Is Atheism A Religion?

Editor’s Note: “Always Puzzled”  commented on our most recent blog post that atheism was a “philosophy” and was quickly corrected.  In this post, a former preacher ponders the meaning of atheism and his changing reactions to his non-belief. Reprinted with permission.

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By Jim Mulholland

Occasionally, friends and acquaintances suggest atheism is simply my new religion.   They argue my disbelief has many of the same characteristics as my previous religious life:

  • evangelical passion
  • adherence to certain principles or beliefs
  • a tendency toward superiority
  • a diminishment of those who are less enlightened

Since there is some truth to their accusation, I’ve tried not to reject it out of hand.  Whether atheism is a religion or not, the way people approach it can often look religious, especially in the lives of those of us raised in religion.  Old habits die hard.

born again atheist

Yet I’d argue atheism cannot be a religion.  Nearly every definition of religion includes “a belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, usually a God or gods.”   Religions are systems of faith and religious folk are commonly called believers. Disbelief is not a type of faith. It is the absence of faith. Even the Bible argues, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for and the evidence of things unseen.” (Hebrews 11:1) Atheists question the substance and the evidence. Atheism fails nearly every sociological or theological definition for what constitutes a religion. It is merely an opinion – though one with wide ranging ramifications – about the existence of god.

My personal experience also suggests atheism fails as a religion. As a post-religious person, I know the void I experienced when I left. I didn’t shift my faith. I lost it. Becoming atheist was not like divorcing one person and marrying another. It was like the death of a spouse. It was not something I chose or initially welcomed. It was frightening and lonely. Atheism was not my replacement for religion. Disbelief was the cause of my departure.

Of course, critics are seldom aware of this internal conflict. All they see is the odd behavior of those who leave religion. Initially, we’re at loose ends, uncertain of how to be and act. We often seek the familiar in this strange new land. The phenomenon of the Sunday Assembly – where non-religious people gather on Sundays to sing, meditate and hear a speech – is one such example. Many who no longer believe in a deity still miss the religious forms and community. While I have not chosen that specific accommodation, I understand it. This very blog was one of the ways I’ve eased my transition out of religion. After twenty-five years of writing a sermon every week, penning this blog has allowed me to explore the unfamiliar in a very familiar form.

However, the similarity between the behaviors of non-believers and of believers doesn’t make disbelief a religion. These similarities are more reflective of basic human needs – purpose, community, ethical direction, understanding and stability – than some deep seated religious compulsion.   The success of religion was built on its ability to address these needs. What is daunting about becoming a non-believer is discovering how many of your needs were met in a single human institution.

Walmart_Supercenter_in_Elko,_Nevada

Christianity was the Walmart of my existence – meeting all my needs under a single roof. One of the challenges in leaving religion is meeting these needs in a variety of new places and people, of recognizing our responsibility to meet our own needs.

One of these basic needs is for equality. Sometimes what religious people identify as atheist religion is simply rebellion against religious privilege. Consider the recent rash of atheist groups demanding the right to create atheist displays on public property or seeking the right to offer words of invocation at government meetings. From a religious perspective, these might seem like attempts to establish atheism as a religion with all the rights and protections thereof.  After all, why would an atheist want to give an invocation unless they were religious?

Yet such behaviors are more about equality than atheist fervor. The intent is not to convince people that God doesn’t exist, but to challenge the right of any group – religious or otherwise – to special treatment by the governing authorities. Unbelievers aren’t seeking recognition of atheism as a religion, but acknowledgment of the present bias toward faith in our government and culture. Of course, in challenging this injustice, some act in ways that may be confusing to religious people.

Ironically, when atheists are accused of being religious, it usually an accusation that atheism is fraught with the same flaws and ugliness as religion. Atheists are not being accused of being as kind and generous as religious folk. We are being accused of exhibiting many of the same negative behaviors that plague religion. There is some truth to this accusation. Though atheism is not a religion, some who identify as atheist are angry and bitter. Some are more anti-theist than atheist.

One of my early surprises was discovering some atheists sounded remarkably like the fundamentalists I’d so disliked when I was a Christian. On atheist blogs and Facebook pages, I’ve encountered some atheists who are as arrogant and obnoxious as the most conservative Christian. Hearing their rhetoric is a healthy reminder that there is no correlation between one’s opinion about the existence of god and being a decent human being.

While I am no longer believe in god, I offer my apologies to those who found my initial atheism overwhelming.  As with all new ideas, we initially obsess on them.  Rest assured, I do not need you to share my disbelief in order to validate it.  I do not think my opinion on god’s existence definitive and final.  I do not think atheists morally superior.  I do not mean to diminish the genuine and compassionate religious expressions of others.  Nor do I offer atheism as an alternative to religion.

