Tuesday, February 13, 2007

If You Don't Believe in Flying Pigs, You Have Formed a Religion...

Why Atheism Is Not A Religion...

My mom brought up an interesting misconception about atheism in today's day and age. She said, but is this atheism a religion? the way you preach it i would consider you a fundie in atheism. :) i feel you are trying to say a little bit to hard there is no God.

Which, of course, is one of the greatest misunderstandings of all time. So to set this right, I will delineate what a religion is, what it isn't, and the clear, defining differences in life.
Fist off, I think it needs to be said that I think a portion of the misunderstanding lies in the fact that people who hold faith as such a prominent part of their own lives have a hard time comprehending how people could not have this type of faith not even on the edges of their radar. Much like a blind person has a hard time understanding what color" is, let alone the color blue, a religious person has a hard time imagining a life free from religious belief and dogma.

Another contributing factor may be a statement of great semantic difference: In that, atheists don't "believe" God does not exist. Most atheists simply do not believe God does exist. (and if you think this isn't a key difference, think of all the differing Christian denominations splintered across the U.S. alone due to how they define one simple idea!) We don't believe god doesn't exist--we have no belief in a god! One is positively believing that a thing does not exist (do believe god doesn't exist) and one is simply lacking belief in it's existence. (not believing in the existence) Do you see the distinction? You may not care, but it makes all the difference in the world. If someone asked you if you believe in flying pigs, would you say "I believe there are no flying pigs," or would you say "I don't believe in flying pigs"? Lack of belief and Active belief are two very different creatures.
That said, on to tackling the more applicable aspects of the differing ideologies: Religion (the positive belief in something) and Atheism (the lack of belief in something).

Belief in god(s), Faith:
The most basic thing about religion is the belief in a god(s). Almost no religion on earth lacks this very profound distinction! In fact, not only do they believe in these god(s) of theirs, most of them were founded specifically for certain deities that apparently other religions weren't paying attention to. Since an atheist has no belief in a god, this fact alone should set it apart from a "religious belief."

Religion necessitates the existence of faith; this does not mean that the existence of faith (in whatever form) necessitates the existence of religion. I have "faith" in Rich's love for me--is that a religion? Of course not. I have "faith" in the value of logic--is that a religion? Of course not, that'd be silly. The connection between religion and faith only goes in one direction, not both.

Moreover, fundie's love to equivocate upon the term "faith." Faith has multiple meanings--not all of which are the same. The kind to which I refer in regards to Rich or logic and which one might consider common among atheists is that of a confidence based upon past experience. Moreover, that faith is not limitless--it only goes as far as the evidence warrants. In religion, however, faith means a great deal more--it is essentially a belief without or in spite of evidence.

But I know some of you need the differences spelled out a little better, so let's move on, shall we?

Supernatural Origins of the Moral Code:
Almost every religion the world over claims that morality began with their deity. In fact, one may be right to wonder how anyone from another part of the world managed to survive to adulthood if their deity wasn't presently known there!! If morality were truly a divinely inspired gift to the mere mortal, one would expect an atheist to be a "bad person," or, at the very least, a "not good person." This may be one of the scariest facts for most religious persons to consider. The fact that a person can be a decent, contributing member of society, to share care and love for another individual outside of the religious (thus, proving no gods need apply for a moral person to exist) only shows that much of morality is a function of societal upbringing, societal traditions, norms, and taboos. Most atheists don't preach any sort of "moral code," as most tend to know right from wrong based on their own experiences and upbringing. If morality indeed came from a god, any person who strayed from that god should become a feral creature, murderous, bestial, uncontrollable. But as many of you personally know atheists (whether you realize it or not, as we don't all walk around with the "mark of the beast" on our foreheads), it is scary for a fundamentalist to know that some people don't need fear of eternal punishment, or the bribery of eternal life, to be decent to our fellow human beings--we have self control, compassion, empathy, logic, rational thought, and an ability to see that when freedom is restricted due to a "moral code," it isn't moral at all...

Religious "Feelings":
One of the most purportedly "intangible proofs" of the divine comes from "feelings" such as "awe," "adoration," "love," "guilt," and "mystery." In fact, most institutions of religions and cults openly encourage such feelings, mainly when it comes to rituals such as prayer, worship, singing, or any other tradition or ritual deemed "sacred or "holy." Of course, being human and being capable of emotions and feelings, this type of "awe" and "wonder" happens to everyone at different places and times in all of our lives, whether we attribute them to a divine or not. There is no such thing as a "religious feeling" as opposed to a "secular feeling." Since feelings cannot be measured or quantified, to say one knows "love that knows no bounds" while another "has no idea the feeling" they are having when "inspired" by what must be the "supernatural," one is simply engaging in idiocy, for no one can ever know what another feels or doesn't feel. And although people can force and manipulate feelings to an extent, both in themselves and others, who's to say what's "divine" and what's simply mind control? Of course, atheism in and of itself neither encourages nor poo-poos another's feelings, but may question the logic or rational behind such.

