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Next Time Someone Says Atheism Is A Religion...

Here's a piece from one of my books (or both, if I remember correctly), a blog here and there, etc... Good for those who insist that Atheism is a religion. Tally ho!

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The Ignorance of Defining Atheism as a Religion

“The most violent element in society is ignorance” – Emma Goldman

If I had a dollar for every time a Christian says that atheism is a religion, I’d be a fairly wealthy man. If I added two-bits to that for every time a Christian says that atheism is a belief system, my kids would get a healthy inheritance, to boot. Of course, those of us that are atheists know full well that atheism is not a religion and cannot be categorized as a belief system, but since when did knowledge stop a believer from being willfully ignorant. After all, they do believe some outlandishly ridiculous things in spite of extant proof to the contrary. In fact, they are proud of their ignorance, and often quote from the book of Hebrews, chapter 1, verse 1, which states, “Now, faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Pot, Meet Kettle…

The reason that the believer stubbornly insists that atheism is a religion is actually quite simple. They are mentally unable to conceive otherwise. They are so caught up in their own beliefs that they cannot comprehend not having them, and thus, cannot comprehend another person not having them. For the indoctrinated, there is no void. One can not simply exist without having a belief in God, and their standard responses when we atheists tell them, very simply, that we do not believe usually provokes a reply to the order of us being in denial. A believer accusing an atheist of being in denial is an oxymoron and actually quite humorous to me. Those who claim that atheism is a religion lack a clear understanding of what atheism is, which is evident by their tendency to use religious terms to describe atheism.

I have often stated on this and other blogs, as well as in my previous book, the following:

“There exists only one definition of atheism, and that is simply the lack of a belief in a deity. There is a philosophical aspect to atheism, but it is not part of the definition, but an extension of the individual. Atheism, in of itself, cannot be described as religious because it takes mental gymnastics to attach the narrative, experiential, social, ethical, doctrinal, ritual and material aspects of religion to atheism because it is not a structured system with defined rules. It has no uniform beliefs and is not a means of understanding our existence.”

Religious belief is a philosophy, but not atheism. An atheist may adopt a philosophy that is based on unbelief, but that philosophy is merely an extension of their atheism, and germane only to the individual. Religion, however, is a shared experience, regardless of all the claims about personal relationships, etc. The concept of religious belief is directly dependent on and pertinent to specific dogma, doctrine and superstitions that are common to the religion. Every Muslim, no matter which sect, has a set of core doctrines that serve to define them as Muslims. Same for Christians, etc. The atheist has no shared belief, doctrine or dogma for obvious reasons. 

Mental Gymnastics…

Putting atheism up as a legitimate parallel to religion takes mental gymnastics of Olympian proportions. It is the epitome of that old axiom eluding to the comparison of apples and oranges, but it would be closer to comparing an apple to a Chevy. Atheism has nothing even remotely similar to religious belief. As I stated above, atheists do not have a single positive aspect of existence that binds us together.

We are categorized as a group based on one, single negative – the lack of belief in God. Outside of that, we can and often do, adopt a wide variety of points of view that can include anything. Even those of us who are among the outspoken, widely read and well known in our movement cannot intelligently be compared to religious leaders, which is another common statement of ignorance coming from the religious, followed in ignorance only by their assertions that atheist organizations are comparative to religious congregations. The plain truth is that there exist no similarities between atheism and religion that can logically command such designations.

The fact that there are a plethora of religionists who go through great lengths in their attempts to define atheism as a religion is indicative of the ignorance that is prevalent within their mindsets. A man named Daniel Smart of “Creation Ministries International” published an article last year that is probably the most batshit crazy attempt at this. It is lengthily, poorly written and completely devoid of anything close to accurate. In fact, his first commentator put it very succinctly,

“This article is a typical example of you’re complete failure to understand atheism or science. The entire CMI website and team produce nothing but propaganda which this is a clear example of. The CMI website, I understand, is supposed to be providing a scientific explanation of creation, yet it has failed to provide one solitary unbiased piece of evidence. All the website is good for is hypocrisy and propaganda.”

