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Posted by on Oct 9, 2012 in Atheism, Religion | 19 comments

Rehashing Old Atheist Topics: Is Atheism A Religion?

Is atheism a religion? It shouldn’t be, and I was hoping it wouldn’t be, but for some people it serves a fairly similar purpose. I miss my childhood days when I simply didn’t know or care about god and assumed that everyone else felt more or less the same, and that some just went to church for the social and community aspects. Those were the good parts of religion, and I almost envied the people who engaged in them (though the sermons always seemed rather silly and dull). At Christmas time, we always had a tree and the most beautiful, delicate decorations. Sometimes, our housekeeper would sneak me off to church and I would watch her light the candles and pray. For a while, as a child, I would also pray to some vague cosmic entity to protect my family, in case something out there existed and cared. After all, it couldn’t hurt, right?  Call me Pascal, if you will. But I gave up when almost everyone in my family died, including both parakeets — who viciously murdered each other — and the family dog.

And then, later in life, long after moving from Russia to America, I learned about the atheist movement. In fact, I unintentionally became a part of it, mostly because the social dynamics surrounding religion fascinated me. Now I look around and wonder, is atheism just religion in disguise? Clearly, pockets of it are extremely ideological and religion-like.  And, for the record, atheism is nothing like not collecting stamps. Because those of us who don’t collect stamps don’t obsess about them, don’t meet to talk about our lack of stamp collections, don’t argue with those who do collect stamps, don’t talk about the right way to not collect stamps, and don’t write about our non-hobby. We simply don’t care.

The thing with atheism is that right now, at least for me,  the negatives outweigh the positives. While separation of church and state is immensely important and so is stopping social harm perpetrated in the name of religion, beyond those goals, I see little point. I do appreciate that some atheist groups take time out for community service, food drives, and  similar; but otherwise I see a nasty online call-out culture focused on a core group of narcissistic and self-righteous personalities, who bully others and try to harm lives and livelihoods over insignificant disagreements. Ideological extremism exists with religion or without, and that is the enemy we have to fight, not the religious.

And I’m tired. While, absent evidence or brain damage, I’ll never believe in god (or even think that humans are capable of defining such a concept), I think that as of today, I’ve finally stopped believing in atheists.

  • John W. Loftus

    Keep in mind that there is no atheist community. There are only atheist communities. We tend to focus on those who get attention but there are a host of atheists who don’t bother with the drama at all. Credentialed atheists teaching in the universities who produce good work usually do not bother with online discussions or atheist conventions unless asked to speak for them. I’ll bet’cha I could name a dozen or more influential atheists who do not even know about the drama with Atheism +, nor elevatorgate, and so forth. And I know that an overwhelming number of atheists don’t.

    I think the drama comes largely from the younger atheists because they are typically ideologically oriented, and because they are online more often. Keep this in perspective, and you’ll keep your head above water. Cheers.

    • bluharmony

      You really are wonderful.

      • John W. Loftus

        Thanks. I’m just trying to be reasonable, just trying to keep my own head above water by seeing the big picture as best as possible.

        A few of my predictions regarding Atheism + have already proved to be true. One prediction I didn’t make was burnout. A couple of the Atheist plussers have shown signs of burnout. Don’t give in to that same impulse, please. This will pass. It’s a passing fad. The enduring lessons concerning the value of feminism are here to stay though, and we welcome them.

        • bluharmony

          I won’t. In the end, I’ve put too much of my heart into this, and I’ve risked a lot, as well. I’m very proud of what we’ve put together here, and the wonderful group of people we have working and writing with us. And I’m very grateful to you for everything, John.

          • John W. Loftus

            There is some level of frustration among most of us involved in these debates. I am frustrated too.

            But let’s not forget that in the end we are allies in a common goal, all of us. The real problem is religious faith. When the dust settles we’ll unite again on that. For in a few months or perhaps years we’ll realize that we only made a dent in the religious demographics and will wake up to realize we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot with these in house debates.

