Do atheists agree with Buddhism's concept of God

Sin, Guilt, and Forgiveness in AtheismConscience instead of God

When it comes to guilt and sin - one would think that life is easier for atheists and non-denominationalists. Without all the religious baggage.

Daniela Wakonigg: "For many people that may be frightening. Because they have no authority that gives them rules. As a non-religious person, I know that we can only create these rules ourselves. By working together, by agreeing on rules and those are of course negotiable. "

Daniela Wakonigg is spokeswoman for the International Association for Non-Denominational People and Atheists (IBKA). She knows the object she is criticizing. Because she studied Catholic theology. Today she works as a journalist. The Confederation for Non-Denominational People has committed itself to the consistent separation of the state and religious communities on the basis of the enforcement of general human rights.

Wakonigg: "For a religious person the rules come - you shouldn't steal, you shouldn't kill - ultimately from God."

Society puts pressure

And that's exactly where the problem lies, says Wakonigg. Because the rigid rules and concepts of sin in the religions would also be understood as given by God. For example, sexuality outside of marriage or homosexuality would be linked to guilt and sin.

Daniela Wakonigg: "As a non-religious person, I can ask myself why it makes sense to view homosexuality as something culpable. Does it harm anyone, does it harm the community? No, it doesn't. Then I look at nature and see that there are also homosexual couples in a lot of populations of animals. And think, aha. That is actually quite normal. So why should I sanction this in any way or consider it culpable? "

Daniela Wakonigg criticizes the fact that religious commandments and prohibitions stigmatize people. Only under pressure from society do the rules of religious communities and churches change.

"But how do you manage this change? By completely reinterpreting your religious foundations, works on which your religion is based. Then you can also throw them overboard. (...)"

Religious opinion versus majority opinion

The atheist Daniela Wakonigg sees another example in the discussion about euthanasia - here, too, churches would persuade people and their assistants to feel guilty. She argues:

"In Germany there is a large majority in favor of people wanting to freely decide when and how to die. The legislature, who was heavily influenced by religion in this legislative process and influenced by the church, it can be proven, decided differently. And so on many points religious opinion is still against the majority opinion in society. "

Almost all religions reject suicide - that is, that someone ends his life of his own volition. Although these people give compelling reasons for this, such as the most serious and incurable diseases.

In the religions, however, not only sins and feelings of guilt are spoken of - the Abrahamic religious communities also know rituals of forgiveness. One can compensate or atone for one's guilt with good works. In Catholicism, confession is still used as a ritual, although little in demand. Judaism has a culture of forgiveness and repentance. In Islam one tries to make up for sins with good deeds. It is always the attempt to take responsibility before God or fellow human beings for sins and rule violations. A kind of moral reparation - even if this is in fact not possible.

Confucius continues to work

But what does a humanist do with their feelings of guilt? "The humanist has a conscience - the difference is that there is no otherworldly or superior or eternal authority. That supposedly judges it. That can relieve me of this responsibility," says Christian Lührs from the "Humanist Association of Germany". His association is recognized as a world view community and gives the school subject "Humanistic Life Studies" in Bavaria, Berlin and Brandenburg - as an alternative to religious instruction. Humanistic traditions strongly emphasize personal responsibility in ethics.

He says: "Since there is no higher power, paradise or hell or these instances in this concept. On the one hand the individual plays as self-responsible and on the other hand, of course, the community."

Lührs refers to the old ethical concepts of the Chinese. To Confucius. And of the Greek philosophers - there too they were looking for a key to living together properly in the community.

"If you look at the ethics of Aristotle, which is pre-Christian. Then you won't find any concept of guilt or sin there either as Christianity knows. These ethics are based much more on the question of how one should behave to oneself To take responsibility for others and for oneself. Then there is the question of what kind of objective one actually pursues this. With Aristotle it is called bliss. With Epicurus ... then it was avoiding suffering, etc. ", says Lührs.

"Forgiveness is a problematic concept"

You want to be happy today too. Even if freethinkers and atheists have little to do with the religious categories of sin and the forgiveness of sins, they are familiar with personal failure and guilt towards fellow human beings or humanity as a whole. And one would have to learn to live with guilt, says Daniela Wakonigg from the International Association for Non-Denominational People and Atheists.

Daniela Wakonigg says: "I find something like forgiveness of guilt a problematic concept because not many people are able to do it either. I think that has less to do with religion or non-religion, but with personality."

The Swiss writer Alain de Botton published the book "Religion for Atheists" a few years ago. In it he proposes a general day of atonement, a kind of secular Yom Kippur day. Could such a ritual of admission of guilt and asking for forgiveness not also be helpful for atheists or non-denominationalists? To approach each other differently than as an exercise or as a door opener for reflection and self-acceptance?

"Whatever that should look like on the secular side. There are non-religious people who would ask, but I don't think there are many. (...) Because non-religious people simply (want to) look at the phenomenon of guilt. You have to hold out, it's there. I became guilty, even if I maybe didn't want to, "says Daniela Wakonigg.

Christian Lührs from the Humanist Association, on the other hand, thinks a ritual of mutual forgiveness is not bad at all. Because it would take place between people. Because we just need more encounters. Precisely because the meeting places of the old religious communities would slowly disappear. Statistics also predict the disappearance of the churches with their worship services.

Daniela Wakonigg predicts: "The ecclesiastical system will not be maintained like this. Perhaps people will continue to work out a belief in wellbeing, as they already do. But the churches as they are now, with their extreme requirements, with their formalisms on the forgiveness of guilt. It won't last. "

Christian Lührs explains: "In fact, we are faced with the question that communication about and within the churches is simply becoming less and the question is: Where else does it take place? I believe that it is important that people exchange ideas and also with each other share what is important and valuable to them. "

There will still be guilt. And forgiveness too. But the meaning will change. In the religious communities, with the belief in a specially decorated afterlife or paradise, the expectation of the compensation of sins or a divine judge also fades. The pugatory and purgatory have been abolished. Hell, the former leverage, will also be largely empty. This also changes the understanding of sin. After all, there is no longer any threat of torture in the name of divine justice. There are discussions in Buddhism as to whether Asian teaching can work without the idea of ​​karma. Man takes his fate in hand.