Atheism, which is not a new idea, has been evolving in our society, and is the reason for problems leading to debate and court cases, and for discrimination and labeling. Atheism literally means “without god-ism”. The word does not say that a person “knows” there are no gods, it merely expresses a lack of belief. Most atheists would agree that the universe and everything in it probably exists naturally without the planning or effort of any force or entity beyond nature. Atheists do not necessarily oppose religion, nor do all always assert that gods don’t exist. Atheism is simply an absence of belief for whatever reason.
There are many kinds of atheists, including some who are opposed to religion or some that say that gods don’t exist. There are even some non-believers who go to church and pretend to be religious. Atheists have lived in all countries and in all ages of history. Some people who call themselves rationalists, freethinkers, humanists, or agnostics might be accurately described as atheists. There have always been some people who believe in things that don’t exist, while others don’t believe.
These non-believers have usually been content to disagree with people who make outrageous claims, without openly challenging the claims. But as god beliefs have grown more absurd because of increasing knowledge, some have felt compelled to point out difficulties with these beliefs. And, as religion has grown more tyrannical, atheists have seen the need to organize in defense of freedom. Atheism has a long and colorful history, but that history has been largely hidden from the public’s view due to religious suppression. It is therefore, with great effort, that modern atheists are re-discovering their heritage.
Some early Greek philosophers were among the first to write down atheistic ideas. Great thinkers such as Heraclitus, Democritus, Protagorus, and Lucretius expressed views that questioned the existence of gods. Atheism gained a permanent foothold in western culture during the Renaissance and through the Enlightenment. But atheism truly began to thrive around the beginning of the 20th century in what is called the Freethought movement. Current trends indicate that the popularity of atheism should continue to increase into the next century.
Sir Thomas Huxley coined the term agnostic in 1869. Popularly the word agnostic is felt to mean that the nature of god cannot be known but that there is a god. Therefore the agnostic is accepted in the community and he is accepted by the church, unlike those labeled or known as atheists. Agnosticism is very closely related to the religious doctrine that the ways of god are incomprehensible, that human reason is deceptive and that man requires a different, nonscientific, path to the truth.
Agnostic philosophers, as distinguished from the man on the street agnostics, are always allies of the church. The reason is that agnosticism, which puts forward the false notion that the world is unknowable, undermines science and reinforces theology. It inclines man to faith, inducing him to trust religious doctrines. The interactionist or labeling theory states that it is the label that makes it deviant. Atheists are labeled by the majority of society.
They therefor organize their identity and their label and some atheists come out and publicly challenge it. An example of this would be a woman named Madelyn Murray OHair. In late 1959, Madelyn Murray (O’Hair) entered a son in the public schools of Baltimore, Maryland, only to discover that he would be forced to participate in Bible reading and unison prayers. The only “relief” that the public school system would offer to an atheist child