Is Atheism a Religion?

The video below, part of The Atheist Voice series, answers the question: Is atheism a religion?

I can’t believe I left out my favorite response: If atheism is a religion, then bald is a hair color, “off” is a TV channel, and health is a disease :)

We’d love to hear your thoughts on the project — more videos will be posted soon — and we’d also appreciate your suggestions as to which questions we ought to tackle next!

About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the chair of Foundation Beyond Belief and a high school math teacher in the suburbs of Chicago. He began writing the Friendly Atheist blog in 2006. His latest book is called The Young Atheist's Survival Guide.

  • Jasper

    Citing “going to church”, as a form of community, as a “good thing” that could be emulated, presupposes that religion invented community. The people who think a “church” is a good thing are those who were brought up in that environment and miss it.

    It’s my opinion that religion has produced exactly zero good things, and any good things it currently has, was plagiarized/stolen from humanity in the first place… for instance morality.

    • A3Kr0n

      There are some good things Jasper. In our city, religion runs the only food pantry in town that also offers housing vouchers. The Salvation Army runs a drug/alcohol rehab house and daily free lunches among other things. The YWCA runs a safe house women’s shelter. The mens shelter that rotates among churches is obviously religious, too. The (former) Catholic hospital run the family homeless shelter out of the old nun’s quarters. That last one is non-religious.
      I only support the secular family homeless shelter, which I’ll be working at in a couple hours, although I do give food during the postal food drives which ends up at the churches-run food pantry.

      • Jasper

        My point is that they didn’t invent those concepts… not that they aren’t doing any good.

        We don’t have to emulate them, because it didn’t come from them.

        • A3Kr0n

          I’d like to see more secular groups where I live that I could support. Unfortunately the game today is in religion’s court, but together we can all work to change that! Most of my volunteer time these days is, oddly enough, producing videos of the local farmers markets for the local access channel. I hope this link doesn’t pop up a huge video box:
          http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p2krmPKteLM

          • L.Long

            It would be easy for secular charities to do more IF they were on a level playing field. You want to see church stop helping the poor?? Easy tax the schite out of them and to get tax exempt they would have to go thru the same piles of paper work that secular people have to go thru.
            Since so many religious nut jobs insist on calling atheism a religion then give us the same automatic exemptions churches get and give us some of that federal money churches get. It would make the secular charity’s life a LOT easier.
            I agree with Jasper and that churches cheat and have been doing so since the start. They not only liars for jesus they are cheaters for jesus.

      • Jasper

        My point may have been more clear if I had said “… religion has invented exactly zero good things…” instead.

    • Cafeeine

      Using the same standard, we can also say that religion has done zero bad things, since we can trace all the evils that occur in religion in social interactions that predate religions in their current form.

      Religions have greatly developed community organization in the millennia of their existence. Yes, they’ve plagiarized previous incarnations, but so does everybody.
      The atheist church services we see popping up are obviously emulating
      church services, not town hall meetings, not rock concerts and not the
      ancient greek agora. It’s ok to say so.

      • Jasper

        I didn’t mean to say they don’t do good things, but they didn’t invent them.

        Take the concept of community, for instance. The reason atheists are forming communities is not because we’re emulating religion. It’s because that’s what humans do. Religion came along and stole that from us, and it’s silly to think that we have anything useful to learn from them in this regard.

        Religion poisons and pollutes anything it touches. It’d be like basing a new restaurant on the old moldy food from a dumpster in the back alley.

        • Jen

          It’s precisely the ‘inventing’ part that’s the problem. It may be nice to enjoy the community of church, but it’s not like religion ‘invented’ community. The religious don’t have ‘ownership’ of everything that is good. I don’t run around murdering people…but it’s not because of the ten commandments. X-tians didn’t invent not-murdering-people. Most of us don’t require that level of direction, supervision or instruction. ;)

        • L.Long

          Jasper you are being too kind. I was in the religion for more then 18yrs and believe me their ‘community’ is a piss poor thing. It is narrow, boring, stifling, constrained and I’m glad to be rid of it. There is a lot of community outside of any church and I belong to about 6 community activity groups, we don’t need no stinkin’ churches!!

      • C Peterson

        Not so. Religions have actively invented bad things to do, and bad ways to behave.

        Sometimes, religions provide encouragement for people to do good things, but these are things that are part of naturally existing moral systems already. So you don’t need religion for this purpose.

        Put differently, religion encourages good people to do good things, but they’d probably do them anyway. It also pressures good people to do bad things, which they probably wouldn’t do otherwise. Bad people are bad in any case. Religion doesn’t make them good.

