These 3 Religions Don’t Believe In a God -and Are Doing Just Fine

Atheistic religions do not believe in a creator deity

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

Most of the religions described below are quite old, and they may have changed and adapted throughout the millennia. Therefore, some practitioners may have added deities to the mix. But at their core, these 3 religions are 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, with detachment and calmness. There are no gods or spirits to invoke for help. Buddhism is a path of self-development that requires practitioners to take responsibility for themselves. They have to become mindful of how their minds work, and the feelings they experience.

A person that has achieved the goal (Nirvana, Buddhahood, Liberation) is no longer swayed by what happens in the world. They can see everything is constantly changing, and that it is our thoughts that create the world outside.

The path

At the core of the teachings are The Four Noble Truths which explain that suffering is caused by desire, and that if one roots out desire, peace ensues. The road to that peace is based on compassion, a moral code that includes no killing or stealing, and an Eightfold Path with more handy observances.

Buddha, the founder of the religion, was adamant that no one should follow his teachings blindly. Each person has to choose the practices that makes sense to -and works 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, specially 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 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 objective in life is to purify the soul. They must clean it from all karma (past actions) through penance, meditation, right thinking, and other practices. One of the fundamentals of the religion is not harming any beings. So Jains are vegetarians. And some go as far as covering their mouths with a cloth all day, so they will not accidentally swallow an insect. And 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, but everything is changing all the time. The universe was not created by a god, and there are no gods that demand worship or that take an interest in human matters.

Every person must strive to gain their own enlightenment, which requires many reincarnations.

Humans live in the middle world

Souls can reincarnate in different spheres. All human beings are born in the middle world, but through purifying practices can eventually reincarnate in the heavenly spheres. Or through lack of effort be reborn in the hellish spheres. But even the beings in the heavenly spheres are simply purified souls, not a creator divinity, but an end product of humanity. They 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

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 self- development and creating a harmonious society. One precedes the other: an evolved person influences their family, which in turn influences community, which influences society as a whole -including 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 teacher and rulers, specially, to reign themselves in and work on becoming virtuous, so they could act in a beneficial manner and set a good example.

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

As an admirer of Chinese culture (he was Chinese), Confucius included some ancient Chinese traditions to his doctrine. For example, he recommended the observance of rituals and the traditional ancestor worship. Both practices require time and dedication, therefore polishing the practitioner’s patience and other qualities. Plus, they promote a sense of community among the participants, which he considered an extra benefit, for one of Confucianism’s goals is to create a strong society.

Confucius and Heaven

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 theist (those who believe in God) interpret as “Heaven,” aka “the will of God.” While atheist 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 a religion. Some consider it a way of life or a philosophy, but it does fulfill the broader definition of religion.

Runner up

Non-theist Quakers

Quaker congregation in York, England. Non-theist 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, equalitarianism, and living an ethical live for the good of the community and the world. Quakers sprung from the Church of England in the 17th century (really split with, and in not so good terms).

Now, non-theist Quakers is 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 live means speaking and acting with integrity. Means creating peace within themselves so they can live in peace with others. And they favor a lifestyle of simplicity, among other virtues. Some non-theists call themselves religious humanists.

Since two of the pillars of Quakerism are tolerance and community, 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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