In a recent comment on my Facebook page, I stated that I have no religion. A response to that from a friend asserted that my beliefs and worldview (atheism, humanism, etc.) were indeed a religion, because I believe there is no god. Here was my response. I've left out a few portions that were specific to the conversation, but this was the gist:

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"Is atheism a religion?" inevitably turns into a discussion of semantics, and I hate arguing semantics - but here goes. :)

When I say I don't have a "religion", I (and many atheists/agnostics I know) am defining religion as the first Merriam-Webster definition:

"(1): the service and worship of God or the supernatural (2) : commitment or devotion to religious faith or observance".

Since I don't have any religious observance (outside of satirical ones) and I do not worship a god or the supernatural and have no commitment to faith, I consider myself non-religious.

If you are using the second definition which is much more broad, there are philosophies I follow that are defined or could be defined as religious, as long as "religious" is not being defined as devoted to or worshiping a god or the supernatural:

"A personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices."

For instance, dictionary.com's 6th definition of religion is:

"something one believes in and follows devotedly; a point or matter of ethics or conscience: to make a religion of fighting prejudice."

Being an atheist means that I lack belief in any deity. I cannot prove a deity does not exist, and wouldn’t venture to try. I can explain why I think deities, karma and other supernatural beings or ideas do not exist, but simply put, you cannot prove a negative.

Building on that, in my estimation a lack of belief in something doesn’t equal a religion. I lack belief in plenty of things, including gods, goddesses, unicorns, elves, vampires, Lord Xenu and the Angel Moroni. Having a lack of belief in any of these does not mean I have a non-believing religion about each of them.

I TRY to be “religious” (determined; consistent) about my devotion to skepticism. I try to research things before parroting them, even though I fall short of that goal often. When I do engage people I know and try to convince them that they should do something, it is usually in reference to researching claims before spreading false information. Usually this is in reference to something a person saw on TV or read in an email and took at face value.

As far as humanism goes, a person can subscribe to any number of religions and still be a humanist. I happen to be a secular humanist, but again, I tend to fall short of the goal when implementing those ideas into my own life. When engaging others and I am not trying to convince someone to do research before accepting dubious information, I am usually supporting some facet secular humanist philosophy. Reason, logic, and a host of the other secular humanist values align with my own, thus I find it to be a good descriptor. Humanism and especially secular humanism could be loosely defined as a non-theistic religion, but most I’ve encountered consider it to be more of a worldview or philosophy than a religion.

Generally speaking, if you ask someone if they are religion or what their religion is, they will think you are asking about either their affiliation with an organized religion OR their theistic belief system. I would say I’m an atheist – I don’t subscribe to any theistic religion. I never really considered my non-theistic affiliations to be a religion, but again, that’s just semantics and open to interpretation.

I define myself as an Atheist, a Skeptic, a Secular Humanist and a Pastafarian. I'm also bisexual, bipolar, liberal, perpetually anxious, in love with music and crazily devoted to my spouse. If others choose to label any of those (aside from the one that is actually satirical religion) aspects as religion, so be it. :-]

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Comment by Jas Brimstone on June 22, 2010 at 3:48pm
Great job holding your own against such idiocy.
I prefer the simple but direct similes:

Calling atheism a religion is like...
...calling bald a hair color.
...calling not stamp collecting a hobby.
...calling clear a color.


But then, I've always been one for pithy one-liners when it comes to engaging idiocy in debate.

"Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned."

That sort of thing.

Still, good on ya for keeping your cool and representing logical and reasonable arguments without sounding preachy or frustrated or angry. Keep up the good work!
Comment by deletedsoul on June 22, 2010 at 3:23pm
I replied:

Your zealousness for your beliefs to be heard & known is clear and it is hard to miss that you wish more people believed as you.
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That is true. I am passionate about certain subjects - humanistic values, LGBT equality, skepticism - the list goes on about things I would like to change about society. It would be remiss of me to deny that anyone who is passionate about any idea wants others to feel the same way. Religion, politics, even something as simple as music is better enjoyed when shared by like minded people. As previously stated, skepticism is something I am particularly zealous about; I think it is important to weigh information as much as possible before jumping to a conclusion. If we love something and/or see injustice or room for improvement, of course we want people to see the issues from our perspective. Does this mean I think everyone should be an atheist? No. It isn't the right path for some. I DO think everyone could use a healthy dose of skepticism and/or rationality if they do not apply these concepts to their beliefs and daily lives, but if such application brings them to a different conclusion than I, so be it.
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You posit your beliefs as fact but have no proof. I'm not suggesting you to change your beliefs, just accept the fact that you base your life on beliefs not facts...You stated, "Being an atheist means that I lack belief in any deity." You cannot be an atheist and lack belief, it isn't possible. Should you desire to lack belief, you would need to switch to being an agnostic who doesn't care if there is a God or not.
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I am quite public in saying that I cannot prove there is no god. In a badge I have on my site, it is stated: "I cannot know for certain but I think god is very improbable and I live my life under the assumption that he is not there". Everyone has things they do not believe in. Most of us do not believe in fairies, unicorns, dragons and Santa. The difference is, non-belief in a deity is defined by the term "atheism". As far as basing my life on beliefs and not facts, I assert that there is nothing in the universe I am 100% certain of save my own existence. That can even be brought into question, depending on how deep down the existential rabbit-hole you wish to fall. Some things are nearly certain – that my physical perceptions are real; that the sun will rise tomorrow and that I exist. I do the best I can to base my decisions on what is as close to fact as possible based on the data available. I personally do not have a good reason to believe (have faith) in god, so I don't. Faith in and of itself is not something I place high value on. In my estimation, plenty in our lives require a starting point of faith. However, as our knowledge of said subject grows, faith naturally diminishes - at least that was the case for me.

