The word ‘faith’ perhaps best describes the monolithic religions of yesterday, when it was important to believe in a supernatural being, for the sole purpose of staying functional in society. Great doubts did occur in people’s minds, but as there was no socially acceptable channels for expressing them, atheism stayed buried deep within peoples’ psyche as personal instances of delusive aberrations. Perhaps there was no real reason to doubt the validity of traditional theology for the vast majority of mankind until science came along.
Science found success quickly as a system of studying nature, and soon, as the bedrock of technological progress that transformed our world. And with it, the scientific method,based on a systematic analysis of observation and inference with it. Science did not bring in atheism in any way, but for the first time in human history there was an alternative framework established that could survive without the concept of a Creator God in our daily lives. It is sad that those who were in charge of religious authority in the crucial period of birth of science in the Western world, chose to oppose any rational viewpoint that science presented if it opposed the traditional religious texts in any way. Eastern religions by contrast, which relied less upon scriptural authority than their Western counterparts, never experienced the same level of science versus religion divisions that plagued the West for centuries.
As the number of atheists grew steadily in the West, so has religious propaganda for orthodoxy. There are many today who try to reconcile scientific viewpoints with their deep seated reverence for tradition religious beliefs, some choosing beliefs over reason, other reason over beliefs.
But in the macro-perspective, religious practice in the modern age would never be the same with an outlet for expression for skepticism in the supernatural God, which is as powerful as science. And along with it, the number of practitioners of religion who have separated personal beliefs from organized religiosity has steadily arisen. Atheist yet religious is a self-descriptive category we’ll encounter more and more in the future, as the meaning of religiosity itself undergoes constant change, and religion increasingly becomes a personal concern rather than being defined by affiliation to public institutions with global banners, as seen in the past.
Atheism, in this new personal sense of religiosity, is a crucial component of this new change, as science and reason become the only rational worldviews in the understanding of the natural world and beyond. The focus of religions should also change accordingly, with an enhanced emphasis on humanistic and ethical concerns, while leaving the task of describing the natural world to science exclusively.
Atheism in that sense would be an impetus of this important shift that modern religious practice must undertake in relocating its concern to matters closest to our spiritual well-being, which perhaps is the main reason why religions developed in the first place, centered around prophets and wise men (in most instances) or not.
67-68 Hatton Garden
London EC1N 8JY