Atheism as Religion

There was considerable comment on the Christian blogs last week about the opening of a Humanist pre-school in America. Contrary to the vehement denials that atheism is a religion, this appeared to demonstrate the very opposite: that atheism is a religion, or at the very least it tries to do some of the things conventional religion does.

This should actually come as no surprise. For centuries those hostile to religion, and particularly Christianity, have founded organisations and published materials strongly following religious models. In the 18th century the vehemently antichristian Baron de Grimm and J.F. de Saint-Lambert both published secularist catechism. Like Dawkins today, Grimm considered it an outrage against commonsense to teach small children the elements of Christianity. It was because of this that dangerous and absurd ideas had such a powerful influence on people’s minds and characters, and whole nations had been corrupted by its folly. His solution to the problem was to recommend that children be taught two catechisms. The first was to be a catechism of humanity, in which children would be instructed in their rights and duties as members of the human race. This was to be succeeded by a second catechism, which would teach them their rights and duties as members of society and the laws and government of their particular nation. Grimm attempted such a catechism himself in his Essai d’un catechisme pour les enfants of 1755. 1 This was succeeded by Saint-Lambert’s Catechisme universel for children of 12-13, which set out in question and answer format the author’s conception of humanity and morality. The morality expounded in the catechism was very much hedonistic. Humanity should pursue pleasure and avoid pain in order to achieve happiness.This happiness could only be attained through reason and correct self-love, which meant seeking to know others and not separating their happiness from one’s own. 2 When Auguste Comte, the founder of sociology, invented his own atheistic philosophy of Positivism in the 19th century, he specifically conceived it as a ‘religion of humanity’. He thus assumed leadership of his new religion as its priest, writing a Positive Catechism, drawing up a list of notable historical characters who were to act like saints within Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and even invented rituals for his new church. 3 Similarly, the Ethical Church founded by Moncure Conway, who preached at the Unitarian Chapel in Finsbury in London from 1864 to 1897 used the form of a religious service while following a strongly atheist philosophical stance. There were no prayers, and instead of hymns, edifying compositions were sung, while readings consisted of suitable poems and other pieces by appropriate writers. Instead of a sermon, the service concluded with a talk on an ethical or scientific subject. 4

When Secular Humanism first emerged in the early 20th century, it too adopted some of the trappings of conventional religion. The Humanist ideologue, Corliss Lamont, in his 1949 Humanism as a Philosophy advocated that Humanist artists and writers should construct rituals and ceremonies that would ‘appeal to the emotions as well as the minds of people, capturing their imagination and giving an outlet to their delight in pomp and pageantry’. 5 One way this was to be achieved was through the appropriation and remodelling of existing religious festivals. Christmas was to become a secular celebration of the joy of existence, the feeling of human brotherhood and the ideal of democratic sharing. Easter was to be ‘humanistically utilised’ to celebrate the renewal of the vital forces of nature and humanity.’ 6 He also wished to create Humanist wedding and funeral services from which all supernatural elements had been removed. As part of this project, he himself wrote A Humanist Funeral Service. 7 Despite the vehement insistence by Humanists such as Paul Kurtz that Secular Humanism is a form of atheism or agnosticism, sociologically Humanism has many elements in common with theistic religions. 8 Thus, despite the protests of Kurtz and others that Humanism is no such thing, it can indeed be considered a form of religion.

The diverse nature of religion, and religious experience itself, means that it is not possible to define it solely terms of a belief in the supernatural, which Humanists like Kurtz consider to be the distinguishing feature of religion as against their philosophy. For anthropologists such as Clifford Geertz, religion is a cultural system consisting of

‘1. a system of symbols which acts to

2. establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in people by

3. formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and

4. clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that

5. the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.’ 9

Thus, Geertz suggested that ‘the religious perspective … is … not the theory that beyond the visible world there lies an invisible one (though most religious men have indeed held, with differing degrees of sophistication, to some such theory); not the doctrine that a divine presence broods over the world (though, in an extraordinary variety of forms, from animism to monotheism, that too has been a rather popular idea); not even the more difficult opinion that there are things in heaven and earth undreamt of in our philosophies. Rather, it is the conviction that the values one holds are grounded in the inherent structure of reality, that between the way one ought to live and the way things really are there is an unbreakable connection. What sacred symbols do for those to whom they are sacred is to formulate an image of the world’s construction and a programme for human conduct that are mere reflections of one another.’ 10 Now contemporary organised atheism clearly has a disinct worldview, which it regards as uniquely real, and which supplies the rationale for action and conduct. Its conception of the world as purely Naturalistic clearly leads to a vehement denial of the value of metaphysics, the privileging of science as the only legitimate form of enquiry, and varying degrees of hostility towards religion. In the case of Humanism, this was expressed by the establishment by the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism in the 1980s of two subcommittees, one dedicated to attacking the truth of the Bible, the other to disproving faith healing, under the control of a Committee for the Scientific Exploration of Religion, along with campaigns against public or state celebration of religious festivals and publications critical of religion.

