Debunking the Myth that Atheism is a Religion

It is suggested by many people that Atheism is a religion.  Applying the definition of religion toward atheism is an oxymoron and I concur with others who have come to the conclusion that the religious are are so caught up in their own beliefs that imagining another person without having any religious beliefs is largely incomprehensible to them. Either that or they simply don’t care that what they are stating lacks any sense.  Those who claim that atheism is a religion do not have a clear understanding of what atheism is, and when religious terms are used to describe atheism, it is the always the beginning of the end of a sensible argument.

Contrary to the argument of those who insist that atheism is a religion, it takes mental gymnastics to attach the narrative, experiential, social, ethical, doctrinal, ritual and material aspects of religion to atheism because atheism is not a structured system with defined rules. It is simply the lack of a belief in the existence of a god, gods or the supernatural.  It has no uniform beliefs and is not a means of understanding our existence. Atheism is not philosophy of life. My unbelief in Santa Claus is not a philosophy of life, and thus my unbelief in god isn’t, either. 

Any comparisons that put atheism in the same context of religion are a dishonest dialogue.  The definition of atheism does not include anything even remotely similar to the dogma and doctrine that is part of religious belief.  Atheists can and do adopt a wide variety of points of view that can include anything except the belief in gods and still fit the definition of atheism. Even those of us who are outspoken, widely read and well known cannot be intelligently compared to religious leaders, and atheist organizations cannot be compared to religious congregations.  There exists none of the aspects that command such designations.

We do not have our “preachers”, nor do we have our “congregations”. There are many groups that have leaders, such as the United Way or a political party, but to suggest that these groups are religious is preposterous.  As well, the belief that atheist organizations mirror religious bodies is equally preposterous.  The inherent characteristics of empiricism and skepticism and the lack of “faithful believers” do not allow for anything parallel other than the assemply of human beings in one place.  Even the purposes are opposite, as one group has a belief, and the other does not.

While atheism is merely the lack of a belief in god, religion has very specific characteristics. The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in an article on Religion includes characteristics that in no way reflect someone who lacks the belief in supernatural beings. Atheism does not include any distinctions between sacred and profane objects. There are no ritual acts or a moral code believed to be sanctioned by god(s), or any characteristically religious feelings such as awe, a sense of mystery, guilt or adoration.  Atheism includes nothing even remotely similar to prayer or other forms of communication with the supernatural. 

Religion is a system of belief and atheism cannot be classified as a system of belief because there is no belief and there is no system. There are no rituals, practices, rules, doctrines or dogma. Atheism does not concern itself with gods and it is definitely not a “faith” that includes unquestioning belief requiring no proof.   Atheists live according to reason.  We do not apply a reference to a higher power in our actions. Atheism is a scientific approach to theistic belief systems. It is not a theory, requires no faith and has no hidden agenda. While an Atheist may seek to contradict theism by using rational thinking and scientific theory to debunk the dubious and irrational assertions of religion, atheism merely awaits evidence to confirm the existence of god.

Defining atheism as a religion is embellishment and bad philosophy. Atheism has no dogma, no rites, no holy books, no places of worship and no clergy of any description. It offers no moral guidance, no political opinions and no world view. Atheism is a religion like “off” is a channel on your television or bald being a hair color.

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  13 comments for “Debunking the Myth that Atheism is a Religion

  1. August 8, 2010 at 9:47 am

    I am neither an atheist nor a theist. If anything I am ANTI THEIST. Even there I would say live and let live but they will not allow me the same courtesy. None of the religions make sense. The main religions trace themselves back through Jesus who was also Anti-Theist – neither did he did not approve of religion or the rule of the priesthood. That’s why he got killed. not because they thought he was the son of ‘God’.
    Great article.

  2. Joe
    August 8, 2010 at 10:57 am

    Exceptionally well said, thank you. Only a few days ago a “spiritualist” friend of mine said atheism is a belief system. Your statement directly to this point is what I needed at the time. Next time I’ll be prepared.

  3. August 8, 2010 at 12:38 pm

    @c.a.jones

    While I agree that Jesus (assuming that the accounts are reasonably historically correct) was killed more for being a disturbance than for his actual claims, I find it hard to support a reading that he would be anti-theist (in the conventional sense). Further, not all main religions go back to Jesus (and even in Islam his influence is secondary).

    @Joe Here the case is less clear-cut than with “religion”: While atheism is hardly a belief system, it is sufficiently based on a belief that the formulation is merely misleading, while “religion” would be entirely amiss.

  4. August 8, 2010 at 1:13 pm

    Exactly right! The argument that atheism is a religion is incredibly irritating. A lack of belief in something does not constitute a religion, but is the opposite of religion. When people try to claim that it is, I counter that if they do not believe in Santa or the tooth fairy, according to their “logic” these are religions, so they aren’t really True Christians after all since they have multiple religious beliefs. What fun!

  5. B8ovin
    August 8, 2010 at 3:01 pm

    Very nice, Al. Thanks for putting the url on Ed’s site.

    Joe, when your spiritualist friend says atheism is a belief system ask him/her to describe that system. Every time I have faced this statement and asked that question I get the most inane and hilarious answers.