Sacred Physical Elements:
Distinguishing among what is "worldly" and what is "spiritual" among the world is also a key tenant of religious doctrine. This could be considered Jerusalem, where a weeping statue is located, where Jesus may have healed Peter's ear--places that hold a "special meaning" for an otherworldly event--something to help the mortal transcend this plane and onto another, more spiritual plane where one could be closer to their god. Atheists hold no such place on earth as "sacred," "profane," or otherwise spiritual. While an atheist may hold a personal place as "sacred" for them, it in no way is meant as a place from which to gain guidance, wishes, prayers, thanksgiving, or otherwise communicate with a deity; it is simply theirs to cherish for whatever it may mean to them in a personal way...

Sacred Rituals and Traditions:
When people hold something to be sacred (say, communion), there are certain rituals, certain prayers, and certain requirements that must be met or done. Atheism has no "golden calf," as it were, or "must believe" or "must do" ritual or requirement. In fact, if anyone could locate the Big Book of Atheist Rituals, be sure to let me know. Lacking a structure for practices, beliefs, dogmas, or prayers, it would be hard pressed for the religious individual to find anything remotely associated with religion in an atheist's world view...

Communication, whether from worshipper to divine, or the divine to worshipper, is another key tenant of faith and religion for which there is no suitable substitute in atheism. Atheists don't try to communicate with a divine, don't actively seek out ways of speaking with such, and certainly don't go around telling others which divine said what, when, and why. While an atheist may take part in rituals (such as yoga) for purely aesthetic reasons (yoga as part of an exercise regimen), they attribute none of the divine elements traditionally held with such practices...

One’s Life Based on a Religious Worldview:
Religion could never be characterized as a random and isolated conglomeration of unrelated rituals and belief. Religion constructs an entire lens through which the world at large must be seen through, and life must be adjusted, controlled, and held to this lens through which the world is viewed, whether it be in daily ritual (a call to prayer at meal times), weekly (Sunday services), or in certain holidays or even extracurricular hobbies (such as seeing certain types of shows or movies). Certain things must be done (such as a confession or baptism), certain things must be shunned (drinking or extramarital sex), and certain standards of living must be met and built upon. Ideology and the outward practice of such is central to any religious organization and its members. An atheist, on the other hand, indeed atheism in general, holds no set of standards, no prerequisites, no rituals or prayers or meeting places for which one must subscribe to be an atheist. And while an individual atheist may take part in differing types of groups which hold to a certain ideology (like an atheist who is also a member of the Green party), it is usually not pertaining to, or a part of, their unbelief in a deity.

Socializing in Regards to the Above:
Most religions depend upon social gatherings, or social networks, through which their rituals, traditions, and practices are a central factor. While a few may encourage nonsocialization (such as a monastery or hermitage of some kind), most rely on their social networks for the forwarding of their ideology, the strengthening of such, and the continuation of their traditions and beliefs. Atheists have no such organization in which certain traditions are done, certain weekly practices are performed... Atheists, as stated above, may be a part of a group with an ideology, but it is usually in no way affiliated with their unbelief as a factor, as opposed to a religion in which their belief and practice is the unifying factor. And even when an atheist is bound together to others of like mindedness in unbelief, none of the other qualifying factors in a religious scenario play a part, such as rituals, sacred places, prayers, or traditions.

Atheism & Religion:
While each individual church, synagogue, mosque, and other religious body places a differing amount of importance on each of the above, they all have them in common, and none of the above factors and beliefs alone a religion makes--it is the unique combination of all of these factors, or at least most of them, that a cult and a religion make (depending on how well you've marketed your beliefs). If atheism even had two or three of the factors above, one may be led to the conclusion that it is "religiously minded," or at least an metaphorical one, but as atheism neither subscribes to, practices any, or encourages any type of active belief in anything divine or supernatural, it is not a religion in any form.

