Most people confuse atheism with agnosticism

There is no god

First published in: Enlightenment & Criticism 2/1995, pp. 113-118

I became an atheist after studying theology. Even as an unbeliever, I completed my doctorate as Dr. theol. from. Immediately afterwards I resigned from the Evangelical Church, which I initially wanted to serve as a pastor, following reasons of reason and conscience. The atheism for which I am writing in this discussion contribution is, in its personal coloring, the result of my approximately thirty years of reflection. In terms of its content, it is fed from a millennia-long history of the critique of religion from the beginnings of philosophy to the present day.

It is an ignorant shortening to allow criticism of religion and atheism to begin only with the European Enlightenment in the 18th century. The critical thought impulse that led - in amazement and doubt - to philosophy, relativized the sacrifices and oracles of the priests, the sayings and claims of the prophets. Since then, spiritual culture has been shaped by a rivalry between knowledge and faith, reason and revelation, philosophy and theology, world wisdom and fear of God.


Atheism is denial of God and must be clearly distinguished from blasphemy, antitheism, neo-paganism and agnosticism: blasphemy or blasphemy, almost as old as belief in God itself, is an unreflected, emotional form of criticism of religion. A blasphemer remains religiously fixed. Instead of loving God, he curses him because he is disappointed in his hopes. Atheism, on the other hand, is - beyond praise of God and blasphemy - a more developed level of criticism of religion.

Psychologically and in terms of content related to the zealous kind of blasphemy is antitheism, a militant way of fighting God. While the atheist merely denies God - argues his existence and reveals it as a phantom, as a fantasy structure - the antitheist believes that he must actively fight "God". Antitheism is therefore connected with bitter religious hatred, with malicious ape-eating. A main example of this mistaken way of criticizing religion is the small text "Die Gottespest" by the German-American anarchist John Most from the end of the 19th century.

The atheism presented here continues to distinguish itself from any form of neo-paganism. Neo-paganism artificially warms up older stages of the history of religion, which are culturally and spiritually outdated due to the development towards monotheism. Current varieties are the motley mix of Celtic, Germanic, Indian and East Asian elements, often combined with bizarre customs from witch and satan cults. These vagabond forms of "alternative religiosity" - mostly in urban subcultures - are also referred to in religious studies as patchwork religiosity. A final conceptual clarification is brought about by the demarcation of atheism from agnosticism. An agnostic leaves the question of God in the balance, declares it theoretically insoluble, rationally undecidable. As a rule, he is hostile to religion in terms of content, but he avoids clearly committing himself to an atheistic statement.

Agnosticism - not to be confused with skepticism, which is committed to the search for truth - is a widespread attitude of ideological laxity today.

In contrast to atheism, this ideology of laziness to think likes to dress up in the serene reproach that even the convinced atheist has in reality fallen into a belief, because it is neither provable that there is a God, nor that he does not exist.

In contrast, the atheism outlined here claims to be a theoretical conviction derived from argumentation, a rational philosophical worldview. It is based on generally comprehensible, in this respect compelling reasons, on - if you will - evidence. Faith, on the other hand, appeals to inspiration, revelation, holy spirits or holy scriptures. Admittedly, they elude generally valid traceability, which is why divine grace often has to be added as a further - just as little verifiable - factor.

Atheism is a historically reflected, post-religious form of consciousness that leads mentally and emotionally beyond monotheism by consistently bringing to an end its original logic of de-goding, desecration, disenchantment and secularization of the world and turning it against itself. The search for meaning belongs to the nature of man, insofar as he, as a living being with little instinct, has to find his way around the world independently and orient himself spiritually. But not every seeker of meaning is a seeker of God, and people's spiritual needs must not be equated with religious ones. Religious answers are traditionally common to the question of meaning, but non-religious, secular-humanistic, atheistic answers are also possible. The spiritual needs can also experience a religious and a non-religious satisfaction. It is dishonest to quickly and religiously absorb the emotional needs that encompass intellect and feeling, the longing for meaning, support, consolation and courage in life. It simply has to be taken into account that all spiritual activities and processes, such as enlightenment and immersion, meditation and contemplation, even mysticism, are not the exclusive domain of religion, but also know worldly-philosophical varieties that are entirely in an atheistic life plan can have their place.

