This is a VERY good question!!!
Let me explain what I mean when I refer to myself as a "Zoroastrian atheist".
The word atheist is Greek. An a-theist is somebody who does not believe in the existence of "Theos".
The greek concept of Theos refers to eternal personalities who exist in a different sphere from the human and material world. A "theistic belief" can therefore either refer to a "pantheon" of many gods such as the Greek, Roman or Nordic mythologies, the Babylonian, Egyptian or pre-Zoroastrian Iranian mythologies, or the folk version of modern-day Hinduism. We refer to these beliefs as "polytheism".
Beginning with Akhnaten in Egypt 3,300 years ago there have also been religions who eliminated the plethora of gods and reduced them to the belief in the existence of only one single lonely god. We refer to these beliefs as "monotheism". Judaism (starting 300 years after Akhnaten and with Egyptian origins), Christianity and Islam are all such MONOTHEISTIC religions. Their origin was always the worship of The Sun as the only god.
However, there are also religions who do not believe in any personal divinities at all. Rather, they believe that all of existence is sacred or that at least all of existence contains metaphysical dimensions that can be referred to as "religious". These religions are therefore NOT referred to as monotheistic or polytheistic. Instead, they can EITHER be referred to as pantheistic or a-theistic (either the belief that Theos should be applied to the entire world without personification, as in Pantheism, or that Theos does not exist, that human beings alone have human traits, which makes a religion a-theistic).
Jainism in India is clearly an ATHEISTIC religion. Jainism is obsessed with reincarnation, karma and non-violence but has removed ALL of the Hindu divinities, even Brahman. Buddhism, Sufism within Islam, Kabbalah mysticism within Judaism, can all be referred to as either pantheistic or atheistic. Zen Buddhism (which has Zoroastrian origin, its founder Bodhidharma came from Iran to China), is definitely atheistic, just like Jainism.
The concept of a single Theos did not exist at the time of Zarathushtra. So Zoroastrianism is open to various interpretations (although not to polytheism). My interpreation stays close to the origins of Zarathushtra's teachings. I prefer not to project ideas on to Zarathushtra that can neither be found in The Gathas nor existed at the time when he composed The Gathas. I believe such projections are sloppy and totally uncalled for.
Consequently, I find no reason at all to clumsily and lazily label Zoroastrianism together with the monotheistic desert religions of the Middle East, such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Instead we should focus on the common origin of Zoroastrianism and other INDO-EUROPEAN religions, such as Brahmanism and Jainism. And in that case, there is no doubt about it: Mazdayasna is a Pantheistic or even an Atheistic religion.
Furthermore, using my wise mind (as I should do as a good Mazdayasni) I'm convinced that the world IS Pantheistic or Atheistic (depending on meanings of the terms). There is no God existing separate from The World itself. Because The World itself is divine and sacred to Zarathushtra. I therefore always refer to myself as a Pantheist and thereby also as a monist (rather than a dualist, which is what a Jew, a Christian, or a Muslim is). There is one world, and one world only (monism).
So when I say that I'm an atheist, I do this in relation to Christian, Islamic or Judaist monotheisms, and especially when discussing with Zoroastrians who mistakenly have taken on a monotheistic worldview alien to Zarathustra's teachings and the Mazdayasna tradition. I do not believe in their Theos, I believe their Theos is an illusion or even an outright lie, a mistaken belief. So I'm an A-Theist.
Zarathushtra did not believe in God, he believed in Ahura Mazda. Ahura Mazda is not God, it is an entirely different concept altogether, much closer to the Indian Brahman than to any personal divinity whatsoever. Zarathushtra was an a-theist too, he was a mazdaist and not a theist.
We should be proud of this fantastic intellectual achievement of the founders of our religion instead of envy and copy the sloppy and mistaken "God concepts" of Christianity and Islam. We worship Ahura Mazda, we worship "mind", and not God as the God-Father with the long beard sitting on top of the clouds. We never has the God-Father concept. The patriarchal god is alien to our religion, Zarathushtra NEVER speaks about any God-Father.
Posted by: "Steve Williamson" email@example.com wordsbysteve
Sun Jun 29, 2008 2:16 pm (PDT)I do not understand how a person who is an atheist can call
themselves a Zoroastrian of any type.
Are there Christians who do not believe in God? Perhaps there are
a few, but Jesus himself certainly believed in a personal god.
It's hard to understand how a person could call themselves
Christian and not believe in god. Christianity is not an ethnic
or tribal belief. Anyone can join their faith.
There are some people of Hebrew descent who call themselves Jews
but do not believe in god. But, this is not the same. These Jews
identify themselves by their ethnicity. They can still be a Jew
even if they join another faith - or have no faith in any god.
Perhaps Alexander or Parviz could illuminate this idea for me.
How, in any real world way, can an atheist be a Zoroastrian? It
does not make sense to me.