Monday, June 27, 2016

Is Atheism a Religion?

Caught this from The Immoral Minority. "My new mantra."  For a change I read all the comments, some of them are hilarious!  The post introduced this:

"Atheism is not a religion, it's a personal relationship with reality." (source)
Even before going to the source I saw this as humorous, as in how many people like to try and define their religion as a 'personal relationship with  . . . pick a deity of your choice.  In the comments a couple of other analogies were mentioned that I might be using in the future:
"Atheism is a religion like "bald" is a hair color.
Atheism is being religious just like NOT playing guitar makes one a musician.
Caught a few more from the source:
Atheism is a religion, like off is a T.V. channel.
Like good health is a disease
Like abstinence is a sexual position -Bill Maher
Atheism is a religion as much as not collecting stamps is a hobby- Penn Jilette
[Like] Mute is a musical genre
Many of the comments devolved into a common argument that Atheism is some sort of religion.  All you have to do is look up the definitions of both Religion and Atheism and you can see the differences.
Religion (Merriam-Webster):
: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group 
Atheism (Merriam-Webster):
a : a disbelief in the existence of deity
b : the doctrine that there is no deity
I am sure one of the anti-atheists will point to the third definition of religion and say something like "See, I told you Atheism is a religion", but I say not so fast!

When you are having a discussion, context is probably more important than any specific definitions that might exist.  I mean look at the definition of the word 'base'.  There are 9 different categories of 'base', everything from the 'opposite of an acid', a Air Force location, to the 'four corners of a baseball diamond'.  Context is what determines what definition applies to a given conversation.  More importantly, the context should remain consistent in a conversation in order for actual communication to occur.  

I mean can you imagine a baseball announcer saying "Jones just slid into third base, and while he was safe, the pH level of the base burned his exposed skin badly!" Huh?  Changing from one definition to another in mid-stream is a tactic . . . usually of the gutter variety . . . in order to try trip people up.

Let's look at the first definition of Religion:
"the belief in a god or in a group of gods"
When you are talking Christianity, Hindi, Muslim . . . or any of the thousands of Religions that exist, or have existed, this definition certainly applies.  Does this definition apply to Atheism?  Don't change any of the words . . . look at the definition!  No it cannot!  So when discussing the two, if you are keeping the context coherent, Atheism is not a religion, according to this definition.

Now for number two:
"an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods"
While I would say this is more for 'Organized Religion' than just 'religion', let's ask the same question, does this apply to Atheism?  No, it does not.  As soon as you mention worshiping a god or gods, you cannot apply this definition to Atheism.  Atheism is not a religion, again according to this definition.

Now for number 3:
": an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group "
Yes, this definition can apply to Atheism . . . but look how vague and general it is.  This definition can apply to damn near anything!  According to this, Baseball is a religion . . .OK that might be a bad example because I know some folks who do think baseball is a religion!  But look again, the Girl Scouts are a religion, according to this definition.  Hell's Angels, a High School band, a game of Stoop-Ball (NYC reference) . . . the club some of my buddies and I formed when we were 8 years old qualifies as well, our doctrine was "No Girls Allowed!".  Got a weekly poker game?  You didn't realize that it could meet the definition of a religion as well.

You could say some of these things aren't 'very important', but that would be an opinion.  I follow the NY Mets . . . but I don't consider Baseball to be very important . . . others don't share my interest and still others place a much higher value on it.  My club when I was 8 was of critical importance at the time, after girls had cooties :-).  I know a couple of guys who take their weekly poker game incredibly seriously, to the point of threatening their marriages and jobs!  It's up to the individual as to what level of importance something is, not anyone on the outside.  That's why this definition is pretty useless.

Why useless?  Think about context -- and look at the third definition again.  How many theists would use that to define their religion?  Be honest!  Therefore you cannot use this definition to make an apples-to-apples comparison between Atheism and Religion because theist wouldn't use this definition to frame a conversation about their religion.  It's too general to be useful.  That and all the bennies they get in the way of taxes and other things might dry up if belief in a deity wasn't involved, right?  

But as you read the comments from Gryphen's post, you see this sort of bait-and-switch happening. Some of the Anonymous comments certainly show that when discussing their beliefs, they are using definition one or two . . but when trying to claim Atheism is a religion, the only definition they can use is the third . . . which does nothing for their case.  They simply change the context, whether deliberately or without realizing it.

So, in my opinion, Atheism is not a Religion in any sense of the word.  It espouses no belief, it is not organized, there are no Churches establish for the non-worship of a non-deity.  Yes, there are some groups of like-minded people who have banded together, but while you can define them as a social or cultural group, they are not a religion any more than the live audience of America's Got Talent is . . . by definition.

One thing I haven't addressed is why, in my opinion, do people try and equate the two.  That's pretty easy.  When you artificially equate two things, you can more easily argue against one or in support of the other.  It's the same tactic calling Evolution 'just a theory', changing the definition of a scientific theory to the definition of the colloquial use of the term 'theory' is an effort to degrade what a scientific theory really means.  Calling Atheism a religion is a similar tactic.  Claiming a non-belief is actually a belief artificially equates the two and makes it easier to argue.  What theists who make such argument fail to realize is how amusing it is to watching the pseudo-logic you use to justify your position.  Gotta love things like:
"I think religion can be simply defined as a "system of beliefs". Under that definition, atheism is a system of belief that consists of "I only believe what can be proven"."
Look how the theist had to come up with their own definitions in order to equate the two! How entertaining is that?  Their definition of religion is nearly as useless as the third one from above, and their definition of Atheism is nonsensical.  Seriously, if that were the definition of Atheism . . . and Atheism is the polar opposite of Religion . . . then the theist's belief in a religion would be "I only believe in what cannot be proven." and be even sillier than their professed beliefs.

For the record I do not categorize myself as a theist, an atheist, or an agnostic.  I am an Apathist.  In other words, I don't care about your religious or non-religious beliefs -- well not until you try and force them on me.  Funny, I think I discovered another difference between the Theist and the Atheist, guess which one keeps trying to force me to comply with their beliefs?  You get one guess and it's not the Atheist.

Yes, I am sure some Theist is going to claim that Atheist efforts to remove mention of a deity from government-sponsored events is forcing their Atheistic 'beliefs' on me . . . but remember, who pushing their religion into those events in the first place?  For example the American Pledge of Allegiance did not originally include the phrase 'Under God' until 1954!  How many times have theists been pushing to have their religion taught in Science class or even History class , , , yes History as in the foolish claim that The US was established as a Christian Nation . . . that History.

While I do think that some Atheists go a little overboard.  I mean Christmas is more of a secular holiday nowadays, so whining when someone says "Merry Christmas" is a bit ridiculous.  But for decades Theists have pretty well had a free hand to define so many things with regard to their religion and forced other people to comply . .  like blue laws . . . I am one that hopes common sense eventually wins out, but looking at the current crop of politicians, I doubt it.

But back to the main point.  Atheism is not a religion and anyone who makes such a claim is building a strawman in order to take pot-shots at it.  Which means, at least to me, you have no actual argument and certainly no real defense for your theist beliefs . .  so you have to create artificial arguments in order to justify your belief set.  Good luck with that.

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