Is atheism a religion? “Yes”, many theist would say. “No”, would most atheist. I would say “yes and no”. I will now explain why.
Atheism is not a religion like theism is not a religion.
I have said to many atheist “freethinkers” that they are a religion. This I do mostly to annoy them and they are really easy to flame. I do think that much of atheism is religious, and I will get back to that, but first I will point out some truthful distinctions.
Atheism, in its purest and most narrow of definitions, is only the philosophical metaphysical belief/knowledge that there is NO god(s).
In this sense it would be true that “atheism is a religion like off is a channel“; A saying that is a popular atheist meme* that you will probably encounter soon, should you try to call them religious.
So I do not disagree with this tautology. In fact the same can be said about the stand of theism. “Theism is no more a religion than on is a channel“. It is just the antonyms of atheism, thus just “the philosophical metaphysical belief/knowledge that there IS god(s)”
The point of pointing out this is to show that believing or not believing is in itself not religious, but, as I now will try to show, most atheist are highly religious.
When is atheism religious?
As I have said, believing or not believing in a god is not religious in itself, but still I like to call a number of atheist religious. Why I think this is necessary, and how come I think this is true, I will now share.
Its not a question of IF atheism is a religion, but when is atheism a religion?
According to wikipedia, religion is defined as such: “Religion is an organized collection of beliefs, cultural systems, and world views that relate humanity to the supernatural, and to spirituality.”
Check mate, AndyAce83.
It specifically says “the supernatural, and to spirituality.” and as I should know, atheist dont believe in the supernatural. They may belive in a kind of “spirituality” like “we are all connected, we are all stardust“, but still its hard to say that atheist have a spiritual side since the soul or spirit can not exist without a sort of “supernatural” route (although they will talk about a soul whenever it soothes their purpose).
The point is that “supernatural” and “spiritual” is very loaded words that I think we should be skeptical to use in the definition of religion. Being skeptical is very important in atheist communities, but somehow I dont think this is what they had in mind. But there are other definitions of religion that is not defined by the last editor of the wiki article.
Clifford Geertz for instance defined religion as
““(1) a system of symbols (2) which acts to establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in men (3) by formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and (4) clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that (5) the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.” ”
(from RELIGION AS A CULTURAL SYSTEM: THE THEORY OF CLIFFORD GEERTZ, by Ira Chernus )
With this definition atheism can be clearly religious, but of course, like most definitions, it may be disputed as well. Especially by people who can see that this definition can be used against their belief.
I do, though, believe that religion and being religious is NOT based on belief in “supernatural” or “spirituality”.
I believe there have been UFO cults around that is not “supernatural” although we may not believe in UFOs ourselves and although we as outsiders may think of thetan readings as mumbojumbo BS but to the Church of Scientology this is “highly scientific“. As you may know, Scientology says they are “just an alternative to psychology”.
Like most definitions of human endeavors (aka. humaniora or “the soft sciences”) religion is just a matter of perception and what is important to us. For atheist, it is very important to be critical and skeptical to religion and therefor the notion that they themselves may be just that, can be a hard thought to grasp.
So if we, for the sake of argument, refute the wikipedia definition of “spiritual and supernatural” and instead focus on Geertz´s definition, can atheism be seen as a religion?
The first defining characteristic of religion by Geertz was “(1) a system of symbols”. Do atheist have a system of symbols? The first kind of symbol we think of is the iconographic symbols of the cross, the jewish star, the islamic moon, the wheel of Dharma or the “fat guy” in Buddhism. Do atheist have such symbols? Yes, lots of them.
They have the “happy human” of humanism, they have the A+ symbol, the darwin fish, the pastafarian etc. They have an endless amount of symbols to represent their faith.
“But much of this is parody“, you may say. Yes, and the need to parody, ridicule and pervert other peoples beliefs is a cornerstone in the atheist religious practice. The tradition of being a smug besserwisser is one of their biggest traditions. And traditions is “a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning” [wikipedia].
