The term "Atheism" has been demeaned for ages and continues to carry a bad connotation. This is undeserved because the term simply means "a disbelief in the existence of a deity." The term derives from the greek "a" (no) + "theos" (god). Religions have always tried to eliminate atheists beecause they counteract the efforts of religions to control and subjugate the masses. So it comes as no surprise that everything "bad" in the world or in society (which means everything that rejects the controls imposed by religions) is automatically attributed to atheism. So one hears constantly that Hitler and Stalin were atheists, and that is why they were so evil. It is deliberately overlooked that Hitler was a Roman Catholic who used his experience with ceremonies and dogma to fashion his parades and his fascist state. Stalin used Marxist theories to replace religion and, since the two were competing, one had to go: religion. But basically Stalin was simply a ruthless dictator and would have been one even if he had been religious. The Russian tsars were not much different, and not less cruel and vindictive, but they operated with the cooperatiion of the Russian Orthodox Church, and strangely, that seems to be acceptable.
The idea that atheism is synonymous with evil is instilled in children from early on. The idea that one cannot be moral or "good" if one does not have a faith in God is thus second nature in most people. It does not help, if dictionaries show a secondary definition of "wickedness" under atheism. This is the case with Webster's Ninth Collegiate Dictionary.
We sent a letter to the owner of Webster's, pointing this out. Copies were mailed to Antony Flew, Kai Nielsen, and Richard Dawkins. No response was ever received from Webster's, but Professor Antony Flew acknowledge our copy. For your information, the letter sent to Webster's is reproduced here:H. E. Schreiber Ottawa ON (Canada)
Ottawa, June 5, 2000
William A. Llewellyn, President and Publisher
47 Federal Street
Springfield, MA 01102
Dear Mr. Llewellyn:
It has come to my attention that the Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary shows, on page 112, under atheism a secondary definition as follows: (2) : UNGODLINESS, WICKEDNESS. This seems to be out of place. I have seen this definition in one other dictionary, but there it was clearly marked as an archaic definition.
I have subsequently checked in the same Websters Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary under "ungodliness, ungodly, wicked, and wickedness" and find not one reference to atheism there. I also checked Rogets International Thesaurus, third edition, and I find no entry where the idea of wickedness is associated with atheism.
To presume that atheists can be considered wicked is an insult, and does hark back to an era where intolerance and religious persecution were commonplace, and where the admission that one did not believe in some religions god or gods brought about officially sanctioned torture and death. Even though this may still be the case in some societies today, the definition of atheism should not encourage such ideas in young people in our multi-cultural society. It has been demonstrated that one can behave quite morally without any belief in a supernatural being, or a personal God. I would strongly suggest that the pejorative "wickedness" definition be deleted in future issues of any Websters Collegiate Dictionaries.
H. E. (Ernie) Schreiber
The following reply was received by EUNACOM on July 14, 2000, and the text is reproduced below:
July 11, 2000
H. E. Schreiber. .....
Dear Mr. Schreiber:
I am writing in response to your letter of June 16 regarding
the treatment of
atheism in Webster's Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary. Mr. Llwellyn retired some years ago
The Ninth New Collegiate was superseded by Merriam-Webster's
Dictionary, Tenth Edition, in 1993. A review of the citational evidence at that time
showed that atheism as a synonym for wickwedness, which can be found in Milton's
Paradise Lost and which persisted in literary use into the nineteenth century, had in fact
fallen into disuse in the twentieth century. This sense has therefore been labeled archaic
since the publication of the Tenth Edition.
Thank you for writing and giving us this opportunity to respond to your concerns.
(signed: Stephen J. Perrault, Senior Editor)
END OF LETTER TEXT
So, the problem seems to have been resolved.
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