a flowing beard who sits in the sky and tallies the fall of every sparrow is ludicrous. But if by God one means the set of physical laws that govern the universe, then clearly there is such a God. This God is emotionally unsatisfying... it does not make much sense to pray to the law of gravity.' [95] )
Furthermore, most believers are random believers, meaning that they automatically subscribe to the religion of their immediate environment. A devout Catholic in Ireland would be a devout Muslim in Dubai and a devout Amish in Holmes County, as much as he would have been a devout follower of Athena in Ancient Greece. Therefore I am sure that somebody who is surrounded by atheists will sooner or later abandon religion altogether.
Also, conversions between religion and atheism are a one-way street. While many believers finally leave their childhood indoctrination behind and become atheists, there is hardly anyone who grew up as an atheist and turns to religion. After all, can you imagine a grown man keeping a straight face when first hearing of the virgin birth?
Besides all this, for the vast majority of believers the vast majority of believers amongst humans serves as evidence of their god (the Emperor's New Clothes perspective). Once that vast majority starts dwindling, so will their argument.
And last but not least, atheism is the natural state of man. Every child is born an atheist and only achieves the status of believer by means of conditioning, indoctrination and coercion. And the more these doctrines are questioned in society, the better the chance that the natural state will prevail.

Of course religion, being the world's largest business (ahead of the armament industry which depends on it), will put up a hell of a fight, but I am sure that in the long run the majority of mankind will listen to reason.

Believers wait for someone to provide a better future.
Atheists build a better future.

There is a fundamental difference between religion, which is based on authority, and science, which is based on observation and reason. Science will win because it works.
© 6253 RT (2012 CE) by Frank L. Ludwig

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