The text that forms the subject of this article is an essay entitled “The Philosophy of Atheism”. It was written by Emma Goldman in 1916 and published in The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Nonbeliever. The essay runs through the reasons why theism is no longer a choice for the humankind. Emma Goldman expresses remarkably strong views against theism, citing several reasons why it is not only illogical but also outdated to continue holding theistic beliefs. The goal of this article is to illustrate that the essay advocates for atheism by stating that theism is outrageously backward, exploitative, and unhelpful.
The essay by Emma Goldman goes great lengths to explain the essence of theism and why it fails in its very quest. The writer says that the God idea is an expression of the “spiritualistic” stimulus to mollify fads and fancies about human weakness. She says that the notion of gods originated from fear and curiosity (Goldman 129). In fact, Goldman says that theism was born of ignorance and lack of explanations for several phenomenon that take place in the physical world. Man was desperate to find an answer to the several mysteries of nature that kept boggling his mind. For lack of a better solution, he turned to religion. However, as knowledge has increased, human beings have found a ‘realistic’ way to answer the questions that barrage their minds. Scientific knowledge, according to Goldman, has nullified the need to hold on to theism since it is an insult to human intelligence.
Goldman articulates highly sentimental views about theism. In her view, religion and all aspects of theism are but a mirage of the image of human beings, reversed and enlarged. Religion divinizes the human image. In fact, she quotes Michael Bakunin, an anarchist and atheist, who claimed that gods, demigods, and saints were generated by prejudiced people who had not yet attained full development and possession of their faculties. As such, the author makes a very strong statement claiming that theism is an affront not only to human intelligence, but also to human liberty and freedom, both in practice and theory.
According to the author, theism has already been replaced by atheism, which she calls the “science of demonstration”. Indeed, Goldman paints a grim picture of theism, saying that it keeps getting reinvented, readjusted, broadened, or narrowed in consistency with the needs of the time. She says that this is likely to continue to the day when man will realize that there is a sunlit day. In effect, this means that the author not only expresses her disappointment that theism is still such a strong force to reckon with (even in this age of the science of demonstration), but also that theism will continue to reinvent itself as long as human beings are afraid to face the truth.
The author also presents another strong argument against theism. She claims that despite theism preaching love and goodness, gods within each deity remain blind to the sufferings of their followers, and deaf to their pleas for help. For this, she gives the example of Confucius, who cares little about the squalor, poverty, and misery of the Chinese people; Buddha, who pays little or no attention to famine among the Hindus, and Jesus, who has, as Goldman sees it, not stopped Christians from “butchering” each other. As such, the author claims that theism cannot accomplish even the reasons why it exists.
Moreover, Goldman argues that theism has fuelled the vices of self-righteousness and hypocrisy. This appears to be consistent with Neeper’s arguments which are based on recognition that theistic people are not necessarily upholders of morality (Neeper 12). Goldman argues that theism holds that morality, honesty, fidelity, and justice are only possible within the framework of faith in a deistic power. She says that moral precepts have been imposed upon human beings by means of religious terror and that this has made them lose all their vitality. Indeed, theism has only served to heighten the immorality that has so often wracked the earth. Conversely, atheists have been the most avid advocates for morality, honesty, and fidelity.
How the Essay Explores Freedom and Identity.
The essay explores the themes of freedom and identity in tactful ways, expanding on how theism and atheism have both impacted the freedom and identity of people. The author takes pains to relate the underpinnings of theism and the impact they have had on the freedom of people and their identity as human beings. Belief and freedom have an intimate connection as illustrated by Glassner, who holds that belief takes away personal freedom (Glasser, 221).
In the essay, the author claims that theism has encaged people, denying them the freedom to think and reason for themselves. When Goldman reiterates the point that theistic beliefs were born of ignorance and curiosity, she implies that the freedom to reason has been compromised by theistic beliefs. That is why she goes ahead to state that atheism is a “science of demonstration” (Goldman 130). Specifically, Goldman implies that atheism relies on demonstrating its beliefs while theism does not advocate for any demonstrations. People are, therefore, free to choose between what they feel is true and what they consider a lie.
