Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Not a religion!

   This should have been an easy post, but when misconceptions run amuck, lengthy rebuttals tend to seem necessary...

   Today's topic is on the canard that atheism is a religion. The seemingly easy way to nip this in the butt is to point out that atheism has no tenents by which to obey. Just look at the definition of religion:
  1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
  2. a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects
Somebody please tell me how atheism fits that definition. Atheism is a rejection of religious claims; it doesn't make any claims of it's own. Therefore, there are no sets of beliefs or any governing moral codes and it does not fit the definition of a religion. This should have been the end of this post...

   Yet, I can understand where some of the confusion comes from. Atheism is a response to religion. There are now people writing many books about atheism, there are many conventions across North America, Europe, and Australia for atheists to attend. Those unfamiliar with atheism or misinformed about atheism jump to the conclusion that the conventions are our version of church, the speakers are our priests, and the authors are our apologists; thus atheism is a religion itself.

   In any other situation, having conventions/conferences and book authors does not get such treatment. Take, for example the Society of Women Engineers (SWE). Is this a man-hating/women's-superiority group because it only deals with women? I mean, really?!? OK, so you're women and you're engineers. What's the big deal? Why do you need to have a group about it unless to promote your superiority to men?...

   Or how about all the employee networks at my place of employment? There is an African American group, a Latino group, an Asian/Pacific Islander group, etc. Why? Seriously?!?

   OK, I'm not really serious. Those last two paragraphs were mainly sarcasm. So what is honestly the point of these groups? All of these groups listed represent people who are either a minority or an underprivileged group or both. They are support/social groups for those minority/underprivileged individuals. I have no objections to such groups; I think they are actually important and necessary. I appreciate what SWE stands for.

   This is much what atheist groups are about. We are a minority and we are underprivileged. Don't believe me on that second part? Just pay some attention to American politics, particularly in the Republican party. This is, as they say, "one nation under God!" So, what does that mean for someone who doesn't believe in that god? Well, just ask former President George H. W. Bush:
No, I don't know that atheists should be regarded as citizens, nor should they be regarded as patriotic.
While this quote is only attributed to Bush as only one reporter quoted him as saying this, Bush has never bothered to refute nor deny saying it.

   That is just one of many reasons we have our conventions and social groups. We are organizing to fight the corrupting influence has had on this country. And, yes, that means having conventions to gently stroke our own egos. (Don't pretend that other groups don't do the same.) But we also have the conventions to help each other learn which arguments work best against religion as well as how best to argue against religion. It is important to point out that just because one is an atheist does not mean they have to participate in these groups. In much the same way, a female engineer is not required to join SWE.

   This, though, brings me to another reason why I think atheists get pinned for being part of a religion: Simply being an atheist sends the message that we think religious people are wrong, and people don't like being told they are wrong. Women's groups are not telling men that it's wrong for them to be men. Minority groups are not telling whites that it's wrong for them to be white. (Though they often ask that the privileged group check said privilege.) So these groups don't face much backlash, if any1. Atheists, however, do. We upset some religious believers simply for existing. Even something as simple as putting up a billboard that let's atheists know that other atheists exist receives backlash. So, if you are a religious person and atheists are telling you that you are wrong, what can you do? One option would be to demonstrate to atheists with empirical evidence that you are correct. Many atheists are open-minded and are willing to listen. Granted, as "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence," I admit that the theists have their work cut out for them. Which is probably why they go for their second option. That option seems to be to try to link atheists to the things (such as religion, faith, etc.) we speak out against, hoping we will self-destruct under the weight of their contradictory reasoning...

Yeah...don't count on that one working. Really, it just makes us upset and also validates what so many atheists have against religion (such as the dishonest measures people will go to in order to defend their religion).

   In conclusion, I hope that if you are one of those who makes the claim that atheism is a religion that you have simply been uninformed or misinformed. Hopefully this has been an educating experience for you. If you are a religious person dishonestly defending your religion, then shame on you!

1 There is one exception...not so much with my employer's group - though I do think there was one person who was against the group that did get fired when the group was new - as much as such groups in general. It is LGBT groups. They get accused of "advancing the gay agenda" and trying to "teach children to be homosexual," as if that were possible. The good news is that the people that say that shit are quickly becoming the minority and are beginning to be labeled as hate groups. (That's not to say that anyone who lashes out at atheists should necessarily be part of a hate group. At this point in time, there is still a lot of misinformation out. Consequently, there are going to be a lot of people who just spread that misinformation without thinking. It's not because they are hateful, but rather because they are human and humans do dumb things. With the state of the LGBT movement, on the other hand, much misinformation can easily be corrected, so if you are still spreading misinformation you're probably either an ignorant bafoon or a hate mongerer. In short, if you say dumb things about atheists, you can use mass ignorance as an excuse, but that doesn't work for LGBT's.)

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