There are a fair amount of internet atheists who love to claim that eastern religions are “atheistic” and acceptable to them, and that such religions are far better for the world than Christianity. You can find such atheists on youtube as well as internet forums. These kinds of atheists speak out of ignorance. They make claims that religions like Buddhism, Jainism, Taosim, Confusionism, and Shintoism are all just forms of atheism. If one takes a closer look into these religions they will find out that eastern religions are in no way compatible with atheism because atheism is naturalistic in its philosophy on the universe. The website dictionary.com gives the defenitions of naturalism:
By this defenition it is apparent that anything to do with finding purpose, meaning, or believing in final causes as well as spiritual issues do not fall into the category of atheism. All of the above mentioned religions do, or at least were founded by people groups who did. All of these worldviews believe in the idea of a soul as well; atheists don’t. Let us look into some of the basic beliefs of these religions.
Janism is a religion that teaches that the unisverse does not have a creator. It “puts human beings and their concerns at its very centre. It teaches that the universe is eternal, and that it does not have a creator” (Cambridge Illustrated History, 2002, p. 58). This may sound atheistic, but a closer look will tell you that it is not compatible with atheism. Jainism teaches that gods exist in a system of heavens and are worshiped. The universe is split up between the soul of humans (jive) and the material things (non-jive). The soul in its essence is total knowledge, energy, and bliss. The goal is for the human soul to escape karma just like Buddhism and Hinduism. Jainists worship the images of tirthankaras which are liberated souls, teachers, monks, and preceptors. This is not a naturalistic or atheistic view of the universe. Jainism is not compatible with atheism.
Buddhism is a popular religion for internet atheists to claim their own. But looking deeper it totally contradicts atheism. Buddhism teaches an irrational and illogical view of the universe. Atheists pride themselves in being logical and rational humans, yet the ones who try to hijack Buddhism and claim it as an atheistic system are doing it in error. They want to claim that Buddhism is just a philosophy and that Buddha himself never wanted to be worshiped (we don’t know if he did not want to be worshiped, but he did not command it). But there is more to the religion than a simple philosophy and Buddha was not an atheist as he also believes in karma and reincarnation.
Buddhism claims that understanding cannot be obtained by physical or objective evidence or truth. This totally contradicts the atheist’s belief in a rational, logical and scientific outlook on nature. There are two major sects of Buddhism: Theravada and Mahayana. In Buddhism, “Phenomena exist ‘objectively,’ but there are worlds and beings beyond the normal experience” (The Encyclopedia of World Faiths, 1989, p. 228). The ideas of spirits, ghosts, and deities exist. “In Buddhism there are five states of existences, the good states of deity and humanity and the evil states of animal, hungry ghost (Preta), and denizen of hell” (The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, 1981, p. 126). While Buddha may not have actually told people to worship him, many Buddhists do. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions states,
“In Mahayana Buddhism [there is the idea] of an eternal Buddha who embodies the absolute truth…the Lotus Sutra teaches that Buddha has lived since the beginningless time and will live for countless ages in the future…[he] manifests himself from time to time as an earthly Buddha to live and work among men” (p. 129).
This is none other than Buddha basically being god hence why he is called “Lord Buddha.” This is not atheism. Also, the idea of superstitions, spirits, illogical thought, escaping reincarnation by following morals and religious laws all negate an atheistic outlook. Buddhism is not compatible with atheism.
Shintoism is a Japanese religion that believes in gods called kami as well as superstitious ideas. It is absurd that some internet atheists would claim Shinto as atheistic. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions (1981) states,
“A characteristic feature of Shinto is the notion of the kami. Mythological accounts give a picture of the kami as dwelling in heaven or inhabiting the earth as the sacred forces within nature…the Emperor is formally considered a ‘manifest kami’ because of his direct descent from the Sun Goddess” (p. 683).
Obviously this contradicts atheism as Japanese Shintoists would, and still do, pray to such gods and goddesses as well as Buddha and other spirits. They practice ritual prayers which are magical formulas and incantations that have the power to bless crops, territories, and help a person to avoid ill-fortune. Shintoism is not compatible with atheism.
There are two types of Taoism: philosophical and religious. The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions says,
“[P]hilosophical Taoism accepts death because it is a natural occurence and an occasion to return to the Tao, whereas religious Taoism resists death by practicing Alchemy in order to achieve physical immortality…Philosophical Taoism is rational, contemplative, and nonsectarian; whereas religious taoism is magical, cultic, esoteric, and sectarian.”