  • Edward Clint

    Don’t let anyone dictate on what terms you should or will approach activism. There is no shortage of action-oriented activism, and grounded, non-ideological commentary.

    The signal-to-noise ratio can seem pretty bad, and therefore dishearten, but then again, you might just be focusing on the negative.

    • bluharmony

      I have a tendency to live on the dark side sometimes, but I always “snap out of it.”

  • James

    I often wonder how much more we would respect each other, if we realised that we all are individuals, each struggling with our pain, everyone trying to cope as best we can.

    As soon as a group is created, it inherently defines a complement, giving rise to ‘us’ and ‘them’.

    I’ve always wondered if both groups are not, in fact, the same. Each with their moderates, their zealots, ideologies, and those who dare wonder “what if ‘they’ are actually just like me?”

    Sagan’s Pale Blue Dot suggests that no help will come from anywhere else to save us from ourselves, and that we need to learn to be kinder to one another.

    Maybe that will begin when we understand that there isn’t ‘them’, there is only ‘us’.

    • bluharmony

      Yes. This. I often phrase it as, “We are all Other in some way.” There is only us.

  • Copyleft

    Too often, people lump all concepts of philosophy, worldview, and belief system under the heading of ‘religion’ and then declare that anyone who has ANY of these mindsets is therefore ‘religious.’ It’s a category error.

    A skeptic may have a philosophy or worldview, but that doesn’t mean skepticism is a religion. Ditto for atheists.

    • bluharmony

      Of course, but I think extremist ideologies (like the Russia I once lived in) are just as dangerous as religions. So if we’re fighting one, we need to fight the other. And let’s be honest for a second, A+ has may have no gods (just a few prophets), but I’d rather live in a liberal Christian world than the one they envision. Because their world is anti-liberty, anti-free speech, anti-human, and pro-divisiveness.

      • Copyleft

        Oh, absolutely! A philosophy can be moderate or it can be bat-spit extremist, all without being religious in any way.

        For that matter, some religions can be refreshingly moderate and reasonable (on occasion).

  • prussian

    but otherwise I see a nasty online call-out culture focused on a core group of narcissistic and self-righteous personalities, who bully others and try to harm lives and livelihoods over insignificant disagreements. Ideological extremism exists with religion or without, and that is the enemy we have to fight, not the religious.

    Do I ever know what you mean. That is one reason why this community is important; as the late great Hitch used be fond of quoting, a movement is only legitimate once it has undergone at least one schism. There are those who want religion to go away because they resent any effort, any rules, any demands, even the demands of arbitrary rules.

    And there are those of us who want it gone because we can see the calling of a higher loyalty in reason and life on this earth.

  • Guy

    The analogy to stamp collections is wrong, I think. First, there aren’t billions of stamp collectors in the world. Second, stamp collectors don’t think that everyone must collect stamps, by order of a creator of everything, or at least live according to stamp collecting morals. Third, stamps actually exist.

    If these points did not hold, I believe you would hear familiar indignation from none stamp collectors.

    One more thing- there are bullies and hard core advocates in any and every camp. That’s not unique to atheists.

