Something that comes to the mind of the non-believer who has heard that is the fact that believers usually say it with an intent to insult, as if having a religion were something bad. Well, don’t take it like that; what believers are doing is calling us “hypocrites” for criticizing their belief. Of course, the believer who does that, can’t understand that atheism by definition cannot be a religion.
Many things have been said about this, just like the example from the title. The Friendly Atheist even dedicated a post to the issue, but I can’t find. What he did is link to a video from that Youtube Demigoddes, ZOMGitsCriss. Here, see it for yourself.
Now, see it once again, because she is so hot you couldn’t pay attention to what really she said.
Ok. Cristina (her real name, if you didn’t know) answers to that religious guy who “can’t be talked away” from the idea that atheism is a religion. Cristina refutes each and everyone of his points.
What I want to do is something a little different. Every religion has certain elements that are common to every set of belief to qualify as such. I wrote about these “dimensions” earlier, and have been thinking about comparing them to atheism to see if it qualifies. So, let’s do it:
1. Ritual: Every religion has a ritual that must be followed. There 4 kinds of rituals, which are daily, weekly or monthly, yearly, and those of once in a lifetime. Daily are prayer or meditation, weekly are the mass or sabbath, yearly are Ramadan and Yom Kippur and once i na lifetime, marriage or visitation to Mecca.
What about atheism? Does atheism has a ritual that must be followed? Deny God, or read atheist blogs once a day? Go to the natural museum every month? Go to awesome atheist conventions every year? Meet Richard Dawkins? Of course not. All that stuff, while cool, is just purely optional. The average non-believer will seldom show his unbelief unless asked or provoked. So, no, atheism has no rituals. Next!
2. Myth: Ok, wait, myth does not mean a “lie”, it means more like a “story”, or account of events, that might be true or false, and upon which religion is based. This story is sacred for people and usually tries to answer difficult questions like “where do we come from”, “where are we going to” and finally, the story of our group. If you are thinking about the Adam and Eve myth, you are correct. The early inhabitants of my country, Peru, would explain their existence by the Apu Kon Tiki Wiracocha myth
This is Viracocha. He came out from the Titicaca Lake, created everything (but don't ask how the lake was already there, it's disrespectful) and then made mankind by breathing into stones. He didn't like, destroyed them with a flood and created new ones. Then went away. Nice story, isn't it?
So, do atheists have a story, that they are unsure is real or not, that is sacred, and that answers those questions? Obviously, not. No, evolution does not qualify. It is not sacred, it is not millennial and certainly is not telling us anything absolute. What we know about evolution is knowledge we have gained through studies by scientist, that have been put to trial and debunked or accepted. Might not sound perfect, but it’s much accurate than “this is a story that we all consider sacred”. So, no, atheists don’t have myths. Next!
3. Doctrine: This one is about the core beliefs of the religion. Has a lot to do with that word believers like to use a lot: Truth. Truth, here, truth there, Jesus is the truth, They hate me for saying the truth. Don’t you want to punch them in the face when they do it? I know, but we are civilized people who put over our shoulders the task of showing that “water is composed of hydrogen and oxygen” is “truth” while “God created everything” is not.
So, the doctrine can be separated in three parts. Pay attention:
- Theology, “Who gives the truth”: In many cases, God, a supernatural being. Sometimes it can also be a force, especially when talking about eastern religions.
- Cosmology, “Where to find the truth”: Well, where do you think? In the fucking bible, where else? But you don’t get it just by reading, you also have to pray and “transcend”, because the bible is different from other books.
- Soteriology: ”How to do what is truth”. Christianity, Islam and Judaism tell people they cannot help themselves, but need of God. So once they know how to do it, they must do it. On the other hand, Buddhists will say that people need to find they inner answer.
Now, what about atheists? First of all, non-believers usually talk about “fact”, not “truth”, because we are not arrogant enough to say we know it all (well, we usually know more). Who gives the truth? No God, no “force”, no nothing. No one. There is just no “truth”, just what we find after investigating our surroundings. Where is the truth? The truth is out there and anyone, with enough money, time and studies can find it, if we are talking about scientific facts. And how do we do it? Well, by not doing what believers do. That’s what the “a” in “atheist” is for. Next!
The Bible is the Truth because it is the word of God. We know it's the word of God because the Bible says it so; and we believe that because the Bible is the Truth.
4. Ethics: This one has to do with lifestyle, and how to be a good person or a bad person. Most of these “rules” will control money, sex and killing; commands (for example, the orthodox jews have more than 600 commands) and relationships with others. In other words, rules for almost everything
Those 2 commandments contain much more ethic than anything I've read from Christianity
Atheists and non believers tend to apply the “golden rule” as a way of knowing how to be a good or bad person. Also, scientific knowledge is applicable. Why support the gays in marrying? Because scientists say there is nothing wrong. To deny them such right is, well, to be an intolerant dick. Our "rules" tend to change according to the times in which we live. The society's ethics, as a whole, do that same thing. However, many religious people tend to stick to their outdated rules, even after facing the facts that prove those rules to be impractical, discriminatory and plain evil
5. Social life: Religion also have rules on how to behave with others inside or outside of the religion. They ask, what should be done with outsiders? Kill the infidels? Convert the unbelievers? Not give a shit about their behavior? Those kind of questions. It also addresses what to do with those inside. Who are the special people? The priests? The imams? What role do women have? Should we respect old people?
Atheists don’t have those kind of rules to treat different those who are or not unbelievers. We just treat everyone like an equal, and if not, well, it’s not like there is a written rule to do so. We tend to respect scientists, but not because they are something especial, but because they know something more than us and can show us what they know. Anyone can gain that knowledge, which is nothing especial. That is why we tend to cite them so often. They are not especial people chosen by someone, or with some kind of authority (other than scholar authority) over us. It's thanks to them that we understand reality. If we wanted to understand, let's say, laws, then we get a lawyer. Build a house? An engineer. Next!
6. Experience: It’s about what goes inside the person and what their feelings are. Religions have two kind of moments related to the sacred: “Mysticals” in which they feel great unity with god; and “Numinous” in which they fear it and understand how small they are.
In the US there is a prevalence for numinousity, understanding how little we are and how we can do more and never be content with what we have.
Then there is the “change” experience, which is the intensity of change: There are multiple births, in the idea that people can be “born again” and leave their life behind in order to start a new one. On the other hand, we have “once born”, in which a person is the same person as when he/she was born, and changes little by little
Non believers in general don’t have a relationship with the sacred, given that there is nothing sacred. We do have a relationship with our peers, in which we can have “mystical moments”, like when you kiss the girl you like for the first time, or when you see a friend you haven’t seen in years. Our moments in which we feel little are usually related to the circumstances, like when gaining a new job position and knowing that there is so much ahead. Nothing of that has anything to do with the sacred.
Finally, our change can be either gradual or sudden. There is no rule in this and it is usually affected by the circumstances. Like most of what we non-believers experience.
So, as you can see, atheism has no one of these “dimensions”. We do have situations in which we might behave in one way or another, the difference is that there is nothing written about it. We can do one or the other, we can behave in one way or another and we won’t be breaking any supposed rule.
We are free, we think free, we have no bounds based on the divine.
In other words, and more academically talking, atheism is not a religion.