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Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Great Article On Atheism

Disclaimer: I do not, currently, classify myself as an atheist, but I find the following article from American Atheists very instructive for those who foolishly believe atheism is a religion. Vehameivin yovin!

The Persistent And Incorrect Belief That Atheism Is A Religion

I wrote an article a while back that debunks the myth that Atheism is a religion.  The topic has come up frequently as of late, especially in light of some of my more recent writing, and it was one of the topics of discussion on the October 4th edition of Pennsylvania State Director Ernest Perce’s television show “Atheist Perspectives,” which I guest host from time to time.  Over the past several weeks I have received numerous requests to “reprint” it here on the No God Blog, so without further adieu…

It is suggested by many people that atheism is a religion.  Before we can examine why atheism is sometimes defined as a belief, it is important to understand who defines it as such.  Rarely, if ever, will you find another atheist, agnostic, freethinker, humanist, secularist, etc., putting the definition of religion in the context of atheism.  Almost without exception, it is the religious who do so.  The reason is simple.  The religious are are so caught up in their own beliefs that imagining another person without having any religious beliefs is largely incomprehensible. Those who claim that atheism is a religion do not only lack a clear understanding of what atheism is, they also tend to use religious terms to describe atheism.

There exists only one definition of atheism, and that is simply the lack of a belief in a deity.  There is a philosophical aspect to atheism, but it is not part of the definition, but an extension of the individual. Atheism, in of itself, cannot be described as religous because it takes mental gymnastics to attach the narrative, experiential, social, ethical, doctrinal, ritual and materialaspects of religion to atheism because it is not a structured system with defined rules.  It has no uniform beliefs and is not a means of understanding our existence.

With respect to the philosophical, atheism is not a philosophy. Unbelief in Santa Claus is not a philosophy and thus unbelief in deity is not. There does exist within the individual atheist a philosophy that is an extension of their atheism.  The philosophical aspects of atheism are germaine only to the individual. They do not surround their lack of belief, but are an extension of their experiences that have been affected by their unbelief. Whereas religion is a shared experience that is directly dependent on and pertinent to specific dogma, doctrine and superstitions, the atheist experience is dependent on nothing and pertinent only to the effect that unbelief has on how the atheist can effectively integrate in a religious society.

Thus, any comparisons that put atheism in the same context of religion are dishonest dialogue.  Atheism includes nothing even remotely similar to the religious.  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 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.

Inasmuch as the religous have a profundity to change the definition of words to suit their propaganda, atheism has no “preachers” nor “congregations”. Atheist groups have leaders and agendas, much in the way as groups such as the United Way.  To suggest that atheist groups are religious in nature is not only preposterous, but shows a lack of intellectual savvy that is common found in very young children.  The lack of “faithful believers” and the other inherent characteristics of religion do not allow for anything parallel between the two other than the assembly of human beings in one place.  The religious leader has a goal of uniting his congregation under one dogmatic banner where there is no room for congregational interaction, skepticism or free thought.  The atheist organization may or may not have the same speaker at their events, usually not, and the membership is encouraged to interact, discuss and be skeptical, and free thought and expression of opinion is accepted as the norm.

The fact that atheism has a literal definition and completely separate, individualized philosophical extension that is not connected to a common belief also separates it from religion.  The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, in an article on Religion, includes characteristics that in no way reflect someone who lacks the belief in supernatural beings, nor anything that unites atheists on a dogmatic level. 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. 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 and do not apply a reference to a higher power. Atheism is a scientific approach to theistic belief systems. It is not a theory, requires no faith and has no hidden agenda. While an individual 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.


Al Stefanelli – Georgia State Director, American Atheists, Inc.

Well put, Al!


  1. I just tend to see atheism as just the extreme end of a belief spectrum.

    That said, there are different manifestations of atheism. I know many people that I would say are casually atheist - they don't happen to really believe in G-d, but they live in the secular world so it's just not a major factor in their lives. They don't identify as part of an atheist community, and will happily engage in cultural/social/intellectual aspects of their religion-of-origin.

    In terms of lifestyle and philosophy, that's quite different than "militant" atheists, who feel the need to spread a belief in lack of belief, or suppress religious practice.

  2. What is so interesting about the fact that Atheism doesn't consider itself a religion. Of course its not a religion. I think the salient point is that Atheism requires belief in the same type of unproved and unprovable base postulate as a Theist. Nothing to see here folks.

  3. I've often found the "atheism is another religion" meme oddly self-denigrating. It sounds like it's suggesting that if something is a religion, it shouldn't be taken as intellectually seriously.

    >I think the salient point is that Atheism requires belief in the same type of unproved and unprovable base postulate as a Theist.

    What belief does atheism require, and how does it require it?

  4. "Disclaimer: I do not, currently, classify myself as an atheist"

    Naah, you're just a, err, 'kofer.'

  5. As the saying goes, "Atheism is a religion the same way bald is a hair color." In the real, grown up world the person making outlandish claims is the one required to provide evidence. The theists claim that an anthropomorphic Invisible Sky Fairy exists, runs or created the universe and sometimes suspends the laws of nature for the benefit of bags of dirty water on one tiny planet if it is wheedled and cajoled enough.

    There is no evidence for the existence of ISF.

