Atheism and Agnosticism

1690 Words7 Pages
Atheism may be defined as ‘the conscious rejection of a theistic entity creating and controlling human life and natural phenomena’ . The nineteenth and twentieth centuries in particular have seen a rise in atheism as a philosophical alternative Christianity and other religious traditions. The Enlightenment, with its emphasis on rationalism and the primacy of the scientific understanding of reality, witnessed the emergence of atheism as an alternative discourse as the influence of Christianity began to weaken. Atheism is not just a rejection of the tenets of Christianity but of Islam and other religious traditions also. Contemporary Islam, for example, is now discovering a discourse towards atheism which distinguishes Muslims who no longer practise their religion from those who express disbelief in the central truths of Islam . In some Muslim societies it may be both dangerous and considered a criminal offence to be an atheist if the stance is linked to apostasy (the deliberate disavowal of belief in the orthodox tenets of a religion). Apostasy and punishment have been found in both Christianity and Islam. The Inquisition in Christianity and the fact that apostasy is punishable by death in the Qur’an, are two notorious examples of large scale reactions to people’s declaration of non-belief. In Islam, apostasy is usually applicable to people who leave the faith and join another . Agnosticism may be defined as ‘the suspension or putting aside of acceptance and rejection of religious belief . Agnostics in general are undecided or unsure whether or not to believe in God. The question of God’s existence remains open. During a two-day conference in Dublin in 1997 on the changing situation of religion in Irish education, Michael Paul Gallagher delivered a speech on the topic ‘New Forms of Cultural Unbelief’. He spoke of a ‘paradigm shift’ in culture in
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