What is the purpose of this post? sklyjd, like most Atheists, insists that Atheism is not a religion. Supposedly, Atheism is just a logical and rational disbelief in god, and such disbelief is not a religion (See Is atheism a religion? (atheistalliance.org), for example.). Here we will argue otherwise.
What is a religion? That is a subject I have written about before, IN THE LAND OF THOSE WHO STAND FOR NOTHING, HOW DO WE DEFINE RELIGION?. Here is a simple definition of religion.
Religion is the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of life. — Paul Tillich (from here)
Why do we have religious beliefs? We seek answers.
There are four big questions in life.
–Why am I here?
–What is right and wrong?
–What brings me meaning
–What happens to a human being when I die?
— List from Ravi Zacharias (an expert in Christian apologetics) who says there are Four Questions To Answer In Life.(=>http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hfb5-7mtC-8)
So, what answers do Atheists provide? That depends on the Atheist. As the diagram above shows, there is more than one kind of Atheist.
There are two basic forms of atheism: “strong” atheism and “weak” atheism. Strong atheism is the doctrine that there is no God or gods. Weak atheism is the disbelief in or denial of the existence of God or gods. Weak atheism is often confused with agnosticism, the lack of belief or disbelief in God or gods, and skepticism, the doctrine that the absolute knowledge of God’s existence is unobtainable by mere man. Many agnostics and skeptics are “practical atheists” in that they actively pursue an atheistic lifestyle. The exclusion of God necessitates moral relativism. (from here)
Just as there are various types of Theists, there exists more than one type of Atheist. Just as there are doctrinal differences between Theists, there are also doctrinal differences between Atheists. Therefore, just as different groups of Theists have their own distinct religious doctrines, so do different groups of Atheists. In fact, some Theists have more in common with some Atheists than they do with some Theists. What we believe about God greatly affects how we relate to our fellow human beings. Similarly, some Atheists have more in common with some Theists than they do with other Atheists. An Atheist does not have to be a cold-hearted soul. Even if a man espouses a disbelief in God, his heart may still drive him to love his neighbor. As we say, the Devil is in the details (phrases.org.uk).
Must Theists and Atheists be antagonistic? No.
Friendly atheism; William Rowe has introduced an important distinction to modern discussions of atheism. If someone has arrived at what they take to be a reasonable and well-justified conclusion that there is no God, then what attitude should she take about another person’s persistence in believing in God, particularly when that other person appears to be thoughtful and at least prima facie reasonable? It seems that the atheist could take one of several views. The theist’s belief, as the atheist sees it, could be rational or irrational, justified or unjustified. Must the atheist who believes that the evidence indicates that there is no God conclude that the theist’s believing in God is irrational or unjustified? Rowe’s answer is no. (Rowe 1979, 2006) (from here (iep.utm.edu))
Oddly, one of the world’s largest “religions”, Buddhism, is largely Atheistic. Yet most people (Americans, at least) don’t see Buddhists as hostile to their own beliefs. See SHOULD WE BECOME DETACHED FROM THE WORLD?.
Do Atheist churches exist? Buddhists complicate the answer to this question, but the answer is “no” for the groups we usually classify as Atheists. Atheists, at least in the sense that Theists, especially Christians, do not organize churches. Because the Bible distinguishes between the obligations we owe to the state and the obligations we have to God (Matthew 22:21), most Christians strongly object to state-run religious institutions. Other Theistic religions differ, but many countries now distinguish between church and state. State atheism (en.wikipedia.org) has, however been an integral part of the communist movement. Effectively, as far as communists are concerned, the state is the church.
If there is no single Atheist organization, what does the doctrine of Atheism look like? Let’s try going from general to particular and see.
Here is a general statement of what Atheists believe.
Presuppositions are important to us all. We look at the world through them. The atheist has a set of presuppositions, too. As I said, there is no definitive atheist organization that defines the absolutes of atheism, but there are basic principles that atheists, as a whole, tend to adopt. I’ve tried to list some of them below. Please note, however, that not all atheists accept all of these tenets. The only absolute common one to which they hold is that they do not believe in a God or gods.
- There is no God or devil.
- There is no supernatural realm.
- Miracles cannot occur.
