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Atheism is a religion…and other nonsense.

Nonsense No. 1 “It is a religion of the unbelievers of the existence of God (regardless of how they conceive God to be) that have different doctrines as to the origin of the thought that there is no God.
You are as deluded as those religious people are. “

A lot of Christians have accused atheism as a religion. I even saw a book that says atheism is a religion based on how religion is defined. However, is atheism a religion?

The Encyclopedia of Religion defines religion this way:
In summary, it may be said that almost every known culture involves the religious in the above sense of a depth dimension in cultural experiences at all levels — a push, whether ill-defined or conscious, toward some sort of ultimacy and transcendence that will provide norms and power for the rest of life. When more or less distinct patterns of behavior are built around this depth dimension in a culture, this structure constitutes religion in its historically recognizable form. Religion is the organization of life around the depth dimensions of experience — varied in form, completeness, and clarity in accordance with the environing culture.

Daniel Dennett defines religions as social systems whose participants avow belief in a supernatural agent or agents whose approval is to be sought. That includes Buddhism and Jainism since both religions still believe in the existence of “devas” and demi-gods. The English word religion is clearly derived from the Latin word religio, as well as its cognates in other European languages, but the derivation of the Latin noun is uncertain. It is most commonly linked to one of two Latin verbs, religare (to bind or fasten) or relegere (to collect again, to go over again [as in reading]).

Friedrich Schleiermacher defined religion as a “feeling of absolute dependence” – absolute as contrasted to other relative feelings of dependence.

Lindbeck defines religion as, “a kind of cultural and/or linguistic framework or medium that shapes the entirety of life and thought… it is similar to an idiom that makes possible the description of realities, the formulation of beliefs, and the experiencing of inner attitudes, feelings, and sentiments.”

Therefore, in reading these definitions, we can say that atheism is not a religion since it’s not about anything that is ultimate regarding ultimate concerns on someone’s life. The rule is quite simple: atheism is about not believing in a supernatural being which people call god or gods.

William Alston suggested that the presence of an unspecified number of any of the following characteristics would make a set of cultural practices a religion:
(1) Belief in supernatural beings (gods).
(2) A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
(3) Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
(4) A moral code believed to be sanctioned by the gods.
(5) Characteristically religious feelings.
(6) Prayer and other forms of communication with gods.
(7) A world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. . . .
(8) A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the world view.
(9) A social group bound together by the above.
(Alston 1967, Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 7. New York, 1967. pp. 141–142)

Now that we have some proper definition of what religion is, we can now start to determine if these Christians are right in declaring atheism as a religion.

Atheists do not believe in supernatural beings called “gods”and they do not consider any object as “sacred”. The term sacred in this paragraph means, “something declared or believed to be holy; devoted to a deity or some religious ceremony or use”.

They do not have any religious rituals. There are no consensuses in atheism regarding any moral code (some atheists believe on an objective morality while others believe in relative morality.) They do not have any religious feelings and they never do any prayers.

Atheism is not a worldview (a worldview is a comprehensive view of the world and human life). Atheists are not well organized, and lastly, they do not have any social groups that are bounded by everything that were mentioned above.

Nonsense number 2: Doctrines.
According to these Christians, atheism has different doctrines regarding the origin of the thought that there is no God. Therefore, it is considered as a religion.

Perhaps they think that the word doctrine is synonymous in being religious. Maybe it is best that we first define the meaning of the word “doctrine”.

Simply put it, a doctrine is a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school. Most dictionaries record two related senses of the term doctrine: according to the first, it is the affirmation of a truth; according to the second, it is a teaching. As the statement of a truth, doctrine has a philosophical cast; as a teaching, it suggests something more practical.

As a statement of truth, philosophical discourse reveals more variation: according to the context, “the doctrine of the equality of man” may be taken either as a precise axiom belonging to a political theory, or as a practical maxim designed to guide political action.

Based on the definition, a doctrine does not automatically connote on being “religious”. For example, Marxism or we can call it the doctrine of Marxism is not religious. Religious doctrines (I think that is what these Christians are talking about) tend to be characterized by their practical intent rather than philosophical discourses.

Christianity uses the terms doctrine and dogma to designate the teachings through which salvation is offered to all those who hear and respond. In case you don’t know, dogmas are truth revealed by God (directly and formally), which is presented by the church for belief, as revealed by God, either through a solemn decision of the extraordinary magisterium (pope or council) or through the ordinary and general magisterium of the church (episcopacy). It must be accepted through faith.

Christian doctrines for example teach proper action for a believer to enter heaven (salvation). O.k.…here are some examples of Christian doctrines: The person of Jesus Christ, the doctrine of the Trinity, sin and grace and the concept of Redemption.