You Keep Using That Word…

Believers, particularly Christians, are fond of using what I like to call “Disingenuous Heteronyms.” A heteronym is a is a word that has equal spelling and pronunciation, but has different meanings. The word “lick” is an example. You can lick an ice cream cone, and you can lick someone in a fight. A disingenuous heteronym is word that has equal spelling and pronunciation, but a meaning is attached to it that does not follow the standards by which definitions are arrived.

Examples would be the words “preacher” and “congregation.” These words have a few different meanings, which make them heteronyms, but the assignment of these words with definitions within the confines of atheism is disingenuous. Point of fact, many religious people like to call me a preacher.

Now, I used to be a preacher, so calling me a former preacher would be accurate. But within the confines of atheism, calling an outspoken atheist that tours the lecture circuit, produces radio and television programs, writes articles or authors books (or a combination of some or all of these) a preacher is inaccurate.

Atheism has neither “preachers” nor “congregations.” Atheist groups have leaders and agendas, much in the way as groups such as the United Way, but to suggest that atheist groups are religious in nature is not only preposterous, but shows a lack of intellectual savvy that is common found in very young children.

We Gather Here Today….

The lack of “faithful believers” and the other inherent characteristics of religion do not allow for anything parallel between the two outside of a group of humans meeting at the same place. After that, there is no commonality. When atheists gather to hear a speaker, they are encouraged to be skeptical about the content of the lecture. The speaker generally offers food for thought, knowing full well that individual expression of opinion is accepted as the norm.

No single atheist is obligated to agree with what another atheist might take away from any given lecture. The religious leader, however, does not offer food for thought. Quite the contrary, they have a goal of uniting their congregation under one dogmatic banner where there is no room for congregational interaction, skepticism or free thought.

Gotta Keep ‘Em Separated…

As I made reference to earlier, atheism stands on its own as a definitive and does not require an attached philosophy that all atheists must adhere to. The fact that an atheist has an individualized philosophical compass that is not connected to a common belief is the main tenet that separates it from religion.

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in an article on Religion, defines religion as such:

  • Belief in supernatural beings (gods).
  • A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
  • Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
  • A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods.
  • Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual, and which are connected in idea with the gods.
  • Prayer and other forms of communication with gods.
  • A worldview, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an over-all purpose or point of the world and an indication of how the individual fits into it.
  • A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the worldview.
  • A social group bound together by the above.

As you can see, these characteristics in no way reflect someone who lacks the belief in supernatural beings, nor anything that unites atheists on a dogmatic level. Atheism does not include any distinctions between sacred and profane objects. There are no ritual acts or moral codes to be sanctioned by God(s). There is nothing about atheism that fits any of these.

There exist no characteristically religious feelings such as awe, nor a sense of mystery, guilt or adoration. Atheism includes nothing even remotely similar to prayer or other forms of communication with the supernatural. Religion is a system of belief. Atheism is not, and cannot be classified as such because there is no belief and there is no system. No rituals, practices, rules, doctrines or dogma.

It Takes More Faith To Be An Atheist…

I wasn’t actually going to address this very common statement by the religious because it’s just so completely stupid that I don’t even deserve the energy it takes to make the keystrokes. But it does come up often, so I will give it some attention. Religion concerns itself with gods and religious belief is classified as “faith” because it includes unquestioning belief in unconventional definitions that require no proof to believe as truth. Hence the common, “God said it, I believe it, that settles it” bumper stickers that adorn the chariots of the godly.

Atheists, however, live according to reason and do not apply a reference to a higher power. Atheism is a scientific approach to theistic belief systems. An atheist contradicts theism by using rational thinking and scientific theory to debunk the dubious and irrational assertions of religion. In short, atheism merely awaits evidence to confirm the existence of god.

It Just Ain’t So…

Defining atheism as a religion is embellishment and bad philosophy. Atheism has no dogma, no rites, no holy books, no places of worship and no clergy of any description. It offers no moral guidance, no political opinions and no worldview.

