Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
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01-03-2012, 02:27 PM (This post was last modified: 01-03-2012 02:49 PM by kineo.)
Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
I had to create a new thread for this because I didn't want to derail the original thread too much, sorry for the long post! After reading about atheism on Conservapedia I wanted to bring up the topic of how Christians so often try to wedge Atheism into the corner of religion. The line that "Atheism is just another religion" is so often repeated among the religious, I've heard it from family, read it on forums, even seen it here. Many seem to drink it down like chocolate milk from the school lunch line.

So, as I'm reading this my brain is melting... both from the stupidity and from ire...

Conservapedia Wrote:Atheism often relies on asserting fragile assumptions that are contrary to the existing evidence.

Conservapedia Wrote:Atheism is a religion

Many of the leaders of the atheist movement, such as the evolutionist and atheist Richard Dawkins, argue for atheism with a religious fervor.

So.. therefore, atheism is a religion? Flimsy...

But, this argument is one that is particularly bothersome to me. Because it suggests that once you are an atheist you must adhere to specific rituals and follow a doctrine. And that is simply not true. I have to read further to find out the real justification for this claim.

Conservapedia Wrote:Religion scholar Ninian Smartt identified seven dimensions which make up religion: narrative, experiential, social, ethical, doctrinal, ritual and material. It is not necessary in Smartt's model for every one of these to be present in order for something to be a religion.[18]. However, it can be argued that all seven are present in the case of atheism.

The sources they link to argue this case.

http://creation.com/atheism-a-religion Wrote:Atheism is the belief that there is no god. According to the Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

“Atheism is the position that affirms the non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”

Buddhism is atheistic in the sense of denying that there is any overarching deity such as the Creator-God of the Bible. Atheism in the western sense excludes Buddhism, and adherents claim that it is not a religion. One Atheist said:

“Calling Atheism a religion is like calling bald a hair colour”2

However, atheists make such claims so Atheism can avoid legal imperatives placed on religions in many countries, and can avoid some of the ideological hang-ups people have about “religion”. It also creates a false dichotomy between science (which they claim must be naturalistic and secular) and religion.

You don't have to read the whole article before you come to the reason they feel that they can call atheism a religion... and that's simply because the definition of a religion can be fuzzy enough to include a great number of things.

http://creation.com/atheism-a-religion Wrote:Religion is a difficult thing to define. Various definitions have been proposed, many of which emphasize a belief in the supernatural.

Religion is difficult to define... so we're going to use that fuzzy logic to match atheism to religion.

Well actually there is one guy out there who has provided a foundation upon which the religious can attempt to build a house as the case for atheism as a religion (as much as you can build a house out of cardboard and construction paper). I'm a little confused with Conservapedia on this topic though, in one place they say it was Ninian Smartt who is responsible and in another they credit Daniel Smartt. In any case, my research shows that it's Ninian Smartt who identified the "seven criteria" for religion and Conservapedia and Creation.com apply them in this way to Atheism:

http://conservapedia.com/Atheism_is_a_re...or_atheism Wrote:Narrative - this dimension is concerned with stories which explain the origin of the universe and the human life. For Christians, there is the Book of Genesis. For atheists, the Big Bang, abiogenesis, the theory of evolution, etc., play a similar role[3]
Experiential - this dimension is concerned with personal or spiritual experiences. Many religious believers report experiences of being near to God. Many atheists report an experience of "liberation" in the moment when they first rejected God[4]
Social - the social dimension of religion is concerned with religious leadership and community in congregations. Contemporary atheism has its own leadership (authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris) and social gatherings (e.g. the Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne, Australia)[5]
Ethical - this dimension is concerned with the ethical teachings of a religion. Logically speaking, if there is no God, how can there be any objective ethics? Ethics is reduced to each person's individual whims. Despite this, the leaders of atheism are insistent that they do have ethics, and even claim to have better ethics than religious people[6]
Doctrinal - this dimension is concerned with the philosophical teachings of a religion, its claims about the ultimate nature of reality. Some of the central dogmas of atheism include the non-existence of God, the non-existence of afterlife or an immortal soul, that all which exists is ultimately reducible to matter (materialism), and that faith is illegitimate[7]
Ritual[8] - this dimension is concerned with rituals, the celebration of rites, ceremonies or festivals. Although atheism at present has few rituals, there are explicitly atheist versions of rituals to celebrate major life events (birth, marriage, death), and some atheists have proposed annual festivals to substitute for Christmas or Easter, such as Charles Darwin's birthday
Material[9] - this dimension is concerned with the physical artifacts of a religion, such as buildings, monuments, art, etc., and with physical places considered sacred. Many atheists argue that all nature is sacred

Reading through those gave me a chuckle and just how loosely each item fits, if it can be said to fit. I'm tempted to, and I think I will, make a thread called "The Religion Game" and see how many things we can call religions using the same logic that these creation sites do! It might be fun! Big Grin

I'm curious; what your theories are for why the religious want so much to call atheism a religion? Any thoughts?