So now, you know the difference between doctrine and religious doctrine.

Atheists use arguments in expressing their case against theism. Those are not “doctrines”. Arguments are sequence of statements such that some of them (the premises) purport to give reason to accept another of them, the conclusion. These may be certain facts or assertions offered as evidence that something is true. It is also defined as a course of reasoning aimed at demonstrating a truth or falsehood.

Nonsense Number 3: Who is the original source of the thought that there is no God?
Answer: Diagoras

Philosophers do not consider Diagoras of Melos as “Father of Atheism” (and there is no such thing as a “Father of Atheism”.)

What we have are myths regarding Diagoras’ atheism. According to stories, Diagoras was a poet and a pious man like others; but then a colleague once stole an ode from him, escaped by taking an oath that he was innocent, and afterwards made a hit with the stolen work.

So Diagoras lost his faith in the gods and wrote a treatise under the title of apopyrgizontes logoi (literally, destructive considerations) in which he attacked the belief in the gods.

If we ask, however, what is known historically about Diagoras, we are told a different tale. There existed in Athens, engraved on a bronze tablet and set up on the Acropolis, a decree of the people offering a reward of one talent to him who should kill Diagoras of Melos, and of two talents to him who should bring him alive to Athens. The reason given was that he had ridiculed the Eleusinian Mysteries.

As seen here from the eleventh-century Arab Mubashshir, from the erudite Athenian Apollodorus (ca. 180–120 BCE.):

“When he [viz., Dhiyaghuras al-mariq, or “Diagoras the heretic, or apostate”] persisted in his hypocrisy [or “dissimulation”], his unbelief and his atheism, the ruler, the wise men [or philosophers, hukama] and leaders of Attica sought to kill him. The ruler Charias the Archon [Khariyus al-Arkun (415–4)] set a price on his head [literally: “spent money,” badhal] and commanded that it should be proclaimed among the people: “He who apprehends Diagoras from Melos [Maylun] and kills him will be rewarded with a large sum [badra, traditionally a leather bag containing 1,000 or 10,000 dirhams].”

Nonsense Number 4: On the issue of sin.

Romans 3:23
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 3:10
As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one;

Atheist is just afraid to admit their sins to God.

Like anyone else, an atheist is not a perfect person. We all commit mistakes. Remember that atheism is not about refusing to acknowledge that we err.

But because atheists do not believe in any god or gods, they do not accept the concept of sin just like they do not accept the concept of karma. The concept of sin is pointless to an atheist. Sin is defined as the transgression of God’s law. Since atheists don’t believe in God, the concept of sin is without meaning.

Nonsense Number 5: On the issue of evolution: If we evolved from Apes as science suggests, why do we still have apes?

This is the most common question if the believer is too ignorant with evolutionary biology, taxonomy and genetics, and I’m sure a lot of Filipinos are.
First, humans and other apes are descended from a common ancestor whose population split to become two (and more) lineages.

Second, Christians assume that the theory of evolution presuppose some inbuilt tendency for advancement or progress. There is nothing in evolution that automatically makes a population ‘better’ or ‘more advance’. Humans and apes came from a common ancestry line but they diverged and became different. But one group is not superior to the other group. That’s why we still have apes in Africa.

In today’s basic knowledge of heredity, we now know that there is no barrier keeping evolutionary change within specific limits. With the discovery of DNA, we find that all living things – from the tiniest bacteria to the giant sequoia trees, to cats, whales, lizards, sponge, apes and humans, all share the same DNA information. With some other factors such as geographical isolation, natural selection and time, it is not impossible for modern apes to evolve into something else.

Nonsense Number 6: It’s so obvious that Atheists are people who live an awful life. And so they blame God for it and try very hard to tell people that he doesn’t exist. Well God gave you freewill so do what you want. And I feel sorry for you that you have to blame God for your terrible life.

Is atheism the effect of a bad childhood, a failed marriage, an unhappy life, failures, etc. etc…? Well if that’s true then there must be more atheists in this world than God believers.

But seriously, belief or non-belief is not a factor that will affect someone’s life. In fact, there are even some religions that capitalize on human misery and guilt.

What makes believers link God to happiness is this: Every human naturally desires the good, the object of happiness. God is believed to be the ultimate, self-sustaining good. Therefore, humans seek God.

If I don’t believe in the existence of elves, that will not make my life unhappy. That’s the same with god belief. Not believing in a God doesn’t affect my life. If I believe in evolution, that will not make my life sad and miserable.