Indeed, neither respect for science nor a vehement opposition to supernatural religion necessarily mean that organised atheism or Humanism is not a religion itself. The American sociologist, J.M. Yinger, in his examination of secular alternatives to religion noted that for some rationalist, secularist and humanist groups the faith in science was actually part of a gradual development from liberal and radical forms of traditional theistic religion. In his view, July Huxley’s Religion Without Revelation and John Dewey’s A Common Faith were extensions, not departures, from ‘left-wing’ Christianity. 11 Something of this process can be seen in the 18th century, when the country doctor and Unitarian minister, Joseph Priestley, combined a thoroughly materialist view of humanity with a rationalistic Christianity in which he fully supported the historicity of the miracles reported in the Bible. Indeed, he considered that Christianity would not have spread if it were not true and the miracles had not proved it to be so beyond dispute. 12 The British biologist, Sir Alister Hardy, similarly wished to found an experimental faith that combined a scientific methodology with elements of Christian theology. 13 Noting St. John’s statement that ‘God is love’, Hardy observed that ‘brotherly love – the agape of the New Testament – is certainly at the heart of Christianity. Comradeship in striving for a common purpose may cvonvert a secular movement into a fervour that is almost religious. I am far from being a Communist, yet I must admit that those so-called ‘Anti-God’ posters that came out of Russia in the 1930s struck me as being the most passionately religious pictures that have appeared in the present century.’ 14 Arthur Koestler also described the profoundly religious meaning Communism held for him, viewing it very much in terms of a religious conversion.

‘By the time I had finished with Feuerbach and State and Revolution, something had clicked in my brain which shook me like a mental explosion. To say that one had ‘seen the light’ is a poor description of the mental rapture which only the convert knows (regardless of what faith he has been converted to). The new light seems to pour from all directions across the skull; the whole universe falls into pattern like the stray pieces of a jigsaw puzzle assembled by magic at one stroke. There is now an answer to every question, doubt and conflicts are a matter of the tortured past – a past already remote, when one had lived in dismal ignorance in the tasteless, colorless world of those who don’t know.’ 15

Other religious scholars have also noted the profound similarity of secular alternatives to religion. Mindful of the differences between traditional transcendental religions and the modern, secular alternatives, and the strong opposition by Secularists to what they see as the ‘terminological aggression’ that categorises their movements as ‘religious’, these scholars instead view them as quasi-religions. The Christian philosopher and theologian John E. Smith considers that amongst the reasons for classifying them as such is ‘the strong sense present among the followers of these secular movements that they are meant to provide a source of significance and purpose in human life and a general pattern for behaviour as a whole.’ 16 Smith bases his conception of religion on the definition of religion as ‘ultimate concern’ developed by the Christian theologian, Paul Tillich. Tillich viewed religion as ‘the state of being grasped by an ultimate concern, a concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary and which itself contains the answer to the question of the meaning of our life. Therefore this concern is unconditionally serious and shows a willgness to sacrifice any finite concern which is in conflict with it.’ 17 Clearly, to those atheists and secularists who join anti-religious organisations to attack religion and develop a secular, atheist morality and way of life, atheism in indeed an ‘ultimate concern’ to which all other finite concerns have been sacrificed.

In Smith’s analysis, the defining feature of recognised, transcendental religions is that of a diagnosis of what is wrong with the human condition, leading to a quest for the solution and finally to a deliverer in the form of that religion’s particular doctrine of salvation, redemption or enlightement:

‘Though differing in crucial respects from each other, they exhibit a common pattern that makes it possible to compare tehm with each other. That pattern, briefly stated, is threefold, starting with a diagnosis of the human predicament based on the nature of the religious ultimate aimed at locating what is wrong with our natural existence and what separates us from an ideal fulfillment in God, or Nirvana or the One. The apprehension of this separated or ‘fallen’ state of humanity leads naturally to a quest for the reality which has the power to overcome the flaw in our being disclosed in the diagnosis. The quest is for a deliverer which overcomes the flaw and restores the wholeness of our being. The deliverer is whatever form it may take – the Torah of Jahweh, the Enlightenment of the Buddha, the atoning work of Christ, the insight concerning Brahman and Atman in the Vedanta – is always the central focus of religious devotion because of its power to bring release, salvation or deliverance from the flaw in human existence revealed in the diagnosis.’ 18