For me, atheism is not a destination, a movement or even a worldview.  It is simply a new starting line.  I’m revisiting all the existential questions of life without the assumption that there is a god with all the answers.  Sometimes I find myself in agreement with religious ideas and practices; often I don’t.  Whatever approach I develop to life, I need no disciples.  I no longer need to follow or be followed.  I’m simply seeking my own way.

**Editor’s Questions: For those who no longer believe — How did you initially react to accepting/realizing your lack of belief? How have you adjusted to non-belief?**

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MulhollandJim Mulholland spent twenty-five years as a pastor. He wrote several best selling Christian books and spoke nationally.  In 2008, he resigned when his faith faltered.  After several years of transition, Jim published the book Leaving Your Religion and began writing a blog on becoming post-religious.  You can read more of Jim’s story and reflections at LeavingYourReligion.com.

>>Photo credits:https://www.flickr.com/photos/dannybirchall/6391844361

By Brandonrush – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=23262727

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Cynthia

    I think the starting point is how you define religion. The full definition that I found was a bit more expansive, and included “a cause, principle or set of beliefs held to with ardour and faith”. See http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/religion

    I’m not trying to bit nit-picky. It’s just that defining belief in a superhuman god as the prime feature of religion strikes me as being particularly Christian. For CHRISTIANS, esp. evangelicals, faith in a very specific dogma defines whether or not you go to heaven or hell.

    For other religions – not so much. I’m Jewish, and it’s extremely common to find people who clearly identify as Jewish and embrace Jewish values, who don’t really talk about God or have defined ideas about what God is.

    The concept of God in Buddhism is also quite different. Ditto for Taoism.

    • Gail Newman

      Buddhism is spiritual atheism. Lots of Jews are atheists. My husband, a Jew, calls himself atheist/agnostic. He’s getting more and more comfortable dropping the agnostic part. He’s in his 80s. It’s a difficult transition, but you can’t miss the twinge when he timidly says the word “agnostic”.

    • AntLionKing

      At least for Theravada Buddhism, there is no Creator God per se, and the deities who do show up in the scriptures (typically Brahma or Indra) are relegated to minor roles. In fact, the Tripitika in at least one sutta (parable or episodic story) describes the Buddha as “the teacher of men and gods.” There’s a somewhat humorous sutta (can’t recall which right now), where a human approaches a deity (Brahma?) and asks a bunch of philosphically/epistemologically/existentially challenging questions. Exasperated, the deity takes the man aside and essentially says, “Look, pal, enough with the questions. Despite what everybody says, I really don’t have all the answers. But there’s this guy…” and sends the man on his way to meet the Buddha.

  • Pofarmer

    I think the comprison of Christianity to Walmart is a good one. When I lost my faith, I suddenly realized that I could go looking for information anywhere I wanted to. Indeed, that I indeed needed to. It was an incredibly freeing experience.

  • Paul Prinsloo

    Letting go of religion forced me to re-evaluate my deepest biasses and feelings. Some ideas are so ingrained in you after centuries of bigotry and racism in a certain culture, that it is almost impossible to get rid of. Intellectually I fully understand and strive to NOT fall into those behavioural patterns, but it is something to always be on the guard against. The same old thoughts still pop into your head, unbidden and unwelcome.

  • Jim High

    Christians “believe” their religion and they can’t really explain why the believe it especially in the face of all we now know about life, our world and the universe. So quite naturally the think that Atheists simple believe the opposite of them. But there is belief and then there is informed belief. I conten that believers are uninformed about the very religion they are in. They know nothing much about the Bible, only reading the words of it and accepting it on faith because you know God wrote it. And mainly they cannot accept responsibility for their own lives. Preferring instead to say that this invisible God guides their life. And I haven’t even gotten to the biggie. There is no afterlife.

    • Cynthia

      You are right that people often make blanket assumptions about others, based on their own beliefs, and that atheism is not simply the inverse of Christianity. An atheist is the only person who can say what they do or do not believe as an atheist.

      I’m not sure, though, that you aren’t possibly doing the same thing – thinking that you came to atheism as a result of reason and study, and therefore concluding that believers must lack that. That might very well apply to some people, but “believers” is a very broad umbrella – Christianity is not the only religion in the world, the Bible is not the only religious writing, and I’m pretty sure that you haven’t had detailed interviews to discover the mindset of billions of people. I’m not sure that you can “contend” what a believer knows and thinks, any more than a believer can do the same about you as an atheist without actually communicating with you.

      • Jim High

        Believers by the very definition of the word have no facts, that’s why they say they believe and have faith. For when they get the facts of a situation they become knowers and no longer have to believe. Atheist has much more actual knowledge of Life, our world and the universe than simple believers. Just look at hsitory where religion has fought scientific discovery every stepof the way to modernity. Fundamentalist are still fighting for an inerrant Bible and a God character who created the universe and us humans, rather than learning about how solar systems are created and how the evolution of life works.

        • Cynthia

          How do you define “believer”?

          Are you referring only to people who hold a fundamentalist belief in a literal, inerrant Bible and very specific dogma that view any questions or doubts as heresy? Or are you referring to people with any sort of religious or spiritual beliefs at all (ie. everyone who isn’t actually atheist)?

          • Jim High

            A believer is anyone who believes the stories and myths of religious books are true and actual facts of history. I. E. They really happened. Christianity is totally dependent on belief in these kinds of things, all of them including physical bodily Resurrection, so when you strip that all away not much is left to build a religion on except the good teachings of the human man Jesus, but we could add good teachings from a lot of other good man and women to create a human religion that recognizes the reality of our existence.

          • http://anncar.com blogcom

            And you know nothing of which you speak yet you insist on defining those who do?

      • Linda_LaScola

        Good Points. I’ve found that when I tell people I was raised Catholic, I should also be careful to provide some detail about my personal/family experience with Catholicism.

        Otherwise, they may make presumptions based on their own experiences or stories they have heard — which may be valid, but not determinative of all Catholic experiences.

  • Gail Newman

    I consider myself a “spiritual” atheist and an anti-theist. I’m not one of the militant anti-theists who call Xians deluded and hypocrites. I just see the provable damage that the Mosaic/Abrahamic religions are doing to societies.

    Is my brand of atheism a religion? I wouldn’t call it such. I would call it a philosophy born out of 30 years of independent study in a wide range of fields. It is who and what I am.

  • viaten

    Doubts and questions started in younger years for me after having taken faith for granted as a child. I question whether I really had faith the way others seemed to. I can’t really relate to others for whom religion was a big part of their lives and who later gave it up in their middle or later years. It probably felt much more real to them. I worried about if it was all really true. For them the better question might be “How did you initially react to accepting/realizing your loss of belief?” For me the question is more “How did you initially react to accepting/realizing you couldn’t really acquire the religious belief others seemed to have?”

    • Elizabeth.

      Interesting distinction, viaten, thanks!

    • mason

      Children will believe anything. Some people just can’t shake their childish religious brainwashing and the accompanying social pressure they are surrounded by.

      • viaten

        Many children might believe anything but some start questioning fairly early. There are stories of Sunday School trouble makers that get kicked out for asking the “wrong” questions and probably some children that don’t but still keep such questions alive in their minds.

        • mason

          I had good valid questions but got bullied by church leaders/teachers and also realized I would pay a brutal price from my Baptist family if I dared to “question” the inerrant bible so I caved in like a good Baptist Nazi. Heil Jesus! Of all the brave “trouble makers” who I know, from the Internet, (I’ve personally not met any) none had parents who were faithful Baptist henchmen so they just quit going to Sunday School; lucky kids.

  • ButILikeCaves

    Atheism is a religion… Like bald is a hair color.

    • raylampert

      Or how not collecting stamps is a hobby.

      • MNb

        Heretics! Both of you are wrong.
        Like abstinence is a sexual position.

      • http://anncar.com blogcom

        lol- or how atheists are really agnostics- why don’t they just say so then.

        • raylampert

          Most atheists are agnostics. They don’t assert that no gods exist, they just lack a belief in any gods. And actually nearly everybody who self-identifies as an agnostic is also an atheist. They either don’t realize it or don’t want to admit it. Belief is an absolute; you either believe in a god or you don’t.

          • http://anncar.com blogcom

            How convenient-then don’t use the word atheist which is a positive statement. Agnostic on the other hand is simply an I don’t know.

          • Pete Migdale

            No blogcom

            I don’t believe in your god is not a positive statement. It is an atheistic one though.
            How hard is it to get that?

          • http://anncar.com blogcom

            Er Pete Migdale – an atheist does ‘not believe in the existence of God/s’ IS a positive statement. It’s only a negative in relation to the positive statement of believers.
            Its not difficult.

          • Pete Migdale

            Your implication is that atheists make the statement “No God can possibly exist”.
            That is not a position many atheists actually take.
            You will note that I carefully defined the term “your god”.
            The most difficult to rebut, “god” that I have come across so far, is an “ambivalent sun god ©”. Responsible for life on Earth, etc, but doesn’t give a damn. It’s visible too, which helps in the evidence department.

          • ButILikeCaves

            If I could choose My god, I’d go with Odin. He promised no more Frost Giants. Seen any Frost Giants lately?
            #OdinDelivers

        • JCvPnew

          I have a bumper sticker about that… “Only God knows enough to be an Atheist.
          Maybe the key is the difference between an atheist and an Atheist. Contrast with the spiritually minded”nones”…

        • TruthMeister101

          Most do. Agnosticism (absence of knowledge) and atheism (absence of belief) are not mutually exclusive.