Happiness, contentment and peace of mind are up to you and no one else can do it for you. But speaking of atheism, it is not against happiness and love; it is against the idea that happiness and love can only be achieved in the afterlife – when you’re already dead.

In atheism there is no God to think for you, to guarantee your happiness and to save you. These are all the sole responsibility of human beings. If you want knowledge, you must think for yourself. If you want success, you must work. If you want happiness, you must strive to achieve it. For those who rely on a god, this is a terrifying prospect, but for an atheist, it is an exhilarating challenge. As David Ramsey Steele have said, “Atheism is like a clean water supply: very elementary and purely negative. It doesn’t tell us how to conduct our personal lives or how to organize our social order. But then despite first impressions, neither does theism.”

So if a God believer attempts to defeat atheism by using emotionalism he accomplishes nothing aside from revealing his disdain for an atheist’s ability to think.

Nonsense Number 7: You don’t believe in God, so you believe in nothing.
Atheism is without belief in a god or gods, NOT ‘without belief’. Contrary to popular (theist) belief, an atheist can believe in almost anything. Atheists only agree with fellow atheists in the issue against theism. Other than that it’s every man for himself.

Some atheists are communists while others defend capitalism. Some are against religion while others are neutral on the issue. Some are relativists, humanists, objectivists, feminists, compatibilists…all those “ists” and “isms” on the list!

There are honest atheists, thieves, neurotic atheists philanthropists, nationalists, psychotics, rapists or “tatlo dyes” (dime a dozen) atheists.

We have some friendly atheists, grumpy old atheists who call other atheists as “morons”. We have gay atheists and atheists suffering from Narcissistic Personality Disorder.

The only thing incompatible with atheism is theism.

Nonsense Number 8: Obviously, there must be a Prime Mover since something cannot start from nothing? Just like in Newton’s Law of Inertia, nothing can move unless there is an outside force that will move that thing.

Newton’s first law of motion is that property of matter which manifests itself as a resistance to any change in the motion of a body. Thus when no external force is acting, a body at rest remains at rest and a body in motion continues moving in a straight line with uniform speed.

So I really don’t know why this Christian used this law as an example to illustrate the Prime Mover. There’s nothing in Newton’s first law that says a body always starts at rest. It said that if there is no external force, matter will continue moving. If the object is at rest it will stay at rest until an external force acts on it.

So how will you prove to me that everything in this universe started at rest? Atoms are always moving, aren’t they? Remember that the Newtonian laws are valid only for all mechanical problems not involving speeds comparable to the speed of light and not involving atomic or subatomic particles.

Nonsense Number 9: Something started from nothing.

Why is nothing always a default position? Nothing is nothing…if “nothing” has something on it to start with, then that is not “nothing”. What is the property of “nothing”? Is it hard to imagine that there has always been something? That we don’t have to begin with nothing? Energy for example is something that wasn’t created. Maybe everything started at that. Believers believe that something started with something and this ‘something’ is God. Then, why is there God rather than nothing?

In today’s modern cosmology and physics, something is more natural than ‘nothing’.

But suppose we accept that nothing is the natural state of affairs. Is it impossible that something came from nothing? There are a lot of examples that simple systems of particles are unstable and undergo spontaneous phase transitions to more complex structures. Since ‘nothing’ is quite simple, it is very unstable. So it is very normal for ‘nothing’ to undergo a spontaneous phase transition to something without any supernatural agent, as Nobel laureate physicist Frank Wilczek suggested.

Nonsense number 10: Atheism is a worldview.

According to Christian apologist Razi Zacharias, atheism is a worldview (See: Can Man Live Without God p. 17). But what is a worldview anyway?

Personally speaking I think a worldview is how you see the world. It is the concoction of a person’s philosophy, ideas, ideology, knowledge, understanding and conviction in describing the universe. Others think that it’s how a person perceives reality. Whatever way a person describes it, generally speaking a worldview is how a person interprets his universe.

Sigmund Freud defines it as … an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no question unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place.

James W. Sire, defines world view as
… a set of presuppositions … which we hold … about the makeup of our world.

So to put it together, a worldview is the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of reality that ground and influence a person’s perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing. Simple isn’t it?

Worldview includes the following:
• epistemology: beliefs about the nature and sources of knowledge;
• metaphysics: beliefs about the ultimate nature of Reality;
• cosmology: beliefs about the origins and nature of the universe, life, and especially Man;
• teleology: beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the universe, its inanimate elements, and its inhabitants;
• theology: beliefs about the existence and nature of God;
• anthropology: beliefs about the nature and purpose of Man in general, and oneself in particular;
• axiology: beliefs about the nature of value, what is good and bad, what is right and wrong.
(From Hunter Mead’s Types and Problems of Philosophy)

We already have an idea of what a worldview is; now we’re going to see if atheism fits the bill.

