An atheist doubts the God of his epoch. And the passage of time has proved that the atheists of ancient epochs were right every time.
An ancient atheist would have been anyone unsure of, say, the Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, Egyptian, Greek, or Roman pantheons. This ancient atheist probably doubted the fairies and the forest elves too. No matter the moment in history, the atheist doubts the God on offer in that epoch.
Imagine some ancient Egyptian who doubted the existence of his epoch’s deity-packed pantheon. Suppose this skeptic was subjected to a barrage of criticisms from defenders of the Egyptian faith. Suppose he had to support his skeptical position and offer reasons for his incredulity. Suppose defenders of the ancient faith offered credible arguments and he offered weak arguments.
No matter how marginal this ancient skeptical Egyptian was, no matter how inept he might have been in presenting his views, no matter how he mishandled the internal dissonance and public isolation resulting from rejection of childhood indoctrination, no matter if he was indeed the only skeptic in the entire four thousand-year epoch of Egyptian religion, we know from the distance of two thousand years since Egyptian religion died out that this ancient Egyptian atheist was correct. No Gods actually graced the ancient Egyptian pantheon.
Other such atheists surely arose during the four-thousand-year epoch of ancient Sumerian-Akkadian-Babylonian religion. These atheists were right too. And yet another atheist, say, a teenage girl surrounded by ancient Norse theology. She doubted that epoch’s God. She was correct. Time proved she was right. And on and on—all those skeptics in the past were correct when they disbelieved the deities of their now-dead religions.
Ancient skeptics doubted because there was something incredible in the theologies of their epoch. Most people cannot espy a cause for doubting the religions that are in full flourish during their lifetime. Only a skeptical few can see ample cause for doubt.
(There could have been hundreds or thousands of ancient skeptics in any given era. There may indeed be a steady-state of five percent or ten percent or twenty percent of a population in any epoch that is skeptical about their epoch’s idea of God.)
Emerson said one epoch’s religion is the next epoch’s literary entertainment. We enjoy ancient Greek religion as a literary event called mythology, but ancient Greeks didn’t call their religion mythology; they called it theology. They believed in those Gods. Visit Greece and you’ll see it’s in ruins. And the ruins are the very real remains of ancient temples to Greek Gods that did not exist. And yet the epoch of ancient Greek religion lasted for two thousand years—and then it died out and became utterly unbelievable. Plato thought it the utmost sacrilege that his philosophical contemporaries denied the Gods of Greece given the ancient pedigree of those Gods. Plato could not know that a few hundred years after he lived everyone everywhere, including every Greek, would deny the Gods he found credible .
Aware as we are of the fate of ancient religions, should our epoch be any different than epochs past? Is it part of our temporal myopia to think our religions will escape judgment thousands of years from now? Will a distant future prove that our current atheists are correct? Do atheists of all ages divine the future of God?
Time has proved the atheists of antiquity were right. Is time on the atheist’s side?
Featured image ‘Poseidon’ by Carlos Coto via Flickr