There are, of course, important differences between quasi-religions like Humanism and the established world religions. Firstly, Humanism does not recognise a transcendent, supernatural reality and so confines itself to this-worldly endeavours. 19 It also strongly rejects the religious idea of a single, degrading flaw in nature and humanity, such as the doctrine of the Fall in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. H.J. Blackham, in his article ‘A Definition of Humanism’ states that in Humanism there is no difference between what humanity is and what it should be. According to Blackham, there is ‘no entelechy, no built-in pattern of perfection. Man is his own rule and his own end.’ 20 However, Humanists clearly do have a conception of an ideal human condition, in which people are autonomous, free, creative, applying science and reason to human problems, enjoying the beauties of nature and culture, free of superstition and religion, supporting democracy, peace, and opposing tyranny. Against this Humanism condemns ignorance, prejudice, supersitition, injustice, violence, tyranny and supernatural religion. 21Humanism, as a quasi-religion, also shares with traditional religion the function of providing a source of significance and purpose in human life, and providing a general model of behaviour. 22 Moreover, despite their vehement opposition to being labelled a religion, Humanists do recognise the continuity between traditional religion and their philosophy. Corliss Lamont stated of traditional religion that ‘at its best it has given to [people] the opportunity of losing themselves in something greater than any individual and of finding themselves thereby in consecration to an ideal. This historic function of religion any present philosophy worthy of the name must fulfill.’ 23 In the view of scholars such as Smith, this admission justifies the designation of Humanism, even when considering itself a philosophy, as a quasi-religion. 24

Of course, Secular Humanism is only one form of atheism. One can also cover as forms of atheism Nihilism, atheist Existentialism, Marxism and Randian Objectivism. Nevertheless, the criticisms of Secular Humanism and religious fervour that informed Marxist anti-religion can be applied to many forms of contemporary organised atheism. Like religion, it acts as a cultural system of symbols providing its adherents with a distinct conception of the fundamental reality of the world, an ‘ultimate concern’ which grounds subsequent conceptions of ethics and moral behaviour. It shares with religion a conception of what constitutes an ideal of human existence, and a diagnosis of what prevents the fulfillment of this ideal. As part of its programme to supersede religion, it has a history of appropriating and remodelling religious forms, such as composing appropriate rituals and catechisms intended to support and inculcate its worldview and a common sense of fellowship and purpose amongst its members. Thus the opening of the atheist or Humanist pre-school last week really wasn’t anything unusual, but part of a long tradition in which organised atheism functioned as a form of religion.

In fact there is also one other important difference between quasi-religions, such as organised atheism, and the conventional religions. Although conventional religion has all too often promoted tyranny and ignorance against knowledge, democracy and human dignity, in Christianity at least it also possessed what Paul Tillich called ‘the Protestant principle’. If religions have sanctioned oppression, they have also condemned and attacked it. Indeed, the great Lutheran theologian Reinhold Neibuhr also attacked the ‘ideological taint’ which masked human corruption and self-interest in religion, politics and society throughout history. Yet traditionally quasi-religions have found self-criticism very difficult, especially those with the aim of attacking religion. The belief of these anti-religions that their self-perceived basis in science and reason is no guarantee against corruption, hypocrisy and oppression. 25 The persistent failure of organised atheism to address the evil committed in its name can be seen very clearly in the repeated denial of atheist ideologues like Richard Dawkins that such oppression has ever been done by atheists in the name of atheism. While members of the established religions are all too aware of the dangers of religious intolerance, the failure of organised atheism to recognise the oppression and intolerance committed in its name marks it off very distinctly from mainstream religion in this respect.

Notes

1. Paul Hazard, trans. J. Lewis May, European Thought in the Eighteenth Century (Harmondsworth, Pelican Books 1954), pp. 185-6.

2. Hazard, European Thought, p. 186.

3. ‘Positivism’ in Christopher Cook, ed., Pears Cyclopedia 95th Edition (London, Pelham Books 1986), pp. J40-41.

4. ‘Ethical Church’, in Cook, ed., Pears Cyclopedia, p. J18.