        • Cafeeine

          My problem is, if we’re going to say that religion doesn’t get credit for the good things we emulate, like the current format of religious services, of church gatherings because community pre-existed, then the same can be applied to all the bad things.
          What did religions invent that was not already part of human nature before their existence? Religions did not invent superstitious thinking, they grew out of it. In-out group violence was not started by religion either. Religions specialized.
          The standard requested for a religion to ‘invent’ something in the above comment is absurd. Just because religions make arrogant assertions that lay claim to all progress and knowledge doesn’t mean we should take the other extreme and claim that nothing good was created under the auspices of religions. It doesn’t even conflict with a Hitchensian view of religion to say so.

          • C Peterson

            Maybe I wasn’t clear. Religion actively tells people to do bad things, under penalty of eternal punishment. That’s enough to make otherwise good people do bad things. This has nothing to do with human nature, it’s an artificial social system. People are told they can do bad things and be forgiven. They are told that they must kill people who believe differently. They are told they must kill people who act outside of arbitrary rules. No other human institution is anywhere near as powerful and influential as religion in making people do bad things.

            But what original good does religion do? Good people are good without it. Fear of punishment might make a few bad people act a little better, but I don’t think there’s much evidence to demonstrate that.

            I’m talking about major things here, not the format of services or gatherings. Those things are clearly fluff, and happen across all cultures, with or without religion. People create cultural institutions in any case. They don’t become killers and thieves so much without religion to push them into it.

            • Cafeeine

              No, Its you who aren’t getting my point. The reason religion is able to do those bad things is that it takes advantage of the human nature. Emotions, gullibility, fear, insecurity, superstition, exclusion of those in the out-group, those are all things innate in us and pre-existed organized religions.
              Religion doesn’t do all of that in a vacuum. It couldn’t do what it does if human beings aren’t as they are. It takes advaqntage of our emotions and our insecurities in order to makes us do crazy and sometimes horrific things. But we did a version of those things with primitive superstitions as well.

              The whole issue started with Jasper saying that we are not correct in saying we are emulating church services, since people had communities beforehand. But the atheist churches are obviously not emulating the format of hunter-gatherers around a campfire,but that of religious services. We should acknowledge that fact and move on. Saying its fluff is beside the point.

              • C Peterson

                Taking advantage of human nature isn’t the issue. If religion went away, we’d lose nothing of value. The same amount of good would be done, and less bad. That’s the important point. The fact that maybe one in a million atheists choose to involve themselves in organizations that emulate church services seems rather unimportant, and I expect it’s just a reaction to organized religion.

                • Cafeeine

                  That’s nice… but not the subject under discussion. Why did you comment if you had nothing relevant to the matter at hand to offer? Did you intend to derail the conversation?

            • James1951

              And those who follow those religions will hear the words of Jesus when they can no longer hide from the truth. “Depart from me for I knew you not!”

    • James1951

      Being a believer in the teachings and spirit of Jesus, I totally agree. Religion (Rome) has always been used as a tool along with money (London) and military power (Washington DC) to manipulate the masses. It has nothing to do with the teachings of truth and righteousness and their proponents.

  • Mindy Paonessa

    Any group of brainwashed ppl are imposing, dangerous & intentionally ignorant. A plight on society that is determined to make you conform. If you decide to be an individual then that group will try to beat you down & force you to succumb to their will. Power is behind religion. It has no substance, no reality & I would HATE to hear or see any atheist subscribe to this type of mentality.

  • xavierxeon

    I think atheism should be religion, so that we can shout “blasphemy” every time some says god.

    • corps_suk

      And take credit for ALL the things humans did in reality, like curing disease, technology, going to the moon, etc… you know, everything

      • James1951

        don’t forget other things HUMANS did like murdering millions. The only words that can be directly attributed to God writing, are the ten commandments which include “Thou shalt NOT kill” those who murder in Gods name will hear the words Jesus spoke when they make that claim. “Depart from me for I knew you not!”

  • watcher_b

    The issue seems to come out of the idea that we identify ourselves as Atheists. People who do not play gold do not identify themselves as “not-Golfers”. But I guess maybe people would if 90% of the popular identified themselves as “Golfers”. A “Non-Golfer” at that point would be so out of the ordinary that they would be identified as such.

    • Cafeeine

      Part of the problem is that we didn’t start that. Non believers were called ‘atheists’ by believers, with vilifying language long before we started organizing as a community. They controlled the definition to begin with.

      • watcher_b

        No, I get that. I mean, if all “Atheist” means is “Not a theist” (I understand there is quite a bit of discussion behind what “Atheist” means, but I’m trying to keep it simple for the sake of discussion) and a population generally and historically identifies itself as “Theists” then those who do not “go with the flow”, by definition, “do not go with the flow”…. if that makes any sense.

        What I’m trying to say is that it makes sense that we do not get to pick our own term.

        Let’s say we lived in a society where Theists only made up 10% of the population. What would the term to identify us then be and what would the term be to identify them?

