A few days ago, this post graced the pages of the Reason Foundation’s “Hit-and-Run” blog. In short, it is completely ridiculous. In it, Kennedy (I think her first name is Lisa, but I don’t remember) complains that the internets were mean to her after she smugly claimed that atheism was a religion on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. Then, with the same smug shrillness that I find in her television appearances, she lays out why she believes that Atheism is a religion. She touches on neuroscience, how the concept of “God” is necessary for atheism’s existence, and how atheists attack theists with “religious fervor.”
Though the post is a few days old (practically ancient history by internet standards), I figured that a refutation of the inane idea that atheism is a religion would be a good first post for this blog.
First, we need to decide what religion says. Wikipedia gives a pretty good definition of religion:
Religion is a collection of cultural systems, belief systems, and worldviews that establishes symbols that relate humanity to spirituality and, sometimes, to moral values. Many religions have narratives, symbols, traditions and sacred histories that are intended to give meaning to life or to explain the origin of life or the universe. They tend to derive morality, ethics, religious laws or a preferred lifestyle from their ideas about the cosmos andhuman nature.
The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with faith or belief system, but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect. Most religions have organized behaviors, including clerical hierarchies, a definition of what constitutes adherence or membership,congregations of laity, regular meetings or services for the purposes of veneration of a deity or for prayer, holy places (either natural or architectural), and/or scriptures. The practice of a religion may also include sermons, commemoration of the activities of a god or gods, sacrifices, festivals, feasts,trance, initiations, funerary services, matrimonial services, meditation, music, art, dance, public service, or other aspects of human culture.
That’s pretty thorough, if not a little long. Let’s condense it into three main components:
- Orthodoxy: Adherence to Creed
- Orthopraxy: Observance of Religious Rules
- Criteria for membership based on some combination of the first two
An argument can be made that atheism does have something of a creed in that, as a point of definition, you need to lack a belief in any god in order to be an atheist. Frankly, that’s pretty much it for any sort of atheist creed. There are even some religions that are atheistic in nature (such as Buddhism). There are also, political speaking, liberal atheists, socialist atheists, conservative atheists, and atheists in any other political affiliation you can think of! Some atheists (such as myself) don’t believe in the immaterial or the supernatural, while others believe in ghosts. Anyone who doesn’t believe in any deities, even if they believe in any number of supernatural or otherwise imaginary critters, is an atheist. No other beliefs are necessary. This doesn’t even get in to whether or not you believe that a lack of a belief constitutes a belief per se.
Contrast that with, say, Christianity. At minimum, to consider yourself a Christian (excepting some heterodox, gnostic sects) you must believe that: the Omnipresent, Omniscient, and Omnipotent God of Abraham exists and cares about your beliefs and your daily life; that God had one (and only one) begotten son with a virgin in the desert; God’s begotten son, Jesus the Christ, died for your sins; and Jesus the Christ rose from the dead three days after his death and, after chatting with his homies, ascended bodily into heaven. When you get in to individual church doctrines, which are even more complicated and detailed, the relatively simple lack of a belief in a deity that atheism provides simply can’t compete when it comes to dogma.
You don’t technically need to do anything to be an atheist. You just need to not believe in any god. There are no rules to follow. Hell, there are Jewish Atheists who don’t believe in the God of Abraham exists but still adhere to Jewish religious and cultural norms. Atheists have no religious laws, no commandments, and no rituals. We don’t have to observe a Sabbath or pray, nor do we attend worship services. I don’t require (I don’t want to speak for anyone else) anything of self-confessed atheists that I don’t require of anyone else: respect other people and treat everyone else like a human being.
Religions always require some sort of act or adherence to some rule. Even some branches of Evangelical Christianity that claim that you don’t get into heaven based on good works claims you need to actively confess your sins to Jesus and beg his forgiveness (cite).
Rules of Admission
Unlike Jewish Bar (and more recently, Bat) Mitzvahs or Baptisms into the various Christian faiths, or the adherence to the various religious rules and stories that define what it means to be a member of a certain religion. All it requires is a lack of belief. That’s it.
But let’s talk about that word: ATHEISM. God is in the name, right? Well, that is simply a convention of language and culture. The majority of the people in society believe in some sort of god, so we tend to be defined that we lack in that belief that everyone else shares. Frankly, I don’t like using the label to describe my religious beliefs because it does presuppose an idea of a god, but, like everyone else who speaks English, I am a slave to the conventions of language.
I hope that this cleared up everything about why Atheism is not a religion. If you have questions, ask them.
P.S- I tend to take people at their word when it comes to their religion, be it Barack Obama, or Hitler, or Mitt Romney, or the guy down the street. If someone’s a hypocrite, that’s one thing, but I won’t make the judgement as to whether or not they are “Christian enough” to be Christian or some such tripe. If they say they are, I’ll act like they are.