Video on the Origin and Spread of Atheism

Back in September I mentioned that I am converting my course in Cultural Geography into a “flipped” format, where what had been lecture material is delivered in videos and class time is freed for discussion. I posted a link to my video on Sacred Places and it looks as if several Orthosphere readers gave it a gander. Here is a link to my most recent video on the Origin and Spread of Atheism, which I interpret as a proselytizing “redemptive religion” founded by the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus.

9 thoughts on “Video on the Origin and Spread of Atheism

  1. When Lucretius writes,

    scilicet haud nobis quicquam, qui non erimus tum,
    accidere omnino poterit sensumque movere,
    non si terra mari miscebitur et mare caelo

    Certainly then, when we do not exist, nothing
    at all will be able to happen to us nor excite our senses,
    not even if the earth mixes with the sea, and the sea with the heavens.

    the Roman poet probably had in mind a Greek proverb

    ἐμοῦ θανόντος γαῖα μιχθήτω πυρί•
    οὐδὲν μέλει μοι• τἀμὰ γὰρ καλῶς ἔχει.

    When I die, let earth and fire mix:
    It matters not to me, for my affairs will be unaffected.

    As for Italian atheism, with respect, I would place it a good deal earlier than the 17th century.

    I suggest Modern atheism arose in the 14th and 15th centuries with the Renaissance rediscovery of ancient Greek and Roman pre-Christian atheists, such as Epicurus, Lucretius, and Lucian.

    Reading these ancients produced what might fairly be called the first modern atheists, a large number of whom were Italian, such as Marsilius of Padua (1275–1342), Poggio Bracciolini (1380–1459), Lorenzo Valla (1407–1457), Pietro Pomponazzi (1462–1525), Pietro Aretino (1492–1556), Cesare Cremonini (1550–1631), Lucilio Vanini (1585–1619), and of course, Italy’s most famous atheist, Niccolò Machiavelli (1469–1527); in short, pretty well a roll-call of the Italian Humanists.

  2. Royce makes a good argument by tying his conclusion to his definition. Because the definition seems sound, we see the sense that atheism fits the category, even if we were initially reluctant to think so. People will still balk at the word “religion,” because their prior definition includes gods or prayers or ceremonies and they cannot drop that, not even as a hypothetical for purpose of discussion. The idea really bothers them that they have a religion, suggesting that their rejection of religion is not entirely based on logical premises, but includes emotional or social ones.

    • I don’t insist on the word religion when talking to atheists about atheism, but I do like to irritate them with it. We can call it a doctrine or ideology. I do insist that atheism is not the bare wood that is exposed when the paint of religion is stripped away. Its another color of paint.

    • If one is a monist, it makes no difference whether one calls oneself an Idealist or a Materialist.

      There is no discernible difference between the Emergent Pantheism of Hegel and the Dialectical Materialism of Marx.

      Miss Anscombe once remarked in a tutorial that Hegel’s Absolute was a mere place-holder, like “It” in “It is raining.”

  3. The origin of atheism is monotheism sans a divine council of lower gods because once one God must do it all people make him such a bland Superman character that many find him boring and others impossible. A society brainwashed into monotheism and persecuted into it over the centuries loses the ability over time to believe in anything but the physical because monotheism is the insistence there is only matter and God and eventually just dropping that God and believing “in one less god” becomes the ineveitable reality. Polytheism has that sense of the divine everywhere and if X god loses favor Y god takes its place; atheism is never possible. Not until Jewish Catholicism comes and forces your population to believe in only one god and holdyou down in that for centuries until you become atheists.

    • Both Judaism (of all sorts) and Christianity (of all sorts) agree that there is a council of gods. They are the angels. There are billions of them, ranked in a vast celestial hierarchy. But their study is hazardous, because to think about the gods is to invite them into one’s life, and the demons like to impersonate the angels; so the angels and demons are not much talked about in either religion, except by adepts. It’s all in Dionysius and STA.

      Likewise, almost all polytheisms feature an ineffable Most High God, infinitely higher than the run of the mill gods.

      • “Likewise, almost all polytheisms feature an ineffable Most High God, infinitely higher than the run of the mill gods.”

        Alternatively, they develop a form of pantheism. A favourite image of Brahman in Hindu philosophy is that of the still pool. The cosmos, both gods and men are likened to a mist rising from its surface. The mist, too, is water, differing only in appearance from the water in the pool, to which it is destined to return as it condenses. (I had this description from an Indian Hindu undergraduate at Oxford.)

      • Yeah, pantheism is one of the more promising early off ramps for sharp minds driving toward some way to comprehend the ineffable. But it terminates in a neighbourhood of ill repute: from pantheism it is but a hop to atheism.

      • “from pantheism it is but a hop to atheism.”

        Indeed, I would contend that pantheism and materialism are really two sides of the same coin; both are forms of monism.

        The difference between the emergent pantheism of Hegel and the dialectical materialism of Marx is simply a shift in perspective, like seeing a chess board as black squares on a white background or white squares on a black background.

        I once heard Miss Anscombe describe Hegel’s Absolute as a mere place-holder, rather like “It” in “It is raining.”


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