Introduction

The Atheist Foundation of Australia has taken it upon themselves to redefine the meaning of atheism thereby hijacking the atheist agenda in Australia in order to exclude those that don't fit their "unique" criteria. One of those groups that are excluded by the AFA is Buddhists. As a Buddhist I must respond to this distortion of atheism for their own agenda and show that the AFA is not in fact an atheist organisation according to the commonly accepted definition of the term atheism, that Buddhism is in fact atheist and that I am not alone in my analysis of Buddhism.

Firstly, I will look at definitions: The AFA's definition of atheism, the commonly held dictionary meaning of atheism and finally the definition of Buddhism (a much more difficult task). Secondly, I will examine how those definitions relate to each other, then finally I will conclude how Buddhism fits into these definitions.

AFA Definition of atheism

The AFA defines its version of atheism as:
"Atheism is the acceptance that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural."

And let's have a look at the AFA's explanation of this statement from a description of its "philosophy" on its "About Us" page:

"The Atheist Foundation of Australia recognises scientific method as the only rational means toward understanding reality. To question and critically examine all ideas, testing them in the light of experiment, leads to the discovery of facts.

As there is no scientific evidence for supernatural phenomena, atheists reject belief in 'God', gods and other supernatural beings. The universe, the world in which we live, and the evolution of life, are entirely natural occurrences.

No personality or mind can exist without the process of living matter to sustain it. We have only one life - here and now. All that remains after a person dies is the memory of their life and deeds in the minds of those who live.

Atheists reject superstition and prejudice along with the irrational fears they cause. We recognise the complexity and interdependence of life on this planet. As rational and ethical beings we accept the challenge of making a creative and responsible contribution to life."

Hmmm... stirring stuff indeed but now we are better equipped to analyse the AFA's definition of atheism. They state that there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a god or gods. That's funny because there is no credible scientific or factually reliable evidence for the existence of a hot red Ferrari parked outside my house this morning and yet, there it was. Personally observed by myself, and probably a number of others yet, certainly not a scientific observation so according to the AFA, this vehicle simply does not exist. Such a pity because it was such a picture of beauty. Perhaps this example falls into the category of "factually reliable evidence" or even the word "credible" in the AFA's definition can be used to cover the example I have just given. Certainly it is credible that a hot red Ferrari was parked outside my house this morning. It's not impossible (without getting into a philosophical discussion of whether anything in fact exists at all) and if I had taken a photo of it, that certainly would provide the "factually reliable evidence". So this event which initially looked like it was going to slip through the tight net that the AFA definition has thrown up is well and truly caught within their definition.

But as I sit here thinking about that hot red Ferrari, I can picture it in my mind, the tan leather, the shape of the engine which is viewable through the glass rear, I can hear the sound of the deep throaty engine... man, I'm even salivating!!! Yes, these mental images have produced a physical response in my body. But, mental images and thoughts cannot be measured by any known scientific instrumentation we have available today. And yet, I just thought those thoughts. Those thoughts resulted in a physiological response from my body. Those thoughts were as real to me as the actual viewing of the vehicle in question. I have no "credible scientific" or "factually reliable evidence" that I actually experienced these thoughts. I couldn't even tell an AFA member what exactly a thought is. But I know I have them, and I know what thoughts I have (some of the time - when I'm mindful of them) but I have not one single piece of evidence that I have had any particular thought. Has the AFA just defined my mind out of existence? Am "I" just a thought-less or a-thought creature? Does anyone else out there have thoughts? Could you please provide the AFA with credible scientific or factually reliable evidence that they have had a specified particular thought? Is there anybody out there? Does anyone in fact exist?

You see the problem with this definition. Unfortunately science continues to develop and improve and maybe one day it will be able to directly capture thoughts, however, today it cannot. Does that mean that thoughts don't exist? Of course not! Or at least I hope not - for my sanity more than anything else! In fact, the AFA's definition of atheism leaves itself wide open for exactly the same reasoning that Christians can use to justify their belief in god/christ - the gap in the AFA's definition is wide enough to drive a huge truck through (with god in the driver's seat).

