A lot of atheists are averse to religion for one reason or another. And, given the very real lies and poor guidance that religions infamously dole out to a lot of people’s detriment, I am sympathetic to their aversion.
Yet, there is a danger that atheists, in rejecting supernaturalism, become reactionary and excessively afraid of doing anything that even resembles or parallels a religious practice in any way whatsoever. The weird attack on atheism that religious people sometimes lob at us that “atheism is a religion too” is especially humorous because of how assiduously the average atheist avoids being religious about her atheism. Relatively few of us are terribly vocal or self-consciously evangelical about it. And even among those of us who are outspokenly anti-theist, there is a sizable contingent who insist that atheism leads to no other beliefs or practices, unites people in no ways at all, or can’t sensibly be the basis of a movement or groups. We even have one of the most famous faces of atheism in America, Sam Harris, actively and famously rejecting the idea of identifying as an atheist as as silly as identifying as a non-stamp collector.
When you actually are an constructive, evangelical, identity atheist like me, and you are unabashedly interested in hastening believers’ deconversions and building constructive institutions and communities of atheists, you are constantly finding other atheists coming along trying to burn down what you are building in the name of “not being like religion”.
This is probably a big part of why religious people attack atheism as “just a religion too”. They know it drives atheists batty. The charge is silly and false though. Atheism is no more a religion than theism is. Do Christians and Muslims and Hindus all belong to the same religion because they believe in gods? No? Well, neither do atheists all belong to some religion just because they don’t believe in gods. Some atheists are religious. There are some Unitarian/Universalists, Buddhists, Jews, pagans, and Humanists who explicitly identify as atheists and as religious.
But atheism itself is not a set of rituals, not a specific community, not a set of spiritual practices, etc. Even if, like me, you think that there should be some beliefs and values that logically all atheists (or, really, all people) should accept as true, it takes way more than a set of beliefs and values to constitute a whole religion. And not all atheists in fact share all the same key beliefs or values or feel any compulsion to agree with other atheists. So in addition to having no common religious practices or community, atheism is not the controlling force determining what people think and do that a religion would be.
The other reason of course that some theists like to charge atheism with being a religion is so they can equivocate about the flaws of their religious beliefs by saying “See, atheists are just doing the same things. They have a faith too.” But that’s false. Even should atheists actually converge on common viewpoints and values by logically thinking through the implications of their naturalistic take on the world, that’s a far cry from having faith. If atheists have rational grounds, or at least think they do, they are hardly just accepting traditional beliefs the way anything properly called religious faith involves.
But atheists in their agitation to not accidentally find themselves being too much like religious people in the bad ways, sometimes they don’t think clearly and objectively about whether it’s all that bad to overlap with religious people in some other ways. I would argue that there are some great things atheists miss out on, and positively suffer for, when they are allergic to things just because they could possibly somehow be seen as similar to what the religious do.
So, in ten forthcoming posts, I am going to assess ten things that I see atheists try to avoid too much out of an over-corrective fear that against their wills they might accidentally wind up religious!
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