  6. August 8, 2010 at 8:12 pm

    It’s an easy fall back for the religiots. Their minds, at least in many cases, appear to be totally switched off when it comes to apologising for the nonsense they believe in. By switching off, they lose the ability to comprehend the truthful alternative. They dress their rot as ‘the truth’ because deep down they know it’s a big pile of poop. They spend endless hours in the company of fellow believers, confirming their belief system to each other, because if you step back and actually think, you’d have to question the whole lousy con. Thinking, that’s the real enemy, not athiests.

  7. Sandman
    August 9, 2010 at 2:34 am

    B8ovin hits the nail on its head. Whenever some deluded fool makes a dumb statement such as “Atheism is a religion”, “Gay marriage compromises traditional marriage”, “There is no morality without God” etc etc you just smile and say:

    HOW? WHY? SHOW ME….

    then sit back as the psychoblabber begins, or a pregnant silence descends on the room. You just keep asking how and why…eventually the house of cards falls down.

    The neo-atheist zeitgeist isnt a religion…if anything its akin to a broad socio-political movement such as the ACLU or the UKs Anti-Nazi League. Its similar to one of the UK’s massive public sector Unions like UNISON who represent the interests of all types of workers across a broad spectrum.

    At heart this is a struggle for rights…the right to a secular society based on humanist values with equal rights for all. The right to freedom FROM religion in our public and private lives. The right not to have policy dictated by iron age fairy tales and superstition. The right to brand a bigot as a bigot without having to pay ANY creedence to their filthy faith. The right to be us, free and happy, not living under the shadow of the bomb, the germ and the $5 bottle of Sarin.

    Our “leaders”, if we recognise them as such, are experts in their fields with extensive recognised careers and qualifications. They are our voices and present our case to the public. They articulate our concerns, our hopes, our demands. But they do this only by our combined consent, and do so based on merit, reason and logic rather than some supposed divine mandate, a mouth full of shiny white teeth and an ability to parrot chapter and verse no matter how obscure and irrelevant it is.

    We are not an army. There are no generals, no command structure. No Queens Regulations and rules. No guns, no bombs, and our ammo boxes are only filled with reason, logic and evidence.

    We are the Jarrow Marchers. We are The Levellers. We are the Tolpuddle Martyrs and the heroes of Peterloo. We march to the houses of power to kick down the doors and drag out the tyrants. We shake the pillars of heaven and laugh at the naked emperors….

    We are the Athesists, and we are coming….

    • August 10, 2010 at 8:11 am

      Well said. People argue about what we “are” as atheists, but you nail what we must become, and what we share in common.

      We MUST become a constituency advocating for equal, secular rights for all, and no preference or deference to anyone’s chosen faith.

      • Sandman
        August 11, 2010 at 5:00 am

        There y go then mate and good on you.

        Now…stand up and be counted. The potential “atheist” lobby is more numerous than the NRA, the black/jewish lobby, etc etc.

        Your dumbass two party system (the same stupidity we share here in the UK despite having three main parties) is just a bowl of shit screaming abuse at its reflection in a mirror.

        Get organised and start the Secular Party. Humanist values for a human nation. No god…just GOOD! One constitution, one law, and liberty and justice FOR ALL.

        Tagline in elections:

        Vote SECS…. you know you want it!

        😉

  8. Roddy
    August 9, 2010 at 2:55 am

    Well written but you misstep in the first paragraph when you hypothesise about the reason some religious people describe atheism as a religion. Your powers of mind reading are not as strong as you think they are.

    As for whether Atheism is a religion, that’s easy, but first you need to define what you mean by ‘Atheism’ and what you mean by ‘religion’, as both can mean different things. Once you’ve defined them working out whether your definition of atheism falls within your definition of religion is trivial.

    • Sandman
      August 10, 2010 at 6:10 am

      “Well written but you misstep in the first paragraph when you hypothesise about the reason some religious people describe atheism as a religion.”

      you asked for this….

      HOW?

      I leave mind reading for the tree huggers my friend. I read intention from speech and action, not by some imagined mental capacity.

      The intentions of the faithful when they spout nonsense like “Atheism is a religion” are blatant and apparent. They seek to tar us with the brush we use to tar them. Tit for tat argument we call it in Blighty.

      In all probablity they are repeating some sad sack discredited faith head meme their shabby lying pastor or one of the Wedgies stuck in their head. Simple sound bite arguments for a simple lazy brained shower of liars and deluded idiots.

      Similarly I leave the game of gobshite tennis that is playing with the definitions of words to idiots and theologians. You have a nice panel discussion about what the word “atheist” and “religion” means, hell while you are at it have a chat about what “theory” means too……I will get on with making the faithful understand what it means to them in a much more pragmatic, practical manner.

      The end of their influence in the lives of me and mine, the sooner the better. By persuasion, by compulsion, or by force.

  9. August 11, 2010 at 5:18 am

    re·li·gion   [ri-lij-uhn] Show IPA
    –noun
    1.
    a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
    2.
    a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.

    The pure definition of the word should suffice for most. Apologists will try to apply equal meaning to atheists simply to attach a semblance of similarity. In their mind it seems to put everyone on equal playing fields.

    I tend to believe that most religious people tend to, subconsciously, realize that their argument holds know water and that makes them feel somewhat guilty or inferior somehow. Creating metaphors and analogies to logical thinking as a religion makes them feel that being religious is logical. This reasoning is not only sad it is downright ridiculous.

    http://thelogicsociety.blogspot.com

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