This small example has shown that contrary to the AFA's recognition, scientific method is not "the only rational means toward understanding reality". I also find a curious and quite bewildering inclusion in the AFA's description of its philosophy. "No personality or mind can exist without the process of living matter to sustain it." This sentence seems to have just been inserted randomly and irrationally in otherwise logically flowing statements. It seems so insignificant a statement to make and yet it is made as if it has great meaning to the AFA's philosophy. Could it be that the forum discussions that I had trying to make the case for Buddhism as an atheist philosophy in which I discussed the mind and its independence of the material world has led to this line being included in the AFA philosophy? Could I be so vain to entertain such a thought? If this is indeed the case and the AFA plugs the gaps in its philosophy to cater for comments made by theist and atheists alike, then we have a modification of atheism to fill the gaps in a similar fashion to the Christian god being the god of the gaps. It was this statement that resulted in the moderators banishing me to the purgatory of the "Fantasy Island" part of the forums, never being able to post in any other part of the forums again. Still, at least they don't have the multi-level purgatorial system that Catholicism has but give them time, the Catholics have a 2,000 year head start!

Common Definition of Atheism

Now I think it's time to look at the commonly accepted definition of atheism that we would find in a dictionary. So as not to use a definition that cannot be agreed with by the AFA, I shall use the very same definition found in the AFA Publication: atheos: Without God Down Under:

'atheos', from the original Greek, 'a-theos', literally meaning:
'without god'. The prefix 'a' meaning 'without'; and not 'against'
that so many people claim.
Reference: Webster's New Twentieth Century Dictionary of the
English Language, 2nd edition, 1960

The god concept is central to the definition so let's also examine the Oxford Dictionary definition of "god":

God

Pronunciation:/gɒd/
noun

1 (in Christianity and other monotheistic religions) the creator and ruler of the universe and source of all moral authority; the supreme being

2 (god)(in certain other religions) a superhuman being or spirit worshipped as having power over nature or human fortunes; a deity:a moon god the Hindu god Vishnu
* an image, animal, or other object worshipped as divine or symbolizing a god
* used as a conventional personification of fate: he dialled the number and, the gods relenting, got through at once

It's interesting to note that the dictionary definition of atheist does not mention the existence of any other being than "god". It does not mention unicorns, flying pink elephants or fairies and in fact these creature do not fit the definition of god unless they display "power over nature or human fortunes". Therefore, if I believe in unicorns, as long as I don't attribute god-like powers to them like having created the universe and all of creation or being omniscient or omnipresent, then I can still call myself an atheist. In fact, I am an atheist according to dictionary definitions by my mere rejection or non-blief in a creator-god being as the following authors also conclude:

The word "atheism," however, has in this contention to be construed unusually. Whereas nowadays the usual meaning of "atheist" in English is "someone who asserts there is no such being as God," I want the word to be understood not positively but negatively. I want the originally Greek prefix "a" to be read in the same way in "atheist" as it customarily is read in such other Greco-English words as "amoral," "atypical," and "asymmetrical." In this interpretation an atheist becomes: someone who is simply not a theist. Let us, for future ready reference, introduce the labels "positive atheist" for the former and "negative atheist" for the latter.
[Antony G.N. Flew and Paul Edwards, God, Freedom, and Immortality p. 14.
Prometheus, 1984.]

If you look up "atheism" in the dictionary, you will probably find it defined as the belief that there is no God. Certainly many people understand atheism in this way. Yet many atheists do not, and this is not what the term means if one considers it from the point of view of its Greek roots. In Greek "a" means "without" or "not" and "theos" means "god." From this standpoint an atheist would simply be someone without a belief in God, not necessarily someone who believes that God does not exist. According to its Greek roots, then, atheism is a negative view, characterized by the absence of belief in God.
[Michael Martin, Atheism: A Philosophical Justification, p. 463.
Temple University Press, 1990.]

When we examine the components of the word "atheism," we can see this distinction more clearly. The word is made up of "a-" and "-theism." Theism, we will all agree, is a belief in a God or gods. The prefix "a-" can mean "not" (or "no") or "without." If it means "not," then we have as an atheist someone who is not a theist (i.e., someone who does not have a belief in a God or gods). If it means "without," then an atheist is someone without theism, or without a belief in God.
[Gordon Stein (Ed.), An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism, p. 3.
Prometheus, 1980.]

