Atheism As A Religion
Disclaimer: As with everything on theSprout, the views expressed in articles are those of the authors and not necessarily those of theSprout.
Before I begin, let me start by saying that I am not religious. However; this doesn’t make me an Atheist any more than not smoking would make me an anti-smoker (or non-smoker). I simply don’t smoke and have never done so, but I hold no intolerance towards smokers or judge them for their habit/addiction. If I were an anti-smoker, or non-smoker, then I would be opposed to the act of smoking. I am much the same when it comes to religion.
I’d like to begin by defining Atheism; Wikipedia describes it as follows:
“Atheism is, in a broad sense, the rejection of belief in the existence of deities. In a narrower sense, atheism is specifically the position that there are no deities. Most inclusively, atheism is simply the absence of belief that any deities exist.”
Now this is quite a simple concept, which basically says that if you’re not religious then you’re an atheist. And, if you don’t include the ‘on-the-fence’ way of thinking, then that’s true; you’re either religious or you’re not. But, as I’ve already alluded to, there is a third option; Agnosticism. This is described as a simple indecision on the existence, or non-existence, of deities, and/or as an acknowledgement that human reason/understanding is currently incapable of comprehending whether or not any deities exist.
So let me take this opportunity to, contentedly, make a statement.
I am Herm Holland, and I am an agnostic,
When looking at religious beliefs I have always been uncertain. I have always struggled to believe in any religion, or accept any of them over the questions that my logic throws in the way. I have been open to religions and their ideologies, and have tried on more than one occasion to adhere to and accept religions on their own merits, with no successes. I sometimes envy religious people for the comfort their beliefs seem to provide, but I’ve never been able to join their ranks. And for most of my life, I thought that whether or not you believe in a deity, or deities, was the only question regarding Theism, Atheism, and Agnosticism.
Oh, how wrong I was.
As I’ve gotten older, and as I’ve understood more about religion, I’ve been shown that it’s not as simple as what deity/deities you believe in, but the details, guidelines, history/lore, and lifestyle that go along with each religion. For example, when looking at Christianity it is apparently not good enough to say whether or not you’re a Christian; there are all sorts of strains of Christianity that – essentially – believe in the same deity: God. Some of these are: Catholicism, Protestantism, Baptism, Evangelical, Church of England and so on. Even then there are some sub-strains, like Roman Catholic.
The problem with all of these different religions is that many religious people don’t treat other people of different religions with tolerance, which has resulted in holy wars, religious extremism, anti-Semitism, and so on. As with many people, this has always been something that really upsets me about religion, and remains a continuing deterrent against religion in addition to the simple “Do I or don’t I believe” question that’s already there.
Then there is the problem that religions are constantly trying to enlist more and more people to their cause. Sure, on the surface there is no problem with wanting people to agree with something you feel strongly about, but how many people have been told they’re going to Hell because they don’t believe? How many have been given leaflets saying much the same when idly going about their business? How many people’s privacy has been invaded by someone knocking on their door and preaching the same message at them? Bearing in mind that, in the Western world, “go to Hell” is an aggressive insult, as well as the fact that this is a threat of eternal suffering if you don’t agree with these religions.
There are many different examples of these sorts of problems I can give, of the intolerance, the fear mongering, the hypocrisy, the bigotry of religion, and I could be here for weeks talking about it. There are also tonnes of public figures or well-known works that preach this message too. A few examples of which are George Carlin, Richard Dawkins, and the Zeitgeist movie.
Wait, what? “Preach this message”? That can’t be right, let’s take a closer look at that.
In modern society, there has been a major change in the public image of Atheism. There seems to be a major war against religion that has been gaining strength more and more notably over the past decade or so.
Sure, the “Reason vs. Religion” battle is nothing new, but at least since the 9/11 tragedy there seems to be a much higher profile on the fight.
Whether its the cartoon image of Mohammed, the South Park ‘Super Friends’, the female artist wearing a Burqa on her head but no other clothes, public attacks on – or mockery of – religion seems to be more in vogue than ever before. It has become fashionable to attack, or make fun of, religion and the whole movement seems to be becoming a beast all of its own.