The fact of the matter if that atheism hold none of the characteristics of a religion as important, or even a blip on the radar. Atheism itself could play a part in a certain type of religion, depending on how it was incorporated into a belief or ideology that held most or all of the above criterion, but atheism in and of itself is not a religion, or even remotely religious in its world view. Atheism and religion are two very distinct and separate categories: atheism is the absence of one particular belief while religion is a complex web of traditions and beliefs.

So why do people always say things like "Atheism's just another religion," or "Atheism's just another form of faith"? Of course, most times these types of things are said, it is while arguing against an atheist. In this country where the idea of religion an the bible itself are more worshipped than any deity, it may be an attempt to somehow get the government to stop "promoting secularism," or stop "promoting atheism" when Christianity itself is limited in various aspects of public life. In fact, getting persons of faith to simply believe that atheism itself is a religion of sorts could give them the ammo needed to stop the government from "promoting an establishment of religion," or some other such nonsense. I mean, if atheism is viewed as a "faith," then we can all be called hypocrites and ignored while prayer is once again led by every public school teacher and then ten commandments become the basis for our laws.

Since the claim that atheism is a religion is based upon a misunderstanding of many concepts, the discussion always proceeds from false premises. This isn't just an issue for the atheist--it's an issue for the plurality of religious organizations within our borders. As stated earlier, when our country holds the idea of religion more strongly than the deities themselves, and secularism is then turned on it's head into "just another religion," separation of church and state take on a whole new meaning. The history of religious violence is skewed to give "mainstream" religion a better light as the "religious atheists" are blamed--indeed, many a religious war has been misconstrued as "not really religious because they weren't real Christians acting that way and thus the atheists have thrust upon them the sins of the faithful. If religion can now be defined as anything that vaguely represents an idea held by even the most remote portion of the population, despite a lack of practices, rituals, traditions, and the sacred, religion is at the edge of a very dangerous precipice...

Of course, it goes without saying that if my atheism is a "religion" to your deity, than your "atheism" about Mohammad is also a religion. If my not believing in your god constitutes faith and belief inasmuch as it seems religious to you, then by your very own standards of defining what is religious means if you profess an unbelief in Mohammad as a prophet, that is a religious belief on your part. Do you see the issue? Not having belief is no where even in the same ballpark as having a belief in something. Do you think an unbelief in the tooth fairy, or an unbelief in flying pigs as the basis for your life philosophy? No? Neither does an unbelief in sky god...


mom said...

heavens to betsy jason i didn't think i have to read a book on all this. i promise i will TRY to read it all. i hate long blogs!! :) just with the little bit i did read are you saying you believe in just yourself? only a question and i don't need a book on it. a simple yes or no or a couple of sentences will do. :) i love you jason and love our talks even when i don't understand all together why you get so fired up on all this God stuff. you do have a passion on not believing in it so strong i just wonder why. will i get in trouble that i said that?? :) all of the sudden i feel like dr. phil. :) SNORT! :)crocheting helps with this i am sure! a cup of tension tamer tea and than blog! :) love and prayers

Darkmind said...

This from a woman who leaves galactic comments! BWA HA HA HA!! What is that saying about apples in relation to the distance with which they travel after breaking the natural connection between thier stems and the tree of thier parentage?

mom said...

hello jason! hello darkmind! i like to think my comments are better and the readers digest version! :) :) :) SNORT! do you think jason you get this LONG blog problem from your mother?? to answer this you have to type laying on your sofa. :) just call me dr. philess! :) thanks for the smiles darkmind! with this cold we are having it warms my heart. :) love and prayers

FCSuper said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
FCSuper said...

(fixed typos)

Jason, seriously, I'm not kidding when I say this: You should write a book or two on these topics.

Although I'm not an atheist (mostly because my personal experiences defy that POV in my own life), I am more an atheist than not in comparison to organized religion. Someone from your POV and experience can add valuable contributions in print in this field.

Darkmind said...

I'm sorry to hear that I warmed your heart, mom. Usually when it gets cold its your feet and hands that need to be warmed...I'll try and improve my aim next time! :):):) SNORT!
Jason, FCSuper makes a good point. I'm sure you wouldn't have trouble finding a publishing company (wink). BWA HA HA HA!!!

Anonymous said...

It's a shame for you. All this "knowledge" but your going straight to hell for your sin.

Jason Hughes said...

Well, perhaps one day I may look into turning portions of this blog into a book form... Thanks, though; that's a huge compliment, and has done wonders for my ego! :D

And Anonymous, I think you know you can go to hell.... Hey, you're the one who believes in it, so someone might as well use it, and I nominate you... When you get back, give us a review like how room service was, cleanliness of the hot tub, so forth, okay, Dippy?