        • ButILikeCaves

          No, we are not really agnostics: we know that none of the ~2,700 “gods” in the human belief systems are all myths set up to let man figure out where, what, and why he is. It’s time to move on from the Bronze Age.

      • ButILikeCaves

        Antiphilately: sweeping the nation.

  • JCvPnew

    Atheism has a more formal side, which some call Scientism. The core beliefs of this belief system are that natural processes, including randomness, are omnipotently creative, destructive, and sustaining, and encompass all possibilities, which is probably a good definition of a deity (deism as opposed to the personalized deity of the religions we recognize as such). The ultimate power in this system, existing beyond natural processes, is randomness, which implies meaninglessness. At one time this was personalized as the Mad God since madness and unpredictability often go together. This has the effect of raising humanity to demigod status, since in a Creation devoid of inherent meaning, the only meaning that can exist is what humans make up. Although these beliefs are not enshrined in a holy book, they are practiced and believed implicitly by millions, and those who challenge them (such as challenging neo-Darwinism in an academic or scientific setting) are regarded as dangerous heretics and are ridiculed and suppressed as much as is permissible. With the intellectual leadership (especially scientists and philosophers) as the hierarchy, and with the idea of “meaningless coincidence” to explain away any possible theophany, we contemplate a belief system that cannot be cracked (because it’s true, per its adherents) which has stories to explain nearly everything except minor details such as the nature of consciousness and its apparently non-physical aspects. I think this belief system is more of a religion than an ideology, because it is based on faith claims that are presumed and cannot be verified within its system.

    • Elizabeth.

      Interesting, JCvPnew… is there fuller description online you’d recommend?

      • JCvPnew

        working on it… stay tuned… thanks!

    • Dorfl

      […] those who challenge them (such as challenging neo-Darwinism in an
      academic or scientific setting) are regarded as dangerous heretics […]

      People who disagree with basic science don’t really strike me as ‘dangerous heretics’ as much as ‘tedious blowhards’, no matter how much they want to be seen in the more dramatic role.

    • MNb

      “The core beliefs of this belief system”
      is that science is by far the best method, if not the only method, to gain knowledge about and understanding of our reality.
      You can call it scientism light if you like.

      • JCvPnew

        Science is a primarily empirical methodology, an expanding and largely tested set of findings, and an ethical system mandating truthfulness. When it exceeds these limits based on largely unacknowledged presumptions that operate as faith claims, the line from science to scientism has been crossed.

        • MNb

          “Science is a primarily empirical methodology”
          Nope. The other pillar is just as important.

          https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Theoretical_physics

          Somebody like Einstein did not primarily practice empiry.
          As for truthfulness that’s questionable. Scientific protocols are typically designed on the assumption that people are not truthful, especially in a broad meaning of this word.
          You didn’t contradict anything I wrote.

    • Karen the rock whisperer

      Right, we scientists are a a cabal who treat people who produce crappy science as “dangerous heretics” and we suppress them. We have an “intellectual leadership” hierarchy, and we embrace “meaningless coincidence” (the proper expression is, correlation is not necessarily causation). And we can’t explain everything yet, like the nature of consciousness, so obviously goddidit, and we just won’t admit it.

      What a load of fertilizer.

      Scientists live in a world of not knowing; it’s what keeps us going, questioning, hypothesizing, testing, challenging. We’re generally cool with the notion that our species will always not know something, but that doesn’t keep us from trying. And we’ve found that Life, The Universe, and Everything is FULL of noncausal correlations. We’re not buying an unprovable causation because you want it to be. And finally, most of us have no patience for crappy science, which usually boils down to methods that are open to error or conclusions that aren’t supported by the data. We don’t consider the producers of such to be “dangerous heretics” so much as sloppy scientists not worth our time.

      We don’t have a hierarchy either. I respect an eminent USGS researcher who has worked in my local field of study. I respect his work because he’s done so damned much of it, and because other people cross-checking with other methods have verified his work. He has a much, much greater chance of being right on a certain detail than I can be. But I’m not going to say, “Carl said it; I believe it.” I want to know WHY Carl thinks X, what his data are, and what his reasoning is, before I buy his conclusions. And I actually think he’s gone out on a limb on a few details… and maybe other people will refute or corroborate those details. That’s how science works.

