I know I’ve briefly touched on this topic before, but a friend of mine and I were discussing it, and I promised to write a detailed post giving my position. He is of the mind that atheism is a religion, I obviously disagree. Given this, I thought we’d have some fun. 🙂 I’ll write my position out, then let him present his.
I feel semantics are at the very heart of this issue, and thus it is important to define what atheism and religion are. This sounds a lot easier than it is. I did a little research and there is a lot of really interesting disagreement as to what exactly religion is. The best definition I found was not so much a flat out definition, but a list of characteristics religions share. Some religions have more characteristics than others:
- Belief in something sacred (for example, gods or other supernatural beings).
- A distinction between sacred and profane objects.
- Ritual acts focused on sacred objects.
- A moral code believed to have a sacred or supernatural basis.
- Characteristically religious feelings (awe, sense of mystery, sense of guilt, adoration), which tend to be aroused in the presence of sacred objects and during the practice of ritual.
- Prayer and other forms of communication with the supernatural.
- A world view, or a general picture of the world as a whole and the place of the individual therein. This picture contains some specification of an over-all purpose or point of the world and an indication of how the individual fits into it.
- A more or less total organization of one’s life based on the world view.
- A social group bound together by the above.
The definition of atheism is much simpler, it’s in the name a-theism, without god.
My position is that while there are many characteristics that make up religion, the only characteristic that makes up atheism is the lack of belief in a god. That’s it, there is nothing else. Unlike religion, in atheism there are no universals. There is nothing that unites atheists like a universal moral code, a universally accepted book, or a universal set of beliefs, or universal world view, or anything. When two atheists get together, the only thing they know that is universal about them is the lack of belief in supernatural powers. That’s where our associations end. Everything else is up in the air.
For example: Pretty much all adults don’t believe in Santa Claus, lets call them a-Santas. While all these adults might have a lack of belief in Santa as a commonality, you can’t predict other commonalities based off of this. An a-Santa could be of any number of ethnicities, nationalities, political persuasions, hold any number of moral codes, etc. A-Santaism, just like atheism, is such a huge umbrella term that there will certainly be subgroups within it. These subgroups are comprised of people who have other things in common besides just the a-Santa or atheist label.
Subgroup A might have world view X, while subgroup B might have world view Y. Despite these conflicting positions and goals, they are both subgroups within the larger group, but one can’t look at either subgroup and ascribe it’s identifiers to the umbrella description. Are there groups of atheists who get together because they have similar world views, morals, and political aims? Yes, but those things care secondary to the unifying characteristic of their atheism. There are plenty of other atheists who have opposing views and do not join, but they’re still atheists.
——— My friend’s response: