I'm guessing this has been discussed before but i got into a debate with a religious (christian) friend of mine.  It started with "Well, atheists don't believe in anything" and ended with him saying Atheism is just another false religion (like Hinduism in his mind).  I really couldn't debate one way or another whether Atheism was a religion or not.  Thoughts?

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Does this help the debate ?

The Concise Oxford dictionary defines religion as the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods. A particular system of faith and worship. A pursuit or interest followed with great devotion.

The same dictionary defines Atheism as disbelief in the existence of a god or gods.

Can Atheism be regarded as a pursuit or interest followed with great devotion ?


I think that the confusion arises when people don't notice the difference between "lack of belief in gods" and "belief that there is no god".  As soon as you bring that "belief that..." part into it, people start talking about religion; however, an essential part of religion is not just belief, but belief in a deity, so that doesn't really fly.  It complicates matters when people make statements like "I don't have enough faith to be an atheist" (which annoys me to no end) or point to atheist conventions and say "See?  They congregate.  It's a religion."  Your friend needs to learn that atheism is not "lack of belief in anything" and it is not "belief that there is no god".  I have many opinions that could be called beliefs, but have stopped calling them that.  Now I say, "I am of the opinion that..." because the minute "belief" comes out of my mouth, I get accused of having beliefs and being just as religious as everyone else ><  As Carl Sagan said, "I don't want to believe, I want to know."  These days, I either have an opinion, know, or don't know.  Cuts down on the confusion.

It's interesting that you put it that way because I have found myself consciously getting in the habit of saying "I think...." rather than "I believe....".    I like your statement: "I either have an opinion, know, or don't know."  That pretty much covers the bases.  We don't have one source of information, like many religious people do, to rely on. 


Just look at a statement by one of my uncles:   "I pray those who are laboring under this delusion would take a long hard look at Genesis and get back on the path that leads to Life and exit the Highway to eternal destruction. It's your choice." 


My uncle, and others who believe in the literal and certain truth of the bible. use prayer and scripture to bully people to 'choose' the right path to 'knowledge'.  (He entered a Facebook discussion about same-sex marriage and you can guess which side of the debate he stands firmly)  In my experience, atheists cannot easily be congregated or grouped into a category of members with a 'message'.  We could be said to lack a message...though there are some key spokespersons...we don't unite under a flag, so to speak.

LOL I had to read that twice because I've conditioned myself, as soon as I hear or read "I pray..." to zone out and disregard everything that follows it.

I love the not-so-subtle threat implied by his words.  The message has always, for me, boiled down to "believe or burn", and that's my biggest problem with Christianity.  I think it's anti-human.  Was it Dawkins who likened organizing atheists to "herding cats"?  Not 100% sure it was him, or if he was quoting someone else, but I think it's an apt simile.  It's hard for people to understand a non-religion.  You're right, we don't have one single message, but that's a good thing, because each of us expresses our own atheism in our own way.  One of us might respond to a "fundie" youtube post with "Keep your religion out of our schools and I'll be happy".  Another might say, "If I believed what you believe, I'd hate myself" (that's something I say quite often because I'm an anti-religious atheist).

Although we can't be easily organized, it can't be denied that there seem to be "trends" - similarities in traits across the board.  Intelligence and academic honesty come immediately to mind.  I have been told "all atheists think the same way" and was curious about that, so I visited the "religion and spirituality" section of Yahoo Answers, and sure enough, if you watch that section for long enough you see that the atheists are all responding, not with the same words, but in the same manner.  Their statements are concise, their spelling and grammar are noticeably better, and they aren't afraid to say, "I don't know."  In a class of thirty students, I can spot "the other atheist" the second he opens his or her mouth.

Not trying to sound conceited here, but the inverse correlation between religiosity and intelligence has been observed, and I think there's something to it.  Maybe that's why people think atheism is a religion, maybe they're picking up on the similarities and deciding, "Well, this is a group of people, none of whom believe that God exists, which has to do with religion, and there are other things that make them similar to each other, so their atheism must be a religion."

AMEN sister! ha   I think it's also interesting that atheists often have a better grasp of world religions in general and don't focus merely on Christianity...when my uncle made that strange, out-of-context response above, all I could think of was: WOW, he is certainly a true believer and nobody will ever budge him from his way of seeing the world.  I think it limits his ability to be compassionate.