Regardless of the fact that Atheism is an easily definable position on belief and faith, the term has now become associated with something less about the lack of belief in any deities, and more about the active deposition and opposition to all types of Theism. It would be far more appropriate to call this movement ‘Antitheism’, a name that I will use for this movement from now on.
Put it this way; an easy way to describe some religions is as follows:
A belief structured around deity/deities, often including a mortal representative on Earth, with beliefs that guide moral and social etiquette, and provides guidelines therein, often documented within a textual symbol.
Broken down, then, there are four ingredients that can be used to describe many religions:
- Deity/deities – Abstracted entity ordained as judge, jury, and executioner based on self-declared guidelines
- Mortal representative – A human-identification figure that acts to define and demonstrate the guidelines and parameters for living
- Moral and social guidelines – Dogmatic description of how people should live and how they should treat others
- Textual symbol – A body of text that serves as a central point of reference for the above
A working example of this could easily be Christianity, which would fit these ingredients as follows: -
- Deity/deities – God
- Mortal representative – Jesus Christ, the Son of God
- Moral & social guidelines – The 10 Commandments (and more)
- Textual symbol – The Holy Bible
This, I believe, is a fairly clear way to depict some religions, but I will concede that it doesn’t apply to all religions. I also understand that it’s a very over-simplified way to look at religion. It is, however, good to demonstrate a point.
Antitheism is another example of a belief structure that fits this template, as disagreeable as this may be:
- Deity/deities – Reason
- Mortal representative – Richard Dawkins
- Moral and social guidelines – To demonstrate intellectual and ethical superiority, and to attack Theism in general
- Textual symbol – The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
I’ve described a deity as an “Abstracted entity ordained as judge, jury, and executioner based on self-declared guidelines” this can easily apply to the logic, reason, and apparent common sense that antitheists have put on a golden throne (metaphorically speaking). I’ve dubbed this Antitheist ‘deity’ “Reason” (capital ‘R’).
On the coattails of the success of his literature, as well as any number of debates, speeches, and talks, Richard Dawkins has become a poster boy for Antitheism, and a spokesperson for Reason. Therefore he falls comfortably into the role of mortal representative for Antitheism.
It seems to be that the moral and social guidelines for Antitheism are the requirement to openly and frequently vocalise your intellectual and ethical superiority over religious people whilst also attempting to destroy the credibility of any and all religious beliefs.
One of the most highly acclaimed, highly praised, and highly discussed texts in the Antitheist library seems to be The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins. There are many other books, as well as films, songs, and so on that could fit the bill for textual symbol, but none so praised, and almost worshipped, as The God Delusion. So this easily takes the place of textual symbol.
Even though technically Antitheism can’t count as a religion, based on the simple definition of religion requiring an actual deity/deities (and Antitheism’s opposition to exactly that) it is definitely a point of note how close Antitheism comes to being a religion without actually being one. And this becomes clearer as the comparison continues.
Before this comparison begins, I think it’s important to say that comparisons between Reason and any religious deities would be futile due, simply, to the fact that Science doesn’t have the answers to everything, as well as the fact that religion doesn’t provide any proof to any of its claims. And then, even on the surface, it’s obvious that Theism and Antitheism is going to differ in the deity front. Therefore there is no reason, or profit, in discussing this point.
Now that’s over with, I’ll carry on with the comparison.
Some of the main criticisms of Theism from Antitheists are that Theists push their beliefs down other peoples’ throats, they try and brainwash people into their cause, they promote bigotry and negative and hostile judgement towards people who believe differently and their beliefs are outdated and lack common sense.
All of these criticisms are reasonable where they are correct and appropriate, but before you cast stones you need to make sure you are without sin.
So to begin with, the first problem I listed was pushing your beliefs down other peoples’ throats.
As I’ve mentioned before, there are so many people preaching on the streets, going door to door, handing out leaflets, preaching on television, giving speeches and sermons, and this is the sort of forceful message-pushing that is being talked about.