Philosophical Taoism is simply a philosophy based on the writngs of the Tao Te Ching. For atheists to adopt a philosophy that is not religious may seem like compatible worldviews. But in reality Taoism lacks the logical, empirical evidence Atheists claim to use for their worldview. Taosim makes the claim in the Yin and Yang (that opposites co-exist and are interdependent in the natural world). This is the teaching of dualism which claims that everything exists in physical and non-physical forms. Most internet atheists will claim that all processes of the mind are due to chemical reactions in the brain responding to stimuli. This contradicts atheism.
Also, whether one likes it or not traditional Taoism was created by the extremely religious culture of ancient China. The ancient Chinese believed in ancestral spirits, all kinds of gods, and even demons. There is a whole pantheon of dieties in Taoist religion. Taoism was not made by people with an atheistic intention and was not meant to be an expression of atheism either, but it was created to give thoughts on how to live well. Taosim is not based on the logic that atheists pride themselves in and basically has no defenition. It simply claims to be “the Way” (as in the way things are. It is what it is). Possibly an atheist could adopt philsophical aspects of this religion, but then what then would stop them from adopting philosophical aspects of any religion? Taoism itself would not deny people of faith entrance into its system. Many Buddhists and Shintoists are also Taoists. Atheists who try to adopt this are just trying to make excuses for why they find meaning in life and are trying to get around the idea of faith. Taoism is not honestly compatible with atheism.
Confucianism is a “system of social, political, ethical and religious thought based on the teachings of Confucius and his successors” (The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, 1981, p. 189). Confucius was a scholar and philosopher, so adopting his ideas for an atheist may be okay. While Confucius was not an atheist and believed in spirits, not much of what he said was religious; yet after he died he was diefied by Chinese ancestral worshipers. Confucianism worship is based on ancestral worship and serving the spirits (which was one of Conufcius’s commands). Later in Chinese history “Emporer Han Ming Ti recognized Confucius as a patron of scholars and ordered that sacrifice should be offered to him. Sacrifice was carried out by the emporer himself, indicating the inclusion of Confucianism into official state religion” (The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions, 1981, p. 191). The Tang dynasty also built temples all around the country dedicated to Confucius. So, in this sense Confucianism is a religion that believes in spirits and ancestors as well as the worship of Confucius himself. So in this sense, Confucianism is not compatible with atheism, yet the teachings and ideas of Confucius himself before he died could be adopted by an atheist and still give the atheist credability as a follower of atheism. So in the sense of Confucianism’s philosophical aspects it is compatible with atheism, but religiously it would not.
Eastern religion VS the West
Some atheists online make the claim that the West is screwed up because of Christianity and the East is much better because it is based on religions such as Shinto, the Buddha, Jain, Confucius, and the Tao. But if one looks at historical facts it is clear that the Christian West progressed very well and made many scientific discoveries and ideas that atheists hold important today like the scientific method and scientific laws. Many of the most famous scientists in history were Christians or believed in an idea of God (Galileo, Kepler, Kelvin, Newton, etc.).
If one looks at the East and wants to claim it was more of a blessing to the world and is somehow superior, or perfect compared to the West then they need to re-examine historical facts such as Shinto being one of the main driving forces of the Japanese atrocities in World War 2. Another fact is the communist takeover of China in the Cultural Revolution thanks to Mao Ze Tung who murdered millions of his own people and rejected Confusianism. If Chinese based their culture on such “wonderful” religions why did Mao reject them? Same with Lennin and the communist revolution of Russia which led to Joseph Stalin murdering countless times as many people as Adolph Hitler. When thinking about Buddhism and Taoism one can remember that the Great Wall of China has countless corpses burried underneath it because of the Emporer of China used them as mortar. The East is full of many atrocities if not more than the West. Look at the extreme poverty of most Eastern countries that are based on eastern religious outlooks. Yet people still want to claim the West is corrupt and horrible, especially the United States because of Christianity. An atheist needs to think whether or not he wants to live in the USA or a place like India, North Korea, or China. Also, even if Japan is a very progressive country it has one of the highest suicide rates in the entire world thanks to the Shinto cultural aspects ingrained in the people.
It is clearly ignorant to claim that eastern religions are atheistic and acceptable to the atheist as well as claiming eastern religions are superior to the western culture based on Judeo Christianity. One also needs to recognize that Christianity actually did originate in the East in a place called Israel. Also, the Islamic atrocities in the world can be attributed to the East. Internet atheists need to stop hijacking religions that have nothing to do with their humanistic, naturalistic worldview. It is a cheap tactic used to avoid the idea of faith and to allow them to avoid answering the illogical claims that there is meaning without faith.
(2002). Cambridge Illustrated History: Religions. Camrbidge
University Press: Cambridge UK.
(1989). The Encyclopedia of World Faiths. Facts on File: New York, NY.
(1981) The Perennial Dictionary of World Religions. Harper Collins: New