Atheism is Not a Religion

This particular falsehood crops up, often, in debates surrounding religion and its intrusion into the affairs of state.  Let’s get this straight.  Atheism is the belief that there is no God.  That’s it.  A single belief.

A religion is a system of beliefs grounded in faith.  It contains traditions and instructions on how best to live.

Atheism is often claimed as being religious or faith based in an effort to make arguments grounded in religion seem sound.  There’s a very obvious ulterior motive at play.

Steph’s Blog, home to some of the more interesting posts out there, has unfortunately provided a very good example of the fallacious reasoning that pegs atheism out to be a religion:

Atheism is an irrational faith based belief system because unlike agnosticism, atheism asserts that God doesn’t exist, that belief can’t be proved by evidence or rational argument, it’s a leap of faith. It’s the logical equivalent of Dawkins saying that he has never experienced the female orgasm so it doesn’t exist.

Note the ad-homimen.  Classssy.  Also utterly wrong.

Faith is the acceptance of a belief without the involvement of the usual epistemic suspects: logic or evidence.  Atheism is the result of paying attention to the host of attempts throughout history to prove the existence of God through the use of logic.  It is one conclusion on can reach, and although I do not agree with it, it can hardly be called an “irrational faith based belief system”.  That’s textbook ignorance.

As a faith based belief system, atheism is no more or less valid than any other, including my own: Catholicism. But as a political ideology, atheism has proved a good deal more nihilistic and genocidal than religion has during the 20th Century: Fascism, Nazism and Bolshevism were all secular ideologies, and far more wars have been fought over secular motives, than have ever been fought over religious ones.

This is where Steph steps over the line.  War isn’t a counting game.  Some wars have been fought over who, how and whether people worship.  These wars are an abomination and condemnation of the people pretending to fight in the name of religious principles.  But saying wars fought over land or natural resources are “atheist” wars is searingly idiotic.  Religion has historically had an element of social control associated with its structure and execution.  Thus some governments sought to clamp down on it or exploit it.  The nazis where actually opposed to atheism.  Theirs was a Christian movement (note that they did persecute Christians who did not follow their own particular brand).

But secularism is nothing more than regressive bigotry – it’s a throwback to the religious intolerance of the Nazis and it’s as fundamentalist as any American Evangelical sect. There is no room for compromise in secularism – religion is bad – so must be obliterated from all spheres of public life; children must be force fed an areligious eduction based on the lie that it is rational and desirable to believe that God doesn’t exists; and those who adhere to religious beliefs prohibited and punished from observing the tenets of their faith.

Steph’s attack on secularism is no more sensible than her attack on atheism.  The ideal of a secular government, as opposed to the alternative, a theocratic government, is a government that does not recognize an official state religion.  Perhaps the idea of the government enforcing its rule on a Catholic (Steph is in the UK) isn’t shocking when the Church of England is the dominant religious institution.  But I invite Steph to stretch her imagination and envision living in a country where her religion is significantly different from the dominant religion.

Discussion of religion in school is fine.  Officially teaching one religion to all students as though it were fact is religious bullying.  A secular state does not “prohibit and punish” people for “observing the tenets of their faith”.  It protects the right to practice or not practice as one sees fit, and ensures the government will never force a particular religion onto unwilling citizens.

In a world so warped by religious strife, we need more secular states and values.

I’d like to be extra clear on the point of the secular state.  In a secular state:

  • You are free to practice/worship or not as you wish

In a non secular state (a theocratic state) any of the following could apply:

  • The official state religion is taught in schools
  • Laws are based in the state religion’s scripture
  • You are not allowed to worship freely unless it is in the state approved manner

A secular country is one that understands and upholds freedom.

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4 Responses

  1. One thing I learned in Law School is that understand any concept one must understand the language that creates said concept. Thus one must know the definitions of said words that serve as building block of language and in turn of concepts at hand. In other words, dictionaries are useful so consult them before trying to redefine anything.

    Example:

    Secular (according to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary)

    Main Entry:
    1sec·u·lar Listen to the pronunciation of 1secular
    Pronunciation:
    \ˈse-kyə-lər\
    Function:
    adjective
    Etymology:
    Middle English, from Anglo-French seculer, from Late Latin saecularis, from saeculum the present world, from Latin, generation, age, century, world; akin to Welsh hoedl lifetime
    Date:
    14th century

    1 a: of or relating to the worldly or temporal b: not overtly or specifically religious c: not ecclesiastical or clerical

    2: not bound by monastic vows or rules; specifically : of, relating to, or forming clergy not belonging to a religious order or congregation <a>

    3 a: occurring once in an age or a century b: existing or continuing through ages or centuries c: of or relating to a long term of indefinite duration

    Atheism

    Main Entry:
    athe·ism Listen to the pronunciation of atheism
    Pronunciation:
    \ˈā-thē-ˌi-zəm\
    Function:
    noun
    Etymology:
    Middle French athéisme, from athée atheist, from Greek atheos godless, from a- + theos god
    Date:
    1546

    1archaic : ungodliness, wickedness

    2 a: a disbelief in the existence of deity b: the doctrine that there is no deity

    Nothing about it being a faith or a believe system.

    [Edited: Fixed accidental broken a tag]

  2. Great post, but you’re wasting you’re time with Steph! The commentators on her blog aren’t particularly concerned with definitions, or answering any questions you pose. They demand proof of my own assertions, without giving any themselves. And when I gave them my evidence, it was blocked! I think you’re original comment was blocked too, because it linked to this post which completely dismantles their argument. Considering all their harping on about secularism (whatever they think that means!) being oppressive towards opposing views, it is a little hypocritical for them to censor dissenting opinion.
    Great blog by the way!
    Cheers
    Paul

  3. ralfast,
    Thanks for the insight. Its a subtlety not grapsed by Steph or folks who make arguments like hers. And judging from the absence of both the comment I made and the traceback, it appears as if she wasn’t prepared to tolerate for substantive debate on her post. Which is a shame.

  4. […] strict dogma, infallible leaders and notions of utopia. This is not secular humanism or atheism. Atheism is the belief there is no god. Nothing more. Secularism is the desire to keep institutions and […]

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