Sunday, August 10, 2008

Is atheism a religion?


CyberKitten said...

KP asked: Is atheism a religion?


Actually its pretty much the opposite to a religion. Atheism, as the name suggests, is simply a non-belief in God. End of story. It is not a belief system in itself and therefore cannot be a religion.

The idea is probably put forward by people who think that those without a stated religious belief need something comparatively similar to replace it. This is not the case - at least with me.

smithadri said...

Hi. Everyone is a believer. An atheist believes god does not exist. A humanist believes in the supremacy of man. If religion is defined as a belief system then everyone has a religion - what they believe about the world and what they assume based on faith - even if it is faith only in their senses or their ability to be rational. This may not be a traditional institutionalised religion though. Adrian

Jason Hughes said...

Who ever said religion was "a belief system"? To clarify, religion is a baseless belief system--unsubstantiated faith is all that is required to be a religion.

Everything else in life, from sex to sewer pipes, demands explanation, reasoning, observation, knowledge... Indeed, everything except this "god" person people keep on blathering about, as if he were in their kitchen just last night for evening tea, but the only "proof" you have is a "feeling" about it...

The baselessness of religious faith isn't even in the same category of faith based on knowledge, observation, logic and rational...

smithadri said...

thanks for your comment, though I'm not sure I agree with your definition. If definitions are a problem here, I'll use's one:

re·li·gion –noun
1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

(this is the first of about 5 or 6)

Can we talk about a religion as a belief in something transcendent then?
If so, then if an atheist doesn't believe in the transcendent then he is not in the classic sense 'religious.' Am I correct in assuming that all atheists do not believe in anything transcendent?

The question of what a belief in the transcendent may be based on is another discussion but I would venture that you don't know what I base my belief on at this point. The world as I experience it does demand an explanation that my faith corresponds quite well to. It does happen to be based knowledge, observation, logic and rational (thought) - although if you'd like an explanation it will have to wait until the next post.

CyberKitten said...

smithadri said: Am I correct in assuming that all atheists do not believe in anything transcendent?

I'm not sure that anything can be said about *all* atheists.

Also - What exactly do you mean by 'tanscendent'?

smithadri said: The world as I experience it does demand an explanation that my faith corresponds quite well to.

Yet my experience does not require such faith.... Maybe we are both seeing what we expect to see?

Kevin Parry said...

smithadri wrote:
A humanist believes in the supremacy of man.

Some humanists might, but I’m a little less enthusiastic about the idea that humans are somehow perfect: humans have the capability to do good, but also incredible harm. So I don’t hero worship 'Man', so to speak. But as a humanist, I do believe that the solutions to human problems can be found in humans themselves. This doesn’t mean we have all the solutions yet, and that we always apply solutions correctly, but we can work towards some good in some way by learning from our mistakes.

If religion is defined as a belief system then everyone has a religion - what they believe about the world and what they assume based on faith - even if it is faith only in their senses or their ability to be rational.

This might be true, but which belief has the least number of assumptions? The Christian is the one who believes in incredible events that defy the natural order, such as virgin births, people rising from the dead, parting seas, and such like. These events are incredibly alien to our everyday experience and current knowledge of how the world works; they are the ‘outliers’, the exception-rather-than-the-rule kind of phenomena. As an atheist, I base my beliefs on the rule-rather-than-the-exception. Both the Christian and atheist assume that there is an objective reality outside of ourselves, both believe in a natural order. As an atheist, the natural order – or the natural world – is all I need. The Christian, however, goes ahead and piles on a whole lot of ‘additional’ assumptions: the existence of the supernatural, God, demons and angels, hell, heaven, the soul, etc, etc. Thus the Christian belief is the belief that has much more – and I believe, largely unsupported – assumptions and claims. Don’t you think you are carrying a lot more ‘faith’, then, than the atheist?

Can we talk about a religion as a belief in something transcendent then?

As CyberKitten asked, what is your definition of transcendent? If you mean supernatural, then I would say that I don’t believe in the supernatural. But then I will be speaking as a naturalist and not really as an atheist (I wonder if there are atheists out there who believe in the supernatural?)

Thank you for your comments.


Jason Hughes said...