  • hardlyever

    This post has inspired me to make my first blog comment…ever. I have been an atheist, by definition, for about ten years. Because of my resentment at being defined because of what – and simply the fact that – someone else believed, I avoided labeling myself as such until about two years ago. And then, just within the last few months, I went looking for and discovered the “online atheist community.” I was filled with hope at the prospect of having other people with whom to share my thoughts and feelings about religion. I was challenged by the robust discussion and variety of perspectives. And, I was intimidated by the skill and knowledge that seem to be expressed so easily by all the other commentators. But mostly I was filled with hope, and joy.
    Then, I happened upon an article that referred, just in passing, to something called the “elevator incident”. I made a decision that I now – no matter how I may wish – cannot undo…I clicked the link. And I don’t need to explain to anybody here what I found. The hours and hours (and hours) I had been spending everyday exploring the world of unbelief, were replaced by hours and hours (and hours!) of reading hateful and bigoted vitriol. You all know exactly what I saw, so I’m not going to bother going into any of it. But suffice it to say that I was crushed. Every balloon in my happy atheist community balloon bouquet was burst and I hurtled back to earth with nothing but mean-spirited gossip, name-calling, and hate hate hate, to break my fall. A little dramatic, but it makes the point that my honeymoon with my new love, “online atheism”, was over.
    After several weeks of exploring all the A+, “elevatorgate”, etc. ugliness, I felt disillusioned and dirty. None of this schoolyard-bullying-with-the-power-of-adult-vocabulary-and-internet-access (whew!)is what I had been looking for. I thought I may stick to books. But then…then…I came upon a link entitled “Are The Bloggers on Skepchick and the Freethought Blogs Network Stupid?” right here on Skeptic Ink. I have to admit that part of the reason I followed the link was because I assumed it would be more of the same, and in being so it would satisfy my shameful appetite for the worst-than-useless drama I had become accustomed to consuming. However, it was not more of the same. If you haven’t already, please read it to see what I mean. And,so, this part of my journey ended right there. A happy ending to the chapter and great segue to the next.
    I realize I did not mention your post title, or religion in any way. I hope the connection between the A+/elevatorgate disasters and the content of your post is clear on it’s own. I feel refreshed after having spent the last week poring over the articles contained within this, my new favourite site. I feel like I’ve graduated from the schoolyard and am back in the big kids’ class. Thanks for that.

    • bluharmony

      Aw, thank you so much. What a kind thing to say. I, too, am always delighted to make new like-minded and often not-so-like-minded friends.

  • Chill Chick

    Hi Blu, I got a little concerned when I read your post, but I’m glad to see from reading the comments that you don’t seem to be on the point of imminent burnout. I used to read a lot of atheist blogs but I have been steadily cutting back every since that stupid elevatorgate shitstorm in a teacup. I thought about giving up altogether the other day when I was reading Hemant Mehta’s blog, and there was a post about an FFRF billboard campaign in Portland – and a horde of plussers, led by Greg Bin Laden (as I call him), were screaming that the FFRF was racist because they didn’t include any black faces. JHC! I really hate how the plussers and bullies are poisoning every forum they can get their tentacles on, and infecting it with mindless screaming, hatred, and baseless, knee-jerk accusations. There are fewer and fewer “safe spaces” left where you can escape their narrow, aggressive hive mind and just read a civilized and thought-provoking discussion. I hope Skeptic Ink will always be such a space.

  • Zed Zero

    An interesting point. I have come to the conclusion that the god question is rather trivial, almost to point of irrelevance. It is the religion that matters. There is not a clear line of demarcation for where religion begins and ends but, I think I am fairly radical in that respect. I think that political ideology is often religion by other means or perhaps religion that lost its god but, not its dogma.
    Our Republicans are very much melding both to ill effect. I am very interested in how they are able to undo the knowledge of their constituents.

  • There is a line between those with whom I am open to conversing and those I am not. This line of demarcation does not separate myself from the religious per se…I have friends who believe in god. The line of demarcation does not separate myself from those who claim to support “A+”.

    The line separates myself from those who choose to engage in personal attack and verbal abuse. If you choose to dispense with the virtue of Civility, then you have removed yourself as a subject with whom I am willing to converse.

    Disagree with me…passionately. Make a habit of it. Come back to me again and again in an attempt to destroy my arguments and convince me you are right. I enjoy your company…

    …but pointless invective, verbal abuse, ad hominem, etc. only reveal you to be an individual unworthy of my very limited time. Return when you have chosen to conduct yourself like an adult and mature member of society.

    The only caveat here is to remember that the “line of demarcation” is a fuzzy one. Very few lines in life are solid and bright enough to point clearly to subjects near each other but on either side of said line. Our judgements are not perfect….our tools are not foolproof. The line is fuzzy…

    …but that doesn’t mean we can’t recognize the obviously wrong when it confronts us….and starve it of the only thing which lends it strength: Our compliance.