I spent much too much time responding to other’s comments like for the Spanish Inquisitor’s post on things he’s getting tired of hearing. Specifically, I’ve gotten caught up in battling assertions that atheism was a religion. Now most of you are probably rolling your eyes because this is one of those topics that has been talked to death and comes up regularly when you deal with theists. Just for fun, let’s revisit the definitions…
atheism: the rejection of claims for the existence of a god or gods for lack of evidence
1) a. Belief and reverence for a supernatural power or powers regarded as creator and governor of the universe
1) b. A personal or institutionalized system grounded in such belief and worship
2) The life or condition of a person in a religious order.
3) A set of beliefs, values, and practices based on the teachings of a spiritual leader.
4) A cause, principle, or activity pursued with zeal or conscientious devotion.
I’ve mulled the issue over in my head quite a bit and in dealing with challenges I certainly have looked at other’s arguments for why atheism isn’t a religion because even though something seems obvious to me, it can’t hurt to hear it spelled out by someone else. The sticking point is generally #4, which is a rather silly one to try and defend against since if taken literally makes everything a religion. Then there are other claims like it takes faith to believe there isn’t a god, wearing of “A”s as being religious as would be socializing with other atheists, are motivations for becoming atheists were irrational (experiencing tragedy, daddy issues, etc), tying Evolution to atheism as some sort of dogma, pointing to men like Dawkins or Hitchens as our spiritual leaders and so on. It’s quite exhausting the variety and effort they put into trying to get atheism labeled as a religion and then it made me wonder, WHY is it so important for theists to have atheism labeled as a religion? I think this is something that’s been overlooked in all these discussions. What’s their motivation for having atheism be considered a religion? What do they stand to gain from it?
The foundation of all their attempts I believe is to strip atheism of its logic and intellectualism. Although religion esteems faith, most theists recognize that simply countering logical arguments with assertions of faith just doesn’t hold up well. Atheist arguments sound too sensible, too well thought out and impossible to argue without sounding somewhat silly. Furthermore, many theists I think are intimidated by atheist’s intellectual flexing of being well versed on whatever subject matter is being discussed. It’s the later that’s overwhelming and frustrating to them when discussing complicated matters such as Evolution, History or especially their holy book. Can you imagine how irritating it must be for a theist to experience an atheist who appears to have a greater command of their holy book? Yikes! So to undercut all of the apparent advantages atheists have in one stroke, they call atheism a religion, effectively reducing every point an atheist makes thereafter to nothing more than a belief instead of something intelligent and credible. If this sounds familiar, this is what they do with Evolution. They undercut the research and evidence by declaring “it’s just a theory” and then, well, you know how the rest goes from there.
Aside from just erasing any sense of inadequacy they might have had debating an atheist, the reduction of atheism to mere faith makes other actions possible. First, if they can establish in the mind of an atheist that his position is indeed mere faith instead of a product of logical reasoning, the atheist is now vulnerable to conversion. In this state, an atheist is perhaps the most likely to convert to a religion, more so than a theist converting from one religion to another. Why? Because an atheist doesn’t carry the baggage of dogma. Although a believer of one religion has already shown they’re willing and able to believe on faith, I think it’s the dogma of that religion that stands as a sizable obstacle to conversion and with no such obstacle, a conversion of an atheist could be an easy slide once his position is reduced to faith. As much of a stretch (dare I say “leap of faith”) it might be to think an atheist could be so easily dislodged from his senses, I don’t think theists feel this way and if they want to “save” atheists, they may well go down this road. This can also be seen as a variant of “frame-lock” (more on this here), the process by which a theist tries to bring your world into their world view, making you believe they’re one and the same.
Another motivation for having atheism considered a religion is to be able to dismiss it as a cult. Thinking of it as a cult once again removes that logical, rational appearance of atheism and replaces it with wild-eyed fanaticism and also serves to group all atheists together as kool-aid drinking yahoos. Who we’re said to worship, Dawkins, Hitchens, Darwin, or even Satan, doesn’t matter and they’ll swap out one name for another depending on whatever point they want to make or whatever audience they happen to be addressing. The key is to radicalize atheists, and this can’t be done if we appear to be logical, rational people. No, it’s critical for them to vilify atheists and undercut their message by implying there’s nothing to it but misguided faith.
Finally, I think for the sake of strengthening both personal faith as well as the faith of the flock, it’s very important to foster the idea that atheism is merely faith and not intelligible or logical. The effect is twofold for the theist. First, the persuasiveness of atheist arguments lose their steam if they’re mere faith. Second, it makes believing the “truths” of one’s religion much easier because now there’s not a choice between faith and reason, there’s only a choice between faith and faith and for most, the comfort of having a magic man daddy in the sky watching out for you and providing some nice place to go when you die is more appealing than the faith that says all that stuff is a bunch of hooey.
So that’s it. These are my theories for why theists want atheism labeled a religion. Perhaps I’ll do a followup giving arguments for why it’s not but I think there’s probably ample amounts of that online already but you never know.
Oh btw, the cover graphic I put on the book above I snagged from this post by the Exterminator.