Atheism is a religion like “off” is a channel on your television…

@2010 Al Stefanelli (UAF Publications) All Rights Reserved. May be reprinted all or in part with proper credit and without gain for profit. 

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Comment by Matttammar on October 1, 2012 at 9:38am

I came across a @YouTube video that nicely complements the discussion:  http://youtu.be/W3CNsGpSPXo?a   

Comment by Adriana on September 30, 2012 at 5:37pm

Yes, I agree, Matt; I live in a "cocoon" of majority atheists only because I'm a scientist and the vast majority of my colleagues are atheist, and I live in NYC, a city where religious life is not as prominent compared to most of the US. I also grew up in a country where atheism and agnosticism were run-of-the-mill positions (Uruguay), nobody batted an eye if you said you are an atheist. Here in the US, it's a different story. I have to make a confession: I honestly do not have any close friends who are religious. not because I've excluded them from my inner circle, but this is the way it just happened, through cultural environment, profession, etc. I am friendly with religious people, but they are just not in my close circle of friends. My first exposure to truly "devout" levels of religiosity has been the internet, in the US. My involvement with an "atheist movement" stems primarily from the shock I experienced with the influence of creationism and "intelligent design", back in the 80s. I had never heard anything so crazy in my life before. I thought that to allow ignorance and bigotry to take a hold in education was a very dangerous proposition. Not to mention allowing religious thought and bigotry to legislate people's lives! The only form of government in my opinion, worth fighting for, is a secular democracy.

Comment by Matttammar on September 30, 2012 at 4:28pm

Adriana,

I have never lived in the US, but what you said makes perfect sense. With the exception of the UK, I have only lived in countries where atheists form a majority. Being surrounded by atheists will provide some edification.  

Comment by Adriana on September 30, 2012 at 3:29pm

@Matttammar, thanks for explaining the 3 "ts", I should have thought about it, LOLZ!

I do not have solid evidence but I think there are quite a few atheists in the US who believe all kinds of unproven stuff, and who do not appear to me to be very critical in their thinking. But perhaps there are not that many, and simply they are just very vocal on the internet and it gives a false impression that there are many. I was even thinking that it could be due to many of them being very recent atheists and that they have not been able to totally rid themselves of the bad habits of thinking that religion instills in people.

Comment by Onyango Makagutu on September 30, 2012 at 1:03pm

Nice post, it takes an idiot to think of Atheism as a religion or requiring faith

Comment by Chris on September 30, 2012 at 10:35am

Nice post Al. I get into arguments over the phrase "spiritual, but not religious." I think it's disingenuous. What are your thoughts about "spiritual?"

Comment by Matttammar on September 30, 2012 at 7:44am

Hi Adriana! I have never met such unsceptical atheists in Scandinavia, Germany or Holland, but to my surprise I met an atheist firmly believing in ghosts in the UK. That's why I used the terms "in my experience and "all-or nearly all". I accept that atheism is not equivalent to astuteness! (If I would split my name into Matt and Tammar, the 3"t"s would become less "wow"!)

Comment by Adriana on September 29, 2012 at 5:55pm

@Matttammar (wow, there are 3 "t"s in your name, I just realized): by and large you are correct; however I've met my fair share of atheists who believe all kinds of unsubstantiated claims. Some of them even seem to reserve their skepticism for deities, and for Sasquatch or Nessie, while believing in the paranormal such as parapsychology, dogs that can tell the future, for example.

Comment by Nelly on September 29, 2012 at 3:36pm

Fully agree with Matttammar. He's truly Rationalist, too.

Comment by Matttammar on September 29, 2012 at 2:50pm

Even though the word Atheist means nothing but disbelief in deities, in my experience Atheists disbelief all- or nearly all supernatural phenomena. Once you become sceptical about a concept as prevalent as religion, you’ll apply scepticism to all far-fetched and unsubstantiated claims.

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