I've had lengthy conversations with those whose faith grows with each new experience of the world, and this fact renews their resolve to believe. For me, each new experience increases my expectation of how things operate, thus negating my need for faith. Do I theorize about what is "out there" and where we came from? Yes, of course - curiosity is a human trait. It could be god, it could be aliens, and it could be the Flying Spaghetti Monster. All of these things *could* be true. Again, however, I don't have a good reason to seriously believe that any of them are actually out there, and until such evidence is presented, I will continue not believing, but allowing for any of an endless number of possibilities about what we cannot perceive.
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It's my opinion that you care deeply and passionately about there being no god (I've got my own theories as to why ).
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I know people who haven't given any thought to the nature of the universe, about why we are here and where we came from. I've thought about these things in some facet my entire life. The first 20 or so years were spent with a god-centric worldview, and the next handful of years in some variation of that. Religion, spirituality and the nature of our existence has never been far below the surface of my thoughts. From my childhood in which my father taught me that not everything the church taught in Sunday school was the "gospel", on to my late teens when I was encouraged to question the validity of the inerrant nature of the KJV Bible - finally to my own soul searching and my journey from Christianity through the gates of Messianic Judaism, and finally arriving first at agnosticism and finally atheism.

There are plenty of things I am deeply passionate about. The concept of there not being a deity has broadened my horizons and allowed for possibilities concerning the universe and our observable habitat to a great level. There aren't enough hours in the day or rather, enough time to spare for me to learn all the things I want to learn. For instance, I was never introduced to the theory of evolution except from a creationist point of view as a child. I am trying to learn about it from scratch, and some of the things I have learned have been fascinating. Another is theories about the origins of the universe itself. I have contemplated any number of possibilities about this subject, with and without the idea of a deity or "prime mover" being in the mix. Especially in this light, I am passionate about the non-existence of "god". Feel free to share your theories about why I care about there not being a god, however. :)

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You don't lack belief; you purposefully believe there is no God.
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As stated above, I am not 100% percent certain there is no god, but I haven't a good reason to believe there is. I didn't really become an atheist overnight, as I am sure you are well aware. In fact, I didn't even become one on purpose, and I tend to hold my position as an atheist quite loosely. My views on religion, god, the universe and my own purpose are very fluid. Any moment of any day, something may happen in my life or to the world as a whole that makes me completely rethink my position. It's certainly happened before, albeit in a far more gradual way. I'm unsure if you've read or heard about my journey from Christianity through the gates of Messianic Judaism, and finally arriving at the opposite end of the spectrum. It was a journey of years, not something I chose because of a specific issue I had with a church or religion as a whole.

My issues with religion have developed as my faith diminished, but it was the result of my own introspection and attempts to validate my own belief system that led me to this place; not intent to delete god from my life.
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No response from him. :-]
Comment by deletedsoul on June 22, 2010 at 3:18pm
It didn't exactly shut him up. :)

He responded:

"Your zealousness for your beliefs to be heard & known is clear and it is hard to miss that you wish more people believed as you. You posit your beliefs as fact but have no proof. I'm not suggesting you to change your beliefs, just accept the fact that you base your life on beliefs not facts.

You stated, "Being an atheist means that I lack belief in any deity." You cannot be an atheist and lack belief, it isn't possible. Should you desire to lack belief, you would need to switch to being an agnostic who doesn't care if there is a God or not.

It's my opinion that you care deeply and passionately about there being no god (I've got my own theories as to why ).

You don't lack belief; you purposefully believe there is no God."
Comment by Tom Thompson on May 23, 2010 at 2:28pm
LOVE the cartoon!
Comment by Justin Van Kleeck on May 23, 2010 at 9:09am
This reminds me as "science has FAITH, too" debate. It seems to be all semantics and sophistry by people who are trying to legitimize their belief in a God without hard evidence. But if someone waters down the correct definition of any word so much that it covers just about anything (You have FAITH that tomorrow will be Monday, therefore you are religious...) you want it to, then there really is little point in even continuing the discussion. To equate a way of thinking that seeks hard evidence, and that questions easy assumptions and ungrounded beliefs, with (true) "faith," is a sad twist of logic and reason.

You handled it beautifully, deletedsoul...
Comment by Martin Allen on May 23, 2010 at 3:08am
I hope that shut your friend up. Covers it nicely - and the cartoon shows the stupidity of calling atheism a religion.

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