5. Corliss Lamont, Humanism as Philosophy (1949), p. 306, cited in John E. Smith, Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Basingstoke, MacMillan 1994), p. 26.

6. John E. Smith, Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Basingstoke, MacMillan 1994), p. 26.

7. John E. Smith, Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Basingstoke, MacMillan 1994), p. 26.

8. John E. Smith, Quasi-Religions: Humanism, Marxism and Nationalism (Basingstoke, MacMillan 1994), p. 39.

9. Clinton Bennett, In Search of the Sacred: Anthropology and the Study of Religions (London, Cassell 1996), p. 102.

10. Clifford Geertz, Islam Observed: Religious Development in Morocco and Indonesia (Chicago, The University Press, 1968), p. 97, cited in Bennett, In Search of the Sacred, pp. 102-3.

11. J.M. Yinger, ‘Secular Alternatives to Religion’ in Whitfield Foy, ed., The Religious Quest (London, Routledge 1978), p. 546.

12. Basil Wiley, The Eighteenth Century Background (Harmondsworth, Penguin Books 1940), p. 184.

13. See the chapters ‘Towards a New Natural Theology’ and ‘An Experimental Faith’ in his book The Biology of God: A Scientist’s Study of Man the Religious Animal (London, Jonathan Cape, 1975), pp. 196-233.

14. Hardy, The Biology of God, p. 175.

15. Arthur Koestler, The God that Failed (London, 1950), p. 23, cited in Foy, The Religious Quest, p. 548.

16. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 13.

17. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 2.

18. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 3.

19. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 7.

20. H.J. Blackham, ‘A Definition of Humanism’, in Paul Kurtz, ed., The Humanist Alternative: Some Definitions of Humanism, cited in Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 29.

21. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 42.

22. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 13.

23. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 13.

24. Smith, Quasi-Religions, p. 13.

25. Smith, Quasi-Religions, pp. 13-14.

31 Responses to “Atheism as Religion”

  1. Rich Says:

    Also
    Bald is a hair colour.

    Don’t religions have
    Origins stories
    Places of Worship
    Morality Codes
    Afterlife Stories

    ?

  2. beastrabban Says:

    Rich, the statement that Bald is a hair colour isn’t any kind of argument, it’s a slogan. It really doesn’t answer the point I was making that organised atheism acts in ways strongly analogous to religion, even if there are important points of difference. Now religion is an extremely tricky thing to define, and not all of the features that are considered to be definitive of religion are found in all of them, or that some of these points are exclusive to religion. Now this point is actually quite important, and I intend to deal with at some length, also answering the second half of your comment. So I intend to tackle that part of your comment in a second blog post. 🙂

  3. Rich Says:

    Let’s be honest. Atheism is only organized as a backlash to the perpetual evangelism that is forced down our throats, into our laws and into our schools. You are free to believe whatever you want in your own home. Don’t try and make it law, part of the government or part of the education system.

    There is also Anti-theism (Hitchens, PZ myers, etc) – and I have some sympathy for that position, but I don’t think most people are ready for that kind of honesty. It brings comfort to some, and no doubt does some good. Doesn’t make right, though.

    Listen, religious folks:

    JUST SHUT UP.

    Seriously. Don’t evangelize. lead really good, moral lives and be touched by god and everyone will be like “my goodness, they’re on to something” and will join in droves.

  4. Rich Says:

    “Bald is a hair colour” highlights the category error.

    Theists for some reason are dying for atheism to be a religion. Is it because they *must* use this lens? They cannot think beyond it? Or perhaps they think it will help them legal in seperation cases?

  5. beastrabban Says:

    “Bald is a hair colour” highlights the category error.

    No – the reason why I’ve disputed the distinction of atheism from religion is because the category of ‘religion’ is innately nebulous, so that certain forms of atheism can be considered as religious.

    Theists for some reason are dying for atheism to be a religion. Is it because they *must* use this lens? They cannot think beyond it? Or perhaps they think it will help them legal in seperation cases?

    Nope – it’s because the features that philosophers, anthropologists and sociologists consider to be diagnostic of religion may also apply to certain forms of atheism.

    Atheism is only organized as a backlash to the perpetual evangelism that is forced down our throats, into our laws and into our schools. You are free to believe whatever you want in your own home. Don’t try and make it law, part of the government or part of the education system.

    Actually, one can argue that there is already considerable evangelism by atheists against religion in that the media and education system already articulate secularist, anti-religious ideas even if they don’t make an explicitly irreligious statement. Now I believe that as Christianity is good, it should play a part in public life, and in that sense Christianity should inform attitudes to the law, government and education system.