According to Christian philosopher Ronald Nash, a worldview consists of five major topics: God, reality, knowledge, morality and humankind. Now does atheism entails any belief about epistemology, ethics or humankind? No it doesn’t. The problem lies when a god-believer thinks that any worldview that has atheism in it is an “atheistic world view”. When a believer thinks a certain philosophy or rationalization excludes his god he automatically places the whole thing in a can and places a large label on it which spells “ATHEISM”. That’s because most religious believers err in believing that worldview and doctrine are synonymous, and they really consider atheism as Satan’s doctrine. A good example of this is the Theory of Evolution. Most believers consider evolution is atheistic because it is deemed to be a materialist’s version of how life was created without God (which is unfortunately incorrect since evolution is about the development of life, not the creation of life). Yet there are some believers who are quite comfortable with evolution (mostly the Roman Catholics).

Now let us elaborate the issues. On the issue of ethics – atheism does not logically necessitate any theory of ethics. In that department, any atheist can believe any theory of ethics he thinks is correct. As they always say, an atheist can even develop his personal moral code. He can be a nihilist, a relativist, an objectivist, or a mixture of all of those “ists” in the dictionary for all he cares, as long as such theory doesn’t conform to any theological interpretation. Also atheists vary in the belief of morality. Some non-believers like Sam Harris and Paul Kurtz believe in absolute morals while there are atheists out there who believe in relative morality.

It is also the same with the sense of meaning (teleology). I personally believe that an individual creates his own meaning in life. That is my own belief…but it doesn’t reflect my atheism. Not every atheist that I know agrees to that, and they even say that my outlook in life is more of a Satanist than an atheist. For some, the meaning of life depends on how society perceives it, yet we are atheists.

Another good example is philosophy. Majority of Filipino atheists are Marxists. They are also into dialectic materialism. But there are also atheists who are into Utilitarianism. We also have existentialists (they say majority of those into existentialism are members of UPAC – U.P. Atheist Circle) atheists and those into Wittgenstein’s “Ordinary Language Philosophy”. Shucks! I have even met a non-believer who is totally into some kind of irrational version of rationalism. Speaking of metaphysics, atheists also seem to be diverse in this concern. There are materialist atheists, spiritual atheists, ethical atheists, rationalist atheists, objectivist atheists, and so on. There are even some who declare themselves as Christian atheists! (Hmmmm…sounds like an oxy-moron? Whatever…) Personally, I am a little Hegelian when it comes to the Theory of Knowledge. But atheism has nothing to do with my epistemology. I just like how Hegel dismantles Kant’s “ding-an-sich”. When it comes to the philosophical explanation of morality, I believe it came from reason just like Immanuel Kant.

In the issue of truth, some atheists are defending the correspondence theory of truth while others are still into John Dewey’s pragmatism. Hmmmm are there agnostic atheists?

In the concept of cosmology…wow! Here a lot of atheists seem to ride on different boats! Majority believes in a scientific explanation…or should I say a more natural explanation of origins. Yet you will be surprised that there are non-believers who believe in Zacharias Sitchin’s “12 planets”. You know…that theory that say we were created by intelligent alien life forms from Planet Nebiru! Oh yeah! There are also those who believe that the universe is just a part of other universes – or should I say, multiverse.

And who says all atheists are the same in matters of theology? We say that Buddhists are atheist in some sense…just because they don’t believe in an anthropomorphic, personal god. But how about when it comes to other god-concepts? Some Filipino atheists declare themselves as pantheists or deists. Some even say they are atheists because they don’t believe in the Bible. Speaking of god and religion, atheists also differ on the issue of religion and science vs. religion. To some atheists, we must destroy religion, yet there are atheists who are passive on the subject. Some atheists believe religion and science must not mix together yet others believe in NOMA (Non-Overlapping Magistrate).

Now how can I picture this? Hmmmmmm….ok, I can exemplify worldview and atheism to a fruit salad (Yummy…since we are nearing Christmas season). Anyway, let’s say a banana is a part…an ingredient of a delicious fruit salad, yet a banana is not a fruit salad. That’s the same with atheism. Atheism is about not believing in a god or gods – right? It may be an influence to some of the subjects that complete a worldview, but that doesn’t make a whole worldview. It may be a part of an explanation of why an atheist is an objectivist, a rationalist or a relativist. But that doesn’t make atheism a complete justification why he considers that the world operates that way. A worldview must contain the whole element to make it coherent and livable.

DISCLAIMER: The opinions in this post do not necessarily represent the position of the Filipino Freethinkers.