      I have faith in things that have a track record. I believe the sun will rise tomorrow morning; it tends to do that. I have zero faith in any specified behavior in the stock market. I believe that my colleague Carl’s science is, on the whole, pretty solid, because he’s in the habit of producing solid science. I have zero faith in gods, not because I can prove they don’t exist, but because they haven’t had a good track record of solid evidence. And I sure don’t believe in the wild claims of the Bronze Age / Iron Age Sheepherder’s Guide to the Galaxy, because it has a really bad truth track record.

  • candide

    In its origin religion was a way of binding society together. “Religio” in Latin means that. We have all sorts of other ways of binding ourselves together in our particular society, local, national, etc. We don’t need unsubstantiated beliefs and superstitions. But I do think a Creator God (the God of our Founders) deserves recognition. Thus Atheism may go too far; stay a skeptic or agnostic, call it what you will. But these are not religions. Some atheists probably do feel bound to others by their non-belief and therefore in a sense are practicing a religion, but this is only apparent not real.

  • mason

    “How did you initially react to accepting/realizing your lack of belief?” I was pissed that I fell for, and was pressured into the Baptist bullsh*t, but then I realized I’d been bullied into the indoctrination as a credulous child, so then my pissed off attitude turned to my parents and the other adults in the cult who I then considered intellectual sheep and cowards.

    “How have you adjusted to non-belief?” Wonderful. Great. Sundays free, and all the other days wasted in a pew or pulpit. Looking back at that time before snapping out of the absurdity, it seems like a time of mental illness when I was living with a very filtered, opaque, and distorted view of reality, and a very dulled sense of life.

  • DKeane123

    evangelical passion
    adherence to certain principles or beliefs
    a tendency toward superiority
    a diminishment of those who are less enlightened

    The list of characteristics could be applied to a political affiliation, the Girl Scouts, or any number of organizations that we wouldn’t classify as a religion.

    • TruthMeister101

      And certain sports teams!

  • Highly_Amuzed

    When I finally admitted that I was actually an atheist, despite all of the hard core Protestant dogma I had been inundated with since birth, it was the most liberating and freeing experience of my entire LIFE! I finally realized that GUILT and SELF-DOUBT were the most prominent and most self-destructive by products of Judeo-Christian mentality and that those negative influences were, in fact, creations of my OWN mental presumptions based on completely illogical dogma that I had been spoon fed! Bob Marley wrote some of the MOST profound words I have ever pondered in his Redemption Song, “Emancipate yourself from mental slavery, None but ourselves can free our minds”!
    WOW! Those are POWERFUL words!
    My mind has been FREE ever since! No guilt! No looking back! I perceive the universe as a FAR more wonderful and beautiful place as a result!
    Not only THAT, but I now view the entire breadth of Human history and accomplishment in a MUCH more wonderful and positive light!
    !
    When it occurs to you that every single positive thought and every single scientific discovery was made by mere human beings like you and I, you begin to finally REALIZE what incredible potential and capability we truly posses as an intellectual civilization of Human beings! I also began to realize that there is NO actual distinction between human races that is anything MORE than just a learned mental obstacle!
    We are ALL one race, the “human” race! If that were NOT true, all humans would NOT be able to pro-create with ANY other human on Earth. Someday, I hope the rest of humanity realizes this and puts a permanent end to war and violence! All it takes is everyone’s desire to do so. WE, the humans, have made ALL of the inventions and helpful things that have been created by man as well as ALL of the BAD things humans have established! That tells me that the solutions to our self-created problems are well within our own capabilities! We just have to put our minds to work!
    WE created these problems! WE can fix them if we work together and try hard enough! I find that concept VERY reassuring!

    • Linda_LaScola

      Bravo — your enthusiasm is infectious.

  • Darrell

    “Disbelief is not a type of faith. It is the absence of faith.”

    This very statement, is a belief, a faith assertion. One can believe there is no God, but he does so by faith. He does not know it, like we know the earth is round. How does he know? He knows by faith. You have traded one faith for another. Welcome to the club. We are all believers in something, by faith. You do not get to escape the human condition. Sorry.

    • Frog 11

      I think you misread the article. It’s not about having faith in something intangible, it’s about religion, which is a human-created organization focused on the worship of something intangible.

    • MNb

      Well, if you call adherence to principles like coherence, consistency and confirmation by empirical evidence a form of faith I have faith indeed.
      But I call it a bad definition.

    • John

      Rejection of a hypothesis due to an utter absence of evidence does not constitute faith. Would you consider it an act of faith to reject the existence of Frosty the Snowman? It is disingenuous for a Theist (if you are indeed one) to predicate the “human condition” on accepting or rejecting the existence of a completely fabricated entity.

    • Ficino

      Darrell, you are already equivocating in your first sentence. Not all instances of belief count as “faith.”