    There is also Anti-theism (Hitchens, PZ myers, etc) – and I have some sympathy for that position, but I don’t think most people are ready for that kind of honesty.
    I think Hitchens and Myers honestly hold their opinions, but I don’t think anti-theism is intellectually honest. It’s radically flawed and the arguments underpinning militant atheism are wrong.

    JUST SHUT UP.

    Seriously. Don’t evangelize. lead really good, moral lives and be touched by god and everyone will be like “my goodness, they’re on to something” and will join in droves.

    No, they won’t. Alan Watts and Richard Dawkins use the argument that because western Christians aren’t out in the streets evangelising and preaching the good news, they must therefore not really believe in God. Now the reason why Christians want to evangelise is because they believe Christianity to be good, and as St. Thomas said, good seeks to spread itself. We feel we have benefited from the gospel, and want others to enjoy those benefits.

  6. Rich Says:

    you seem to conflate atheism and anti-theism. a lot.

  7. Rich Says:

    Surely the argument for spreading the good news works for atheism too. Accept its ‘militant” when atheists do it. The real reason why faith can’t sell itself without evangelism is that it’s a wholly unattractive enterprise to free thinkers.

  8. JOR Says:

    “Surely the argument for spreading the good news works for atheism too.”

    Sure.

    “Accept its ‘militant” when atheists do it.”

    I think ‘militant’ is usually used to describe atheists who are obsessive to the point of moral and intellectual dishonesty.

    (You might say that there are plenty of theists like that too. That’s true, but doesn’t subtract from the point.)

  9. beastrabban Says:

    Let’s go through your reply, Rich.

    Surely the argument for spreading the good news works for atheism too.
    Yes, that’s why Richard Dawkins has been described as an ‘evangelical atheist’.

    Accept its ‘militant” when atheists do it. Nope – certain forms of Christian evangelism have also been described by their detractors as ‘militant’, such as the ‘muscular Christianity’ of parts of American Christendom. Moreover, the ‘church militant’ has been a description of certain varieties of Christian religious experience and organisation since the Middle Ages. So atheist evangelism certainly isn’t the only form of evangelism that is described as militant. And it’s fair to describe New Atheism as militant because of its intense hostility to religion and the avowed intent of many of its ideological leaders like Dawkins and Nick Humphries to destroy religion, even using the law to clamp down on freedom of belief.

    The real reason why faith can’t sell itself without evangelism is that it’s a wholly unattractive enterprise to free thinkers. If you mean that people who hate religion anyway find it unattractive and aren’t going to convert, you’ve essentially said the obvious. You’ve also haven’t said anything that contradicts scripture: Saint Paul says that unbelievers are offended by the Gospel. However, I defend the Gospel because I find it to be true, and it and Christianity are rational and can be defended and explained. The arguments for atheism, on the other hand, I find false and the criticisms of Christianity also severely flawed and containing a fair amount of little more than prejudice. And as Christianity is true and has value, therefore I believe that communicating its truth and value to others is good.

  10. Rich Says:

    Oooh! Quoting scripture! That’s settled it.

  11. beastrabban Says:

    Rich, your sneer Oooh! Quoting scripture! That’s settled it isn’t any kind of rebuttal to my argument. It’s just a sneer. From the way you’ve descended into shouted command, like Listen, religious folks: JUST SHUT UP strongly shows to me that you don’t have any arguments, and the only way you can cope with this is by screaming commands and sneers. And obviously, from the way you behave it’s clear that you think that atheists are perfectly entitled to demand their opponents be silent when they don’t have any answers. This is the conduct of the dictator.

    You’ve lost the debate, and the more you shout and sneer, the more obvious it’ll be.

  12. Rich Says:

    Self proclaimed victories. Precious. So Iraqi information ministry.

    “This is the conduct of the dictator” – don’t dictators rule by fear? Wouldn’t I need a lake for fire or something to threaten you with?

  13. beastrabban Says:

    Self proclaimed victories. Precious. So Iraqi information ministry. Nope, it’s just an observation. You haven’t presented any counterargument, just sneers and shouting. So it’s fair to say that you have lost the argument. Somehow comparing me to Saddam Hussein and his cronies won’t change that.

    “This is the conduct of the dictator” – don’t dictators rule by fear? Wouldn’t I need a lake for fire or something to threaten you with? By definition, dictators rule by personal command. So, your command that people of faith ‘JUST SHUT UP’ is by its nature dictatorial. As for needing a lake of fire, well, secular and atheistic regimes this century have done just as well with firing squads and concentrations camps.

