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general remarks regarding it may not be without use.
Atheism is the rejection of belief in God. It teaches either that there is no God, or that it is impossible for man to know that there is a God, or that there is no sufficient reason for believing that there is a God. In other words, it either absolutely denies that there is a Divine Being, or it denies that the human mind is capable of discovering whether or not there is a Divine Being, or it simply maintains that no valid proof of the existence of a Divine Being has been produced. Atheism in the form of a denial of the existence of a God has been called dogmatic atheism; atheism in the form of doubt of man's ability to ascertain whether there is a God or not has been called sceptical atheism; atheism in the form of mere rejection of the evidence which has been presented for the existence of a God may be called critical atheism. There is no individual system of atheism, however, which is exclusively dogmatic, exclusively sceptical, or exclusively critical. These terms express accurately only ideal distinctions which have never been exactly realised. Sceptical atheism and critical atheism are inseparable. A purely dogmatic atheism would be utterly incredible. Sceptical atheism and critical atheism have always been much more prevalent than dogmatic atheism. In everj' form—even in its most modest form— atheism pronounces all belief in God a delusion, and all religion a fable. What is called practical atheism is not a kind of thought or opinion, but a mode of life. It may coexist with a belief in the being of a God. It is the living as if there were no God, whether we believe that there is a God or not.
The existence of atheism has often been doubted. It has been held to be absolutely impossible for a man entirely to throw off belief in God. The thought of a universe without a creator, without a presiding mind and sustaining will, without a judge of right and wrong, has seemed to many to be so incredible that they have refused to admit that it could be sincerely entertained by the human mind. And it may be conceded that there is an element of truth underlying this view. The whole nature of man presupposes and demands God, and is an enigma and self-contradiction if there be no God. The reason of man can only rest in the Divine Reason as the first cause; his affections tend to a supreme good which can only be found in God; his conscience contains a moral law which implies a moral lawgiver. He can only be conscious of himself as dependent, finite, and imperfect, and consequently as distinguished from that which is absolute, infinite, and perfect. In this sense all theists will probably hold that the soul bears within it a latent and implicit testimony against atheism and on behalf of theism; and the opinion is one which cannot be refuted otherwise than by what would amount to a refutation of theism itself. But although man's whole nature cries for God, and can only find its true life in God, there can be little doubt that he may so contradict himself, so violate the most essential principles of his own nature, as to persuade himself that there is no reason in the universe higher than his own, no good which is not earthly and perishable, no righteous judge, no infinite and eternal God. The number of those who have gone this length may not have been so large as it has sometimes been represented. Many have certainly been called atheists unjustly and calumniously. Some may possibly have professed themselves to be atheists who really professed a religious belief which they overlooked. But that there have been atheists—that there are atheists —cannot reasonably be denied. When men teach the most manifest and explicit atheism — when they avow themselves to be atheists—when they glory in the name—we must take them at their word. To say that they do not conscientiously believe what they teach is an assertion which no one has a right to make unless he can conclusively prove it, and for which there will be found in many cases no proof whatever. The strangest
and most monstrous beliefs can be conscientiously held by the weak and erring children of men. The absurdities of superstition make easily credible the sincerity of atheism. If one man can honestly believe that there are a thousand fantastic gods, another may honestly believe that there is no god. Without hesitation or reservation, therefore, I grant that Feuerbach fully meant what he said when he wrote, "There is no God; it is clear as the sun and as evident as the day that there is no God, and still more that there can be none;" Gustave Flourens when he penned these words, "Our enemy is God. Hatred of God is the beginning of wisdom. If mankind would make true progress, it must be on the basis of atheism;" and Mr Bradlaugh when he told his audience, "My friend Mr Holyoake says, with regard to the words infidelity and atheism, that he objects to them because of the opprobrium which has gathered round them. The people who fight for old nationalities remember the words of opprobrium that have been heaped on their country and their cause, but only to fight to redeem cause and country from that opprobrium. They do not admit the opprobrium to be deserved, but they fight to show that the whole is a lie. And I maintain the opprobrium cast upon the word atheism is a lie. I believe atheists as a body to be men deserving respect, and I do not care what kind of character religious men may put round the word atheist. I would fight until men respect it." I know no reason for suspecting the sincerity of these men or of these statements, and therefore I do not suspect it.
There are open and avowed atheists whom we are bound to believe to be what they profess themselves to be. There are also some who disclaim atheism, yet who plainly teach it under other names. A large amount of the speculation which is called pantheistic might with equal propriety be called atheistic. Many materialists have repelled the charge of atheism, because they held matter to be endowed with eternal unchanging properties and powers; many positivists and secularists have fancied that they could not be properly called atheists because they did not undertake to prove that there is no God, but only to show that there is no reason for supposing that there is one; but, of course, belief in the eternity of matter and motion is not belief in the existence of God, and atheism is not only the belief that God's existence can be disproved, but also the belief that it cannot be proved. We have no desire to attach to any man a riame which he dislikes, but a regard to truth forbids us to concede that atheism only exists where it is avowed.
Atheists have seldom undertaken to do more than to refute the reasons adduced in favour of belief in God. They have rarely pretended to