The Philosophy Of Atheism

So, this pops up in my inbox this afternoon, and it’s the most beautiful bit of writing I have seen in a long while. Nobody writes like this these days–who is it? I ask.

Ah. Emma Goldman, writing in 1916. (hat tip to, who also have the essay in Greek, if you prefer)

To give an adequate exposition of the Philosophy of Atheism, it would be necessary to go into the historical changes of the belief in a Deity, from its earliest beginning to the present day. But that is not within the scope of the present paper. However, it is not out of place to mention, in passing, that the concept God, Supernatural Power, Spirit, Deity, or in whatever other term the essence of Theism may have found expression, has become more indefinite and obscure in the course of time and progress. In other words, the God idea is growing more impersonal and nebulous in- proportion as the human mind is learning to understand natural phenomena and in the degree that science pro- gressively correlates human and social events.

God, today, no longer represents the same forces as in the beginning of His existence; neither does He direct human destiny with the same Iron hand as of yore. Rather does the God idea express a sort of spiritualistic stimalus to satisfy the fads and fancies of every shade of human weak- ness. In the course of human development the God idea has been forced to adapt itself to every phase of human affairs, which is perfectly consistent with the origin of the idea itself.

The conception of gods originated in fear and curiosity. Primitive man, unable to understand the phenomena of nature and harassed by them, saw in every terrifying manifestation some sinister force expressly directed against him; and as ignorance and fear are the parents of all super- stition, the troubled fancy of primitive man wove the God idea.

Beautiful, beautiful writing. As the “new atheists” keep reminding people, the ideas are not new.

Have not all theists painted their Deity as the god of love and goodness? Yet after thousands of years of such preach- ments the gods remain deaf to the agony of the human race. Confucius cares not for the poverty, squalor and misery of people of China. Buddha remains undisturbed in his philosophical indifference to the famine and starvation of outraged Hindoos; Jahve continues deaf to the bitter cry of Israel; while Jesus refuses to rise from the dead against his Christians who are butchering each other.

The burden of all song and praise “unto the Highest” has been that God stands for justice and mercy. Yet injus- tice among men is ever on the increase; the outrages com- mitted against the masses in this country alone would seem enough to overflow the very heavens. But where are the gods to make an end to all these horrors, these wrongs, this inhumanity to man? No, not the gods, but MAN must rise in his mighty wrath. He, deceived by all the deities, be- trayed by their emissaries, he, himself, must undertake to usher in justice upon the earth.

Could have been written today. Well, if people used such beautiful language any more.

The philosophy of Atheism has its root in the earth, in this life; its aim is the emancipation of the human race from all God-heads, be they Judaic, Christian, Mohammedan, Buddhistic, Brahministic, or what not. Mankind has been punished long and heavily for having created its gods; nothing but pain and persecution have been man’s lot since gods began. There is but one way out of this blunder: Man must break his fetters which have chained him to the gates of heaven and hell, so that he can begin to fashion out of his reawakened and illumined consciousness a new world upon earth.

Only after the triumph of the Atheistic philosophy in the minds and hearts of man will freedom and beauty be real- ized. Beauty as a gift from heaven has proved useless. It will, however, become the essence and impetus of life when man learns to see in the earth the only heaven fit for man. Atheism is already helping to free man from his dependence upon punishment and reward as the heavenly bargain- counter for the poor in spirit.

Please read the whole thing–I have just shown a bit, and the whole is worth reading. I’ll leave with the last sentence, which deserves to be the next atheist billboard (I’ll forgive the sexist phrasing, as the product of her era):

Atheism in its negation of gods is at the same time the strongest affirmation of man, and through man, the eternal yea to life, purpose, and beauty.


  1. Randomfactor says

    All that remains from that age of writing is the fervent Use of capital Letters in some Internet screeds.

    Thanks for the find. Going to read it now.

  2. Max Detournement says

    Thanks for posting that Mr. Cuttlefish. After reading the entire essay it’s not hard to see why the authorities deported Emma Goldman. Like Mother Jones, Eugene Debs and other “radicals” of that era Emma was against the war (WW1) and was not shy about sharing her feelings. And she certainly was a great writer/thinker. PS My Cuttlefish decal just arrived in the mail today. I’ll slap it on the ol’ fossil fuel burner and drive with pride.

  3. Daniel Schealler says

    I see Nietzche!

    I’d be interested to see Dan Fincke’s reading of Goldman’s essay.

  4. die anyway says

    I wish I had known about Emma Goldman, Bertrand Russell and other similar writers when I was young. I suspect that the library in ‘my town’ would not have carried copies of their writings, nor the school library. But even if they did, the society that I grew up in (rural, military and southern) never led me to seek out writers like this. At 14 – 16, I didn’t even know that atheism was a viable philosophy. Only communists and that “radical kook” Madalyn Murray O’Hair were atheists. I couldn’t possibly be one of them. By age 18, though, I had to admit to myself that I was a non-believer even if I daren’t admit it to friends and neighbors. I think it would have helped to know that there were intelligent people writing intellectual essays about atheism and that it wasn’t just some commie plot.
    Yes, that’s what it was like growing up in the rural south in the late ’50s and early ’60s.

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