    Now Rich, I’ll repeat my warning. I made it before I read this post, so I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt for just one more comment. If you can make a point through argument, without sneering, shouting or any other kind of incivility, you’re welcome here. However, any more trollish behaviour and you’re banned.

  14. Rich Says:

    Your self proclaimed victory is also an observation. It is perhaps for readers to decide?

    So is “Have no other gods before me” something a dictator would say? Please clarify for me.

    It would seem that anything you arbitrarily disagree with is sneering.

    Should you want to ever discuss without the threat of arbitrary deletion, or consorship, you’ll be most welcome here:

    http://www.antievolution.org/cgi-bin/ikonboard/ikonboard.cgi?s=47701610bfe06f52;act=ST;f=14;t=5340

    Happy Christmas to you and yours.

    Rich

  15. beastrabban Says:

    Your self proclaimed victory is also an observation. It is perhaps for readers to decide? They can decide whatever they choose, and will, no matter what I say.

    So is “Have no other gods before me” something a dictator would say? Please clarify for me. No, it’s a statement of legitimate authority. There are no other gods beside the Lord, and Abraham had made the covenant with the Lord which would cover his children. So there is a constitutional agreement between Israel and the Lord. It is not the arbitrary assumption of authority by a human dictator.

    It would seem that anything you arbitrarily disagree with is sneering.
    I think the comment Oooh! Quoting scripture! That’s settled it. would strike most people as a sarcastic comment, which by definition is a sneer. Unless you genuinely believed that a quotation from Scripture settles the matter. As you are an atheist, I somehow doubt that.

    Thanks for the invitation to the Antievolution.org, and merry Christmas to you.

  16. Rich Says:

    I thought “By definition, dictators rule by personal command.”

  17. beastrabban Says:

    They do, but their authority is usurped and arbitrary. The whole point of Christianity is that God’s authority is legitimate as creator and Lord, purposeful and not arbitrary.

  18. Rich Says:

    But God is still a dictator, by definition?

  19. Jim Wynne Says:

    Atheists do some things that christians do, therefore atheism is religious. Stamp collectors, legislatures and angry mobs all do things that christians do, so stamp collecting, legislating, and group protests are all forms of religion. Do you have a point that I might have missed?*

    The Atheism=Religion projection is most common amongst well-educated christians. On some level they understand that their religious beliefs are logically indefensible, and the things that atheists say about them are true, and it becomes the only defense they have. It’s just an adult version of the prepubescent “I know you are, but what am I?” defense.

    *Rhetorical question–no answer required.

  20. Lou FCD Says:

    A worshiper of Zeus might say the same thing.

    I’m genuinely interested in what makes you believe that Yahweh is legitimately The One True God, while Zeus (or any one of the gajillion other gods) is not.

    No snark, just curious.

  21. beastrabban Says:

    Jim Wynne, regarding your comment The Atheism=Religion projection is most common amongst well-educated christians. On some level they understand that their religious beliefs are logically indefensible, and the things that atheists say about them are true, and it becomes the only defense they have. It’s just an adult version of the prepubescent “I know you are, but what am I?” defense. Actually, no. I know that my beliefs are true, and that they are rationally defensible. This simply isn’t a case of tu quoque , it’s simply a comment on the way certain forms of atheism do mimic and rival organised religion, both in their sociological functions and in elements of their basic ideologies.

    If you clearly believe that there is a clear dividing line between ‘religion’ and ‘atheism’, what of the case of one of speakers at the La Jolla Beyond Belief atheism conference. This was a meeting of atheist scientists. One of them, according to the coverage in the British science magazine, New Scientist and said ‘The universe called me to be a scientist’. Now unless he really has hallucinated that the universe was personally speaking to him, he is actually using religious terminology to express an essentially religious attitude to his job. He has gone well beyond a simple statement that ‘I like science, because it allows me to explore the nature of the universe, therefore I decided to become a scientist’. He’s made a statement that can only be understood as essentially religious.

    Lou FCD, if you want to know why I believe the Lord of Hosts to be the only God, it’s because of the witness of the Bible. All the attempts I’ve seen to discredit it rely on questionable, and very often extremely anachronistic, presumptions.

  22. Rich Says:

    “I know that my beliefs are true”

    I don’t know mine are true. They are subject to constant testing as new data emerges.