I think there is more to it than crosses my mind right now, so I'll start off by saying that I think it's because the religious want to say that you have faith in science instead of God. You have misplaced faith- but faith nonetheless. You believe there are no gods (more specifically, you believe there is no God), it's not a lack of a belief in gods. That makes it not a neutral position, but an actively negative position. It's easier to demonize, it's easier to delegitimize, it's easier to devalue and minimize, and it's easier to hate.

Do you think that the seven criteria fit well for calling atheism a religion? Can you list a couple that you think do or don't and why?

I'll start with these two:
Quote:Experiential - this dimension is concerned with personal or spiritual experiences. Many religious believers report experiences of being near to God. Many atheists report an experience of "liberation" in the moment when they first rejected God[4]

The "experience" of liberation- they are applying an emotional feeling as the experience. One can experience liberation in a number of situations- quitting a terrible job, being released from prison, being rescued as a hostage, etc. More importantly, this feeling is not related to conversion to atheism- it's related to deconversion from religion. This experience is because of the former religion itself and not a natural result of atheism. One who was not religious doesn't feel "liberated" from religion when they become atheists because there is nothing to be liberated from! So how can the experience of liberation be applied to atheism when it is not a natural result being an atheist?

Quote:Material[9] - this dimension is concerned with the physical artifacts of a religion, such as buildings, monuments, art, etc., and with physical places considered sacred. Many atheists argue that all nature is sacred

All nature is sacred. The term sacred IS a religious term. You can't use this term in attempting to define religion itself. Let's examine the definition from Mirriam-Webster:

Quote:1 a : dedicated or set apart for the service or worship of a deity <a tree sacred to the gods>
b : devoted exclusively to one service or use (as of a person or purpose) <a fund sacred to charity>
2 a : worthy of religious veneration : holy
b : entitled to reverence and respect
3 : of or relating to religion : not secular or profane <sacred music>

I suppose the least religious definition that we can actually use is 2.b, "entitled to reverence and respect". I don't think that nature is "entitled" to reverence or respect. I think that we are wise to respect nature and care for our environment. But nature is entitled to nothing just as humans are entitled to nothing. Nothing is entitled to exist upon Earth and Earth itself is not entitled to continue to orbit the Sun. This happens because nothing has disturbed Earth from its orbit and nothing has disturbed life upon the earth to the point that it has stopped.

But religion suggests an entitlement beyond the physical, the supernatural. It extends into a dimension that an atheist doesn't argue exists. My point is that this definition doesn't fit well either, it's very weakly in support of the "material" portion of religion. Semantically I think it's a stretch to call nature sacred as an argument for calling atheism a religion because it suggests a worship of nature that is not a necessity of atheism. We may value nature or we may not... personally I do, but I do not worship it and nature is not entitled to the value I hold for it; especially since I am part of it and I do not count myself as sacred.

So, I feel as though I've argued down two of the seven items. Creation.com says that not all are necessary to be counted as a religion and weight can be placed more heavily on each of the different seven for each different religion. My goal is to see all seven argued into the ground in this thread with the help of anyone willing to join in! Big Grin
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01-03-2012, 02:30 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
Atheism isn't the only stupid article on Conservapedia. I usually tell people who make that claim if atheism is a religion then World of Warcraft is a religion. And skateboarding is a relgion. Etc, etc.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.”

-Mark Twain
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01-03-2012, 02:39 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
(01-03-2012 02:30 PM)germanyt Wrote:  Atheism isn't the only stupid article on Conservapedia. I usually tell people who make that claim if atheism is a religion then World of Warcraft is a religion. And skateboarding is a relgion. Etc, etc.

I don't doubt that for a second. But it makes a great source for derp.
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01-03-2012, 02:42 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
(01-03-2012 02:39 PM)kineo Wrote:  
(01-03-2012 02:30 PM)germanyt Wrote:  Atheism isn't the only stupid article on Conservapedia. I usually tell people who make that claim if atheism is a religion then World of Warcraft is a religion. And skateboarding is a relgion. Etc, etc.

I don't doubt that for a second. But it makes a great source for derp.


And the occassional herp.

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it's time to pause and reflect.”

-Mark Twain
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01-03-2012, 05:49 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
When a 12 year old child of a Christian asks about atheism this is where they get their refense.

"Atheism is just another false religion. Jesus is the one true massiah."

What else are they going to do? Defend their beliefs?

The old gods are dead, let's invent some new ones before something really bad happens.
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01-03-2012, 07:08 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
for people that can't think in a logical way is hard to understand the meaning of a negative statement, basically they're seyaing that 1=-1 which of course absurd, from that point on everything is possible, is the principle of explosion at its best http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Principle_of_explosion

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01-03-2012, 10:45 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
(01-03-2012 02:27 PM)kineo Wrote:  I'm curious; what your theories are for why the religious want so much to call atheism a religion?