        • Cafeeine

          No, I agree. The majority (or the ones in power) get more control over the terms of the conversation, and more important, the concepts that underlie those terms.
          The difference is that now, by owning the term, we also get a say in our self-definition, which is the best argument in favor of maintaining use of the ‘atheism’ term AFAIAC.

        • cr0sh

          Let’s say we lived in a society where, in 10% of the population, a majority of that percentage believed – to certain amounts – in a completely fanciful fabrication of reality, while a minority of that same population believed in it so much, they were willing to go to war and kill other people over whether they believed it in the same way, or at all.

          That is probably closer to the question you are trying to ask.

          So – what term would we use to identify the 10% of this total population who believed in this manner, and what term would we use to define the remaining members?

          The terms already exist. We just need to someday grow up and be brave enough as a society to embrace them, lest one day – in our reality – the war and killing that is spawned and perpetuated under the auspices of religious belief destroys our species.

    • Rev. Achron Timeless

      When’s the last time you were threatened in an attempt to coerce you into playing golf?

      When’s the last time you had to register as a caddy for a non-golfer’s association to protect yourself in some measure from a bill your state passed that allows serious competitive golfers to ignore laws and local statutes that get in the way of their golf?

      That’s when “non-golfer” would have importance, not just because golf was popular.

    • Jasper

      And when those who are revealed to not believe in Santa Claus are ostracized from friends, family, fired from work, lose custody battles, etc, at that point I’ll be happy to call myself an “Asantaclausist”… or something that rolls of the tongue a bit better. The term, at that point, because becomes an important issue. After all, it’s apparently important enough to warrant losing friends/family/jobs over.

    • Tobias2772

      Watcher,
      I think the analogy is fairly good and shows both sides of the coin.

    • TnkAgn

      It has been suggested that we refer to ourselves as “Brights” but I find the term at once gauche and ego-driven:

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brights_movement

      • watcher_b

        It sounds so… new agey. Like we are the type of people who live off of sunlight or something :P

        My ideal term would be latin-sounding, be descriptive, and be a positive affirmation as opposed to the negative (we do believe such and such as opposed to being defined by what we do not believe).

  • http://vhanna26.typepad.com Vera

    Good explanation. I see this question popping up a lot lately. Having a community is not the same a religion.

  • Len

    One of the reasons theists like to believe that atheism is a religion is so that they can find one thing they can refute about one thing one atheist says and thereby – in their eyes at least (or as they have been taught) – refute the whole of atheism.

    Obviously it doesn’t work like that but when you’ve rejected reason, you’ll believe anything.

    EDIT: Was now able to view the vid (it wasn’t working before). I liked the vid :-)
    Saying that “atheists happen to believe one thing: that god doesn’t exist” plays into theists hands, because we can’t prove there is no god. So believing there isn’t one is a belief system – ie, a religion.

    I’d rather that people understood atheism to mean that there’s no compelling, cogent evidence for any gods. One or more gods may or may not exist – we have no real evidence either way. But based on what we know or can observe (not just what some people would like to believe), the chance of such a being approaches zero.

    • Rev. Achron Timeless

      Bingo.

      The number I’ve seen try to pull that with Darwin, a man who came up with a concept before we even knew DNA existed so he got a few details wrong as a result. Even so, his concept proved ultimately true as we learned more about it.

      The average theist thinks that if they can poke one hole in his original thesis, or even stoop to character assassination, that they’ve somehow defeated atheism… which doesn’t even require you to accept evolution in the first place.

      I’ve yet to get a single one to understand how utterly stupid that tactic is.

      • Machintelligence

        It relates to the two value logic that fundamentalists employ. If you didn’t get it all right, you were wrong. There are no intermediate values.

        • Rev. Achron Timeless

          Which they ironically don’t apply to themselves, but yeah, I’ve seen that quite a bit.

          • Machintelligence

            It’s because they never admit that they are wrong. They have such tolerance for cognitive dissonance that they can hold contradictory views at the same time (or possibly flip back and forth between them without realizing it.)

            • Rev. Achron Timeless

              I had that with my sister-in-law last night actually. She starts off with the whole “I just know where you’re going in the end” thing, and I stopped her and asked if she knew what she was saying.

              I then explained that she was threatening me with unimaginable torture, for eternity, just for not agreeing with her on something.

              She couldn’t understand why I’d take offense to that. Well, she couldn’t even understand that’s what she was actually saying, so not too surprising she couldn’t understand why anyone wouldn’t accept her expression of christian “love”.

              edit: Just to clarify, it’s not like I think it was a credible threat. Hell doesn’t exist any more than their god after all, but the fact that she believes it and wishes it upon me… Just substitute “I’ll burn your house down” in place of “you’re going to end up in hell”. It’s a lesser threat according to their worldview, but makes the fact that it’s a threat more obvious.