The two pillars of atheism

The undogmatic atheism developed here claims to dissolve the belief in God from within. to let it fail because of its internal contradictions and inconsistencies. In this way, the key task critical of religion is mastered, because all other beliefs are ultimately anchored in the concept of God.

The two pillars of atheism are:

1. There is no god who created the world. The world is not a creation, but uncreated, uncreatable, indestructible, in short: eternal and infinite. It develops incessantly according to the inherent regularities in which the necessary and the contingent are intertwined.

2. There is no divine Redeemer:

The world is unsolvable and unsolvable, full of weaving errors and structural inconsistencies that arise from the unconsciousness of its regularities.

For an atheistic world wisdom and art of living, the conclusion arises from these insights: Man is not the image of a supernatural and supernatural deity, but an unprecedented creature of nature, subject to all its laws. In a world that was not made for him, he must find his own way and learn to renounce all pernicious delusions of omnipotence and immortality. Atheism is the departure from any doctrine of salvation and hope of salvation, of course also from any doctrine of doom and doom, whether they refer to an illusory hereafter or to this world. Human life means setting up tolerably for a short period of time on a speck of dust in space with dignity and decency and humor. Perhaps it will still be possible to make the globe habitable after all !? In any case, social conditions can be gradually improved.

However, universal justice and the reconciliation of man and nature remain unattainable. Heaven and Hell, Paradise and Damnation are religious illusions, not atheistic guiding principles.

The two pillars of atheism have the same theoretical rank; they characterize two different figures of argumentation that provide a metaphysical and an empirical refutation of belief in God.

The empirical evidence aims at the unredeemed, miserable state of the world, the heart-wrenching, innocent suffering and death of animals and humans, which are incompatible with the belief in a God who is all-good, all-knowing, all-effective and all-powerful. Atheism finds its real justification in reality itself, in the blood and tear-soaked history of the animal and human kingdom. How can a supposedly loving God, with whom nothing is impossible, make the living beings that he has created suffer so unspeakably? Either he is not omnipotent and can who do not prevent suffering, or he is not all-kind and want do not prevent suffering. The Greek philosopher Epicurus first drew attention to this dilemma within belief in God around 300 BC in all conceptual clarity. Much later, following on from Epicurus' criticism of religion, the German poet Georg Büchner impressively described suffering as the "rock of atheism". In the famous "philosopher's talk" of his drama "Danton's Death" it says: "Get rid of the imperfect, then you alone can God demonstrate ... You can deny the evil, but not the pain ... Why am I suffering? This is the rock of atheism.

The slightest twitch of pain, and if it stirs in an atom, makes a crack in creation from top to bottom. "But also suppose that one day there would actually be a blissful state such as the revelation of John in the New Testament (21, 4) promises that God will wipe away all tears and that there will be no more death, no suffering, no pain and no more shouting: Would that teach you better and God would be justified? No, because salvation in the hereafter always comes too late. It cannot in the slightest undo what has happened before. The irreversibility of time is the insurmountable limit of every idea of ​​omnipotence.

No earthquake, war, torture, murder, cancer or traffic victim is prevented by religious promises of salvation.

In what acceptable sense should the suffering experienced ever be made good? The lovable longing image of perfect justice, a universal reconciliation remains unattainable, because even with compensation from the other side, what happened before can never be undone.

In addition, in the New Testament (to remain in the Christian area) only a minority of people participate in salvation: "Many are called, but few are chosen", says the Gospel of Matthew (22:14). Immediately after the quoted word from the Revelation of John, the "unbelievers", "idols" and "fornicators" are threatened with eternal torment in "fire and brimstone" (21: 8).

And: If God can even create a state without pain and suffering, why then only so late and not from the beginning? Why let your own creatures wade through a sea of ​​blood and tears beforehand? The sober answer can only be: Instead of mystifying reality and taking refuge in "God's inexplicable counsels", one must honestly admit: There is no God. Without belief in God reality is bitter, but with belief in God it is bitter and absurd.