It's a great question, because it cuts both ways. It's like when they call evolution "just a theory", and we say "isn't intelligent design just a theory"? To call atheism a religion or to say it requires faith is to insult their own beliefs for being a religion and requiring faith, because they imply that these are negative traits for a person's belief system.

However, I think it's just to silence criticism of their own religion, because it makes it sound like an atheist can't criticize religion without being hypocritical... and they think this matters because they don't know their logical fallacies.

Quote:Do you think that the seven criteria fit well for calling atheism a religion? Can you list a couple that you think do or don't and why?

No, I don't think they fit Atheism. Allow me to address points 4, 5, and 6.

Clearly there aren't any atheist rituals, and to call any celebration of any sort a "ritual" is just stretching it, especially when they're naming examples that are universal to people of any belief. It's equivocation, in my opinion.

It can be said that there are atheists (like myself and Kineo) who are concerned with ethics, but that certainly isn't something that's true of all or even most atheists. Because of Sam Harris (and Dawkins to a smaller degree) it has become part of "atheist culture", but it's not something that we have to care about to be atheist. It isn't part of our doctrine because we don't have one.

Speaking of doctrine, I notice the word "dogma"... does the author even understand the word? It's logically incompatible with atheism. We don't think that God is non-existent as part of our "dogma", but rather if we are atheists then it's true that we believe it by definition. I don't have a fundamental belief that I must work, even though I'm an employee... I'm an employee because I work.

Good topic, Kineo. A good post as usual.

My girlfriend is mad at me. Perhaps I shouldn't have tried cooking a stick in her non-stick pan.
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02-03-2012, 11:21 AM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
Thanks for contributing everyone! Smile I know it's really easy to blow this stuff off, but these are the kinds of conversation I expect to have to have with family who want to just dismiss my lack of believe as taking on a different belief. I've heard that before "you're really just placing your faith in scientists instead of God!"

Please excuse the phrase, but I realize I'm preaching to the choir here. But this is as much for me to think about as for anyone else who wants to think about it too.

Taking a look at the other two aspects of a religion (1 and 3) that haven't been answered yet:

Quote:Narrative - this dimension is concerned with stories which explain the origin of the universe and the human life. For Christians, there is the Book of Genesis. For atheists, the Big Bang, abiogenesis, the theory of evolution, etc., play a similar role[3]

A strict and holy religious book is quite different than a changing and adapting theory. It is still a narrative. But can it be equated with a religious narrative? The definition of the term narrative is wide enough to encompass both truth and fiction so it's hard to argue that it can't, at least in some way, fit this aspect of a religion if you are thinking strictly of those whose disbelief is science-based.

One is not required even to follow this narrative to simply not believe in a God. You can simply not believe and have no scientific foundation for your disbelief. You need a narrative to be an atheist. But a scientific a narrative can provide a counter to the religious narrative.

Quote:Social - the social dimension of religion is concerned with religious leadership and community in congregations. Contemporary atheism has its own leadership (authors such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris) and social gatherings (e.g. the Global Atheist Convention held in Melbourne, Australia)[5]

So to suggest that atheism has leaders (as opposed to great contributors) seems like a stretch to me, personally. While I respect Dawkins, Harris, and Hitchens that doesn't mean that I obey their direction. So long as our intentions coincide then it may appear so, but that is the extent of it. They are teachers and orators, to be sure; but they do not have authority over anyone other than those they pay as employees. An atheist is not required to have a leader of any sort to be an atheist.

And their examples for social gatherings are tenuous at best- an annual global atheist convention. Lots of things have annual conventions. Only a small percentage of atheists can attend these conventions. That is a ridiculous example. They know they can't cite any sort of weekly event either- few atheists probably are members of groups that do any weekly events. So that really just leaves sites like this- social sites that, again, probably count for only a small percentage of atheists. It still comes down to the answer that social gatherings are not a requirement of atheism, and especially not attendance to any sort of conventions.

A person does NOT have to take any oaths, profess any faith (or even profess lack of faith), follow any rules, obey any authority, recognize any doctrine, follow any code of ethics, attend any gatherings, complete any rituals, have any specific experiences, or visit any holy places in order to be an atheist. If a person simply does not believe in a god, that person is an atheist. They don't even ever have to express to anyone that they don't believe. It never has to be said.

So how can it be that something that a person who never has to recognize their disbelief in any way whatsoever is a member of a religion?
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02-03-2012, 12:52 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
The line I've heard from a friend is "Christianity isn't a religion. A religion is just a bunch of meaningless rituals. That's why atheism is a religion. Christianity is *true*".

Facepalm.
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02-03-2012, 01:06 PM
RE: Atheism is a Religion? [long post]
(02-03-2012 12:52 PM)morondog Wrote:  The line I've heard from a friend is "Christianity isn't a religion. A religion is just a bunch of meaningless rituals. That's why atheism is a religion. Christianity is *true*".

Facepalm.

Wow, that's brilliant lol. I can tell they put a lot of thought into that argument!
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