So it seems that the AFA's statement of atheism is incorrect and goes beyond the commonly accepted dictionary definitions as well as the understandings of many respected non-theistic authors around the world. By adding the words "or the supernatural" at the end of their statement of atheism, the AFA have changed the meaning of the original intent of the word thereby going against the rest of the world's understanding of the word. I can't help thinking this is not a little unlike the Orwellian Newspeak in which the authoritarian government seeks to control the people by controlling and redefining the language. Hence in the book, the Ministry of War becomes the Ministry of Peace, in the real world a nuclear missile is named "The Peacemaker" and in Australian atheism, atheism becomes "non-supernaturalism".

Buddhism

On to Buddhism! It is necessary to investigate Buddhism and what it means along with Buddhists and who they are to better understand how the atheist agenda has been distorted in Australia to exclude Buddhism and other non-theistic (ie atheistic) religions.

This is what the Oxford English Dictionary has to say about Buddhism:

Buddhism

Pronunciation:/ˈbʊdɪz(ə)m/
noun
[mass noun]
a widespread Asian religion or philosophy, founded by Siddartha Gautama in NE India in the 5th century bc
Buddhism has no god, and gives a central role to the doctrine of karma. The ‘four noble truths’ of Buddhism state that all existence is suffering, that the cause of suffering is desire, that freedom from suffering is nirvana, and that this is attained through the ‘eightfold path’ of ethical conduct, wisdom, and mental discipline (including meditation). There are two major traditions, Theravada and Mahayana.

I would like to draw attention to one part of the description: "Buddhism has no god". Wow! I couldn't be more direct myself! Clearly as a "religion" with no god, Buddhism is atheistic - that is if we use the commonly accepted definition of atheism. The AFA, however, in its infinite wisdom, has redefined atheism to exclude Buddhism from that "inner circle" of supposedly hard-core atheists. But how hard-core can a religion be in denying the existence of a creator-god being? What did the Buddha have to say about the theistic concept of an everlasting creator-god being? Well, we don't need to search for long in the Buddhist suttas to find the answer to this question. In the first sutta of the Digha Nikaya (Long Discourses of the Buddha), the Buddha describes 63 wrong views and describes them as a delusion that arises in this world. One of those 63 views is the concept of an everlasting creator-god being. That is a strong atheistic statement. In fact, nowhere in any of the suttas is the Buddha recorded as advocating the worship or praying to any beings, including himself!

But surely the Buddha left someone in charge of "his" religion? Surely he left one of his disciples to carry on the Buddhist mantle, to aggressively grow and force a religious hierarchy on the people of the present and future times in order to control and subjugate them? Well, once again, let's look at the suttas to see what the Buddha had to say to this question. In the Mahaparinibbana sutta, the last days of the Buddha, his personal attendant Ananda asks him for final instructions for the order of monks and nuns. The Buddha's response is: "Therefore, Ananda, be islands unto yourselves, refuges unto yourselves, seeking no external refuge; with the Dhamma as your island, the Dhamma as your refuge, seeking no other refuge." So his instructions were to rely only on yourself and to use the Dhamma (the way things are) as the refuge, seeking no other. He did not instruct them to pray to him or to gods, or to worship these or any other beings.

The definition of a Buddhist from the Princeton University wordnet website: Buddhist (one who follows the teachings of Buddha). Once again, we see the a Buddhist is not one who worships or prays to the Buddha or any other being but one that follows, or practices, the teachings of the Buddha. From the definition above, we know that the teachings of the Buddha are: Suffering, Cause of Suffering, Cessation of Suffering and the Path that Leads to the Cessation of Suffering. There are no gods, no worshiping, no praying.

Conclusion

So, in summary, the AFA, in seeking to be an exclusive atheist club has distorted the meaning of the word atheism to exclude non-theistic religions. In invoking scientific evidence to bolster its atheistic "definition", it opens up atheism to gaping holes that a Christian could drive a semi-trailer through.