    What's more, there is no evidence that we should prefer one over the other. Dead Jew on a Stick, Adonai the Jealous, Volcano God Allah, The Divine Personage of Jade, Damballa, Odin, Ishtar, Coyote, Great Cthulhu and the Flying Spaghetti Monster all have exactly the same amount of credible evidence, which is to say diddly squat. It all has to be accepted on blind faith backed up by bribes and threats because Invisible Sky Fairy has the morals and impulse control of a poorly socialized toddler with diaper rash and a chainsaw.

    Putting any of these superstitions on the same level as the simple statement "I don't believe unsubstantiated bullshit" is not merely insane but inane.

  6. OK, I was unduly harsh in that last comment. One of these stands out as most likely the One True God.

    The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster states that the world was created by unintelligent design. There's a lot more reason to believe this is the case than the idea of an omnipotent omniscient Creator.

  7. Some will say "Well, those awful New Atheists are just rude. Nasty little people they are. What you open minded people really are is agnostics. You're still open to the idea of Invisible Sky Fairy. Just listen to my missionary sales pitch. You're bound to come around."

    Sorry, but after a while you just have to say "It's bullshit." Reams of supposed evidence have been demolished. The logical fallacies ripped apart. All the conflicting stories banged against each other and broken. At this point there's so little reason to believe and so many reasons to reject every attempt at conversion that even the most open-minded folk have to entertain the least hypothesis; it's all lies, mistakes or delusion.

  8. Josh: I am a kofer in Orthodox Judaism or any organized religion for that matter. That doesn't mean I gained clarity as to if there is a God or not.

  9. UK: you'd probably manage to fit in to Reconstructionist Judaism, since it's open to varied understandings of the Godhead.


    The founder, Mordechai Kaplan, was excommunicated by the Orthodox rabble for kefirah. If that's not an outstanding endorsement from your point of view, I can't imagine what would suffice ;-)

  10. [1st Anonymous here]

    A. Nuran - I don't think the difference between agnostic and atheist is about willingness to listen to a sales pitch. Even religious folks don't like them (esp. if they come from a different religion).

    Rather, I was drawing a distinction between those that are "I don't happen to believe in a diety, but respect that everyone has their own POV and don't really care what others believe if they aren't hurting anyone", versus "I KNOW that there is no deity, if you disagree you must be crazy/delusional/stupid/dangerous, and I feel the need to get others to agree with me".

  11. Very well said. I find a lot of atheists are, for want of a better word, fundamentalists. They tend to marginalize those who hold to ethnic traditions or practices and deride them as still being 'brainwashed'

    It's unfortunate that human beings are prone to forming groups that exclude others based on deviation from the core values those groups hold dearest.

  12. The so called definition that atheism means "no gods" is meaningless because no atheist can define the word God.

    Atheism is a religion which teaches that the Biblical God does not exist and evolution created us. It was founded by charles darwin and it's sacred text is origin of species. Alcohol and opiates are the atheists means of finding comfort and solace and are their equivalent of prayer.

    Some scientologists and buddhists also do not believe in a personal god.

  13. It's quite fascinating to observe a pathological obsessive disorder. The compulsion to repeat facts that are in error or are entirely false as a means to compensate for anxiety or low self esteem is tragic. Fortunately there are medications and therapy systems available to alleviate those problems which only serve to alienate others, cause loss of jobs or educational opportunities and sometimes lead to divorce.

  14. JP: According to you, atheism is a religion. But here you say that the nazis were atheists: http://jewishphilosopher.blogspot.com/2011/03/were-nazis-atheists.html. Are you arguing that WWII was caused by religion?

    Other points:
    - Are you telling me there was no atheism before Darwin? The origin of species was published in 1859. Wikipedia states that "The first individuals to identify themselves as "atheist" appeared in the 18th century."
    - "Alcohol and opiates are the atheists means of finding comfort and solace and are their equivalent of prayer." What? Granted the drugs, but so religious people not drink at all? Come on!

  15. UK: 1. The Nazis weren't atheists.
    2. Darwin was Agnostic
    3. The last statement you reference regarding drugs and alcohol from the earlier poster is so stupid it defies rebuttal. It is just as illogical as suggesting that Orthodox Judaism lends people to seek comfort and solace by overeating and an unhealthy diet..

  16. Religion is the opiate of the people. Karl Marx.

    Opiates and alcohol are the religion of atheists. Jacob Stein

  17. JP: You are dodging my question and not for the first time...

    Please answer this question: If you say that Darwin started the 'religion' of atheism, how come there were people before Darwin claiming to be atheists?

    As a side note, there are plenty of atheists (like a colleague of mine at work) that don't drink or do drugs.

    But then again, I can't force you to think out of the box you currently are in and refuse to come out of. Perhaps a joint would do you good?

  18. @jewish philiosopher read the article posted here again...

  19. UK: I believe my previous point is well illustrated. Repeating the same statements incessantly without regard to fact, meta-study, verification or overwhelming data to the contrary can be considered the sign of a weak intellect or pathological illness.

  20. Darwin made atheism popular, respectable and allegedly scientific. Prior to him, atheists were a few outcasts and crackpots.

    Some atheists may be involved in alcohol and opiates only minimally, just like some Jews may rush through prayers. Many atheists however are very devout in their observance.

    This is why Prohibition failed and the War on Drugs is failing. You have to eliminate the underlying religious beliefs. AA tries to do that my drilling into addicts monotheism.

  21. You're so clueless it's pathetic.