Ten Ways Atheism Qualifies as a Religion (1st Debate)
February 23, 2012 § Leave a comment
The debate below came from my comment listing “Ten ways atheism qualifies as a religion.” I posted this under an article at TheBlaze.com about a new “We Are Atheism” campaign co-founded by Amanda Brown from the University of Kentucky that also featured a video in which she talks about the movement to encourage other atheists to “come out of the closet.” In the video, Amanda calls religion “stupid.” My point was to show that there is really not much separating atheism and other world religions. My username below is DRPEPPERANDMILK.
Ten ways atheism qualifies as a religion:
1. Atheists worship. We are all made to regard, respect and devote our lives to something greater than ourselves, and everyone worships something. Atheists do not acknowledge worship in a traditional ‘religious’ context. But in the vacuum of a recognizable God, they give themselves to human reason, materialism, wealth, science, naturalism, communism of sorts, nihilism, or themselves, or other prominent atheists (i.e. Richard Dawkins).
2. Atheism is denominational. Just as every major religion has subdivisions with varying shades of beliefs on certain doctrines, atheists have different denominations that distinguish their beliefs in what atheism means, for instance. And of course, “gods” vary too (see #1).
3. Atheism is dogmatic. Atheists will deny this (as with most of these points), but if dogma is defined as “the established belief or doctrine held by a religion, or a particular group or organization”, atheism absolutely fits this definition. They follow ideological rules.
4. Atheism is exclusive and narrow. Atheism excludes any other possibility other than the conclusion centered on the non-belief in God, so it is no different than any other religion that makes exclusive claims.
5. Atheists seek converts. Well, some do and some don’t, just as some religions prosthelytize and some don’t. “We Are Atheism” hopes that there are closet atheists and seeks to add to their numbers by encouraging their “coming out.”
6. Atheists have holy books. Take a look at the “Letters” section of RichardDawkins.net and you’ll find scads of letters from “converts” to atheism that praise Dawkins and his book “The God Delusion”, testifying how it changed their lives and lit the way to the “truth” of atheism. They revere it as Christians do the Bible.
7. Atheists have a worldview, including ideas about ultimate origins and the place of humans in the world, their overall purpose and destiny.
8. Atheists have seen persecution. As is true with any religion, atheists have endured discrimination and persecution for their beliefs.
9. Atheism appeals to universal morality. To even argue for atheism, the atheist has to appeal to “moral law”, a sense of right and wrong that he assumes to be true for everyone. Otherwise, there would be no reason to debate. Atheists love to point out the “despicable acts” of the Old Testament God, even though doing so implies moral good and evil that ultimately cannot be explained by nature or biology.
10. Atheists have faith in the unseen. Amanda Brown asserts that the religious believe without evidence. Most religious people would say the same about Atheism. The evidence we all see, often the same evidence, is interpreted differently based on presuppositions. We all place faith in propositions that are not 100% empirically provable.
@Drpepperandmilk: In response to your ridiculous 10 points:
1- I think you are misinterpreting admiration, respect and logic as worship. Many of these can be said about politics, hobbies and entertainment, so does that mean we worship these things as well? If so then every believer is in ‘sin’ as god states there shall be no other idols…
2- Atheism- lack of a belief in a deity or in the existence of one. How can you vary on what a definition means? Most atheist also identify with other groups, this is merely us stating our view point on religion, nothing else.
3- I don’t even…really? Star Trek, Star Wars, Rebublicans, Democrats, Elvis Impersonators and Alien enthusiasts can also be defined as dogmatic if you put it that way. All groups share a common belief or doctrine, for instance with fan groups that their object of admiration is the best there can be.
4- Atheism is open to all possibilities granted there is sustenance behind the claim. If I told you there is a flying invisible toaster who speaks to me and commands me to only eat toast and offered no other proof than my word and ambiguous coincidences would you believe me? We are realists who require more than the fanciful tails of invisible beings based upon ancient texts created during a time when the Earth was still considered to be flat.
5- Atheists do not seek converts in the sence that religions do. Religions ultimately seek converts for monetary, popularity and mandates from a ‘divine’ source. Yes atheists ‘prosthelytize’ but its not to increase its numbers for personal gain. Atheists are demoralized, demonized, disrespected, excluded and threatened simply for not following a religion or sharing in the mass delusion that is god. We Are Atheism is a way to inform the public that we are not these evil cold creatures, but descent people and we should not be ashamed to hide it because there is nothing shameful about it, but the religious have made it appear so.
6- Really? I do admire Hawkins, Dawkins, Hitchens and other atheist’s writings, but they are not revered as ‘Holy Books’ but rather as informative literature. We do not demand blood for insulting or not following what it says nor do we scorn others for not reading or following what it says. We also do not guide our lives by what it says… the God Delusion is more of a study case of biological evolution and a history lesson than a holy book. Have you even read it?
7- So having an opinion and thoughts now are considered religious in nature? Have you read this argument you typed?