    • AVSvictoria002

      Derrell,
      What you are talking bout is the “burden of proof” argument. The burden of proof lies with the religious folks to prove that god exists, not with the atheists to prove that god doesn’t exist. Think of it like proceedings in a court of law. That’s just how it works. You have to prove god exists. The ball is in your court. It’s your move. Tag, you’re it. Go on, we’re waiting…
      That’s what I thought. You and I both know, nobody can ever prove that god exists. It will always just have to be just taken of faith.

      • http://anncar.com blogcom

        Rubbish- read my response below.

    • http://anncar.com blogcom

      Atheism is a positive statement commensurate with disbelief in God- so there’s no onus on Christians to prove or convince them of anything. It’s a stand alone declaration. Terminology can be so inconvenient when you don’t understand it.

      • AVSvictoria002

        It has nothing to do with terminology, it has to do with the fact that for billions of years there was never a god, or any thoughts of god-like concepts on Earth. The state of being atheist precludes humans notions of deities. Therefore, it is up to the religious people to prove that Zues, Odin, Ra, Bacchus, Quetzalcoatl, or god exist.

        • http://anncar.com blogcom

          Shifting goalposts- so what’s new under the sun?

          • TruthMeister101

            “Atheism is a positive statement commensurate with disbelief in God…”

            The strawman fallacy can be so inconvenient when you don’t understand it.

            Atheism is absence of belief in gods — pure and simple.

    • https://plus.google.com/u/0/112743459266731535020/posts Steve Greene

      You wrote, “‘Disbelief is not a type of faith. It is the absence of faith.’ This very statement, is a belief, a faith assertion. One can believe there is no God, but he does so by faith. He does not know it, like we know the earth is round. How does he know? He knows by faith. You have traded one faith for another. Welcome to the club. We are all believers in something, by faith. You do not get to escape the human condition. Sorry.”

      Sure it is. Like not believing in Santa Claus is a religion. Like not believing in Santa Claus is a “faith assertion.” Like not believing in Bigfoot is a religion. Like not believing in magical invisible fairies is a religion. Like not believing in Lord Ganesha is a religion. Like not believing in Quetzalcoatl is a religion. Like not believing in Ra is a religion.

      In other, like so many other religious believers, you seem incapable of comprehending the mere idea that ‘not buying into your religious beliefs’ isn’t a religion. ‘Not being gullible’ isn’t ‘being gullible.’ The deliberate rejection of religious belief, religious faith, because of the fundamental inherently fallacious nature of religious belief, isn’t a religion. It is exactly contrary to religious belief, to refuse to accept ideas because they can’t be substantiated by credible evidence. Which is why it is for exactly this reason that Christian apologists’ pretension that atheism is a “religion” is just another example of the fact that Christian apologists have an inordinately difficult time dealing with what words actually mean and dealing with basic logic. Your post is an excellent example of the sheer incoherence of religious rhetoric, especially vis-a-vis critical thinking, evidentiary standards, and atheism.

  • MesKalamDug

    I never lost my religion – I never had one. I tried hard to believe but I simply couldn’t get the hang of it. I could read the Bible stories as narratives (and God as a person) but I never accepted any of the supernatural stuff. By the time I was 15 I knew I was not a believer. But I have never been an outright atheist. I know that a negative cannot be proven – one should never KNOW there are no supernatural beings. So I would deny being sure of anything – even that there is nothing I am sure about. I think that it is hard to call that a religion.

    • Duane Locsin

      atheism is not a claim to knowledge it is about belief.
      It is simply a response to a specific Religion’s claim to a god/deity existing and that being non-belief/not believing.

      It is not on you to prove a claim or disbelief, though you are able to explain the reasons why.

      everything else such as if you were a non believer most of or all of your life, a former theist/believer are not actually necessary to the core definition of Atheism.

      Religion made the god(s) claim centuries ago and it still has the burden of proof, there is no getting around this.

  • Well_Read

    but many christians believe the atheist ‘religion’ is pushing out the christian religion in our government. in fact they believe having a govt neutral on religion is accepting atheism over christianity. those crazy christians!
    Faith, by definition is belief without proof. Once christians say they can prove their beliefs are true then it is open to scientific scrutiny. I believe since we know where and when the monotheistic god was mentioned in a story then we know when the idea of god began and why. we know from sources outside the bible the where and why the idea of god began, and so we can disprove it that way.

    we don’t have to wonder where the combustion engine came from, we can trace it back to it’s origins and learn who’s idea it was, and the process it took to become what it is today. Now we know the same about god/bible and to me it proves there is no god.

  • Cynthia

    I thought about the original question a bit more.

    The Pew research reports tend to have separate categories for “atheist” and “nothing in particular”. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/11/11/religious-nones-are-not-only-growing-theyre-becoming-more-secular/

    So, it’s interesting to me that there really isn’t this sharp divide between “believers” and “atheists”, even though some commenters here may have experienced an abrupt loss of faith in their own lives. Instead, there is a really considerable gray zone.