- There is no such thing as sin as a violation of God’s will.
- Generally, the universe is materialistic and measurable.
- Man is material.
- Generally, evolution is considered a scientific fact.
- Ethics and morals are relative.
(from here (carm.org))
What about a particular type of Atheist or an Atheist sect? Let’s use the “New Atheists to provide an example. What is the New Atheism? (gotquestions.org)
Answer: The early 21st century has seen secularism and atheism promoted throughout the Western world with an ever-increasing vigor and militancy. This has led to the emergence of the “new atheists,” notable members of which include best-selling authors such as Sam Harris, Daniel Dennett, Richard Dawkins, and Christopher Hitchens. (continued here)
Here are some of the things the New Atheists believe.
❄ There is something called “Faith” which can be defined as unjustified belief held in the teeth of the evidence. Faith is primarily a matter of false propositional belief.
❄ The cure for faith is science: The existence of God is a scientific question: either he exists or he doesn’t. “Science is the only way of knowing – everything else is just superstition” [Robert L. Park]
❄ Science is the opposite of religion, and will lead people into the clear sunlit uplands of reason. “The real war is between rationalism and superstition. Science is but one form of rationalism, while religion is the most common form of superstition” [Jerry Coyne] “I am not attacking any particular version of God or gods. I am attacking God, all gods, anything and everything supernatural, wherever and whenever they have been or will be invented.” [Dawkins]
❄ In this great struggle, religion is doomed. Enlightened common sense is gradually triumphing and at the end of the process, humanity will assume a new and better character, free from the shackles of religion. Without faith, we would be better as well as wiser. Conflict is primarily a result of misunderstanding, of which Faith is the paradigm. (Looking for links, I just came across a lovely example of this in the endnotes to the Selfish Gene, where lawyers are dismissed as “solving man-made problems that should never have existed in the first place”.)
❄ Religion exists. It is essentially something like American fundamentalist protestantism, or Islam. More moderate forms are false and treacherous: if anything even more dangerous, because they conceal the raging, homicidal lunacy that is religion’s true nature. [Sam Harris]
❄ Faith, as defined above, is the most dangerous and wicked force on earth today and the struggle against it and especially against Islam will define the future of humanity. [Everyone]
(from here (theguardian.com))
What is distinctive about the New Atheism? The new Atheists are much more militant than the “old Atheists”. Consider. Would Atheists have any interest in protecting the religious beliefs of Theists? That probably depends upon their attitude towards our civil rights. Are our rights God-given or given to us by government? A weak Atheist may not believe in God, but a weak Atheist may still, for some ill-defined reason, think that each of us has innate rights. A strong Atheist (and the new Atheists are strong Atheists), however, tends to believe in power, that might makes right. Hence, we can only have rights to the extent the state defines and enforces those rights.
What do I think is the doctrine of strong atheism? This doctrine involves the things Atheists put before God: getting stuff, enjoying sex, justifying themselves with science, finding security in power of the state, and self glorification.
STUFF: Without the desire to please God, we define success by the stuff we have. Socialism is popular because it is based upon covetousness.
SEX: Without the belief in God to activate our consciences, we elevate our own pleasure over the rights of others. For the sake of sex, we sacrifice babies — abort them — in sacrifice to this idol.
SCIENCE: Without God to help us define truth, we use science (our own knowledge and understanding) to justify our unbelief. That is, we use science to justify ourselves, not to determine the truth. This is what Nazis and the Communists did and still do.
STATE: Without God to hold us accountable — because we know we each belong to Him — we sacrifice each other’s rights to the almighty state. If power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely, that’s an act of irrational faith. Trusting the state means trusting powerful, ambitious men and women, that is, trusting people we have no good reason to trust.
SELF: Without God, we each become our own god. Without God, we each pursue our own glorification. Without God, we measure ourselves against each other. We ask ourselves: “Am I better than you?” This is perhaps why slavery has been so commonplace. Slavery is the most visible manifestation of the worship of the self. The Bible says we belong to God, that God grants us our rights. However, if there is no God and government grants us our rights, then the strong have the right to own the weak because of their might. In a Socialist state, the elites use the government to elevate themselves and to own the people.