Before we get this started I have a question that I never heard a rational answer to:
Why is it a problem if someone considers atheism a religion? How does that hurt the atheists’ claim?
By calling atheism a religion, I am not hurling insults at the godless or trying to craft terms or apply them out of convenience. I do it simply because I have years of experience observing theists and atheists behaving in similar ways.
For example, many of the leaders of the atheist movement (such as Richard Dawkins) argue for atheism with a religious fervor. Atheism plays a role in the life of Dawkins, and other atheist leaders, similar to the role that Christianity plays in the life of a Christian minister or author.
So, if atheism is simply a “lack of belief” in god[s], why do so many who “lack belief” invest so much time, effort, and energy in it?
This has always seemed curious to me, as curious as some of the dogma atheists nealry unanimously cling to in order to keep their faith of disbelief from collapsing under it’s own weight. Dogma, someone could argue, that seems like a religion in itself.
The atheist philosopher of science Michael Ruse said “Evolution is a religion. This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.”
Ruse, M., How evolution became a religion: creationists correct? National Post, pp. B1,B3,B7 May 13, 2000.
Also within the “atheist religion”, there have been a number of atheist cults and atheistic groups which have had a cultish following. Some of these atheist cults/groups still exist today. In 2015, FtBCon, which is an online conference organized by the Freethought Blogs network, recognized that nonreligious/secular cults exist (for example, the atheist cult of objectivism)
And then there’s this. A Christian apologist attended the 33rd annual atheist convention in Seattle, Washington, in April of 2007, took notes, and reported some very peculiar behavior.
While sitting in the crowd and listening to speakers and watching the atheists’ reactions, it dawned on me how utterly religious they seemed to be.
No, I’m not saying they believe in a God; and I’m not saying atheism is a religion. But, they sure acted as though it were. Let me explain.
- No God, anti-God, pro-homosexuality, anti-Christianity.
- Atheism is a belief. I know that many atheists will disagree with this, but the atheists gathered around a common belief of no God, or lack of God, and the need to increase what they perceive as separation of church and state in America.
- Created a problem and offered a solution. The problem was religious oppression in society with atheistic ideals as the solution.
- Gathered in groups with meeting times. Atheists don’t meet nearly as frequently as Christians do in their churches, but they do have state meetings, national meetings, and regular gatherings.
- The lectern from which speeches were made, their ideas were promoted, and their reasons for their belief system were validated.
- The atheists sought converts to their cause. They frequently spoke about getting the idea of atheism out into society and to move people away from theism.
Celebration over converts
- Rejoiced when converts to their belief system were announced. There was applause and excitement when there were announcements about people who had “come out of the closet” and announced their atheism.
Zealous for their cause
- They wanted their cause and belief system expanded to the extent of changing America to reflect their thinking.
- Only they have the truth. The atheists repeatedly spoke of how atheism was the truth, and that theists and deists were ignorant of facts and reason.
Us against them mentality
- There was a profound description of the division between atheism and theism with the atheists being the ones who were defending themselves against the intrusive theists.
Concerned about public image
- This is normal. They were very concerned with how they were perceived and wanted to change their negative reputation.
Lack of critical thinking
- This is common everywhere. Though they thought they were rational, by far most of the arguments and comments weren’t.
Misrepresentation of opposing views
- Again, another common trait among people who gather in groups, have a common ideology, and see others as being less enlightened.
- The atheists mentioned voting as a group in order to progress their cause in society.
- This is normal for groups. We don’t all see eye to eye. But, they all held to atheism even though they had disagreements about some particulars.
- They didn’t have tithing, but there were plenty of things for sale. And, let’s not forget to mention how they sought donations to help cover the costs of promoting atheism, paying speakers, renting facilities, etc.
Not conclusive proof of anything but these are fascinating observations from a convention of disbelief which, in itself, reeks of absurdity.
Anyway, and regardless of what you may think of every single point on that list, I think this makes the statement, “Atheists are not a group of people with a common purpose or belief” null and void.
It might be true for some but clearly not for all.
Certainly not for members of an atheist church.
An organized community of lack of belief and lack of shared purpose? Come on.
While people do seem to have a natural disposition to worship, perform rituals, sing and celebrate together, feeling our separateness momentarily dissolve into the experience of a shared community of belief. The trouble is: it depends on what we worship. And, sans God, we tend to end up worshipping ourselves and a shared lack of belief.
Real community, the kind that you can rely on to give support in times of crisis, is made of something deeper and more demanding than the simple absurdities of singing ’70s songs or watching atheist comedians together. It means sharing a world of meaning which is hard to do if your shared belief is that life and the universe are essentially devoid of meaning. A universe that, as Richard Dawkins explained, “has no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life (1995)
In other words, real community involves a willingness, not only to gather together, but to sacrifice together in the name of higher ideals and a purpose greater than random chance and pitiless indifference.
Religions, unlike atheism, are able to create genuine communities because they have a shared sense of the holy, and are thus capable of inducing real humility that can only come from knowing how small we are in the sum total of things.
Not small in the sense that we are random and accidental specks of matter in a massive and meaningless universe but small yet redeemed from this smallness by the love and grace of creator who holds it all in His hands.
Atheism, however cultish and religious it may be, offers nothing.
So, is atheism objectively a religion?
You can think it isn’t, that’s fine, freedom of thought and all…but it sure can look like one to me.