On Atheistic Religion

by Eric Steinhart

We’re rational animals.  Which means that we’re rational.  And that we’re animals.  Many biological and neurological necessities are satisfied by religion.  Your neocortex has to live with your limbic system.  And as long as we humans have limbic systems in our brains, we’re going to be religious (more on that later).

Atheists tend to downplay the practical and social aspects of religion in favor of focusing on the cognitive aspects.  And that’s unfortunate.  The practical and social aspects of religion are probably the main aspects for most people.  Religion helps people solve all sorts of biological regulatory problems (e.g. the regulation of diet, sex, violence); it helps with social identity formation and group regulation.  It works deeply at the boundaries of the biological self: birth, death, reproduction, and the boundary of the self and its group.

Religion serves certain purposes for life, and if atheism wants to flourish, it will have to serve those same purposes.  People aren’t going to stop being born, reproducing, or dying.  The problems at the boundary of the self and it social group will always be there.  You don’t form your language, your emotions, or your thoughts by yourself.   Your identity was built in a group (your mother, your family, your school, your tribe, your nation).  And the limbic system is almost certainly here to stay, deep in the center of the human brain, persistently interpreting the world in its own strange ways.

On the one hand, religious atheism is probably a very bad idea.  A religious atheism would probably be an incoherent mixture of conflicting purposes.  (I take it that those who say “atheism is not a religion” are objecting to religious atheism.)  On the other hand, atheistic religions are entirely possible.  Buddhism, in its original Theravedic form, is atheistic.  As much as I love Theravedic Buddhism, it’s just too alien to the Western mind to ever get much of a hold in our culture.  What about atheistic Western religions?  They are possible.  And many people are working on building atheistic religions in the West.

Various writers have been talking about atheist spirituality.  I don’t like the term “spirituality”, since it seems to be welcoming to spirits.  But let’s set that aside.  You might want to look at A Little Book of Atheist Spirituality by Andre Comte-Sponville.   Atheists can do all sorts of apparently religious activities – like meditation.  Sam Harris talks about atheistic meditation in Chapter 7 of The End of Faith.  There’s a decent chapter on atheist spirituality at the end of Kerry Walter’s Atheism: A Guide for the Perplexed.

Another way that atheists have been building religious structures is through religious naturalism.  Here I always like to go back to Dawkins, whose opening chapter of The God Delusion is “A Deeply Religious Non-Believer”.  He beautifully describes an atheistic piety in that chapter.   His atheistic piety is developed by the religious naturalists.  He mentions Ursula Goodenough’s book, The Sacred Depths of Nature.  Chet Raymo’s book When God is Gone, Everything is Holy is very good, but Chet is still clinging to his old Catholic identity.  The best of all, in my opinion, is the work of Donald Crosby.  I’d encourage every serious atheist to read Crosby’s A Religion of Nature.

Atheism has to solve the problems that life presents to people.  And every solution to those problems pushes atheism (and atheists) in a religious direction.  Some of those problems arise from simple facts of social life: atheists have to deal with their theistic (usually Christian) family members, neighbors, co-workers, and so on.  Merely being critical and negative is rarely a helpful strategy.  It leads to alienation and hostility.  It’s almost always better, especially in America, to offer a positive alternative to theism.

People need to have ceremonies to mark birth, marriage, and death.  People need socially sanctioned regulatory mechanisms for emotions and for biological urges to sex and violence.  Most people need comforting rituals that either hold out the hope of having some power in the face of personal powerlessness (and the suffering that goes with it) or at least make personal powerlessness meaningful or dignified.  And people need holidays.  Any effort to satisfy those needs leads to religion-building.