8- … so being gay, black, female and any other group that has seen prosecution should be considered a religion?
9- How is morality tied into religion? And actually morality can be seen as a survival mechanism. We are social creatures and as thus have to adhere to certain behaviors in order to be a part of society. If morality can only be governed by religion, then tell me how can animals be moral? Any social structure needs a guideline in order to support itself, and many of these are instinctual.
10- … no we do not. We believe what can be proven and shown with tangible results, therefore cannot be faith by definition. If there is no evidence or facts to back up a claim, why should anyone believe it?
@ COGNIZANTPSYCHE, thanks for your response. In order…
1. Depending on the level of devotion, “politics, hobbies and entertainment” could certainly be considered idols, “gods” that we are not to put before the one true God. Humans have a long history of worshiping lesser things. (Isaiah 44:6-23)
2. “Most atheist also identify with other groups”, and the same is characteristic of religious denominations.
3. “All groups share a common belief or doctrine”, that’s true, but scrapbooking clubs do not live by and align their worldview to the club’s ideology. If the group did, it would be a religion.
4. “Atheism is open to all possibilities granted there is sustenance behind the claim.” For one, this is still an exclusive view, and two, it isn’t universally true. People do not interpret evidence the same way. There is “sustinence” to Biblical claims that can be shown to valid. For instance, the material evidence for the textual accuracy of the Bible is vast (thousands of very early extant copies that agree) and can’t be shown to contradict itself in any points of doctrine or with the world we can now observe. (It also doesn’t teach that the world was flat).
5. Some religions seek converts for monetary or political gain, but this certainly can’t be shown as true for all. Although I wasn’t arguing for motivation—that can vary widely. Most religions, especially atheism, are in the minority and could equally claim that other beliefs are “mass delusion”s. Although to assert a worldwide delusion of theism in general prevalent in 85-90% of the globe doesn’t seem reasonable.
6. Some view The God Delusion as “informative literature”, but others consider it a “source of immense inspiration”, and that they “wouldn’t be the same person without [Dawkins’] works.” Readers were “absolutely blown away” when they “read The god delusion and everything changed.”—”a book that changed my life.” Dawkins is told by a follower, “God doesn’t exist but heroes do, and you’re one of them.” Quotes are all from just one page of many letters at http://richarddawkins.net/letters/good.
7. “Having an opinion and thoughts…are considered religious in nature” if you live by them.
8. “being gay, black, female and any other group that has seen prosecution should be considered a religion.” Being black or female is not an ideology, so no, those groups would be a poor comparison, regardless of whether they’ve seen persecution.
9. “How is morality tied into religion?” Every religion has an exegesis on morality, just as you have proposed with respect to atheism. Animals are not moral agents—they react on instinct without reasoning or consideration of ethical judgments or act with respect to right and wrong as humans do.
10. “If there is no evidence or facts to back up a claim, why should anyone believe it?” They shouldn’t. Christianity does not come without evidence or facts that support it (#4). How does an athiest know his senses are generally reliable? How do you know the sidewalk below you is solid or that the air you breath is not toxic (unless you’re in LA)? Is it merely because it generally has been in the past? In the present, it’s that information with which you have faith that it’s still true.
How does an atheist account for universal, objective moral law without an ultimate moral law-giver? Or conclude that nature must be the first cause of nature without relying on blind faith—that is, faith without sufficient reason?
Happily married and morally-upright atheist here. I could argue all day about Jesus’ divinity, or lack thereof; about various arguments for God and the logical fallacies on which they rest; about the false assumption that morality cannot arise out of atheism (in fact, it can’t NOT; ~90% of humans are moral regardless of their (un)beliefs–this is merely an evolutionary byproduct); about the seductive but ultimately weak claim that Stalin refutes my last parenthetical remark; etc., etc. etc. But I have to work, so I’ll just offer a few general remarks:
-Atheism is the fastest-growing “belief” in America.
-The youngest generation is, by far, the most atheistic; the oldest generations (i.e., closest to dying out) are the most religious.
-Atheism is growing due to active critical thinking–indeed, the vast majority of atheists I know were born to Christian families. Christianity is growing primarily due to the high reproductive rates of Christian families (sure, religion wins converts every now and then, but not nearly as many as atheism has lately.)
-These days, Religion has a hard time time insulating its youth from opposing views. Witness the explosion of young atheists in the internet age.