I was amazed that he has my future so neatly predicted: HIGHWAY TO HELL.  Part of me really wanted to respond back with sarcasm but I rose above and mentioned how grateful I was for the U.S Constitution and the Bill of Rights so that equality before the law took precedence over religious doctrine.  I had made the statement that same sex marriage is a civil rights issue and that's what set him off into attack mode with angry scripture.  I agree with you that so much of the bible is hate-filled and that god comes across as vengeful, spiteful, jealous, petty, etc...and, if I don't like those qualities in my fellow humans, why would I want them in my supernatural deity?  Who wants to worship THAT?


I don't have so much of an issue with the book or the god anymore, but I sure did when I was a kid.  I attended a Catholic elementary school, in Ontario, Canada, in the mid 1970s.

The nuns read to us from the Bible, the story of Noah's flood, which began with "God regretted having made Man.."  What?  Humans regret.  God is supposed to be perfect.  Something's wrong.  Well, let's say He did regret it...why drown everyone?  Why were we talking about the animals and the dove, and not about God drowning people?  That's when my problems in school started.  I hated God, and the nuns didn't like it when kids took it into their heads to question (and criticize) His ways.  I was the only kid who did that - it was considered the worst thing you could do, and you'd get the strap for it.  The strap meant you raised your hands, palms up, and they used a leather strap, kind of a long, thin belt, to lay stripes on your palms and lower arms.  If you refused to apologize to god, you got more stripes.  I would never apologize.  I hated God.  I figured he owed me an apology.  It took me a while to figure out that this thing I hated didn't exist, and what a relief that was.

At one point during my rather tumultuous education, I mentioned to a classmate that I'd seen "Jesus Christ Superstar" the night before.  I had loved that movie.  I was stoked!  Finally, something religious that made sense!  I thought for sure that the other kids had watched it and loved it too.  That girl slapped me right across the face and told me I was going to burn in Hell for watching something so "disgusting".  I'll never forget the look on her face.  She was smiling.  I was told that I was going to Hell so many times when I was a kid and the people who said it always had that smug, self-satisfied smirk on their faces.  I could see that they enjoyed imagining me burning.  Religion had nothing to do with love - it was a sadistic power trip, and it made me sick.  I was always a skeptic, that's just the way my brain works, but the anti-religious stance is definitely the result of upbringing over genetics.  When I look at religious people, I see monsters.

How can anyone ascribe to a belief system that endorses human suffering, believing that other human beings are going to suffer eternal torment when they die?  I don't care about that whole, "Well, we're trying to save you" business, how can they actually internalize such a concept?

I wrote a poem for the Hitchens Project, here are a few lines from it:

You have a golden ticket, so you say

It will save you all one day

You’ll laugh all the way to that factory in the sky

Leave us behind to suffer and cry

You love your Hell

If we believed what you believe

We’d hate ourselves


What if we said that we’d built a space ship

To take us away before the planet dies

Leaving you behind unless you take off the veil

How would it feel?

You are lucky we don’t think that way

Stop telling us about the light

Remain in the darkness and pray


Anyway, my apologies for such a long-winded reply.  Getting back to the original point, I think that's how I know that atheism is not a religion...because if it was, I would have no part of it!

Yes, it all boils down to the certainty some religious adherents have that they somehow KNOW the 'mind of god'. It gives a kind of smug moral superiority to their words and actions. They are bound and determined to save those of us who don't even pretend to know all the answers and who remain skeptical. 


I like to think of it as: anything's possible but not necessarily probable!  I see no proof and will remain a nonbeliever until otherwise convinced.  Personally, it's insulting that they often insist on saving us from ourselves.  Atheism provides a liberating experience, in my personal case so I don't like to have people praying for me or trying to 'save' me.  I feel like I'm saved from superstition and wishful thinking, actually.  And the 'groupthink' mentality of mobs, I mean churchgoers.

Something you mentioned above made me think of a church sign near my daughter's high school...read it and think about it for a second:

There's no stop, drop, and roll in Hell.


Doesn't that just make you wonder how any adult feels the need to go to a church like that...threatening eternal damnation so glibly? I actually laughed out loud when I first read it because my sick sense of humor made me picture all these people rolling around and not one fire extinguisher to be found in the place.

Doesn't sound like normal fire if "stop, drop, and roll" wouldn't work.  Guess it's big flame.  What is it with these people and fire?  I wonder how many arsonists are Christians.

That's kind of cute...they've made it look like Jesus is in Hell.

Atheism isn't a religion, but then neither is theism.

Religion consists of a set of practices.

Yes, the ritual aspects of religion are an essential component...practices like worship, prayer, hymns, meditation, etc.  And it seems to be a group behavior similar to competitive team sports...even if people don't go to the games, they're often fanatic about how the team is doing.  I would love for somebody to study the behavior of sports fans compared to the behavior of evangelicals/fundamentalists.




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