Atheistic (Western) religions are being built.  One way to build an atheistic religion is to try to naturalize or de-mythologize an existing religion.  Liberal Protestants have been trying to do that for a long time, and the only result seems to be the failure of liberal Protestantism. Michael Dowd is trying to naturalize Protestantism with his evolutionary spirituality.  I don’t think it will go very far.  There is an atheistic (or at least pantheistic) strain in Catholicism, represented  by Teilhard de Chardin, Thomas Berry, and Chet Raymo.  But I doubt that will ever become a big part of the Catholic tradition.  It’s probably impossible to naturalize any form of Christianity. It may be possible to naturalize Judaism.  There is a Society for Humanistic Judaism.   But I doubt that project will ever become mainstream.

Another way to build an atheistic religion is to reactivate older religious patterns.  This is what is happening with religious naturalism.  Religious naturalism is an atheistic version of older Western paganism.  Today, the most well-developed type of Western paganism is Wicca.  The idea of the divine as an ultimate immanent creative power of being is an idea that comes from atheistic philosophers (Spinoza, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Crosby).  I might add Charles Sanders Peirce and plenty of lesser names as well.   (And while Leibniz constantly declares his belief in the Christian God, he was thought by many to be an atheist, and there’s lots of weird evidence in his writing for a very deep type of atheism.)

I’ll say it again just to be clear: I’m not Wiccan, I do not advocate for it, I do not secretly want you to start practicing it.  (Of course, if you want to, it’s none of my business to stand in your way.)  I’m merely reporting on (and philosophically analyzing and criticizing) some very strange new developments in American religious culture.  One of these developments is the emergence of an atheistic Wicca (or, more generally, atheistic neopaganism).  Taking the woo out of Wicca seems to be pretty easy (more on that later).  For all those who complain that Wicca is merely mythological, I’ve read plenty of Wiccan books that explicitly declare: hey, the god and goddess are just myths.

You want evidence for these strange new developments?   Here are two cases.  Consider the growth of Wicca within Unitarian Universalism.  Take a look at the  Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans.  Here the sometimes tense negotiations between the old-fashioned atheistic humanism of UU and the new-fangled Wiccan religion are going on at full blast.  But my favorite example comes from the increasing use by American atheists of the Wheel of the Year.  More on that in my next post.

Other posts in the series so far:

Atheism and Wicca

The Wiccan Deity

The Theistic Deity and Atheism Defined

The Wiccan Deity: An Initial Philosophical Analysis

The Wiccan Deity: Related Concepts in Philosophy

Nine Theses on Wicca and Atheism

Atheistic Holidays

Criticizing Wicca: Energy

Atheism and Beauty

Do Atheists Worship Truth?

Some Naturalistic Ontology

Criticizing Wicca: Levels

Atheism and the Sacred: Natural Creative Power

Atheist Ceremonies: De-Baptism and the Cosmic Walk

Atheism and Possibility

The Impossible God of Paul Tillich

Atheism and the Sacred: Being-Itself

Pure Objective Reason

Criticizing Wicca: Rationality

The God and the Goddess

Wicca and the Problem of Evil

The Wiccan God and Goddess: Reality and Mythology

On Participation in Being-Itself

Criticizing Wicca: God and Goddess

The Increasing Prevalence of Woo

Wiccan Theology and Sexual Equality

Revelation versus Manifestation

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.

  • http://songe.me Alex Songe

    In this vein, I have something to confess. I am an atheist who prays. When nothing can be done about a situation I’m in, I find myself praying because that’s what I was brought up to do. I’ve rejected Christianity and theism, and when I pray, it’s to absolutely no one. Now, when I can spend cognitive resources actually fixing the problem myself, that’s what I do. Don’t get me wrong. But what prayer gives me is something to do and I find it calms me. Now, can I advocate this? I don’t think I can advocate this for anyone who hasn’t grown up with these habits. In any event, I don’t consider this irrational. Sometimes I get very anxious, and I can use prayer to calm me so that I can then think more clearly. I’m the one pushing my own buttons here, and I don’t see how prayer is inconsistent with my beliefs. I recognize that reality exists on its own terms, apart from whatever I believe and to make the best decisions I need to create the best understanding of reality that’s relevant to my decision-making.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      And now the truth comes out… ;)

      Seriously, it’s exactly this sort of thing that Eric has some interesting things to say about going forward, which led me to ask him to write these posts.