    What distinguishes an atheist from someone who is simply “nothing in particular”? Maybe the answer indicates whether or not atheists are a defined “religious” group.

    The other thing is the idea that atheists are often shaped by their religion of origin. In some cases, they may retain the identification and rituals and approach to life, even if they discard the belief in a deity. Many atheist/Humanist Jews and cultural Catholics fall into this category. You also have those who were raised with very rigid, dogmatic beliefs, who subsequently reject them. In my experience, this groups tends to share a number of characteristics and they tend to have very similar thought patterns – which are very different from the first group.

    • Linda_LaScola

      I think everyone is shaped by their religion of origin, much in the same way they are shaped by their language of origin or country of origin.

  • Ficino

    If A has some points of similarity with members of set B, it does not follow that A is a B.

  • Duane Locsin

    why is there so much obfuscation out there when it comes to Atheism?
    The concept ought to not be that difficult to comprehend.

    This one of the reasons many current Christians have trouble understanding what Atheism is, on top of the usual dragging of the term in the mud by Religion for years.

    “Fool in his heart says there is no God”
    “militant Atheist”
    “devout Atheist”
    “baby eater”
    etc.

    Atheism at it’s core is a non belief in a claim of a god/deity.
    Everything else about the person who is Atheist such as behaviour, attitude, intelligence, cultural background, Religious history is secondary to the definition.

    I do not believe Religion’s claim of a god existing.
    Therefore I am Atheist to that claim

    Why?, What’s my reasons? how I feel about it? how long I’ve disbelieved? was I a former theist? etc.. are simply follows ups to that core definition.

  • AVSvictoria002

    Of course atheism is not a religion. Religion is a belief system, based on faith, or at least the suspension of disbelief. Atheism requires no belief, and in fact, the absence of faith. Atheism merely requires the observance of the natural world using the scientific method, documenting observable evidence, have having the results of experiments reviewed by peers. Things are proven and accepted as fact until they are disproved. No belief or faith required.

  • AVSvictoria002

    Maybe one day, geneticists will discover the faith or religion gene. It’s the weird little mutation of a tiny part of the human genome that makes “belief” possible. Many humans don’t have it, and they are the ones who question everything, think for themselves, and observe and document the universe for what is really is. For those who have the religion gene though, they are genetically predisposed to need a magical excuse or reason for our existence that defies logic and can’t be tested. It is possible for some religious people to not have the faith gene. They are the ones that just go along with it because of family or community pressures, fear of being ostracized, or prolonged brainwashing. Maybe one day, scientists will also find a cure for the religious gene mutation. Much research needs to be done.

  • Pete Migdale

    Calling atheism a belief is just the theists’ way of trying to drag us down to their level. They are more comfortable there.

    • viaten

      Many will call evolution a religion as well. If something is called a religion they consider it easier and more acceptable to criticize it as a belief they disagree with.

  • http://anncar.com blogcom

    In a nutshell …. you’re confused

  • alwayspuzzled

    Mr. Mulholland, thank you for your excellent reflection. As always, very thoughtful and very thorough. Ms. LaScola, thank you for posting it.

    • Linda_LaScola

      You’re welcome — and thanks for inspiring me to post it.

  • https://plus.google.com/u/0/112743459266731535020/posts Steve Greene

    “How did you initially react to accepting/realizing your lack of belief?”

    My initial reaction was simply one of dismay. This was because of ending up rejecting what was a big part of my life because of my religious beliefs. It wasn’t just because of the fact that I had been very active in my church, though this was certainly a part of it. It was the dismay of giving up all the beautiful fantasies that Christian belief has built up for believers, in regard to the afterlife. It took many moons for the rational realizations regarding the falsity of the beliefs to sink into my emotional psyche and soothe the emotional dismay.

    For atheists who never bought into the religious belief system and who were never raised in it from a young age, I would surmise that the emotional component of this is hard to grasp, but it does exert quite a pull among Christians (as various other religious fantasies of other religions exert quite an emotional pull on believers of those religious faiths). Of course, in the rhetoric religious believers use all the time, including frequently in discussions with atheists, we all observe many of various emotional appeal fallacies being employed, arguments about morality, for example, being some of them, because morality considerations are ultimately irrelevant to the *factual* considerations regarding the empirical claim of the existence of some particular god. The facts are the facts, regardless of how we feel about them and regardless of the consequences of the facts.

    And Pete Migdale hit the nail right on the head when he wrote, “Calling atheism a belief is just the theists’ way of trying to drag us down to their level.”

    • Linda_LaScola

      Very Thoughtful comments

  • Elizabeth.

