What famous philosophers were atheists

atheismThe ostracism of the unbelievers

Atheism has existed since there was religion, says the Heidelberg historian Susan Richter. Numerous sources that prove that people doubt the existence of a transcendental power can already be found in antiquity. And even then, disbelief was already a punishable offense. This is especially true for the period of late antiquity and early Christianity.

"For example, the Codex Justinianus already cataloged criminal measures in the year 529, how to deal with an" apostate ", i.e. one who opposes God and turns away from God, namely that his legal capacity is to be withdrawn and that he is not allowed to draw up a will, not least in order not to bequeath his ideas. "

The reason for the persecution of atheistic ideas is obvious: Religions have always been associated with values ​​and those who denied the existence of a god were suspected of calling into question the moral code of conduct of the state and society. You became a threat.

"And that's why it is important to turn to such a person and consider what to do with such a person? Whether they will be placed outside society or, if possible, even punished, or whether they will be expelled into exile or the like . "

Resignation was punished with death

In the Christian Middle Ages, unbelief was not allowed, explains the Viennese medievalist Peter Dinzelbacher. The church, the state religion in large parts of Europe since the 4th century, had created a watertight system from which no one could escape with impunity.

"You have to consider that it was absolutely compulsory to have a child baptized immediately after birth, so that it was part of the system, secondly, the possibility of leaving this system was not given. The exit, i.e. the apostasy, was included punished to death. "

But even in this "age of faith" there were people who had doubts.

"A particularly well-known example of a very high-ranking atheist was the wife of Emperor Sigismund, Barbara von Cilly. This noble woman actually said that she would not believe in any hereafter, in any God, and scolded her own servants, who were catholic pious, for it that they believed that one could turn to a transcendent power. There is no such thing in this life. "

Reformation weakened the power of the Catholic Church

Barbara von Cilly, who lived from around 1390 to 1451 and also made a name for herself as an alchemist, was too high placed as the emperor's wife for the omnipresent Inquisition to have access to her. It was usually different. People who denied the existence of God would do well to hide their attitudes if they did not want to end up at the stake.

It was only when the ancient writings of Epicurus and Lucretius came into focus in the early modern period that the ideas of God-deniers spread. The Reformation weakened the power of the Catholic Church, afterwards pluralism was possible, atheistic positions became conceivable. Susan Richter:

"As time progresses, we have more and more scientific opportunities to justify atheistic ideas. And that's why it is a phenomenon that is being discussed more and more. In addition, there is a certain freedom of discussion, as we find it in the Enlightenment that these ideas for example in discourse communities, for example in salons, by scholars in letters from all over Europe. "

A society can be ethical even without God

It was not just the printing press that suddenly made atheism known and interesting. The first travel reports from the Far East were also received with attention. Descriptions from China, which was shaped by Confucius, showed, for example, that a social order could be ethical even if there was no god above the state. In Japan, too, there was no concept of religion that could be compared with Christianity. However, Buddhism had been institutionalized there since the Middle Ages. Since 1650 there has been a law to test faith, according to which every Japanese had to join a temple community in their village and to register there annually. The burial system was also regulated exclusively by the Buddhist temple communities, as the Heidelberg professor of Japanese studies, Hans-Martin Krämer, explained. Exit was not possible for the common people. Even so, not all Japanese were Buddhist.

"There is not really the option of atheism, because there is no such thing as an emphatic belief, from which one could then turn away, at least for the general population. At most, there is a different perception of Buddhism for an elite, and then also a conscious turning away from it . "

However, this did not lead to sanctions, but may have been beneficial for a career:

"That was in turn quite common among a certain elite and nothing at all disreputable, rather it was expected that people would break away from this simple folk religion."

Atheists are still being persecuted

In enlightened Europe, too, atheism was able to promote social advancement. The writings of the French doctor Julien Offray de la Mettre, in which he denied the immortal soul and, along with the existence of God, also questioned his divine representative on earth, the French king, were publicly burned by the executioner of Paris after a court order. This made him famous, however, and he was invited to his court in Berlin by the Prussian King Friedrich II in 1751. He was even temporarily a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences until his heretical ideas met with displeasure there too.

Today, however, atheism is still punished worldwide, in 13 Islamic countries even with death. But atheists are also persecuted elsewhere around the world. Historian Susan Richter:

"We have states like Indonesia, for example, where we have a state that is religion-tolerant, but clearly states that every citizen of Indonesia has to believe in one of the six official religions."

Atheists are only protected from persecution in a few countries. And even in a democratic, pluralistic country like the USA, it is still unthinkable in 2017 that an avowed atheist could become president.