        • Len

          I always liked this: http://imgur.com/1BXxi

        • Len

          EDIT: This is related to my other comment – as a laugh :-)

          This too, but (although related) for different reasons: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5c4uMaJKt_g

    • Rain

      Saying that “atheists happen to believe one thing: that god doesn’t exist” plays into theists hands, because we can’t prove there is no god. So believing there isn’t one is a belief system – ie, a religion.

      Anything could play into their hands if they want it to. One belief = belief system = religion. Easy! They just need to pretend like one meaning of a word is the same meaning as another meaning of the word, and keep workin it until it gets to where they want it to be. Keep workin them equivocations! They need a TV comedy show called “Equivocations Workout” where everyone works out for a half hour and then they all yell “Ergo Jesus!” and then the audience laughs their tails off.

      • Len

        For example, a theory is a theory (scientific usage versus colloquial usage).

      • trj

        Belief that the sun will rise tomorrow equals belief in God.

        I’ve seen theists resort to that one several times.

      • baal

        OT: There is a decent if a bit slow anime / manga called “ergo proxy”. The author was asked what that title means and he replied that the words just sound cool together.

  • HisFishHawk

    “Friendly Atheist” has been included in the A Sunday Drive for this week. Be assured that I hope this helps to point even more new visitors in your direction.

    http://asthecrackerheadcrumbles.blogspot.com/2013/06/a-sunday-drive_23.html

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    “…probably on Sunday, cause we’re not doing anything else then…”

    Heehee!

  • Atheist for human rights

    New atheism is a religion. See Sam Harris and mysticism.

    • trj

      I suppose it’s too much to ask to have you explain your point.

      • C.L. Honeycutt

        I thought it was well explained: “I’m a sullen liar desperate for a talking point.”

      • RobMcCune

        It is, all they can do is post short insults about Sam Harris.

    • Edmond

      “See” them? Yes, we see them. They’re real, so they reflect light back to our retinas. So? How does this make atheism, new OR old, into a religion?

      Sam Harris is an important voice among atheists, but he is not an authority figure. If he says something that many atheists disagree with, we can reject what he says without being “kicked out” of atheism. He’s not an atheist bishop or something. He’s a man who’s good at verbalizing what many of us feel. He doesn’t pass down “divine” messages from supernatural sources, and no atheist is obligated to listen to him.

      And mysticism… has nothing to do with any of it. Why did you mention it? Like trj says, could you explain a little better? Could you expound on what atheism has to do with religion at all? Does the existence of mysticism provide atheists with a scripture to follow, or dogma to uphold? Does the existence of Sam Harris demonstrate that there is an atheist “clergy” that must be trusted and obeyed, at the risk of excommunication?

      One of the things I’ve seen atheists avoid is being vague, and lacking deep explanations of their claims. This is more the behavior of the truly religious. It’s also what you’ve done here with your claim. Try to give some depth and background to what you’re saying.

    • baal

      “Atheist for human rights” = troll?
      Sam Harris doesn’t hold services and teach his entirely non-supernatural meditation practice. He certainly doesn’t take the extra step of then layering on anti-theist teachings or parables on top. He does object, however, to taking his name in vain.

  • http://religiouscomics.net/ Jeff P

    I have four points to add.

    1. Atheism should be defined as the stance of not believing in a higher power. A subset of atheists believe there is no higher power. Others that don’t believe in a higher power don’t claim to believe that a higher power doesn’t exist. They take an agnostic stance that they don’t know or knowing is not possible. All atheists that believe there is no higher power also don’t believe in a higher power.

    2. Theism should be defined as the stance of believing in a higher power that interacts with the world. Deism should be defined as the stance of believing in a higher power that is not interacting with the world.

    3. Religion should be defined as human activities revolving around worshiping or paying homage to a higher power. Religions would therefore be associated primarily with theism and to a lesser degree with deism. Religions can have negative aspects when in-groups and out-groups are defined around belief. People can be very hostile towards out-groups.

    4. Some people may want to define religion more vaguely as human activities revolving around perpetuating a proposition concerning a higher power that cannot be proved or disproved. Only with this more vague definition could an organized subset of atheists that believe there is no higher power be thought of as a religion. There is no way, though, that an organized subset of atheists that merely don’t believe in a higher power could be thought of as a religion with this more vague definition.

    I would encourage everybody to stick to defining atheism as the stance of simply not believing in a higher power. As an individual, you are free to take it another step and personally believe that no higher power actually exists.

  • Graham Martin-Royle

    No!

  • jfalick

    Atheism is obviously not a religion. But perhaps Humanism should be regarded as a religion. It is a fully developed ethical system that leaves room for poetic expressions of a religious type without offering any regard for the supernatural.

    • C.L. Honeycutt

      That’s a philosophy though.

    • Tobias2772

      Yeah, I think that to qualify as a religion there has to be a supernatural or unexplained aspect to it. Otherwise, it’s just a philosophy.

