Lynsey Call Professor Allen Call English 112 26 October 2010 Atheism & Religion Atheism, by definition, is “the doctrine or belief that there is no God” (Dictionary. com). If you cannot say “I believe in a Deity/God/Supreme Being” then you are an atheist. ” (Religion of Atheism). A religion has two components which must both be present. It is a system of ritual and belief. It is focused on a supernatural being or beings. “Some Atheists, for their own political reasons, assert that Atheism is not a religion but instead is the total absence of religion” (McGinnis).
Many Christians seem to believe that atheism is a religion, but no one with a fair understanding of both concepts would make such a mistake. Because it is such a common claim, it is worth demonstrating the depth of the mistakes being made. Presented here are the characteristics that define religions, distinguishing them from other types of beliefs, and how atheism does not even remotely match any of them. “Today, about 2. 3% of the world’s population describes itself as atheist, while a further 11. 9% is described as nontheist” (Atheism).
Perhaps the most common characteristic of religion is a belief in supernatural beings like gods. Few religions lack this characteristic and most religions are founded upon it. Atheism is the absence of belief in gods and there for excludes belief in gods, but it does not exclude belief in other supernatural beings. More important, however, is that atheism does not teach the existence of such beings and most atheists do not believe in them. Differentiating between sacred and profane objects, places, and times helps religious believers focus on their values.
Atheism excludes believing in things that are sacred for the purpose of worshiping gods, but otherwise has nothing to say on the matter, neither promoting nor rejecting the distinction. Many atheists probably have things, places, or times which they consider sacred. Most religions preach some sort of moral code. Atheists have moral codes, but they don’t believe that those codes are derived from any gods and it would be unusual for them to believe that their morals have a supernatural origin. “The Religion of Atheism is for the totally rrational person, which is why Atheists account for less that 10% of the population” (Religion of Atheism). More importantly, atheism doesn’t teach any particular moral code. Religions encourage these sorts of feelings, especially in the presence of sacred objects and places, and the feelings are normally connected to the presence of the supernatural. Atheists may experience some of these feelings, like awe at the universe itself, but they are neither encouraged nor discouraged by atheism itself. Belief in supernatural beings like gods doesn’t get you very far if you can’t communicate with them.
Religions teach how to talk to them, usually with some form of prayer or other ritual. Atheists don’t believe in gods so obviously they don’t try to communicate with any. An atheist who believes in some other type of supernatural being might try to communicate with it, but such communication is completely incidental to atheism itself. Religions are never just a collection of isolated and unrelated beliefs, they constitute entire worldviews based on these beliefs and around which people organize their lives.
Atheists naturally have worldviews, but atheism itself isn’t a worldview and doesn’t promote any one worldview. Atheists have different ideas about how to live because they have different philosophies on life. A few religious people follow their religion in isolated ways, but usually religions involve social meetings of believers who join each other for worship, rituals, prayer, etc. Many atheists belong to a variety of groups, but relatively few atheists belong to specifically atheistic groups. Atheists are notorious for not being joiners.
The truth is that atheism lacks every one of the characteristics of religion. Thus, it is not possible to call atheism a religion. They are completely different categories: atheism is the absence of one particular belief while religion is a web of traditions and beliefs. They aren’t even remotely comparable. So why do people claim that atheism is a religion? Usually this occurs in the process of criticizing atheism and/or atheists. It may at times be politically motivated because if atheism is a religion, they think they can force the state to stop “promoting” atheism by eliminating endorsements of Christianity.
This isn’t just a problem for atheists; given the importance of religion in society, misrepresenting atheism as a religion can undermine people’s ability to understand religion itself. How can we discuss matters like the separation of church and state, the secularization of society, or the history of religious violence if we don’t adequately define what religion is? “Atheism is neither religion nor faith, but the happy freedom from them. Declaring it to be otherwise, sadly, will not make it so” (Religion of Atheism).
Works Cited “Atheism | Define Atheism at Dictionary. om. ” Dictionary. com | Find the Meanings and Definitions of Words at Dictionary. com. Web. 22 Oct. 2010. <http://dictionary. reference. com/browse/atheism>. “Atheism. ” Atheism. Wikipedia, 25 Mar. 2010. Web. 22 Oct. 2010. <http://en. wikipedia. org/wiki/Atheism>. “Is Atheism a Religion? ” Wasteland Of Wonders. Web. 22 Oct. 2010. <http://www. abarnett. demon. co. uk/atheism/atheismreligion. html>. “The Religion of Atheism. ” PatriotNet – Home. 3 Feb. 2009. Web. 22 Oct. 2010. <http://patriot. net/~bmcgin/atheismisareligion. html>.