No, based on the commonly accepted definition of atheism, it is sufficient to state that there is no god. It is sufficient to accept a person as an atheist for supporting the view that there is no god without having to delve further into their "beliefs". Therefore, I can proudly stand up and say, I am Buddhist, I am atheist.


Regards,

Vangelis

Views: 68

Tags: Atheism, Australia, Buddhism

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Comment by Vangelis Stamatopoulos on November 2, 2010 at 3:32am
Well Davo, I can see you're getting a little upset here. Yes, I understand, it is an emotive subject. Of course the reason that I decided to write about it here is because I thought a great deal about what happened at AFA. So instead of writing emotionally about it, I thought I would write a rational, considered, blog to address the issue.

Now, addressing your accusations against me:

Davo: "But standing there trying to sling mud at something that you were banned"

This blog is not about slinging mud. It is addressing the issue in a calm, rational manner. I present my evidence and make my conclusions. Can you please be more specific as to where in my blog I "sling mud"?

Davo: "You promoted woo, you argued for woo, you wanted people to accept woo."

On the contrary, I defended Buddhism against the accusation of woo. That is not "promoting woo".

Davo: "To be more exact, you were proselytising your belief."

I never tried to convince anyone to be a Buddhist. Why should I care? Each person to their own, I say. So I'm not sure what you're referring to when you say I was proselytising my belief. The only thing that I could be said to be "proselytising" is the distortion of the English language. Were you referring to anything else? If so, can you give me specific instances where I try to convince anyone to become a Buddhist?

Seriously, if that was there case, I would ban myself! But, by the admissions of the AFA forum admins themselves:

"It doesn't need to be religious and illogical to qualify a person for Islander status, just wildly skewed, and I am of the opinion that you have shown your particular bias."

So, I was not accused of being religious, I was not accused of proselytising, I was not accused of being illogical or irrational. I was accused of being "wildly skewed" which is a clear euphemism for "not agreeing with the moderators".

No, I don't agree with the AFA's statement of atheism and I never will unless it becomes more... rational! Atheism is a Greek word and as someone with Greek ancestry, I'm taking it back from their "wildly skewed" definition.

Davo: "gish-gallop"

Another fine accusation from the "rational" atheist. Davo, can you please explain how the above blog is a "gish-gallop"? Please, I would really be interested in knowing.

Methinks Davo, that you seek to shoot the messenger and not the message. Now that you have thrown quite a number of accusations around, would you like to address the issues raised in the blog?

Thanks, I would appreciate it.
Comment by Davo on November 2, 2010 at 12:34am
buddhism =/= atheism however much vangelis wants to align the two.

I have no problem with atheists as buddhists, but vangelis constantly points to teachings of his belief over and over and most atheists are just tired of that. It's proselytising.

He keeps making statements that take people replying to correct him, the classic gish gallop, and it is just tiring. Look at all the assertions above in his post, then look at what it would take to approach all of them, and then having to do that over and over because he just ignores other peoples opinions and reckons he has 'found the way'.

People don't care if you are buddhist and atheist, but if you jump on an atheist board starting threads about buddhism, people are going to take buddhism as a whole, and discuss it, not just the points you want to discuss pointing at a flower and ignoring all the weeds. You were told over and over you will get all sorts, you were dealt with and taken seriously but would not let up. You made yourself a focus of discussions on the board and when everyone (in fact ONE individual) said something you did not like, you started threads with 2-3 10000 word diatribes much like this one.

@Fred, you can see just from the above post what you end up having to deal with, and then he starts pointing to all this 'scripture'.

For most people there isn't much difference between his arguments, his lecturing, his proselytising etc it might as well be theist. What's worse is he then tries to justify doing that to people, because he is atheist.

having to deal with the same old same old like :

"I see the irreligious position as religion bashing for the sake of it with no logical or intelligent arguments."

I mean really?

"Atheism is young, you could even say new age "

seriously, these are the types of things he posts on and on ... the same stuff over and over you get sick of having to correct it, all interspersed with his scripture.