  • Lance Gritton

    Atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position- Bill Mahr

    • Pattrsn

      Nudity is a uniform

      • baal

        I support uniform nudity.

  • http://absurdlypointless.blogspot.com/ Tanner B James

    caveat: a substantial amount of vodka was involved in this rant.

    In terms of American Atheism vs. American Christianity, then yes Atheism becomes my religion. My religion is the ritualized practice of rejecting American Christian values, specifically Christian bigotry, prejudice and entitlement. Each and every time I comment against those values, in these forums and on other websites, I practice my adherence. I have become indoctrinated by skepticism to see the fallaciousness of religious rhetoric, prose and dialog. My bibles are academic books pertaining to critical thinking and rational thought. I often magnanimously revel in the accolades of those scientific pioneers to whom I owe so much, namely the definition of my existence. How is this not similar to idol worship? Is it not possible that Darwin, Dawkins and Hitchens could be deified? I’ll admit I am not the brightest star in the sky but by embracing my ignorance I have come to a thoughtfully memorized assertion that simplicity is the core law of all truth and Atheism, the utter an total rejection of supernaturalism, is the simplest answer to any ambiguous philosophical questions. As long as I continue to reject the bull shit spewed from the mouths of the theists I am practicing my religion.

    • Free

      Thank you for your honest and truthful assessment of the matter. We are all religious by nature. That is the greatest question to answer. Why? Not just answer but to give credible meaning to the answer. Wrestling with the why propels us onward.

      • baal

        “We are all religious by nature.”

        I’m not. I very nearly used “DwellerontheThreshold” as my nym as I’m just that not suited to group membership. I also have (had) little difficultly in deciding that I’ll provide my life with meaning and don’t need something ‘outthere’ to do it for me.

  • advancedatheist

    Atheism as it has developed lately has taken on religious aspects because it now promotes independent beliefs as part of the package. I draw the analogy to veganism: Vegans don’t just renounce eating or using animal products or otherwise exploiting animals as personal lifestyle choices while mumbling about how carnivory poisons everything. The firebrands among them go further to present a comprehensive criticism of our how our civilization relates to animals and how we would all live better if we did what the vegans told us to do, even though the moral agenda doesn’t follow from empirical arguments about the health or environmental benefits of veganism. .

    Many of today’s atheist firebrands do something similar by presenting “atheism” as the basis of a moral agenda which doesn’t follow, either. How does atheism imply feminism, for example? We can’t observe our tribe’s supernaturals, despite what the people on those foolish “ghost hunting” shows on cable claim. But men have had to live with women all along, and the vast body of experience from this relationship called “culture” has traditionally promoted patriarchal views of women. Yet we allegedly enlightened and sophisticated moderns come along and think we can dismiss this wisdom tradition without costs. But just because we don’t understand how a cultural practice regarding human relationships arose or how it works, that doesn’t make it “irrational” in the sense analogous to god beliefs. Patriarchy might have arisen for some very good reasons, and it will keep reappearing because it derives from how human nature really works, despite what the current trendy ideologies want us to believe otherwise.

    • C Peterson

      You’re half right: some atheists promote causes in the name of atheism. I distance myself from these fools. It’s why I don’t support AA, A+, or any other group that uses “atheist” in its name (except for organizations that exist only to provide support for atheists).

      But that doesn’t make any of these organizations into religions. Having strong opinions doesn’t mean you have “religious aspects”. Activist atheism is no more religious than activist veganism. To make that claim is to make the word “religion” essentially meaningless (as Hemant points out in his video).

      • TCC

        I don’t think this is correct. Atheist organizations don’t promote causes in the name of atheism; they promote causes as atheists, which should be perfectly unobjectionable unless you take a very hardline stance against atheist organizations in general.

    • Tobias2772

      I would say that what you are describing is anti-theism, rather than atheism. Are some atheists also anti-theists – yes, but they are not the same.

    • trj

      Religion dictates morality, behavior, code of conduct, whatever you want to call it. Religion tells us how we should behave towards other people.

      As such, when discarding religion it makes sense to similarly evaluate the social issues connected with the religion you discard. I would call this applied atheism – take the consequences of atheism by deciding which religiously derived social values you want to reject together with religion itself.

      Seeing as Christian scripture and dogma is rife with misogyny and homophobia, it’s not surprising that atheists+ (or whatever we should call them) consider these issues to be related to their atheism.

      Advocating humanism and civil rights hardly qualifies as religion. And it’s a natural step when evaluating the consequences of being atheist.

    • Pattrsn

      But men have had to live with women all along, and the vast body of experience from this relationship called “culture” has traditionally promoted patriarchal views of women

      Seriously that’s your argument? Some cultural practices have been around for a long time in certain cultures therefore they must be propagated? Why stop at sexism, why not slavery, or aristocracy, or the most obvious candidate for maintaining archaic belief systems on the basis of recent historical popularity, theism.

