The Big Question 21: Would Atheists Be Better Off Without Christianity?
Oct 10, 2018 1672
Would atheists be better off without Christianity?
Many atheists think we’d be better off without religion, and sometimes, specifically, that we’d be better off without Christianity.
Usually, when I speak with the more aggressive atheists, they’re so busy trying to debunk Christianity, that they don’t realise that they should actually be thanking Christianity, because without it, atheism wouldn’t exist.
I know that’s a very big call. But here’s how I understand the facts of history.
Before the rise of Christianity, there’s no record of any atheist ever existing. People in antiquity had different attitudes to the gods. They often questioned the actions of the gods, or they even chose to ignore the gods, but no-one, as far as we know, ever denied that the gods actually existed. No one ever actually said, “There is no god at all; all there is us.”
There was a very good reason why no one ever denied the existence of the gods. Every ancient culture, every tribal or national identity was based on the reality of their particular gods. To deny the existence of the gods was to destroy the fabric of their society and of communal identity. And back then, that communal identity was the most important thing.
So, what changed? Well, this group of people suddenly appeared saying that this man who had been executed by Rome was god. Even more ridiculous than that, they said that they had seen him risen from the dead. And they called him God! That’s why the early Christians were persecuted in the time of the Roman Empire.
But then the Christians responded in a strange way. In the face of persecution, Christians started to develop new ways of thinking that had never been seen before in the ancient world. They started along the first steps to developing philosophical ideas like personal freedom, human rights, freedom of belief, and tolerance.
It was these developments in thinking, by Christian philosophers, that laid the foundations for a different kind of society – one which was able to tolerate and accept the right of the individual to believe in god however he or she chose, or not to believe in god at all.
And this is why atheism was able to emerge in Western civilisation. And it only ever emerged because of Christianity.
I doubt I’ll ever hear an atheist say, “Thank God I’m an atheist,” but it would be appropriate.
Anyway, that’s my opinion, and in the spirit of what I’ve just said, you’re entitled to yours as well.