Wow.com has an interesting topic up for discussion today regarding whether there is such a thing as an atheist in Azeroth. I made my token comment there, but I thought the topic was interesting enough that I’d share my thoughts in more detail here. After all Azeroth is a world where gods are real, their avatars are real and people wield amazing abilities via worshipping or otherwise communing with them. The prospect of somebody who does not worship one of the Azerothian deities is a curious one. However, I believe that it could be a more common scenario than you would expect. Here’s why.
People often make the mistake of thinking that an atheist is somebody who believes that there is no such thing as a god, but this is not strictly accurate. Atheism is more accurately a rejection of the concept of *belief*. An atheist is simply a person who chooses not to believe in any god. An atheist can quite happily admit that god may possibly exist, but given its existence cannot be proven and such a god can only be related to via a belief structure, they have no involvement with it. To put it simply: an atheist does not believe in belief. Some atheists do go further and say that god categorically cannot exist, but lets leave that to the side and focus on the core meaning of the term.
In the context of Azeroth, where you can see the existence of gods and magic, it would be crazy (and potentially life-threatening) for someone to say that a god is not real. However that does not mean that you cannot have a person who abstains from all forms of god-worship. When Gods are real they can turn their backs on you, but you can also turn your back on them.
I’m reminded of a line in a recent Doctor Who episode, where River Song talks to a war-hardened Roman General, saying that he has long since stopped believing that the Gods are paying attention. I feel this could also be a great example of an atheist in WoW as well. They know there are gods and spirits and daemons out there, but they have had enough of them. When you have travelled the world extensively and seen a lot of bloodshed, you may turn to a god in desperation but you might also lose interest in them because they simply haven’t made the world any better.
Let’s ground this concept with some tangible examples. I feel in gameplay terms the Warrior is probably the best archetype for the Azerothian atheist. Whilst a Paladin worships the light, a Shaman literally communes with the spirits and a Warlock makes his daemonic pacts, a Warrior has learnt to rely on nobody other than himself. His belief is centred upon his own actions, not the various beings in the sky throwing lightning bolts. Of course, a mage may also be an atheist simply by virtue of the erudite pursuit of knowledge coming before all other concerns. Rogues also work, simply because they don’t care about such matters, they’re too busy stealing your wallet!
I think race is also an important question in terms of who is more likely to be an atheist, although all known races will likely have a few atheists here and there. Spiritual peoples like the Trolls and Tauren are extremely unlikely candidates, as their worship of their particular deities is firmly grounded in their societies. Similarly the Night Elves and Draenei are constantly in contact with nature and the Light. Orcs also do not make likely atheists due to their emphasis on Shamanism, however I’m sure there are also a fair few embittered Orc warriors who worship nothing but might and steel.
The Humans have some interesting potential as atheists, as although many worship the Light, I can easily see the everyday Stormwind citizen being quite far removed from devout worship. Many likely just go through the motions but never really believe, leading to some to turn away altogether.
The Forsaken are known to have plenty of atheists amongst their ranks, and who can blame them given them given they’re basically living their afterlife already – and it kind of sucks. That said they do have a cult-like mentality when it comes to Sylvanas. Additionally, some strong-hearted individuals still cling to the Light, and there are also the philosophical cults of the Forgotten Shadow and the Echo of Life. The Undead are still likely one of your best bets for an atheist character however.
Finally, let’s not forget the Gnomes and Goblins, who are practically implicit atheists simply because they consider all this mythical nonsense as getting in the way of some good tinkering or get-rich-quick scheme!
Personally I’ve really enjoyed mulling over these ideas and find them a nice concept for potential character building and role-playing. Given my future main will likely be a Goblin Warrior, I think I just answered the ‘god question’ when it comes to his beliefs. My Warrior will be an embittered atheist, a mercenary soldier who’s only concern for the gods of Azeroth is if somebody pays him to help kill one. Atheism FTW!