Sam Singleton on, "Atheism is a religion too!"

Behold!  Another guest post from Sam Singleton, Atheist Evangelist.

1st guest post from Sam was A Case for Mockery.


Atheism is Just Another Religion

Sam Singleton head shotBrother Sam says in Patriarchs and Penises, “Atheism is not a religion. It is not a cult. It is to belief in God what a vacuum is to air. The absence of theism. If you sucked all the belief in God out of the universe, what you’d have left is atheism.”

One must always be prepared to revisit past positions and adjust them to accommodate newer understanding. And though I am not about to retract my earlier statement, I now reopen the issue for additional consideration. For one thing, by equating religion and belief in God, I was sticking to only one definition, albeit the most universally understood. There are many.

The worst thing a believer can think to say to an atheist is that atheism is a just another religion, which amounts to “You’re just as bad as we are” or “look who’s talking.” Imagine being accused of hypocrisy by a Christian. One shudders.

Excuse me for again waxing self-referential. There’s this from Brother Sam’s Rules of Engagement: “The first thing I want to know before I go to contending with anybody is whether we can agree on the words we’re arguing about. If each person is allowed to go by his own definition, we’re never gonna get anywhere. So we have to agree to defer to the same authority. When it comes to authorities on definitions, Brother Sam is big on dictionaries.”

Brother Sam cannot afford the Oxford English Dictionary on atheist evangelist wages, so I turn to the dictionary at hand, namely, the online version of The Gospel According to Merriam-Webster. If you don’t accept the dictionary definition, to hell with you. Here’s how The Gospel According to Merriam Webster defines religion.

The state of a religious (a nun in her 20th year of religion)

That’s not me. And how about that example? That would make Brother Sam an atheist evangelist in his 5th year of irreligion.

The service and worship of God or the supernatural

Not by a damn sight.

Commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance

No fucking way.

A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

Nope.

(archaic) Scrupulous conformity: CONSCIENTIOUSNESS

Sure, noting that it says scrupulous, not dogmatic.

A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith

A cause or principle unattended by ardor isn’t worthy of the name, so I will cop to that. But that bit about a system of beliefs? And faith? Those are terms to give pause to any atheist, and especially the pedantic ones. I will attend to those definitions bye and bye. In the meantime, let’s stipulate that I endeavor to be scrupulous and conscientious in conforming to my personal standards of morality and truthfulness. Religiously so.

Now, the word atheist is another matter. As also noted in Brother Sam’s Rule of Engagement, The Gospel According to Merriam-Webster offers only one definition for atheist and it couldn’t be simpler.

One who believes that there is no deity.

That’s me. And no sooner had I put Brother Sam’s Rules of Engagement on the Atheist Evangelist You Tube channel than somebody left a comment taking exception to the word believe. Well, baby-and-bath-water-wise, why should I deny myself use of a term simply because one or more of its many definitions do not apply to me? Excuse the hell out of me if I decline to reduce my already too limited vocabulary so as avoid those words that occasion in tiresome pedants the urge to correct my usage. Plus, fuck ’em.

So I am going to go right on using words like faith and believe and plenty of others to which the Believing Class has wrongfully claimed exclusive title, abetted by the aforementioned pedantic atheists.

Now, back to religion, and whether atheism is one. When intellectually impotent ignoramuses assert that atheism is just another religion, they are wrong, at least as the word religion is commonly understood. I approve of the pejorative taint their usage connotes. But it is a lie from the pit to say that atheism is a religion, in the sense they reserve for their own beliefs, when they know it is not.

A cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith?

I’ll conditionally accept that ascription.

The Believing Class would prefer that there were no atheists, which could be accomplished in either of two ways. They could kill us or convert us. Pray let us consider only the second possibility. Conversion could happen in any of three ways: through coercion, through persuasion, or through redefinition. Coercion won’t work. If the inconveniences and indignities already piled on atheists have failed to bring us to heel, no amount of additional bullying is likely to succeed. Persuasion is never gonna happen without evidence. But semantic slight of hand? It’s cleaner than killing us and avoids having to convince us.

Nonbelievers are by far the second largest religiously defined group in the USA. In numbers, it’s Christians, then nonbelievers, then everybody else. There are several times as many nonbelievers in the USA as Muslims and Jews combined—  throwing in Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses to boot. Like those other, smaller, but theistic, groups, nonbelievers are sometimes subjected to religion-based discrimination, but, unlike Muslims, Jews, and countless others, nonbelievers do not have access to religion-based relief. To deny housing, employment, or the right to occupy public office to a Moslem or Jew, Mormon or Jehovah’s Witness, on the basis of religion, is to invite legal sanction and community outrage. As well it should. But, so long as the target is an atheist, those offenses can be, and are, perpetrated with complete impunity.

How’s this: the Believing Class accords to atheism the societal benefits heretofore reserved for a religion, and they can call us anything they like. Hell, I’ll let ‘em call me a holy roller. I’d say I’ve been called worse, but that would be a lie.

About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.


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