I am not buddhist, I think a lot of what buddhist 'teachings' say are interesting, but much of it self evident too. I could not be bothered learning all about it, nor from someone wanting to project pretty much standard philosophical statements in the buddhist construct all the time. I don't want to learn all new terms and words and have to refer to age old scripture for inspiration. I don't believe suffering is the basis of it all and I have to achieve enlightenment to end it, samsara

by all means if people want to discuss this stuff go find a buddhist forum, but if you start proselytising on an atheist forum expect some people to bite, and don't get all in a tizzy because they do. I don't want to be told what the buddha thinks on everything, I don't give a shit to be honest, but that's just me :)
Comment by Stephen Newton on November 2, 2010 at 12:28am
re Buddhists...
They believe in reincarnation so they must believe that SOMETHING survives after death.
That makes it a RELIGION.Simple..(By ANY logical definition)
Any other definition is just playing with semantics..
You cannot have it both ways.
Either you believe in reincarnation(Something that relies on "FAITH" to believe in.Because there is as much evidence to prove the "F.S.M."or "Christianity", as there is to prove reincarnation)or you don't.If you didn't believe in it you wouldn't be a Buddhist...If you do believe in it then you are believing in a supernatural event which has no basis in reality...Isn't that the definition of a religion??
And by the way,If someone deals in what happens to you after you are dead, he is either a "Pathologist or a "Priest".. Buddhists deal with what happens to you after death, but they are NOT pathologists...Which means they are ???????
p.s.
JC said the same garbage about not wanting to be worshipped..Do you really want to go down that road and start making comparisons like that..Most religions pretend to be "HUMBLE" like that to suck in the punters..After all, if they tried to order people to worship their religion the natural human reaction would be to tell them arrogant bastards where to go.Saying they don't want to be worshipped just stirs up natural human curiosity...And if curiosity gets 100 people checking it out ,a few will be sucked right in to their way of thought..
A buddhist analogy...If you sew 100 hemp seeds and only one germinates, don't despair just wait and soon(When it matures) you will have thousands more seeds..(Not to mention a fine bag of POT.)
Comment by Davo on November 1, 2010 at 11:23pm
e-Vangelis-T, you sure have your panties in a knot ;)

The AFA is an atheist group, get over it. If you don't like it, don't join. as simple as that. But standing there trying to sling mud at something that you were banned after telling all it's members what they should think is kinda funny. Go bug the liberal party over not being liberal. I'm sure you will find it highly constructive.

You spouted your woo on the boards got kicked off for being a wooist pushing woo, now you are jumping up and down in a tizzy. Other atheists have been kicked off for being idiots too, we are a collective group of like minded people joined forces and defining ourselves, it's not open slather for folk like yourself to push your agenda. the supernatural is god, same thing.

You promoted woo, you argued for woo, you wanted people to accept woo. I have friends that are buddhist as I responded to you on the board, you can be buddhist and atheist no one was saying it was not possible, in fact, I pointed at Sam Harris. You kept on and on about buddhism this buddhism that, links to about buddhism over and over.

seriously people were not interested, and you tried to make them interested, and got shitty when they didn't accept everything you said on face value. You didn't like many people pointing at stuff like what that woo leads too, like the japanese deifying their emperor, and other deifications of people like the buddha etc. You wanted buddhism as a whole accepted, you used a lot of arguments like 'no true scotsman'.

It got tiring, same stuff over and over. People explained why they did not accept buddhism, and you just did not like their answer.

The AFA forums is made up of members of the AFA, your experience was with only a small part of the membership and they got sick of you arguing woo. To be more exact, you were proselytising your belief.

Your ferrari analogy is an stuff you were spouting on and on, and you just didn't get where others were coming from, you kept at it and at it. You speak woo trying to justify belief as atheism.
Comment by Vangelis Stamatopoulos on November 1, 2010 at 4:40pm
Fred: "They are a foundation of those atheists that agree with their take on what it means for them."

If a group of atheists calls themselves The Atheist Foundation of Moldovia for example, and in their credo they reject the existence of a xtian god but pray to the FSM, is that atheism? But their definition denies the existence of a xtian or muslim god, however, they still choose to believe in the FSM and they call themselves atheists.

No, they are not atheists, they should change the name of their organisation to The Pastafarian Foundation of Muldovia.

