Atheists and Atheism
The terms Atheist and Atheism are derived from the same Greek words, a, of Alpha, the negative, and Theos, God. Thus we get the idea of a system which means without God. I shall not trouble the reader by placing before him the two leading hypothesis which prevailed among this class of unbelievers, but it may not be amiss to state, that one had its origin from Ocellus Lucanus, adopted and improved by Aristotle; and the other, from Epicurus. Atheists believe in no religion whatever, whether it be true or false. Atheism is the doctrine which supports the ideas that the soul is material and moral; that Christianity is an imposture; that the Holy Scriptures, which we all venerate, are a forgery- the worship of God a superstition; that the account of hell is a fable- and that concerning heaven, a dream; that our life is without providence, and our death without hope, like that of the inferior creation. There is a vast distinction between the Atheist and what is usually termed the infidel, or more properly, Deist. The latter believes in the existence of a God, the former recognizes none. That both are in error, we shall not stop to discuss. We learn, both from the Scriptures and from tradition, that Atheists and their doctrine were in existence before the flood. Of these there are two classes- the practical and the speculative. He who confesses a Deity and Providence in words, but denies them in his life and actions is a practical atheist; while he who discredits the existence of a God, as an infinite, intelligent and moral agent, is a positive, speculative atheist. Dean Sherlock observes:
The universal deluge and the confusion of languages had so abundantly convinced mankind of a divine power and providence, that there was no such creature as an Atheist, until their ridiculous had tempted some men of wit and thought rather to own no God than such as heathen worship.
Archbishop Tillotson assures us that “for some ages before the Reformation, the doctrine of Atheism was confined to Italy, and had its chief residence in at Rome. But in these last ages, it has traveled over the Alps, and infected France, and of late, it has crossed the seas and invaded our nation, and has prevailed to our amazement.” Most of the readers of these pages have heard the names of Hume and Voltaire, and perhaps some have read their works, but before these men, the most notable Atheists, since the Reformation, were Machiavel, Spinoza, Hobbes, Blount, and Vanini. The principles of this crude doctrine were long nourished and cherished among the Greek philosophers, but particularly by the Peripatetics, Sceptics, and Atomists; and hence some divines have ascribed the origin of Atheism to the philosophers of Greece and Rome, but we have already adduced evidence to the contrary. The existence of this pernicious doctrine should be known by all, both old and young, that they may fortify themselves, by suitable arguments, against insidious attacks. Says an able divine-
The being of a God may be proved from the marks of design, and from the order and beauty visible in the world; from the universal consent, from the relation of cause and effect; from internal consciousness; and from the necessity of a final as well as an efficient cause. Nothing is so unmeaning as the reasonings of Atheists. They are to a great extent irrational and unworthy of notice. They need our sympathy, and we should pray for them that they may be convinced of their error. Let us hold fast the holy, pure and precious Christianity taught by inspired apostles, and theme of the ancient prophets. Let us teach it to our children, and then do all in our power to guard the young against such books, and from choosing for their companions those that would inculcate atheistic principles. The Psalmist has declared that it is ‘the fool’ who ‘hath said in his heart, no God,’ and the same sweet bard of Israel has said ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.” – Jamaica Christian Pioneer.
J. W. K.
Series 5. Vol. 6. 1863.
Joplin: College Press, n.d.: 281-82.