    • RobMcCune

      So wait, you advocate blindly following tradition that you don’t know the origin of, or the reason for, and it’s the people who think differently that are acting like a religion?

      I’d ask if you thought that one through, but you’ve clearly tried. I’m not sure if that’s scary or laughable.

  • C Peterson

    One problem is really that we don’t have a common word that encompasses the range of philosophical viewpoints that we associate with “religion”, which does in fact include atheism. Even though atheism itself isn’t a belief, the simple absence of a belief in deities and the supernatural means that atheists tend to have certain similarities in their world views, they tend to adopt common active belief systems, like humanism. Surveys and census forms have to include “atheism” under “religion”, because our vocabulary gives us nowhere else to put it. So that’s part of the confusion.

    Another problem (somewhat related to the first) is legalistic. In the U.S., religion is mentioned explicitly in the Constitution. So in order for a court to recognize that atheists have the same rights as theists, atheism must specifically be identified as a religious viewpoint, and that’s exactly what courts have done. And logically, I think atheists recognize that atheism is a religious viewpoint, even though it isn’t a religion at all. Or a viewpoint, perhaps. Language, again.

    Finally, there are the active belief systems that so many atheists share. Humanism, skepticism, freethought. These are certainly not religions, since they lack deities, they lack ritual, they lack everything we associate with religion. But religionists can’t envision a world without the structure of churches, so they turn the structure of common beliefs shared by atheists into the equivalent of churches, which makes atheism itself seem like a religion to them.

    The reality is, whether or not atheism is a “religion” ends up depending on context, and for many people, anything that depends on context becomes too confusing to really understand at all.

    • Stealth Avenue

      Atheism is not a religion. It is a viewpoint related to religion, but it is not a religion. I wouldn’t even call it a “world view” because it ONLY pertains to the god question. Two atheists might have ONLY their atheism in common, and differ on everything else, so that rules out “world view”, which implies a lot more than simply whether or not someone believs in god(s). It is in the “belief system” category, though, and should be for legal/classification purposes, IMO.

      • James1951

        two theists may also only have their theism in common as well, sadly you are talking through your hat.. Atheism is a religion because it is a “belief system” believed by “faith” since you cannot prove that a god does not exist.
        My concept of God is based on defining God as what controls a person. In my personal understanding of Christianity that controlling influence is the spirit of truth and righteousness but because that god demands one should have no other god before means there are many things people choose to be their god, money, drugs, power, sex, etc.

    • James1951

      Sig it is sadly true that the majority of atheists do not have the ability to conceptualize and understand the context of God as “The Spirit of Truth and Righteousness”, even sadder is that the majority of theists suffer from the same ignorance. Both choosing to fight over the existence of some mythical man in the sky, instead of understanding that the desire to know the real truth and do the right thing is what god really is. Instead when we realize the truth does not line up with what we want to do, we obfuscate it using such psychological tools as denial and projection to avoid admitting the truth not only to others but to ourselves as well.

  • Good and Godless

    Then are the Green By Packers are my favorite Quidditch team?

    • Machintelligence

      I wouldn’t know. But I think the Baghdad Bombers be an awesome (and awful) name for a roller derby team.

  • JA

    Meh, I really wish a different term was used when describing “atheist church”. Couldn’t we use a word like “forum” instead?

  • rtanen

    If atheism is a religion, then just cheese is a pizza topping.

  • TnkAgn

    This is a silly, yet enduring meme among real religionists. Of course atheism cannot be, by definition of both “religion” and “atheism” (without a god), a “religion.” But what is problematic, is how atheism should be treated under the law. Do we atheists want our materialistic view on a par with a truly religious view of the world? Do we want the same “weight” that religion has under the US Constitution, or is our antithetical approach to America’s religionists enough, in the courts?

    • closetatheist

      Your claim that atheism cannot be a component of religion, while it certainly seems logical, is not true. There are certain practitioners of Buddhism, and other religions for that matter, who do not believe in a god. They believe that the universe runs based on universal laws of cause and effect which govern the outcomes of situations and that their religious practices are way of getting the universal system of balances to be weighted in their favor.

      • TnkAgn

        In which case Buddhism (and what other “religions?”) would not be religions at all, but philosophies of mind, created to deal with a materialistic universe. To think that some ritual or action could change the outcomes. that would be religion.

        • Free

          To think that all atheistic efforts in government and cultural change could produce an positive outcome, would then confirm by your definition, that Atheism is a religion.

          • TnkAgn

            Now that’s just silly. I have not defined “atheism” except to say what it is not. Go fish.