The second pillar of atheism does not deny God the Redeemer. but God the Creator. It argues not empirically, but metaphysical, that is, it transcends the realm of what can be experienced and reaches over into that part of reality that is only accessible to abstract thought. The metaphysics presupposed here is a metaphysics without a gold background, a non-religious, philosophical theory of the world as a whole. Explained and inevitably, it leaves the realm of the empirically given without, of course, leaving the ground of rationality.

It does not disappear into a "higher world", but thinks what is not sensually comprehensible, but necessary for thought: the world as an overall context, as an entanglement of part and whole, of the relative and the absolute. The belief that a God created the world can be refuted from within by considerations of the following kind.

The first thing to ask is: What did God do in front of the creation of the world, if creative activity is to be one of its eternal and inalienable characteristics? Was his creative power lost before? Why did she suddenly become active? Obviously God changed, although immutability is one of his classic attributes. But when he has walked, he is subject to time. So there was a phase when God was not yet the Creator. The thought of an eternal creator who is supposed to have created a world limited in time at some point cannot be thought logically without contradictions.

This prompted the philosopher Johann Gottlieb Fichte to make the harsh remark that "the assumption of a creation" is "the absolute fundamental error of all false metaphysics". Through them "thinking is transformed into dreaming fantasizing" ("The Instructions for a Blessed Life", Sixth Lecture).

The second point of criticism arises from the question: Why Did God create the world at all, although he is supposed to be a being perfect in himself, who in his majesty needs no other? The biblical answer: God created the world as his counterpart and man as his image inevitably provokes the objection: Since God does nothing senseless, he must have been missing something beforehand. But if he needed someone to talk to because he suffered a lack, he was not perfect in himself. Creativity and perfection are mutually exclusive. This also results from the religious-liturgical appeal that creatures should praise, glorify, worship, thank their Creator and fall on their knees before him. These exhortations, which cannot deny their origin in patriarchal-despotic conditions - here the absolute ruler, there the humble subjects - prove once again: The Creator God reluctantly renounces the Hallelujah of his creatures.

This is hardly a sign of inner and outer independence, let alone perfection. In order to prove himself as Creator, God needs the world; the world does not need God. It consists of itself, unconscious and immortal, of course also completely indifferent to the weal and woe of its creatures.

One final consideration concerns the relationship between spirit and matter. The belief in creation claims that a pure spirit has produced something non-spiritual, material. Here we are again faced with a sacrifice of the mind, the belief in a miracle. In truth, it is the other way around: Spirit is a mature product of development of the most protracted material processes under the most favorable conditions. Mind is bound to highly complex brain structures. Damaging them also damages the mind, and their death also leads to the death of the mind.

Poetry of atheism

The process of disenchantment that indeed goes with atheism clears the world of all foul magic, but does not affect the real magic inherent in it.

The poet Gottfried Keller formulated this in a letter after his encounter with the atheist thinker Ludwig Feuerbach: "How trivial it seems to me at the moment is that with the abandonment of so-called religious ideas, all poetry and heightened mood will disappear from the world! On the contrary ! The world has become infinitely more beautiful and deeper for me, life is more valuable and intense, death more serious, more questionable and only now asks me with all my might to fulfill my task and to purify and satisfy my consciousness, since I have no prospect have to make up for what has been neglected in some corner of the world. " In order to ward off the caricature that atheism is an enlightened, but unemotional world view, a poem is quoted at the end. It also comes from Gottfried Keller:

I have cold winter days
In dark, hopeless times
Wholly struck you out of mind,
O mirage of immortality.

Now that summer is glowing and shining
Now I see that I have done well!
I wreathed my head again
But madness rests in the grave.

I ride the clear river
It runs cooling through my hand,
I look up at the blue dome
And don't look for a better country.

Only now do I understand that it is blooming
O lily, your silent greeting:
I know how much the heart burns too
That I must pass away like you!

Greetings to me, you lovely roses,
In your existence fleeting happiness!
I turn from the barrierless
Glad to return to your grace!

Too glowing, too blooming and whole to live
Your scent and appearance teach that,
And then willingly surrender
The eternal never to be again !.

Dr. Dr. Joachim Kahl is a freelance philosopher and lives in Marburg.

We would like to thank the trade union magazine SOLI for the reprint.