The AFA should change to The Skeptics Foundation of Australia - SFA.

It's really rather simple, Fred.
Comment by Vangelis Stamatopoulos on November 1, 2010 at 7:47am
Fred: "AFA is not atheism. AFA are individual atheists who wants their forum to be sectioned in a way that doesn't suites you as an individual."

Then if they are not atheists, their title should reflect that. I suggest Skeptics Foundation of Australia.
Comment by Vangelis Stamatopoulos on October 31, 2010 at 5:53pm
No, I do not seek to combine atheism with Buddhism. Buddhism is atheistic already. It only needs to deny the existence of a god-being to be defined as atheistic. The Buddha does that in the first sutta of the Digha Nikaya in which he actually calls the concept of an everlasting creator-god being a delusion. I don't care what other claims Buddhism makes nor does atheism.
Comment by Vangelis Stamatopoulos on October 28, 2010 at 4:31pm
Fred: "Vangelis, even atheistic Buddhists get very upset if one question the 4NT and Buddha is almost as a god even to them."

I think you are stretching things a bit far there, Fred. Not a single Buddhist I know personally nor any Buddhist I have met online would consider the 4NT as "god-like". Having said that, I was shocked when I first met a Buddhist who "prayed" to Buddha. I found that very bizarre behaviour from a Buddhist since the Buddha NEVER advocated prayer as providing any benefit whatsoever. You can't control people. They will do all sorts of weird things. That is why you can't judge a religion or philosophy or practice on the behaviour of specific people.

Fred: "I think it is obvious that atheistic Buddhists that are active on atheist forums place Buddha higher than Darwin and Dawkins and Dennett and Harris and so on."

And wisely so I would have to say. Before I came across Buddhism and read anything about it, I knew nothing at all about it - absolutely nothing. Prior to that I maintained that the greatest genius of all of human history was Leonardo Da Vinci. An absolute genius way ahead of his time - let alone Einstein or any of the others you have mentioned. By mentioning Dawkins, Dennett and Harris, you come close to creating an Atheist Religion so I would be very careful if I were you. It cannot be questioned, however, that Darwin was a genius. It cannot be questioned that Dawkins book "The Greatest Show on Earth" shows very clearly the beauty and majesty of evolution and science - but I would not classify him as a genius.

The Buddha, on the other hand, goes way beyond intellectual genius. He woke up and he taught others how to wake up. He cannot wake you up for you. Praying to him won't wake you up. Each individual has to put in the effort to wake themselves up. He just gave you the means with which to do that. Gaining wisdom, seeing things as they really are, and waking up, yes, these things are more important than mere intellectual capability.

Fred: "As I get it only a Buddhist knows what the Buddhist texts mean. Everytime somebody ask a Buddhist something then only the Buddhist knows what the special terms means."

Well obviously someone that spends much time learning a topic will have a better understanding of it. For example, you talk about the khandhas (sorry but I prefer to use the Pali rendition rather than the Sanskrit) without realising that they are all just mental and physical phenomena. ie, exactly as I said - mind and body. This is an example where google does not make someone an expert. Buddhism is subtle and difficult to understand philosophy and practice - a cursory google search is not sufficient to learn it. I'm actually quite shocked that you claim to have studied or read about Buddhism since 1963 and yet have not come across the khandhas.
Comment by Vangelis Stamatopoulos on October 28, 2010 at 6:37am
@Stephen Newton. There is no concept of a "Perfect Soul" in Buddhism. There is no concept of a soul. There is only body and mind (as far as physical beings go).
Comment by Stephen Newton on October 28, 2010 at 3:16am
I think the confusion lies in the fact that Buddhism sort of treats
a "Perfect Soul aka Buddha"as a sort of Deity,in the place of an external god.
I think the belief in a soul that can exist without a physical body kinda pushes it over the edge into a religion.(It is a "Nice" religion though,after all , when was the last time a buddhist declared war on someone?)The devil dodgers of the world are quick to go to war, because they can blame the horror on something else(GODS WILL).Buddhists realize that the blame lies squarely on their own shoulders.Explains the rarity of a Buddhist religious war .

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