    • sunnydale75

      Alex, I get the impression you felt that this was shameful. I don’t think it’s anything you should feel embarrassed about.

      Tony

    • http://songe.me Alex Songe

      Only ironically shameful. There are atheist friends of mine who don’t want to give any “room” for misinterpretation and they get pretty adamant about it. I think this comes from a confusion where people expect an implicit symmetry between “Christianity” and “atheism”, where a “good atheist” is “completely rational” (where “completely rational” is something more like the Straw Vulcan concept Julia Galef talked about at Skepticon (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tLgNZ9aTEwc)

    • HFM

      I do that too, and I’m a lifelong atheist (as was my father).

      I wish there was a better secular vocabulary for luck, hope, and events that are just flat-out not under our control. If I were to win the lottery, I’d be profoundly thankful – but thankful to what? I don’t know. But it’s a human emotion, and it’s there.

      There’s also – this may be confession time for me too. But I’ve found that if someone I don’t dare disappoint believes in me, I am capable of doing far more than I realized (if the alternative is explaining to that person why I couldn’t do it). I think this is part of the power of God-belief. So…I have this embroidered heart on my wall that I made in 7th grade. I was stuck in home ec, as training for my future as a baby-maker, and we had to learn embroidery. But I was a fierce little humanist even then, and so on my heart, I made a picture of the Earth from space. Sometimes, when I’m scared or tired or want to give up, I talk to that heart, and to the little girl that made it. She thought I was going to kick ass, so who am I to disappoint?

  • inflection

    Religion helps people solve all sorts of biological regulatory problems (e.g. the regulation of diet, sex, violence); it helps with social identity formation and group regulation. It works deeply at the boundaries of the biological self: birth, death, reproduction, and the boundary of the self and its group.

    Religion serves certain purposes for life, and if atheism wants to flourish, it will have to serve those same purposes.

    I think this is where we may part ways. If you regard any regulatory system for these needs as a religion, then we need a religion to regulate them. However, I perceive that these needs can be regulated with a moral system that has atheism as a mostly unrelated conclusion (in that that system of morals includes a love of truth and the methods to seek it).

    My atheism is incidental to my regulation of most of those needs; its main relation is that I take an evidence-based approach to them, which is also the approach that leads me to atheism.

    • http://freethoughtblogs.com/camelswithhammers Camels With Hammers

      My atheism is incidental to my regulation of most of those needs; its main relation is that I take an evidence-based approach to them, which is also the approach that leads me to atheism.

      He’s not saying it shouldn’t lead you to atheism. He’s saying that being an atheist is not mutually exclusive with the sorts of “religious” practices that provide people with forms and mechanisms for engaging their own brains’ non-rational sides in ways that serve ultimately rational ends.

  • Jesse

    I think there are a couple of issues here that are actually addressed better than in the posts on Wicca’s relationship to atheism (which honestly just looked to me like redefining anything in the Abrahamic tradition as theism and anything that isn’t as not, which seems dubious at best). But whatever. The point is that people do need certain rituals and the like and you have to engage the reality that religion — at least if you look at it in the sense of all the practices and stuff that goes with it rather than the basic theological questions — is not an unmitigated evil.

    Frankly, most people never give a moment’s thought to theology or any of the questions that a lot of atheists, gnu or otherwise, seem to find fascinating and important :-)

    But I will quibble a bit about Buddhism being too alien to become mainstream. After all, it took off in several societies that were unfamiliar with it. Buddhism comes from India but it really took off in China, Japan, and what used to be Indochina and Thailand. And while the number of Buddhists in the US is still small (mostly those born to it) it did have some fad appeal back in the 70s. Christianity wasn’t particularly familiar to Western minds either when it started. Christians just had bigger armies. Buddhists did too at one point. (Imperial Japan was exhibit A, but the armies of China at various points would have been largely Buddhist).

