Do you think it's possible to achieve a world where everyone is an atheist?
It is naturally not possible as it is also impossible for everyone to be religious. The ideal situation is to have a world predominantly atheist, which would spur scientific development and rational thinking..
I would rather have the novelty of meeting the outlyers, and divergent.
To answer that, we'd need to know what it is that makes people religious, what fundamental human need religion fills. It is clearly something rather universal, since history demonstrates that there is no religion that people aren't willing to die for, and that people aren't predisposed to one religion much more than any other, just to religion in general. Because few if any Egyptians, Aztecs or Han Chinese felt impeled to look for Jesus, and vice versa, we can safely assume that there is nothing unique, set-apart or 'holy' about any of these cultures' beliefs, or about Christianity's. Instead, we must assume that all of these systems of belief are adaptations of a certain evolutionary human need, suited to the circumstances of the people it developed in. The key point is that all religions are filling the same need. State religions such as Stalinism, Maoism and 'Kim-Jong Il-ism' are no different, and if we consider them as religions per se, this explains the otherwise puzzling lack of traditional religion in the USSR, China and N. Korea.
Once we've established this idea, we can look to what forces act upon people who have risen above the need for religion. I can't claim to have anything backing me up here other than my own personal observations and intuitions, but I feel they're pretty accurate (obviously). I think that a certain level of knowledge about the world is certainly pre-requisite to abandoning belief, but there are clearly many cases in which very educated people, even people educated in traditionally 'contra-religious' fields such as evolutionarly biology, quantum physics or cosmology, seemingly manage to reconcile their superstitions with what they know about how the world works. Thus, there must be more to the shedding of belief than just reaching a threshold of knowledge. I imagine that it has to do with transfering the responsibility we give to religion (i.e. giving our lives purpose, making us feel like part of a large, purposeful organization) to a secular cause. This, and not the simple fact of more knowledge, is why I believe there are more atheists among the more educated. A purpose-driven education and a purpose-driven life go hand in hand, and if one does not have the psychological crutch of having to rely on superstition for a misguided sense of purpose or belonging, then one is free to explore the world in a much more intellectually rigorous and challenging way, and find something to 'believe in' in stead of religion. A world in which everyone has a secular, naturalistic 'purpose' in mind would be, I believe, one in which religion would simply go away.
There is another problem though, one of cultural attitude. The only barrier to the truly open-minded attitude I mentioned above is the sense that it might bring about questioning that poses an unacceptable foundational challenge to deeply-held beliefs, and thus must be engaged in cautiously or not at all concerning religion. This is the true cultural barrier to a world in which holding unfounded superstitions would always be regarded as ridiculous. As long as anyone is afraid of turning a critical eye, or having a critical eye turned, on their own sacrosanct and baseless beliefs, we'll always live in a culture in which it is unpermissable to say things like 'isn't the idea of remission of sins via human sacrifice kind of ridiculous' or 'isn't the idea of seventy-two virgins in return for martyrdom transparently manipulative (and man-made)?'. Such statements should never be off the table if we're ever to be intellectually honest with ourselves, but even an atheist can lend unwitting support to the attitude of fearful tolerance simply by not firmly staking out the position that he thinks certain unfounded beliefs are plainly silly. As long as we continue to be anything less than 100% honest and skeptical about our own beliefs (ever met an 'atheist' who says 'I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual'?, or 'I believe in a life-force, not a personal God'?) we allow the attitude of uncritical thinking to remain the accepted form of public discourse. In such an environment, there's nothing to fear from proclaiming oneself a person of faith, and everything to fear from proclaiming that one has no faith. If, however, we had a more rational, scientific mode of discourse, one in which extraordinary claims required extraordinary (or, indeed, any) evidence in order to not be laughed out of the public sphere, then it would be possible to have a world of atheists.
Excellent treatise, Brian!
"It is fear that first brought gods into the world."
Sure, when no one ever dies.
Well, Simon, if nobody ever died, what would be the point of religion? The only difference between the belief in Santa Claus and the belief in God is that even after children become intellectually mature enough to see how preposterous the notion of an old man in a sleigh carrying presents to all the children in the world in a single night is, they still cling desperately to the equally ludicrous notion of a magic man in the sky guiding the fortunes of 7 billion people in the world simultaneously. What’s the difference? Santa doesn’t carry eternal life in his bag of gifts. In short, religion depends entirely upon the fear of death; therefore, if we never died, the number of atheists would be about the same as the number of adults who believe in Santa.
Of course, the comparison is moot, since death will always be inseparable from life. Therefore, there will always be religion; we will never all be atheists.
In other words my original post was meant tongue-in-cheek, which I thought would have been obvious to everyone. Evidently, I was mistaken.
Buddhism, in its original form at least, was not about death, for it didn't promise an afterlife, but it was more about the amelioration of suffering. The source of all suffering is craving. At least, that was The Buddha's theory.
It seems to me, get any group together, and there will always be differing opinions, about something - that is why there are so many different religions, and different sects in those religions. Humans just can't agree on anything - Atheists only agree on one thing - prove there is a god.
As far as I can tell, Buddhism believes in spirits, that when a person dies it goes through a process for forty odd days, and that is divided into three stages, then the dead person enters Nirvana or returns to earth - born again. More codswallop to me - but I do like the mantra - do no harm.
As with xianity, there are many versions of buddhism - and, as usual, different beliefs. One lot believe in hungry ghosts, and, as usual, one sect doesn't like all the other sects.
The original Buddhism as preached by Siddhartha Gautama was about achieving a peaceful and happy mind and being a worthwhile person. He may have accepted the local notions about souls and rebirth, but at heart what he taught was how to be a happy and good person, a belief that may use karma as a concept but can be divorced from it as well. I am sure there are a lot of practicing Buddhists whose beliefs are not about rebirth at all. They simply want to be good people and achieve tranquility in this life.
What Buddhism does show is that wanting to believe in a life after this one is very attractive, and so the Buddhism one typically runs into in the world, Mahayana Buddhism in its many forms, has absorbed local beliefs in its proponents' zeal to spread the religion.
If no one ever dies, there would be a religion founded on over coming bordom. I can see it now, after 500 years, I am faced with staying busy. Planting my 475th garden plot. Finally finishing my reading list of classics. Making love to my wife the 10x10^12 time. Checking the weather. Burying my next dog. Finally understand fine details of number theory. Watching the sun come up and go down again for the umptenth time. Listening to the news and realizing that it really does sound familar to yesterdays and last weeks! Voting for the 'We Know Everything' party, one more time. And with an honest hope, expecting something 'really interesting' to happen!
Of course, if we get off this rock....;p)