I have debated alot of atheist, not to convert them, but to put them in their place. I dont care what people belive as long as the accept other peoples point of view and dont force their convictions down others throats. Atheist are the most preachy and proselyting group I have ever encountered. They are aggressive and rude.
Anyway, debating these atheist for a long time one starts to discover patterns in their way of debating. They aren´t really defending their position as much as attacking and ridiculing others view. When you demand they defend their views they will usually become very quiet or go to what I call the “atheist safespace”.
The “atheist safespace” is regurgitating what has been said many times before. They may say “you can´t prove a negative” or “atheism is a religion like off is a channel” or something about “talking snakes” or quotes from the bible they do not like. They love to point out part of history where theistic religions have done dirty deeds, but when people try to point out the many atheistic miss-deeds, its never really atheism cuz atheism is just “disbelief”. A disbelief they are very passionate about.
Being blinded by ones own religious nature is a very religious thing indeed. And atheist hate it with passion to be called out on their religious behaviors. That is why I do it constantly. Not because I cant respect or understand their point of view, but because they can not respect mine.
Again… Not all atheist are religious anymore than all theist. Its just a philosophical understanding of the world. It is behaviour that defines wether or not they be the religious type.
Do they need to preach their beliefs everywhere they go? Can they not show any tolerance for other peoples ideas and beliefs? Do they look for kindred spirits and unite in their beliefs? Do they sing songs about their cause and belief? Do they have a utopic vision of how the world would be if their ideas were the dominating one? Do they quote scriptures (The God Delusion, God Is Not Great, Letter to a Christian Nation) and prophets of their beliefs (Doc Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris etc?) like it has some kind of profound meaning? Do they have symbols in their avatars to indicate their belief? Are they passionate about their ideas and think they are surely and unquestionably right? Have they extremist among them willing to kill for atheism? Have they ritualized ridicule? Do they belive that anything positive about their belief is unquestionable truth, but anything that proves negative sides are ignored (confirmation bias)?
Many atheist have much if not all of these traits. That is why they are religious. If atheism is “just a disbelief” why then is it so important to them to put their atheism out there? Why is atheism such a character trait to them that they have to add it to their bio? Its just disbelief after all.
So you may or may not agree with me that atheism is a religion. Perhaps because of religious reason? But why is it important to me that we recognize atheism as a religion “like off is a channel”? It has to do with debates on value and culture.
You see there is a reason why atheist think its important to be seen as non-religious; It gives them the neutral position. The unbiased position. Their causes and agendas will be seen by them as the honest and impartial one. For the “good of everyone”, when in fact its just for themselves.
Their fight for secularity has the aura of being non-partisan. Usually its the respect towards minorities like Islam, Judaism or misc. (“Hindu. There are seven hundred million of us.” Aww, that’s super.) But they arent fighting for secularity out of some respect for minor religions, they are fighting for secularity for themselves. They want to dominate the western culture. They want to be able to preach their world view without being questioned.
To religious atheist secularity is ultimate. There should be no references to God in schools, hospitals or anywhere. The atheist get to mock other religions, but they themselves should never be mocked. Cuz they are the perfect stand. There is nothing funny about being right.
They are blinded by their own religious nature, and that can be dangerous. They project their bigotry unto religious people to a fascinating degree. They say that Christians try to force their beliefs down others throat, but all I see is atheist trying to convert others trough mockery and aggressive argumentation. They are NOT religious, they say with a passion that can only be seen as religious.
(*After debating with lots of atheist it has befallen me that most of their arguments are meme based. The same quotations and arguments have been said countless times without much rewriting or paraphrasing. My theory is that most “new atheist” or born “again atheist” have read a sort of “atheist cannon” and also by sharing beliefs on forums also teach each other these arguments. These forums tend to be like the Christian sunday schools or bible study where they teach each other the theories of godlessness to strengthen their faith.)