    • John Morales

      The point is that people do need certain rituals and the like

      I certainly don’t need rituals, though I do adopt habits; I do wish Eric had quantified that claim, as he did in regards to comforting rituals. I grant most people do.

      (And I very much dislike ceremonies of all sorts — I stopped doing birthday, anniversary etc. ceremonies decades ago, except inasfar as I must participate to avoid pissing people off)

  • sawells

    Throwaway references to “the Western mind” really get my hackles up. Whose mind? Come to that, whose West?

  • grung0r

    People need socially sanctioned regulatory mechanisms for emotions and for biological urges to sex and violence.

    I don’t think you meant “regulatory mechanisms” here, I think you meant “excuses to do what would otherwise be repugnant”. All religion has ever done to ‘regulate’ these things it is to designate 51% of the population as chattel rape-slaves while simultaneously placing taboos on many perfectly consensual sexual acts between adults, and to tell us who it is ok to murder in service of the powerful(hint:most people). We don’t need anything more from religion on this front, except for it to go away.

  • http://peicurmudgeon.wordpress.com/ peicurmudgeon

    I don’t see the concept of rituals or celebrations as necessarily religious in nature. As social animals we like an excuse to get our family and friends together and enjoy their company.

    A birthday, anniversary, or other important days of our lives are used for that purpose. As someone who grew up on a farm inn a northern climate, a gathering to celebrate the fall work being complete or the end of a long cold winter does not need to be religious at all.

    Here, it is vary common for family and friends to collect on the first day of lobster season both to help with putting traps out and to eat the first feed of lobster. There is nothing religious about that celebration.

    I have been at atheist weddings were no prayers were said, everyone just celebrated an major life change for these two people that we all care about.

    All of this to say that we can celebrate our lives without inserting religion or religious overtones into those celebrations.

  • sunnydale75

    Eric, I feel this post was a better expression of your critique than prior ones.

    I do take issue with the idea of atheistic religions, but this is due more to my personal notion that atheism should be defined broader, such as “not believing in anything supernatural”, not just gods or goddesses.

    Tony

    • John Morales

      There’s already a term for that: Naturalism.

    • sunnydale75

      Thank you. There are so many philosophies out there it can be hard to sift through. Naturalism does describe my view of the world. That said, and I can’t put my finger on why, it feels like its missing something…

      Tony

  • JoeBuddha

    Strains of Mahayana Buddhism (which I practice) are pretty atheistic as well. Sure, there could be a lot of woo involved, but it’s strictly optional; my form of Buddhism is a practice not a belief. It makes it easier for me to focus in on an idea or work out a problem.

  • HFM

    I do think that the existing rituals (weddings, funerals, baby showers, etc) can and do function in a secular context. Like many, my extended family is a mix of believers and nonbelievers; we have found that if the overall form is the same, you can dial the woo factor up or down to fit the person(s) involved, without causing any real problems.

    But I’ll admit to having atheist religion. At some point, you’ve got to have a system for assigning meaning – and your choice of system may not be 100% scientifically proven. That’s normal, I think. Personally, I find empathy (for others and for my future self) to be a sufficient basis for regulating my desire for sex, violence, etc. Can I prove this to be true? No, unless you count anecdata (I’m not writing this from prison or from the hospital). So I’m a humanist by faith, and an atheist by reason. That’s okay with me.