Still on freedom, the author makes an insightful statement concerning freedom. She says that freedom and beauty can only be realized when the atheistic philosophy triumphs in the hearts and minds of people. This implies that as long as theism will be upheld, the shackles of theism will continue to hold the minds of people captive, denying them the freedom of free thought.
On identity, Goldman insists that theism alienates humans from their fellow human beings. In her words, man must rescue earth, not heaven, in order to be saved. Put differently, the author says that theism has made man turn his eyes away from the source of the solutions to all the problems that dog him. When man turns his eyes towards the heavens for solutions to his problems, he forgets that the solutions to these problems lie right here on earth. Goldman says that if man is to redeem himself, he must realize that the Earth is more important to him than Heaven – he must identify with the earth and fellow human beings rather than gods created by man’s imagination. No wonder she goes on to say that man has to go back to himself. Only then can he learn his relation to his “fellows”.
I adapted the essay into a slam poem, included all the themes that are in the original essay, and made it as terse and concise as possible.
Time wears out the forte of the God idea
Born of curiosity and fear,
It finds room for the fads and fantasies
Of every shadow of human weakness.
It negates human liberty
To cause enslavement in theory and practice.
Here comes the end of theism
As men engage in the glitches of their present existence.
Theists regard gods and devils
As a whip to lash people into obedience
Yet why the paradox?
If theism preaches love and goodness
Why so much suffering of the saints?
Why is injustice ever on the increase?
Atheism has fixed its roots on earth
To emancipate mankind
It is the science of demonstration
Atheists have fought and died for truth, justice, and fidelity
Man must, therefore, learn to believe in himself
The text I chose for the theme was the perfect one for the discussion of atheism. The Philosophy of Atheism is an outstanding argumentative essay which gives concrete reasons why to embrace atheism and drop theism. The essay gives many insights into the injustices that are perpetrated in the world as a result of theism, and it tries to convince the reader to adopt atheism because theism has let humanity down. This essay really got me down to thinking about my current religious stand because of the persuasive and convincing language that the writer employed, the numerous examples she gave, and confidence with which she set out her points. No doubt, one could easily be converted to atheism upon reading this essay.
While critically analyzing the essay with the aim to deduce its meaning, I assessed the choice of words. Given that it is an essay and it is written in prose, with a pretty straightforward focus on the philosophy of atheism, analyzing this essay was not a difficult task. However, given the argumentative nature of the essay, there is a definite impact that the choice of words had in the essay. For instance, when attempting to explain the origin of deities, she uses the word “primitive man”. She could have chosen to use the word the early man or “our forefathers”, but she chooses to use the adjective “primitive”. This adjective brings the full weight of her condescending attitude to bear. Goldman makes it clear that she holds the lowest of opinions about the inventors of theism. Likewise, her description of atheism as “the science of demonstration” gives pretty much insight on how highly she regards atheism. Therefore, the writer’s choice of words has a huge impact upon the poem, and it is indispensable in its interpretation.
The analysis of the text has an equally huge say about the reader’s role as a global citizen. The thorough castigation that the author puts theism through raises pertinent questions about the role of each and every one in the global world. For instance, the author claims that theism advocates love and goodness, and yet it practices a different thing. She wonders why, even though religion preaches good life, believers all over the world live in squalor and suffering. To seal her convictions, she poses a question and answers it herself. She asks who has been the most daring proclaimers and exponents of truth, fidelity, and justice, and then says it has almost always been the “godless” ones. This leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind as to what the author stands for in respect of proper global citizenry. As for me, the reader, I got an idea of what is expected of me as a good global citizen.
In an attempt to transform the essay into something new for the adaptation, I had fun trying to find the best words to fit into the slam poem. I found out the meanings of a few words, and I even learnt a little more about atheism. On the whole, the entire essay set me thinking about my religious stand.