  23. Paul Flocken Says:

    There was considerable comment on the Christian blogs last week about the opening of a Humanist pre-school in America. Contrary to the vehement denials that atheism is a religion, this appeared to demonstrate the very opposite: that atheism is a religion, or at the very least it tries to do some of the things conventional religion does.

    No, this demonstrates nothing of the sort. What it means is that conventional religion so long ago invaded and co-opted and corrupted all the many things necessary to living in a complex civilization that anything today that tries to change that is in consequence summarily dismissed as copying religion. Maybe, just maybe, humanity could get along without religion, if it would just get its claws out of us.

  24. qetzal Says:

    For anthropologists such as Clifford Geertz, religion is a cultural system consisting of

    ’1. a system of symbols which acts to

    2. establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in people by

    3. formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and

    4. clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that

    5. the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.’

    Secular humanism may fit this definition.

    Atheism per se does not.

  25. Don Grimm Says:

    You have not presented one argument that is convincing to even a 5 year old. Religion is unprovable by definition. I’m sure the followers of Zeus were just as adept at their sophistry as you are. There is no proof and never will be. Learn to live in the real world.

  26. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    if it would just get its claws out of us.

    Just out of a macabre curiosity, by what possible methodology would “religion” and all its attendant evils have its claws in YOU and any other person if by definition (and I assume you’ll adhere to this notion) you’re a free thinker, or thus?

    I was under the impression at least in the Western World (I’ guessing you’re not logging in from some Islamic hamlet) no one has the right to force you to think anything? And if free will is non extant or has no force in effect, then this leaves other questions begging.

    One, are you going to legislate against religion then?

    Two, is this nefarious influence from religion so overpowering that while you trust your senses to detect some semblence of “truth” (and whatever non rehashed moral code you prefer?), you don’t trust them to withstand other peoples’ pieties?

    Happy festivus!

  27. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    qetzal Says:

    1. a system of symbols which acts to

    2. establish powerful, pervasive and long-lasting moods and motivations in people by

    3. formulating conceptions of a general order of existence and

    4. clothing these conceptions with such an aura of factuality that

    5. the moods and motivations seem uniquely realistic.’

    Secular humanism may fit this definition.

    Atheism per se does not.

    The very phrasecraft of “per se” is a wide world, partner.

    the problem is that some religious groups have little grandeur and fanfare as well. Nor do they prosytlize all that much unless you specifically go TO them. Ayn Rand had her own movement that went stillborn, and Aldous Huxley had his pitches also. Also stillborn. Perhaps whatever flavor of atheism is most effective DOES copy certain religious credos PRECISELY as the smart ones (like Dawkins), while making a pitch for a valueless world (unless the issue is some politically correct motif that appeals to whatever ideology happens to be in fashion) understand all too well that you can’t promote ANY kind of idea–even a new cooking method to supplant using too much heat in the kitchen–without having a way to pitch and without leaving people in the lurch about your ultimate goals. Or meaningsl. Many atheists like Mike Ruse and William Provine have written extensively, as did Stephen Jay Gould and Stephen Weinberg, on the “meaning” of a godless universe. Some were brutally honest in that the moral compass is now spinning. Some, like Clarance Darrow in the old days, more recently Francis Fukayama, and Peter Singer hold out for us bold new “definitions” of what morals actually are, for example.

    In a way I think they have no choice. You must spread the Good News. Though to be sure this depends, as Lord Sidious said, on one’s personal point of view. Sounds neat until we reach the legal realm and human rights and get get that fix on who deserves to do what to whom. Normative law here in the US has mostly been replaced with positive law, which is a nice way of saying that legal norms based on morals are tossed out and who has the power and money gets to be the rooster of the walk. This is also a sidenote to an earlier conversation about human morals evolving. They have not. Or not by much. JOR said the scale of damage was greater today due our technology. But merely decades in the past and selfish input in the present show a world every bit in danger and trouble as the distant past, and even more so. The issue is always moral DECISIONS, not ability. Japanese soldiers didn’t have the A-bomb but killed hundreds of thousands and murdered, raped, decapitated, and otherwise harassed Philipino villagers when none of this was necessary for military prowess, for example. Wealthy people use teams of lawyers to shield themselves from legal norms that would have you and me locked in cuffs at the least for malfeasance of many kinds. Legal “retinkers” like Oliver Wendall Holmes, socialist warriors, Marxian piddlers, Humanist scribblers on politics say the answer lies in disvowing greed and assuring nice tidings and sumptious cradle to grave goodies for the commonweal.