        • closetatheist

          I wouldn’t try to tell a Buddhist that their religion was not a religion…Some believe there is much more than a material world and that rituals and ancient texts can be holy, life altering, or woven into the very fabric of the universe – yet they believe in no god. Humanistic Jews can be atheists but still believe all of the holidays and history associated with their ancestors compels them to practice the major tenants and rituals of the Jewish faith… there are a few other examples. But this is all really besides the point – a majority of atheists are not entangled in any religion and for someone to pompously assert that atheists are merely practicing an inferior form of religion because we are ignorant of their superior form of religion is highly offensive and just plain wrong.

          • TnkAgn

            And I don’t intend to. However, Gautama-the-Buddha never claimed any sort of divinity, and his followers do not either. I myself celebrate a sort of “Christmas/Solstice/Saturnalia thing.” It is a ritual, yes, but purely secular, with only a nod to their vestigial religious aspects. Otherwise, we are not in disagreement.

  • Nathan Longhofer

    I’ve recently come to the conclusion that religion is a much bigger thing than just “belief in a higher power”. I think if you meet with a bunch of like minded people weekly to hear about your common belief you may not quite be a religion yet, but you’re not far off.

    It seems like we are defining “religion” as worship of a higher power because that makes it a counterpart to our atheism. This makes total sense for most religions. However, we’ve just defined Buddhism out of the category of religion, and most people consider it a major world religion. I’m not sure if we are wrong about what makes something a religion, or wrong that Buddhism fits the definition.

    To complicate things further I personally know some “Christians” who attend church weekly but (privately) don’t accept the divinity of Jesus, and have doubts about the existence of any higher power. I’m not talking about people who keep attending church for reasons of social obligation, but people who find meaning in it without accepting some or all of the mythology.

    • Free

      Well said. A Religion (ie. Christianity or Hinduism) and religion are not necessarily the same terms. Religion encompasses what we believe about life, reality, existence and our explanations for them. By dictionary definition, atheism and a personally held explanation is religious in nature and a religion. No in the same vein as those who hold to an explanation of the supernatural.

    • TCC

      I don’t think that you’ve defined Buddhism writ large out of that; you may certainly have defined some sects of Buddhism out of it. A parallel for me is with Daoism, which in itself is not a religion but which historically has often had religious elements attached to it (e.g. a pantheon). So saying that “Buddhism is a religion” doesn’t necessitate that all Buddhists are religious, but as a general trend, it does seem to hold.

      Edit: Also, I wouldn’t define religion as “worship of a higher power,” anyway, but clearly religion means something more than just a philosophy or worldview.

      • Nathan Longhofer

        I’ve studied Buddhism a little bit and as far as I have found “worship” is not a part of any Buddhist sect. Supernatural beliefs, e.g. karma and rebirth, are a part of most of them.

        I don’t currently have a good working definition of religion. I know it when I see it, as they say :)

        • TCC

          Keep looking; there are some sects that do worship various divine or quasi-divine figures (e.g. bodhisattvas). This Wikipedia page is a good place to start.

  • http://skepticink.com/dangeroustalk Dangerous Talk

    I love how some Christians will claim that atheism is a religion and that Christianity isn’t a religion. Apparently religion has become an insult. /i see that as progress. ;-)

  • Free

    The core issue here that defies adequate explanation is that we all hold some level of truth, as we see it, essential to our physical, psychological, sociological etc… make up and well being. Why are we community driven? Why do our tenants define us? Why do labels matter? A person of a particular religion will potentially fight to the death for their held beliefs. This blog is a forum to express atheistic world view and propagate its tenants. This is at the core of human nature and yet we cannot answer why by the scientific method. We can assume, presume and make hypothesis but we can not quantify and give adequate reason for what rises from our particular world view. It seems adequate to say that we are all driven by identity and belonging (significance) and validation and support (security). We seek it out in many various ways. We identify in various ways. (religious, non-religious, racially, sexually and the like). I believe at the core of it all is to understand who we are and why/what are we here for. We then look around (observe) and formulate realities based on our findings. Despite our discovery, there exists within us all an unquenchable quest and desire to know and be known. Simply to acknowledge that reality does not answer why. Our answers are only speculative. Answering the question is what has led man faith. Faith is a irrefutable aspect of our nature. We are psychologically fueled by it. (We expect our bank accounts to remain as we left them, the light go on when he hit the switch, people will read and interact with our blog)- the tenants that motivate our behavior are essentially who we are. The words we use to describe this aspect of human existence is religion. So, for the religious, their world view is their tightly held beliefs and how they have processed their world around them. They see the inaccuracies in logic, science etc.. to account for everything perceived and the unknown and chose to place their faith in their religion. Conversely, an atheist sees the world quite differently with the hope (faith) that given enough time it can eventually be figured out without supernatural and other seemingly absurd conclusions about reality. They are all in the end the best guess answers we can attribute to meaning and answering the questions stated above. Faith will always be at the core of human nature because we are not omniscient.

    • GCT

      Sigh. You’re conflating the definitions of faith and believe and pulling a bait and switch. You start off talking about simple beliefs, but call them faith. Then, you equate that with the sort of religious faith that actually fits the definition.