    And I’ll also admit that religion has its social pluses. For one thing, atheism doesn’t quite have the ongoing community aspect that you would get from a church. The blogosphere can replace that somewhat, but not entirely. I’m a lifelong atheist, but I remember being dragged along to watch Jesse Jackson speak (long story)…towards the end, he asked the students in the crowd to raise their hands if they were over 17, and once they had, he pointed out that they were all eligible to give blood, and would they come sign up here? And sure enough, most of them did. We don’t have quite that ability to peer-pressure each other into giving blood, or showing up at the soup kitchen, or whatever. That’s something that would be missed if religion disappeared tomorrow. (Well, they also use it to peer-pressure each other into astonishingly stupid things…)

  • Makoto

    This article makes me think of a rant…

    I think a group can have a sense of group / community without the religious / ritualistic trappings that often go along with it. Have a group that gets together for a community lunch, where everyone is welcome. Get together for coffee. Talk about movies, books, and articles you’ve read online. Talk about a stupid article you read on Fox or ABC or Wikipedia. Whatever you want to get together over, but get together!

    I don’t know if such gatherings would help make atheists less scary to the world at large. Various people would see hidden attempts at.. something.. in such meetings, no matter how open they were. But I think it would help people who are on the fence about atheism, or at least those with open minds, see that atheists aren’t scary people.

    Just as a general thing, I’d like to see a group of people who get together to talk, have a good time together, and do good works simply because doing good is a good thing to do, no need for religion to drive it. I certainly wouldn’t want to exclude any religious folks who wanted to join in – anyone who wants to hang out and have fun, do good, let them join in and see that being good is.. good. There’s far too much hatred out there, and a lot of it comes from specific people in religion, going against even their own holy books. And the world at large could certainly use more good works.

    It’s not a religion, just a community.

    (This is partly motivated by the fact that I recently volunteered for a blanket / winter clothing giveaway which was co-opted while it was going for a prayer service. I volunteered to get warm stuffs to people that needed them, not to convert them or bring them to church)

  • http://www.sammyfamily.com J.C. Samuelson

    Yes, atheists do sometimes tend to focus on the cognitive aspects of religion, but I wholeheartedly disagree with you when you say that atheists downplay the “practical and social aspects” of religion. Quite the contrary, in fact. Take condom use (as disease prevention), for example. Or family planning, equal rights, sexuality and medical research, to name a few. But I do appreciate your point that some atheists do sometimes glaze over the social benefits experienced by those belonging to a faith community.

    Where I start to get a little uncomfortable is where you seem to give religion credit for the development of prosociality and for fostering (to borrow from Sagan) a ‘human relationship to the numinous.’ I think it’s tremendously important to remember that religion didn’t invent our social, cognitive or emotional impulses. Nor does it drive them. These impulses existed, after all, before religion did, and maybe even where it got its start.

    What religion does do, and quite successfully too, is synthesize our impulses and help us find a focus for them. Sounds neat & tidy – and maybe even good – until you realize that the result is a form of tribalism, complete with groupthink and a host of other cognitive biases that give people license to treat each other poorly. Not exactly something that I, as an atheist, want to embrace as a part of my platform for social change, know what I mean?

    So I guess the bottom line is that, for whatever it’s worth, I think I appreciate what you’re trying to say, but disagree with your overall assessment.

  • Robert B.

    Religion is a meme. I know that word mostly gets used these days to mean a joke on the internet, but really, a meme is a self-replicating pattern in an information system. That sounds boring and abstract, until you remember that life is a self-replicating pattern in a chemical system.

    Memes have selection (some of them die because people stop thinking them), conservation (a “good” or successful meme will be repeated, mostly the same as the last version) and mutation (memes change, by creativity, necessity, or accident.) These are the three ingredients, necessary and sufficient, for evolution. And evolution, despite what people think, does not favor groups or even individuals. Evolution favors the replication itself. The biggest success story of biological evolution, measured by the number of copies in existence, is probably some bit of junk DNA that has copied itself, uselessly, millions of times each in trillions of cells each in millions of organisms each of millions of species.

    The biggest success story of memetic evolution is religion. We should be deeply, deeply suspicious of anything that successful, because it probably didn’t get to the top by playing fair. Its “design” will not be, cannot be, in our interest, except as a second thought and a means to an end. It will have piggybacked itself on things we can’t do without, riding inside ritual and reverence like a parasite. It will have defenses, such as faith and dogma and the threat of punishment, to protect it from enemy thoughts that would root it out. And though individual religions may be slow to change, religion as a species will have evolved the power to adapt, even when the intellectual conditions change radically.