    I doubt this works. Sorta contradictory, evern. It was, after all, Holmes atheist interpretation of the “meaning” of humanity that had him famously proclaim that as far as morals go, he saw no distinction between baboons and humans. And here is where Beast might be going with all this. Atheism can try and posit some positive existence for man. But it cannot use objective and non-subjective criteria for saying that any OTHER kind of result or notion is “bad” whatsoever. In doing so it makes a judegement call it cannot logically support with science or mere facts of the matter.

  28. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    Beast said, in part:

    Alan Watts and Richard Dawkins use the argument that because western Christians aren’t out in the streets evangelising and preaching the good news, they must therefore not really believe in God

    Exactly. And herein is yet another thorn. While I can’t claim all atheists do this or have this attitude about “what really constitutes belief”, there is a hint here overall that it would not matter in point of fact WHAT Christians did or did not do that would satisfy athiest apetite for finding fault or deficiency. Mother Theresa is described by Christopher Hitchens as a peddler of gloom and a ragpicker. Dawkins sees lack of belief for the notion that people in America and Britain aren’t out in masse hitting the streets. A Princton professor contradicts that above commentary by Flockton that claws are in us and assures his listeners on PBS’s Charlie Rose show, that there is little to worry about in the West from religious persection since “no one here takes it seriously anyhow...”

    Former evangelist and now atheist web wanderer Dan Barker claims that most Christians “know” in their hearts that faith is false and nothing is out there….

    And so it goes on and on….

  29. Wakefield Tolbert Says:

    I said earlier: And here is where Beast might be going with all this. Atheism can try and posit some positive existence for man. But it cannot use objective and non-subjective criteria for saying that any OTHER kind of result or notion is “bad” whatsoever. In doing so it makes a judegement call it cannot logically support with science or mere facts of the matter.

    Actually what I MEANT to say was that this might be where Beast is going OVERALL, in his overall analysis of atheism. Obviously this is not the topic per se (atheism as moral suasian of some kind) of this thread or his posting.

    Just to clarify. Though I must say that while they might deny it, many atheists will come around at some point to declard their creation story version of the evolution of human morals as being purely biomechanical in nature. But that is another issue. I am currently only curious as to BR’s response to the notion that atheism MUST copy some aspects of religion in order to gain wider acceptance. To evangelize, if you will, its many flavors and hope that one sticks on the wall of popular opinion if slung out hard enough? A pragmatic, defensive response to religion that must curry favor from the EveryMan in order to “change the world”?

    Or alternately, does he feel the main impetus for atheism (and there are many types as we can all agree on, to the Randians of Objectivism to the Dawkinsonian kind to those who even deny that human consciousness and free will even exist–which, BTW, throws ideas about ‘free thinking’ into utter and complete chaos from a notion of choosing to believe anything…) is due to a truly rational need (or other), as with religion, to find some semblance of order in the arrangement of things in the world, human development, explanations, morals, etc. Its just that for some people the percieved restraints of faith are too much to bear and limits their freedoms (or percieved need of) or has distasteful elements of notions like personal sacrifice, etc?

    Some other reason an idea about God is odious to some people? Does it interfere with some aspect of the psyche and is it on par with actually believing in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny?

    Or perhaps a little of all these? This is not an attempt to be facetious.

  30. Rich Says:

    Personally, I find the intellectual dishonesty distasteful and the dogma / baggage that goes with it harmful to humanity.

  31. beastrabban Says:

    Hi Qetzal, Paul Flocken, Don Grimm, Wakefield and Rich.

    Qetzal, I think it’s true to say that atheism as such doesn’t count as a religion, but certain organised atheist ideologies will act as religions, and can be seen as religions, a point paradoxically made by some atheist ideologues like Dewey.

    Paul Flocken – actually, the reality is the reverse of the image you have above of the development of civilisation. Most of the secular developments of civilisation arose from within the context of religion, but have lost this context. For example, the grid plan used in cities since ancient Rome was originally based on Roman religious practise. When laying it out, a priest led the plough. It isn’t the case of a secular civilisation having religion forced on it.

    Don Grimm – I haven’t actually put forward any arguments for religion, merely answered the question asked about why I saw the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as the true God. It’s a statement of my faith, not an argument. If I wanted to present an argument for the existence of God, it’d take up much more than a simple paragraph.
    And I would strongly argue that I am living in the real world.

    Hi Wakefield, thanks for your comments and insights. I hope I’ve answered some of your queries on the relationship between quasi-religious atheist ideologies and religion proper.

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