      We don’t have “faith” that our bank accounts will remain as we left them, for instance. We believe that will be the case because we have good evidence and reason to believe so. You, however, need to invoke faith for your god because you simply do not have the evidence to back your position, and in many cases have to ignore contradictory evidence.

      So, your contention that faith will always be at the core of human nature is not demonstrated due to your use of logical fallacies.

      • Free

        Definitions, definitions, the reality remains the same. I am simply stating that your adherence to the evidence even when the evidence requires great “guessing” is actually faith in action. You also can not know certain realities and back them with evidential certainty. Otherwise, you can prove there is no God and I’ve yet to see the equation. Swings both ways. I chose to believe in Intelligence you choose to believe in chance.

        • GCT

          Definitions, definitions, the reality remains the same.

          You can’t simply hand-wave away the fact that you are equivocating and engaging in a bait and switch.

          I am simply stating that your adherence to the evidence even when the evidence requires great “guessing” is actually faith in action.

          This, literally makes no sense. There is no need for guessing and faith when one has evidence.

          You also can not know certain realities and back them with evidential certainty.

          I know of nothing that we can be certain about to 100%. So what? If that is the threshold for determining what one has faith in, then you have faith in every single proposition that you hold as true, and the word no longer has any meaning.

          Otherwise, you can prove there is no God and I’ve yet to see the equation. Swings both ways. I chose to believe in Intelligence you choose to believe in chance.

          No, it most certainly does not swing both ways. Have you never heard of the null hypothesis or the concept of burden of proof? You hold that burden, and in the absence of a compelling reason to believe in any god(s) the null position is to withhold belief. Therefore, the rational and faithless position is atheism.

          Again, faith is not synonymous with holding a belief. Faith is the belief in something despite the lack of evidence or in spite of contrary evidence. This is your position vis a vis god. The atheist position is the position of not accepting your faith, which does not entail a faith position of its own. IOW, I reject faith, which is why I’m an atheist. And, no amount of equivocation, baiting and switching, hand-waving, or shifting of the burden of proof is going to make you right.

  • Danny Liwszyc

    I agree with you Hemant, atheism is not a religion, but not so much that we don’t “believe” in god(s), but that we choose to be free thinkers than accept a given dogma as our mantra. The real debate is (and C Peterson is absolutely right), is that atheism is purported to be a belief, or a faith, which it absolutely is not, but it’s a harder point to argue. By definition, atheists accept it as fact that there isn’t a god(s), and belief doesn’t enter into it. If you have doubt, or suggest that the lack of a god is a belief, then you have accepted the possibility of a deity; and that is agnosticism, leaning towards atheism, but still agnosticism. For my part, I am an atheist. There is no god. Plain and simple.

    • GCT

      Sigh, no. (A)theism is a position on belief. (A)gnosticism is a position about knowledge. It’s not a linear scale that goes from atheism to agnosticism to theism, they are orthogonal. As long as you don’t hold a belief in a deity, you are an atheist, regardless of whether you think you can know whether this deity exists or not.

      So, your statement that the definition of atheism is the acceptance as fact that there is no god is actually incorrect. Atheism is the lack of belief in a god, not the positive assertion that no gods exist.

      • Danny Liwszyc

        Hmmm… perhaps… you got me thinking about the very definition of the words now! I would tend to disagree, but maybe that’s just pigheadedness. The “a” at the front, or lack thereof (of ANY term), denotes a position, and, to all intents and purposes, its contra-position. So, if theism is the belief in God, then you are right to say that atheism is the non-belief or lack of belief in God. But what if, for some people, belief wasn’t part of the equation? Or, in dealing with people who like to argue for the existence of God, they latch onto the word “belief” and point out to you that because you say “I don’t believe” rather than “I’m certain of the non-existence of” that your philosophy inherently accepts the possibility of God? Because if that’s the definition of atheism, and it’s absolute and immutable, then the very language deck is stacked against those who argue against the existence of God. In which case, we either need to re-examine the definitions of theism and atheism, or give those of us who currently consider ourselves atheists a new term. For myself, for the moment though, I’ll stick with being an atheist, and the definition I’ve been holding onto up to this point! ;) But again, technically, you’re absolutely correct.

  • Spongman

    Ugh please don’t define atheism as the belief in the non-existence of god. If you do that then you’re making a positive theological claim and are then defining atheism as a religion.
    Please stick to the correct definition of atheism as the non-belief in any god. This is the equivalent of your ‘bald’ analogy, the former is not.

  • http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Maury_and_Baty/ RLBaty

    On Government lawyers arguing that the Government may be ready to accept atheism as a religion:

    http://www.forbes.com/sites/peterjreilly/2013/08/18/government-lawyers-advocate-for-atheism-as-a-religion/


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