Atheists are ascending inexorably, and may even be the American majority before too long. I’m sure there will be apocalyptic doomsaying regarding this (Judgment Day! The Next Stalin!). But me? I think that, religiously, the US will simply look more like today’s Europe. Excel
@ Lawndart – I couldn’t agree with you more, many theists claim a world in chaos without the guidance of an invisible, undetectable, all knowing being, but I honestly feel that its just a side-effect from brainwashing, I felt the same way when I was entrenched in the belief all those years. It is constantly drilled in that God is love, kindness, ect, and without him there is no peace, prosperity, ect. And the thing is a vest majority of people who belong to religions are decent good people, but as Steven Weinberg said:
“Religion is an insult to human dignity. With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”
@Drpepperandmilk Human morality evolves with us. It was moral at one point to own slaves, but we have moved on from that and in today’s society that is horrendous. This moral standard that you state was in place already, was it set forth by an unmoral god (that condones rape, murder, incest, genocide, homophobia, racism, sexism, ect.)? How do you explain all the immoral actions and commandments he demanded we adhere to? And why don’t we follow them as a society today? Because we know they are wrong and have abandoned those ideas and notions as acceptable and moral. Moral obligations originated with the creation of social creatures who depend upon each other for survival, this include partners and friends.
@Lawndart “~90% of humans are moral regardless of their (un)beliefs–this is merely an evolutionary byproduct);”
I would argue that ALL humans are moral because we are all made in the image of a moral God. You make your argument on the basis of moral truth that you assume will mean something to me and everyone else who reads it. Your argument supports the idea that everyone is moral, whether or not they believe in the Source or that we differ on what we think those morals are.
Imagining the very first moral thought or action that “evolved”, how would we look back on that event and determine that it was moral? Necessarily, there would have to be a moral standard already in place by which to measure it. Moral obligations could not have possibly have originated within the conceptualization of humans.
@ Drpepperandmilk, and I thank you for your reply. But I must state that I really think you are reaching to justify these points. The main point is atheism is not a religion, by definition. We do not worship anyone or anything, follow any set code or instructions, nor do we have a rulebook for anything. It seems you’re really just playing a game of semantics. I’m not sure what atheists you have been talking too (unless its news reports) but I the ones I have met and spoken to are not as you describe.
I am not religious yet I have high moral standards. Morality is partially a by-product of living as a part of a society, even animals are loyal and have “morals” toward others. It has even be postulated that it is an unintended (albeit a good one) side effect from our evolution into a conscious being. Regardless of moralities origin, please explain to me why I should follow the example of a being that condones rape, murder, incest, genocide, homophobia, racism, sexism and a plethora of other horrendous actions including eternal damnation for simply not agreeing to follow this demented person’s rules? How is any of this moral? We are also not claiming to know for certain, but we do have theories based upon facts and observations through experiments… as well as the fact that I am not a moral-less person. I don’t use a faith or divinity as justification to suspend morality, and that is often the case with religions, as well as one of the issues we have with it.
@CognizantPsyche, I admit the definition of religion itself is not very clear. Buddhism does not have a god. “God” in Hinduism is often not even supernatural. Religion USUALLY involves “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe” and “often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs”. It seems to always involves the worship of some entity, be it personal or not, and practices that involve an element of faith. What religion accomplishes for most people, something outside of themselves to aspire to and live by, atheism accomplishes for those who choose not to believe in God. We are free to worship ourselves and our own ideas instead. I realize the parallels between atheism and other religions I’ve listed are not perfect, but I think they do show commonalities that atheists do not realize and even take issue with when they see them in other established religions.
Re: “We do not…follow any set code or instructions,” you actually listed some of atheists’ code: They 1) Worship no gods; 2) Follow no code/instructions; 3) Have no rulebook; 4) Have high moral standards. Incidentally, numbers 2 and 4 actually contradict each other.
As for #4, I completely agree with you. Everyone has moral standards, a reality best explained by the Biblical view that we are all made in the image of a moral Creator (Gen. 1:27). Awareness of universal moral law is innate regardless of belief (Rom. 2:15). It’s evident because we all can’t help but live by “morals” and live and speak as if we are obligated to follow them. You presuppose also that they apply to everyone, otherwise you wouldn’t debate and expect others to see the same right and wrong you see. You even apply this moral obligation to the Bible’s concept of an all-powerful Creator, fully expecting that if He did exist He should follow the set of rules we created for ourselves. How can you on the one hand say that our sense of morality “originated with the creation of social creatures” and on the other use it to judge the actions of a hypothetical law-giving Creator of the universe?
The allegations often brought against the God of the Bible for “horrendous actions” are justified or grossly misunderstood by simply not reading what the Bible says or pulling parts out of context. As omniscient Creator and author of life, God is justified and giving and taking it. He doesn’t contradict His moral nature by His judgment or by allowing evil to exist. And again, if “human morality evolves with us,” why would you be concerned with any moral action done thousands of years ago in another culture?
I received no further responses in that forum. The challenge that I closed with above was for the atheist to explain why many atheists judge the morality of God’s actions in the Old Testament when the atheistic view of morality really doesn’t allow them to project their morality on others, especially not the concept of God. I posted this question again in another forum, and I’ll make another file containing that debate. I also posted my “10 ways” in a thread about the misuse of religion in society on AskAnAtheist.com, a site run by atheists that offers insights on what atheists believe. This is the discussion discussion resulted from that.