    I like Jim’s description of atheism as “a new starting line.” As someone still working out what I think, I would answer the “initial reaction” question by saying that at first I was uncomfortable, but not depressed (as I later became). ….I thought it must be that “period of doubt” that many are said to go through… in fact, I had the impression that it would be even better to be a doubter and then to return : ) — “more joy in heaven over one who repents,” etc! ….I said wryly to myself that at 13 I had decided to become a missionary, only to realize at 18 or so that I was a mission field.

    After depression, I tried not thinking, “just believe,” during a master’s program, but couldn’t sustain that. After ensuing decades of official agnosticism I started thinking maybe there was something to the religion I’d been taught, just very different from the way it had been understood. Now I think there could be something like supra-human intelligence in the universe(s), in harmony with what the scientific method is helping us understand — but in terms of what I affirm, the yardstick is compassion, at the core of many religions and philosophies and humanist organizations.

  • http://youtube.com/mikeofkorea Michael Raymond

    However, religion can be atheist. I adhere to Korean Buddhism which acknowledges no gods.

    • http://scifi.disq.us Darth Homer

      A common misconception among westerners.

  • Buckwheat3

    Atheism is not a religion or a belief system. If it was, healthy would be considered a disease!

  • FutureDave

    Sure, there are many atheists who have a religious-like passion, but that’s a personality trait, not an atheistic trait. I’d say the majority of non-believers avoid the topic of religion online, and find loud and unnecessarily confrontational atheists to be pests who do our population no favours.

    I was once an annoying atheist online. Like many of my peers, I’ve calmed down and choose to only confront folk when explicitly or implicitly invited to do so. If people wish to evangelise religion online, it doesn’t bother me. However, if I see someone misrepresenting atheism, I may just speak up…

  • Apostaste

    Truly Orwellian and massively intellectually dishonest to try to label the rejection of religion as a religion.

    • TruthMeister101

      “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others.”

  • Good_Lt

    Is not-collecting stamps your hobby?
    Is not-playing football your favorite sport?
    Is “Off” your favorite TV channel?
    Does not-believing in the tooth fairy make you an atoothfairyist?

  • AntLionKing

    I sure wish I could remember where I came across this, but somebody out there had broken down the broad brushstroke of the term “atheist” into three subcategories: philosophical atheists, antitheists, and apatheists.

    Antitheists contend that there is no God(s), and that they’re of a mind that the issue is settled (for them at least). They have a positive orientation to the statement that “there is no God or gods.”

    Philosophical atheists are like Matt Dillahunty and the folks who host the webcast The Atheist Experience: their position is simply that to this point nobody has overcome the burden of proof to provide convincing evidence of the existence of God(s). But these philosophical atheists are open to changing their minds should somebody eventually provide convincing evidence. Dillahunty makes an interesting analogy: their orientation to the question of the existence of God is like the verdict of Not Guilty in a trial. A Not Guilty verdict doesn’t mean that the accused is innocent (just as “atheist” doesn’t mean an a priori rejection of the possibility of God), it simply means that the “burden of proof” hurdle was not overcome to establish guilt (existence of God) beyond a reasonable doubt.

    And then there are apatheists. They could care less if there’s one, billions, or no God(s). The idea of a deity seldom enters their minds, and they only give the idea the most fleeting of consideration. They are hardcore pragmatists, and God(s) are no more relevant to their lives and daily experience than the possibility of blue bowling balls existing on Mars, or the pursuit of underwater basket weaving. They avoid any discussion of religious or theological or epidemiological topics, simply because they seldom consider these topics. They’re just too busy living their lives in the here-and-now to bother with the whole business. Obviously, for the apatheists it would be pretty much impossible to describe their atheism as a “religion.” We can call them atheist in the sense that they lack any sort of engagement with religion, the supernatural, of the concept of God(s). True to form, they don’t think about the issue.

    Many members of my family are apatheists. They wouldn’t identify themselves as atheist (admittedly in part due to social stigma); but in reality they could care less about the labels and live their lives without God/gods/the supernatural.

  • zengardener

    No

  • Chuck Cordes

    I don’t believe in pixies, fairies or leprechauns and that’s not a religion.

  • http://scifi.disq.us Darth Homer

    Well you can play all kinds of games with semantics and argue one way or another but it comes down to this:

    You either believe in God (theist) or you do not believe in God (atheist). It’s a belief in one proposition or another.

    Argue away..

    • The Nerd Network

      Nice!!, however the issue is much bigger than that.

  • Preston3072

    If you believe in the Big Bang and that life started out from a Primordial Soup, it’s religion. Think about it…has either “the big bang” or “primordial soup life” ever been observed to happen as described? Or is it just human reasoning? If it hasn’t been observed, it’s not empirical science.