    Does anyone here think that, in six thousand or ten thousand or a hundred thousand years, we’re the first people to think of atheism? Is it credible that, in all that time, no one thought “hey, maybe there aren’t magical invisible sky people after all”? No. Atheism is too obvious to be new. If religion has survived this long, it must have adapted to survive atheism. It must have some specialized defense, the sort of thing that still works on people who have refused to believe in threats and have removed themselves from peer pressure and can refute the false claims of fact.

    And here we have religion saying “Oh, well, sure, you don’t have to believe those parts. Go ahead and ignore that old-fashioned stuff, it’s fine with me. We can be friends, honest – can’t you just take the useful parts?” Are you still wondering, Eric, why your audience here is so suspicious? Are you wondering, yet, why you keep thinking of religion as a package deal, as if the human needs for reverence and for ritual were self-evidently linked rather than demonstrably separate?

    It might be that we can “domesticate” religion. We might be able to control it, to “breed” it, to replace hostile natural selection with docile artificial selection. I won’t be the one to try it, though. This beast is too nasty to just walk up to it with a bridle. But if that’s what you want do… well, good luck. I’ll be watching. From over there. Waaaay over there.

  • William Quinn

    Good post, but I stumbled when I came to:
    “Atheism has to solve the problems that life presents to people”

    Does it really? People solve problems (or not). Is there really an atheist system or formula, oh call it a creed that would help people come to terms with… ….wait a minute, atheist creed…

    Personally, if I want some kind of handbook so we will have some templates for what to say at weddings and funerals I’d just as soon stick with the BOCP as mess around with Wiccan stuff, seems like half those people believe in homeopathy and astrology and won’t get their kids vaccinated etc etc. The project of constructing an “atheist religion” strikes me as similar to the project of creating Esperanto… …I don’t, in other words, think we can artificially construct a whole new cultural construct in a short time, see Robert B. above.

    • sunnydale75

      William, I stumbled on that point as well. Thinking of atheism as nothing more (and nothing less) than lacking a belief in a higher power, I fail to see why it has to do something more than that. I do see what Eric is talking about, and I think Greta Christina summed it up in a way that I found easier to digest in her post

      http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/2008/11/13/a-safe-place-to-land/

      Since I don’t see atheism as a set of beliefs, I don’t see it as needing to serve any sort of social function. Some people *do* need some of the institutions (such as community) provided by religion, but that could be developed in secular ways.

      Tony

    • William Quinn

      Thanks, Tony, I was having a “Does not compute” moment there and was just sort of slobbering on myself trying to find the words. Greta’s post that you referred me to was very helpful.

      I think I really do agree with robertm in #14, he comes out and says what I was fumbling for. OTOH I will be following the upcoming series we seem to have upcoming. There could possibly be a way in which atheists could at least come up with some verbal shorthand to communicate shared concepts of valuation, morality, without going into long explanations of rational self-interest or whatever theory we were currently using to explain why we weren’t running amuck and behaving badly without relying on “god’s law.” As for the religion part, well, something like the Church of Carl Sagan might appeal to me, I mean I still get a bit tingly when he gets the the billions and billions part.

  • robertm

    While I agree that atheists should do better at communicating the personal aspects of their individual worldviews, I disagree that it is anyone’s place to provide an alternative to the contexts and social benefits provided by Christianity. Humans are born, die, reproduce, socialize, pair up, emote, and ponder their subjective experiences naturally, without religion, as pointed out by #12. Abrahamic religions, like Christianity, distort and warp these natural parts of humanity toward their idee fixe, a transcendent omni-everyting ruler, God. Eliminating an all knowing, all good, all powerful, all ruling, purpose behind all aspects life eliminates an all consuming one. There is no need to replace it with a substitute.

