Atheism is NOT a religion

Not only is atheism not a religion, but as an atheist and a sceptic, I believe that it is a colossal mistake to debunk any specific religion.

Over the weekend, somebody shared a thought on an atheist Facebook group I follow, that went something like this, “If you made [your atheism] a new religion, what would you call it?” I commented there, but this post is intended to be a more thorough answer than what I could say in a two line comment.

As an atheist, I am often accused of being “religious” in my atheism. It gets worse than that… since we atheists are a minority in a credulous world, we tend to find each other and stick together. Thus many atheist Facebook groups and pages exist. This gives an impression that atheism is an ideology, or a religion. But it isn’t. Atheism is not a common set of beliefs holding people together. On the contrary, our only common denominator is that we don’t believe in any theistic god.

Theists tend to perceive all systems of belief, and into this they erroneously include atheism – despite the fact that atheism is really a lack of belief, in terms of their personal theistic belief. If one thinks about this, this is necessary, in that a sincere belief in god and the theistic explanation of anything that opposes that god must mean, in the mind of the believer, that anyone who disbelieves in that god has fallen under the influence of that god’s opposing entity. For example, if you accept your particular god is the one true god, and any idea that opposes belief in that god comes from “evil”, for example Satan, then atheism is equivalent to the worshipping of Satan. (Never mind that Satan is just as imaginary as God.) It’s a classic false dichotomy: If you don’t accept my god, you must be in league with my devil.

This allows the theist to construct a straw man of what he or she believes atheism to be. In my opinion, framing atheism as a religion serves only to bolster their straw man view of atheism. Doing so is a mistake, a massive error that should be avoided at all costs.

Likewise, as somebody who was brought up as a Christian, I tend to perceive all theism in terms of my own religious indoctrination. It doesn’t matter that I long ago rejected that indoctrination; it still forms the foundation of my own impression of theism. What this means is that if I should try to debunk theism with specific examples, I will end up debunking only a small subset of Christianity, and not address the fundamental problems inherent in all theistic ideologies.

That is, I could come up with many examples, some of which are:

  1. Jesus walked on water? Obviously that never happened.
  2. Jesus was born of a virgin? Impossible. I could go on about how a god that exists outside of the physical realm couldn’t possibly impregnate a (physical) virgin, or tell you that this idea was borrowed from many other older religions, but I’d be wasting my time.
  3. Jesus turned water to wine? Oh, don’t be silly.
  4. Jesus rose the dead? Sure, that happens all the time. Also, ditto for other religions.
  5. All that nonsense about the Pharisees? Clearly added by preachers who were critical of other preachers after the demise of Jesus, assuming he existed at all.
  6. Noah’s Ark… This weekend I took my son to the zoo, and even at seven years old, he understands that the zoo is a large place, with separate enclosures for different animals. Let’s not even get into the logistical impossibility of storing all species in one big boat, or how to stop them defecating all over and eating each other. Let’s forget that one could mathematically calculate the number of species of animals that have evolved (or been created?) since then, and that the numbers relating to the rate of increase of species makes no sense. Let’s forget all of that. What I want to know is, if there was a worldwide flood, where the heck did all that water go? (Oh, I know that you’ll probably say that it froze into the polar ice caps. Overnight. Never mind that your bible doesn’t say so.) Also where is the geological evidence of this world-wide deluge?

All that and more is a waste of time. All I’ve done, in the mind of the believer, is construct a straw man. The fact is, there are so many different denominations of Christianity alone, a reader might read this and say “But I don’t believe in any of that”. Or they might find ways of justifying why they do believe in some of it (but I took it “out of context”), or maybe it’s all allegorical. Yet to them it might be allegorical sometimes and not other times. Or they might believe in some of it sometimes but not other times. Contradictory beliefs are part and parcel of theism, where cognitive dissonance is the norm, and motivated reasoning is required to reconcile those contradictory beliefs. No matter what I say, no believer is ever going to stop believing; instead they will believe it with even greater conviction, resenting my logical arguments that cause them (subconscious) distress such that hanging onto those delusional beliefs becomes even more important.

A theist who isn’t Christian might read my anti-Christian arguments and say, “Of course that doesn’t make sense! Christianity is a false religion. [Insert some other deity here] is the true god.” On the other hand, many atheists like to bring up all the gods that were ever worshipped, and point out to believers that atheism is the rejection of “just one more god”. But this makes a flawed assumption about theists: It assumes that they all believe in only their god, and that all others are false. Not every theist has this view. Another view may be that we somehow have an instinctual or universal inbuilt “knowledge” of our creator. Thus some theists might believe that all religions are correct, in spite of their contradictions, and some people do, in fact, switch from one religion to another while remaining secure and sincere in their beliefs.

To conclude, framing atheism as a religion is a momentous error. It pulls you into a straw man argument such that you will end up defending atheism in terms of a religious ideology, which it most certainly is not. There is no evidence that any god exists or that anything at all was created by any god. There is plenty of evidence that man created all gods, as a means of explaining existence. The argument that a creator exists, simply because I cannot prove otherwise, is nothing more than an argument from ignorance. In my opinion, if we should debate theists, which I do not like to do because it never gets anywhere, this should be our starting point: Evidence versus argument from ignorance. Framing atheism as a religion, or arguing about moralistic fallacies, or even considering debating anybody who states that the words in the bible “prove God exists” is a foolish waste of time and effort.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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2 Responses to Atheism is NOT a religion

  1. Your blog got me thinking about what I am, since my students often ask. I’m not an atheist, but I’m not exactly a theist either. Agnostic is probably truly what I am. I don’t believe in organized religion and I believe that if a god exists, there is only one God and all the religions actually worship the same God even if their mythos says otherwise. But I don’t think we can prove it either way and really it doesn’t matter. I abandoned my Catholic faith in high school when I realized that religions condemn those that don’t believe even if the person being condemned lives their life according to the values taught by the church. I couldn’t accept that God would send the most virtuous people I’d ever met to hell because they didn’t believe in him.

    Being agnostic isn’t a religion either. I think the lack of religion really confuses some religious people.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jerome says:

      I had beliefs similar to your for a while, and I’m not sure when exactly I switched over to being atheist. I also used to think that all religions worshipped the same god without knowing it, and was appalled at the atrocities committed in the names of the various religions. I figured that if there was a god, he wouldn’t punish me for being a good person, and likewise wouldn’t punish anybody else who was brought up to believe in a different god. But at some point I stopped saying IF and didn’t believe at all. I can still say “if there is a god” but in a different context… I believe all gods ever worshipped were created by man, and don’t see the need for a god.

      Like

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