I hear that a lot — that atheism is a religion — from people who are not atheists. And, of course, we atheists have our
snide cute, catch-phrase responses:
Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sexual position.
Atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color.
Atheism is a religion like not collecting stamps is a hobby.
Atheism is a religion like health is a disease.
But seriously folks, atheism is a religion like the Bible is a history book and like creationism is science.
I think part of the reason that people believe that atheism is a religion is because most people don’t really understand what it is…and what it isn’t. In fact, for some reason, some people are actually intimidated by atheism.
According to a recent Pew Research Study, atheists are one of the most universally disliked groups in America. Atheists are in a virtual tie with Muslims for being unwelcome in our society. Isn’t that special?
But this should come as no surprise when animosity between religions, distrust, and anger seem to be the norms in this country.
Before we discuss what atheism is or is not, let’s define what a religion is.
Religion: a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
So if religion is a set of beliefs, and atheists believe that God does not exist, doesn’t that constitute a “set of beliefs,” thus making atheism a religion?
No, it does not. Atheism is not a belief system nor is it a religion. Let’s be real clear here. Atheism is not a set of believes. It’s not even a disbelief in gods or a denial of gods. It is merely a lack of belief in the existence of God or the gods. It is a lack of belief that there is an afterlife. It is the belief that the material universe is all that is real.
Some claim that atheists equate science with religion and elevate scientists to almost god-like worship. Well, most of us do respect science and scientists, but what makes something a religion is when it asserts the existence of some sort of supernatural divinity and/or an afterlife. Science does not.
And unlike religions, atheism doesn’t operate under a clearly defined set of rules. The only common thread that ties all atheists together is a lack of belief in gods and supernatural beings. Other than that, atheists can do and believe anything they want, and still call themselves atheist, which is another reason that I dislike the label “non-believer” being applied to atheists.
Do all atheists share a common philosophy, a common code of conduct? Like everyone else, atheists have philosophies by which we live. But there is not a clearly defined, unified philosophy that is common to all, or even to most, atheists. Unlike with religions, a lack of belief in the existence of God or the gods does not lead to any particular or specific philosophy of life.
Atheists do not abide by any particular dogma, do not practice specific rituals, do not have any sort of ancient, sacred scripture, and do not follow some human, spiritual leader who serves as the agent of God on Earth.
Atheists often diverge on issues, ideas, ideologies, philosophies, politics. There simply is no common atheist belief system. Thus, atheism is not a religion.
I’ve been told that it’s not very tolerant of me, a man who claims to be a “live-and-let-live” kind of a person, to be critical of a belief system based upon mysticism, mythology, and superstition.
Well, I can be critical of anything I wish to be critical of, but I don’t try to impose my beliefs onto others. I don’t condemn others to eternal damnation for holding beliefs based upon mysticism, mythology, and superstition. I don’t need to. They do that enough to each other anyway. I don’t feel the need to punish or injure others because their belief systems are different from my own.
It’s also been suggested that atheists speak in absolutes, which is better, in my humble opinion, than speaking in tongues. What the hell are they saying, anyway?
So what are these absolutes that atheists speak in? There is absolutely no God. Atheism is absolutely not a religion. Religions are absolutely based in mythology and superstition.
First, atheists don’t say that there is absolutely is God. We say that there is no evidence that we’ve seen or experienced to cause us to believe in the existence of a god.
Second, I’ve tried to make a case here that atheism is not a religion, but if there are those who believe that it is, well they are entitled to believe whatever they want to believe, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Third, as to all religions being based in mythology and superstition, that is absolutely the case. If there is an exception to that “absolute,” please inform me of any religion that is not based in mythology and superstition. I’ll listen with an open mind.
And finally, I’ve been asked where the harm is in religion. “As long as those people aren’t bothering me,” why should I care?
If only that were the case that “those people” aren’t bothering me.
“Those people” are trying to legislate their religious beliefs into the law of the land of a free society, one that offers freedom of, and freedom from, religion.
“Those people” are indoctrinating their children with a belief system that reinforces the idea that “we are right and they are wrong.”
“Those people” are focusing on what makes us different and what divides us rather than on what we all have in common as human beings.
“Those people” are doing harm. And that is where I draw a line in the sand.
This will be my last post on religion/atheism for a while. This subject is exhausting me.