I do believe in things that are considered "supernatural" at this point, but I also believe that in time, with the progress of science, technology, and knowledge, most things people think of as ghosts, flying saucers and such will be explained for the natural phenomena they are...

So by default, you could say I believe in the supernatural only insofar as I believe there are natural explanations that haven't been realized yet...

Anonymous said...

Hello everyone! This is a very interesting discussion. I have some thoughts, especially regarding one of Jason's earlier comments.
First of all, understand that you will believe what you want to believe. If you are firmly convinced that there is no God, no amount of physical and logical evidence will change your mind. However, if you simply want to know the truth, whatever it may be, you have a chance of finding it.
There are stories in the Bible that we know to be true, like the story of Jericho's walls falling down, because of archaeological evidence. More importantly, lots of stuff that is real around us cannot be explained in any other way than through some big power.
And then there's those disciple guys.
Biblical Story: These guys follow Jesus around for awhile and see him do lots of miracles and stand up to The Man in the form of the Pharisees. Jesus dies. They see him resurrected, walking around and talking and eating fried fish on the beach. A few months later, after Jesus is in Heaven, they get courage and go out and tell people the story. The governement tells them to shut up. They don't.
That's what the Bible claims at least. But hang on a minute-Imagine you're one of those guys who spent a few years following this guy around. Let's say it's all a hoax. He dies. That's it. Naturally, you tell everyone he was resurrected, to save face. The government tells you to stop talking about it. What would you do if it was all fake?
The disciples talked even more. Perhaps, then, they truly did see Jesus...
Facts: Jesus lived. Jesus was crucified. Jesus died. Jesus was buried. The disciples claimed to have seen Jesus. The government warned these guys to stop talking about it. They didn't. All but one of the disciples was martyred.
BIG FACT: When Paul was about to be crucified, he asked to be crucified upside-down, because he wasn't worthy of dying in the same way as Jesus. Hmm.
So if it was fake, why did these guys do all this? Why didn't they just shut up? Why did Paul ask to be crucified upside-down? Good questions.
Anyways, You don't even have to know this stuff to believe. When I met God, it wasn't because I couln't argue with the archaeologists. It was because I did feel a joy. Sorry Jason, I know that you don't want to hear it, because what I feel isn't proof to anyone except me. But to me, I feel more excited, more alive, more full of joy than ever when I'm cool with God.
Some people do find the truth through cold hard facts though, and that sounds like you, so keep thinking about it logically and maybe you'll figure it out.

Anonymous said...

The dictionary definition of religion is: "the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices." So yes, atheism would be included in that definition.

Kevin Parry said...

Hi Anon

All the dictionary definitions that I have access to all link the word 'religion' to some aspect of the supernatural.

The definition that you have supplied seems somewhat inadequate. After all, I adhere to the belief that objects thrown into the air will come down, and that democracy is the best (but not perfect) system of governance. Are both these beliefs a form of religion, then? According to your definition, any belief is a religion.

Also, I haven't heard of atheists following a set of practices. I wonder what those would be.

Anonymous said...

The problem is, some people transform atheism into a religion. I have an atheist friend who keeps trying to convince me God doesn't exist, that religion or spiritualism is a delusion... I keep telling him that he's making the same mistake religious fanatics make - trying to convince me his belief is better and the truthful one - but he doesn't listen to me. He truly believes he's absolutely right. To me, it really doesn't matter if God exists or no, all that matters is that we live in peace and respect each other. But then we have the real problem: dogma. Humans are dogmatic about everything: if you like Piaget, you don't like Vygotsky, if you like yellow, you argue with those who like red... if we could simply respect the beliefs of others,things would be completely better. But humans love to fight and prove they're right... I think this was a little off topic, but well...

smithadri said...

Big up for peace, and respect. Certainly the respect for the right of someone else to believe something different. But (as I think someone famous must have said..) peace at what cost? and respect.. what exactly does respect mean - can I (must I - and in that case, says who, that's another discussion) respect the another person's belief that raping a child cures AIDS for example? There are certain things we can agree to differ peacably on because their impact on people and the world is fairly trivial, like red vs yellow. But I can't stand for that in deep moral differences like the one above can I?