These 4 Atheistic Religions are Doing Just Fine Without a God

Atheistic religions do not believe in a creator deity. And some of them stay clear of the supernatural altogether, focusing on how to live a good life in the here and now.

Most of the religions described below are quite old. So they have changed and adapted throughout the millennia and, like Christianity, now have different branches. Some branches have added deities to the mix. But others keep their religions as they were at the beginning: atheistic.

Buddhism

Vietnamese nun in purple robes. She smiles while she holds her hands in prayer.
Buddhism is a path of self-development. The adept learns to calm the mind to see the world with clarity. (Photo: Donavanik/CCBYSA4.0)

The goal of Buddhism is to find lasting, unconditional happiness.

To do that, Buddhists believe, one has to be able to see the world with clarity and detachment. Those are acquired through a set of practices. There are no gods or spirits to invoke for help. Buddhism is a path of self-development. And it requires practitioners to take responsibility for themselves.

A person who has achieved the goal is said to have achieved Nirvana, Buddhahood, or Liberation. Such a person is no longer swayed by what happens in the world, for they have found their center.

Buddha

Buddha was the founder of this atheistic religion. And he was adamant that no one should follow his teachings blindly. Each person has to choose the practices that make sense to -and work for- them. And when they outgrow a particular teaching, they should discard it, as one discards a boat after crossing the river, to paraphrase him.

Buddha, real name Siddhartha Gautama, is not seen as a god. He is a human that found Liberation through practice. Anyone can follow his path and become an enlightened being, aka a Buddha.

Buddhism has some 500 million adepts. It is widely practiced in Asia, especially in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Laos, Myanmar, Tibet, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand, Korea, and Japan. (To read some quotes by Buddha, go here.)

Jainism

Interior of a temple filled with delicately carved white columns. Two women in red saris stand in the center.
Interior of Jain Adinath Temple, Ranakpur, India. Jainism teaches how to purify one’s soul. (Photo: Gerd Eichmann/CCBYSA4.0)

For Jains, the aim in life is to purify the soul. They must clean it from all karma (past actions). And that is done through penance, meditation, right-thinking, and other practices.

One of the fundamentals of this atheistic religion is not harming any beings. So Jains are vegetarians. And some even cover their mouths with a cloth all day so they will not accidentally swallow an insect. And they are very careful when walking, to avoid stepping on crawlers.

For Jains, the universe has always existed and will always exist. Much like modern scientists, they believe nothing is destroyed or created. Instead, everything is constantly changing. They think the universe was not created by a god. And that there are no gods that demand worship or that take an interest in human matters.

Every person must strive to gain their own enlightenment. A task that requires many reincarnations.

Humans live in the middle world

Souls can reincarnate in different spheres, some higher, some lower. Humans, for example, are born in the middle world. Through purifying practices, they can reincarnate in the heavenly spheres. And through lack of effort, they can be reborn in the hellish spheres.

The beings in the heavenly spheres are not creator divinities. They, simply, are purified souls, an end product of humanity. Those heavenly beings may be worshiped if desired. The point of the worship being that the adept focuses on the good qualities of those souls. And by doing so, they may bring forth those virtues into their own lives.

Jainism started in India. It has no known founder and was already around 2,700 years ago. Today, it has 4 million adepts, most of whom live in India.

Confucianism

Atheistic religions. Traditional Chinese building. With a garden in front.
Confucius’ Temple of Beijing, China. Confucianism focuses on being one’s best self, in order to live in harmony with society. (Photo: xiquinhosilva/CCBY2.0)

Confucianism teaches how to live a good life. It focuses on creating a harmonious society. But it starts with the individual. An evolved, well-behaved person influences their family. That evolved family, in turn, influences their community. And the community influences society as a whole -including the government.

The virtues

Confucius (551-479 BC) believed some men were better than others. But all men, he thought, were born equal, and it was through self-discipline that some became morally superior.

He expected teachers and rulers, especially, to reign themselves in and work on becoming virtuous. That way, they could use their power beneficially while setting a good example.

Some Confucianist virtues are consideration, kindness, love, harmony, righteousness, trustworthiness, and a distaste for excess.

Confucius, who was Chinese, was an admirer of his culture. So he included some ancient Chinese traditions in his doctrine. For example, the observance of traditional rituals and the long-standing ancestor worship.

Both practices require time and dedication, thus polishing the practitioner’s patience. As an extra benefit, they promote a sense of community among the participants. Which Confucius approved of since one of his goals was to create a strong society.

Confucius and Heaven

Confucius avoided the subject of gods altogether. When asked about metaphysical subjects, the Chinese master would reply: “We do not yet know how to serve man. How can we know about serving the spirits?”

After his death, temples were built in his honor. But he is not worshiped as a god; rather, he is admired as a teacher. His followers collected his saying in The Analects, which eventually became a sacred book.

His doctrine centers on how to behave oneself in order to be in harmony with “Tian.” A word that theists (those who believe in God) interpret as “Heaven,” aka “the will of God.” While atheists read as “Sky,” meaning “the laws of nature.” All in all, God worship is not a part of Confucianism. And many of its 6 to 10 million adepts are atheists.

A point of contention is whether Confucianism is even a religion. Some consider it a way of life or a philosophy, but it does fulfill the broader definition of religion.

Non-theist Quakers

An auditorium full of people.
Quaker congregation in York, England. Non-theists Quakers aim to live an ethical life. (Photo: Paul Carpenter/CCBY1.0)

The non-theist are a group within the Quaker community.

Traditional Quakers believe in having direct contact with God, that God is in everybody and, therefore, everybody is sacred. They believe in social justice, egalitarianism, and living an ethical life for the good of the community and the world.

Quakers split from the Church of England in the 17th century (in not-so-good terms).

Now, non-theist Quakers are a group that formed within the Quaker community of California in 1939.

The non-theists uphold the same values of their Quaker siblings, minus the God parts. So while they do not believe in a god, and do not believe God is in everyone, they do respect the dignity of every human life. And they do believe in social justice and all the rest.

For them, living an ethical life means speaking and acting with integrity. It means creating peace within themselves so they can live in peace with others. And they favor a lifestyle of simplicity, among other virtues.

Two of the pillars of Quakerism are tolerance and community. Thus, all Quakers, theists and non-theists, can worship together (for them, worship means sharing their thoughts in church).

There are some 380,000 Quakers in the world. How many are non-theists is unknown. Most Quakers live in Kenya (146,300), the United States (87,000), Burundi (35,000), Bolivia (22,300), Guatemala (20,000), and the United Kingdom (15,000).

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2019-06-14
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