What, then, would you class things like the Atheist Film Festivals, the movie Zeitgeist, the book The God Delusion, Evolution: The Musical, uncountable talks by Richard Dawkins and other pioneers of Reason, rants by comedians like George Carlin and Tim Minchin? There is so much internet propaganda about the arguments against Theism, and uncountable TV programs and literary works all preaching the Antitheistic message. It has become quite fashionable (mostly in the form of ‘memes’) to attack Theism and religious people.
The same methods are used by Antitheists, as much as the Theists they criticise, all in the name of brainwashing people to their cause.
Next is that Theism promotes bigotry, hostility, and negative judgement towards people of differing faiths. This is demonstrated by things like religious homophobia, Anti-Semitism, threats of damnation for those who worship other gods, and religion-based male supremacy.
Antitheism is at least as guilty of this same aggression toward the fabled ‘other people’ with their aggression towards Theism and Theists, often commenting on their inherent stupidity for being just what they are. Antitheists often talk about religion in a wholly derisive tone, designed to make anyone religious look like idiots. You only need to listen to Richard Dawkins replying to “fan mail” [Sub-Ed note: video contains swearing] to see that he’s throwing petrol on the fire set to burn him, or listen to George Carlin’s Religion is Bull**** rant, or to look at the myriad groups on Facebook that mock and look down upon religious people (a prime example being the Sexy Atheists group).
The last criticism in the list I’ve provided is that their beliefs are outdated and lack common sense. The simple fact that a lot of (if not most of) religions have beliefs that have barely changed for hundreds of years should be fairly indicative that they are outdated, but people can still identify with them just as much as people can with ancient Greek philosophers, or William Shakespeare. Even though when reading some of the theories of Socrates, or even far more recently Sigmund Freud, they can be absolutely laughable. Nevertheless they are still a large part of science and reason, as we know it. Just because something is old, that doesn’t mean it’s no longer relevant to modern life. In fact, it means that the ideas are strong enough to stand the many tests of time. And if religion is questionably dated, then Reason is at least as guilty of the same.
Then there is common sense. Note that this is common sense as dictated by Reason, and is about as admissible as judging the common sense of Judaism by the common sense of Islam. They are completely different beliefs and cultures, where no single side can absolutely be judged by the standards of another. Who is to say that Reason and science have the authority over the rest of the world?
Arguably, all of these points blur into obscurity when put up against the death count of people in the name of religion. I can’t argue with the fact that the amount of people who have died in the name(s) of one or more deities is absolutely atrocious, and I won’t. What I will say, though, is that these religions have had far more time (in far more brutal periods of human development) to conduct these atrocities than the Antitheists, and did so out of major intolerance for “other people” which, as I’ve already pointed out, the Antitheists are just as guilty of. If these followers of Reason don’t get their intolerance in check there will be danger of them causing the same sort of bloodshed that the targets of their criticisms have been responsible for.
It is worth noting, too, that religions sponsor countless charities, and causes, designed to help people, cultures, and so on that aren’t always subscribers to their beliefs. Regardless of their levels of success, this is an incredibly important point to remember; religions try to help people constantly. All this Antitheism seems to do is attack, criticise, and try to debunk religions without counterbalancing their negativity with any real charitable actions. You’ve got to wonder whether the death count for Antitheism would be as high (if not higher) if it had been around for as long as these religions have.
Of course, that idea is quite fantastical, hyperbolic even, but it does illustrate a point. And the point, simply, is that for all of its superiority, and claims that it is more ethical, logical, civilised, intelligent, and generally better than Theism; Antitheism is just as bad (if not worse for its blind hypocrisy) than it claims religion is.
I will not say that I agree with religion/Theism, its track record, or the hatred it encourages. The violence incited by religion is not ignorable, unforgivable, and one of the major reasons why I could not subscribe to any religious beliefs. I can, however, say almost exactly the same about Antitheism (changing only the term “religious beliefs”).
In closing, I’d like to return to the Smoking-Religion metaphor I used earlier, and leave you with a quote:
“How many non-smokers do we have here?
[You] bunch of whining little maggots...
... You obnoxious, self-righteous slugs.
Don’t take that wrong.
I’d quit smokin’ if I didn’t think I’d become one of you.
You are the worst advertisement for non-smoking, you know that?”
Bill Hicks – One Night Stand, HBO (1991)
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