    To declare personal and social aspects of life as religious and in need of religious context (or “I can’t believe its not religious context”) denies the expression of humanity within them. Christian influence on rituals has been to redefine their social significance into religious significance. Left to their own devices people develop rituals on their own, whether it’s the way families celebrate an occasion, or on in joke among friends. This also happens on larger scales in society, and when it’s happening it’s not “religion building”, it’s culture building.

    As an atheist I hate how the religious and “spiritual” claim to have a monopoly on community, social functions, wonder, awe, subjective human experience, and good itself. I also dislike it when I see other atheist fail rebut or address the issue. What I dislike about this article is it accepts that religious framing. Atheists have diverse worldviews on how to live life, that is a strength not a weakness. What’s needed is not a single answer but many explaining why as individuals atheists are good without god(s) like PZ Myer’s “Why I’m An Atheist” series on Pharyngula.

  • E.E.

    Mr. Steinhart:

    “The practical and social aspects of religion are probably the main aspects for most people. Religion helps people solve all sorts of biological regulatory problems (e.g. the regulation of diet, sex, violence); it helps with social identity formation and group regulation. It works deeply at the boundaries of the biological self: birth, death, reproduction, and the boundary of the self and its group.

    Religion serves certain purposes for life, and if atheism wants to flourish, it will have to serve those same purposes.”

    This is completely errant reasoning. Atheism is not a substitute for religion, and therefore doesn’t need to fulfill the same purpose as religion. Yes, it’s nice to get together with atheists and chat about similar beliefs, but in the same way I get together with my cycling friends and we enjoy going for a bike ride. Or when I get together with other friends who perform stand-up comedy and we go to an open mic, or go to see a comedy show. There are an infinite number of ways to bond with people and have a community.

    As far as “diet, sex, violence,” and “boundaries of the biological self,” the knowledge and management of these things do not come from religion—unless religion is all you know, of course. Morality and ethics existed long before jesus. And anything we know about the biological self (including information about diet and sex) comes from, you know, biology, aka, SCIENCE.

    “Atheism has to solve the problems that life presents to people. And every solution to those problems pushes atheism (and atheists) in a religious direction.”

    No, it doesn’t. And no, they don’t.

    “Some of those problems arise from simple facts of social life: atheists have to deal with their theistic (usually Christian) family members, neighbors, co-workers, and so on. Merely being critical and negative is rarely a helpful strategy. It leads to alienation and hostility. It’s almost always better, especially in America, to offer a positive alternative to theism.”

    No atheist is in charge of representing the religion and providing alternatives to theism. Some individuals may take that upon themselves, and that’s great. But you’re describing a christian way of thinking—needing to let everyone know the “good news.” There is no atheist agenda, or action plan. Each person gets to decide how they interact with people in their life, and they base that on what works in relationships and human interaction.

    Reading on, birthdays, holidays, other celebrations, it all exists in a very secular world. Heck, we even celebrate religious holidays in a secular manner.

    Okay, I give up. I can’t respond to every fallacy or erroneous assumption in this article. As these are your views, I assume there are others who share the same views. But you have to understand that they’re ONLY your views. If there are 38,000 (last I heard) sects of christianity, it’s mind-boggling to think about the different types of atheists, considering their unifying characteristic is “nothing.” I’ve met and read other atheists that I quite literally share not one other thought/belief/interest.

    My experience of reading this article is that I’m reading someone who although they are an atheist, they still hold the thought patterns—and in some cases, the thoughts—of a christian, and maybe even an evangelical christian.

    I don’t know, maybe you’re at a different stage of your development and you aren’t aware of how wildly varying atheists are (yes, I read your credentials, which adds to my puzzlement), or maybe you’re on a different path altogether and you’ve arrived at these beliefs as your endpoint. If it’s the former, keep expanding your horizons. There’s so much more to learn about atheists and atheism. If it’s the latter, well, then I, too, have just learned about a different sort of atheist. But if that’s the case, it bums me out nearly as much as some christians do.


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