Introduction to “Answers to 10 Atheist Phobias of Being Like Religious People”

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!

I’ll add links to the bottom of this post as new posts are written so youc can keep checking back here for convenience sake.

Atheist Religiphobia #1: Believing Anything At All About Gods

Atheist Religiphobia #2: Fear of Identifying As An Atheist

Your Thoughts?

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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.

  • wfenza

    Atheism only starts becoming a problem when it starts involving faith. There is nothing inherently wrong with religion other than faith.

    • Dan Fincke Camels With Hammers

      I sort of agree, and I talked about that in my post called “How Faith Poisons Religion”.

      But there are more things endemic to many traditional religions that we have to be wary of not replicating. I made a list once:

      supernaturalism, superstition, moral and cultural regressivism, traditionalism for its own sake, fundamentalism, tribalism, patriarchal values, nationalism, racism, anti-intellectualism, pseudoscience, moral and cultural stagnation, anti-natural moralities, misogyny, homophobia, and, most importantly, authoritarianism in all its ugly forms

    • wfenza

      I agree that those are many of the problems presented by many religions. However, most of the things on your list are only problems because they involve an abandonment of evidence-based beliefs. I refer to all non-evidence-based beliefs as “faith” (as I see no distinction between a belief in God and a belief in, say, an authoritarian leader, or a belief that your neighbor is an alien).

      Supernaturalism, anti-intellectualism, and pseudoscience are only a problem because they are false. Racism, misogyny, homophobia, and other forms of bigotry are unjustified because they rely on false premises. Authoritarianism is a problem because it encourages faith in the authority, rather than a deity. I’m unsure what “fundamentalism” refers to, if it is not authoritarianism. The other things on your list are near-universally “bad” things, and almost all religions would disclaim them (all while obliviously practicing them). The way around these problems is not to say “we reject X.” It is to give people the tools (empiricism, logical reasoning, statistics, etc.) that will empower them to reject false ideas on their own. The only way around authoritarianism is free thought. Developing an anti-authoritarian doctrine is just another form of authoritarianism.

      The problems with religion all stem from the same cause: religions encourage people to stop relying on evidence and rational thought, and develop faith instead (be it faith in family, in god, in a leader, or in nature). There are 1,000 more things you could add to your list (transphobia, devaluing corporeal existence, classism, moral simplicity, halo effects, etc.), but they are all symptoms of the same disease: faith. Faith is the problem, and reason is the solution.

  • GCBill

    Looking forward to this. I hope there will be an entry on moral relativism.

  • John Kruger

    This is a good and worthy topic. I too look forward to the series. I suspect it may lead to some good self evaluation.

    I must confess that I have only really run into this type of thing as an argumentation method, where when particular atheists find their views being rejected about a particular topic, they accuse those who reject them of “being dogmatic like religious people”. That, of course, is little more than an ad hominem, albeit a quirky and irregular one.

  • Invisible Deity

    The argument is just a diversion and/or an attempt to get you angry. I think it is best to basically ignore it. When they try that one on me, I just say something to the effect : I don’t agree but call it what you like. Your religion is still wrong because it says ……………..

    Never let them run from the original point.