Ok, ok: Atheism is NOT (necessarily) a religion

From the comments to a previous post i have learnt two things about (blogosphere) atheists:

First, they do not consider their atheism to be a religion, or even a worldview (which is more or less what i mean by religion). For some, atheism is no more than ONE, NEGATIVE belief: “there (probably) are no gods or such like things”. If such is your atheism, then, i agree, it certainly is no religion. However,

Second, even though most of the commenters are adamant that atheism is as minimal as described above, they strongly identify with the term – enough at least to leave heart-felt comments on a post lambasting atheists.

Thus it would seem that many self-described atheists have a sense of community (“we are atheists”) that is created in opposition to religion (“we are not religious”) but has no content. To this i have no objections – except to say that

i could describe myself as a religious atheist, but would thus be de facto excluded from this community. So i guess my main objection to the atheism i see, hear and read is that it appears to be consistently opposed to religion (admittedly to a religion that is redefined as god-believing, but that does not alter my point). Atheism is ok; but so is religion.


6 Comments to “Ok, ok: Atheism is NOT (necessarily) a religion”

  1. I myself wrote on this exact same topic (http://klayhamn.wordpress.com/2008/01/03/philosophy-for-a-dime). You did manage to bring me to think about the issue again. Well, I agree that atheism, as a phenomenon in WESTERN society, has some notable characteristics. I disagree that they share a sense of COMMUNITY, but perhaps you might say that they share a sense of COMMON grounds. For example, an atheist might have a better first-impression of another atheist than a Christian, depending on how much he actually cares about his own lack-of-faith.
    I think that the reason why some atheists are perceived as “anti-religious” and dogmatic in their devotion to their “atheist cause”, is twofold: 1. Many societies view atheists in a negative light and some even persecute them. In some societies being an atheist is tantamount to being an outcast. 2. Many atheists believe that religion ITSELF holds many of the root causes of evil and suffering in this world. They are not necessarily about ABOLISHING it, just rendering it harmless.

  2. Your identification of “world-view” with ‘religion is interesting. However, we have to deal with practical realities. In my country (New Zealand) religious groups are exempted from paying tax because under law charity is defined to include “promotion of religion.” That is in direct conflict with our human rights legislation.

    One could argue that if religion means the same as world-view then humanist and similar non-theist groups could also get tax exemption. Unfortunately the law is interpreted with a requirement that to be religious you have to include a supernatural content in your world-view.

    So, no hope for atheist or humanist groups. We have to keep on subsidising the churches but cannot get tax exemption for promotion of our ideas. However, perhaps the pastafarians could!

  3. @klayhamn

    i agree. both with your comment and your post. your strong/weak distiction is very nice and useful.


    well we’ll just have to keep on praying for atheists to get tax-exempt status – or as the pastafarians to pray for u 🙂

  4. I don’t think the mere usage of the label “atheist” gives one a sense of membership to a community. Atheism is indeed a minimalist term, a negation of theistic beliefs. Look at the American atheist groups, none can boast a membership of over ten thousand even though there might be millions of nonbelievers in that country. When nonbelievers congregate (if I may be allowed the term), it’s for reasons and causes that supplement atheism, such as ethical humanism, scientism, or even anti-theism. There is no shared doctrine, no founder figure, no creeds, not even rituals or sunday bingo games.

    As for your previous post, you seem to be using a non-standard usage of the term religion in order to lump atheism with other sects. Please tell us how you define religion and how you can claim that such a definition ought to be accepted. Also, I don’t see why merely holding metaphysical assumptions makes something a religion. Baseball fans may share a metaphysical assumption that the ball has a material existence out there, but, outside perhaps of Northeastern USA and Japan, baseball is not a religion. Same goes with having a shared moral view (which I don’t think atheists do share). To follow my example, baseball fans may believe that stealing bases is morally suspicious but allowed, while beaning a batter intentionally is reprehensible. Again, that is not a mark of a religious movement.

  5. Ok, so atheism, religion, god, santa clause. What do they all have in common? ‘Belief’. Check this out:

    “Through sharing in a psychological space that neither supports nor rejects any particular belief system, people begin to see through their beliefs in the sense that they no longer need to defend or reject what they are thinking. People become present to their thoughts in a simple and uncomplicated way.” Peter Fenner

    More of his stuff here: http://www.radiantmind.net/resources.htm

    This site is offering a ‘course’ for sale, but if you read into it or watch the interviews he explains he’s just playing on peoples need to be ‘doing something’ to ‘achieve something’ and helping them to realise that they don’t need to subscribe to this belief.

  6. Saying atheism is a religion is like saying bald is a hair colour, or that not playing baseball is a sport.

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