September 19, 2019
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Is Atheism a religion? 7 criteria for detecting a religion


Today we are asking the question “Is atheism
a religion?” and of course the answer we would give – YES – is often disputed.
Yes, many atheists would say that atheism is not a religion because it doesn’t require
belief in the supernatural or a ‘creator’ etc. But this is where we can get into problems
defining what a religion is because no one seems to doubt that Buddhism is a religion
for example but it denies a belief in an overarching deity like the supernatural creator of the
Bible. We have for example Jainism, which holds that
every living thing is sacred because it is alive, or the Mayans who worshiped the sun
as a deity in and of itself (rather than a deity associated with the sun) So it starts
to get a little tricky. Yes, now another thing that seems to be happening
lately is that with the advancement of atheism in Western society the word atheism is being
re-defined by many groups, perhaps to try and refute the claim that atheism is religious. Claims from atheists like “Atheism simply
means the non belief in the existence of deities” or that “Calling Atheism a religion is like
calling bald a hair colour” they say those types of things. Or, “atheism isn’t a belief system, it’s
a DIS-belief system.” But that is like me saying “I don’t believe
in the flying spaghetti monster” simply means I lack belief in the flying spaghetti monster.
But the truth is I am also saying I BELIEVE there is no such thing as the flying spaghetti
monster. It is a positive affirmation. Yes, and classic definitions of atheism recognized
this. According to the Routledge Encyclopedia of
Philosophy: “Atheism is the position that affirms the
non-existence of God. It proposes positive disbelief rather than mere suspension of belief.”
Atheism is the belief that there is no god. So really if you can just change the definition
of words here and there to suit your philosophical needs then different people can argue about
different definitions all day long. But the rubber hits the road when you start comparing
the similarities between belief systems. Kind of like saying “what makes a car a car?” or
“a dog a dog?” Oxford University educated Ninian Smart’s
work, a man highly decorated and well known in the field of secular religious studies,
is widely accepted by anthropologists and researchers of religion as broadly defining
the various aspects of religion, without focusing on things unique to specific religions. In
his book Dimensions of the Sacred, An anatomy of the World’s beliefs, Smart identifies seven
dimensions of a religion. The seven dimensions or components proposed
by Smart are narrative, experiential, social, ethical, doctrinal, ritual and material. Of
course not every religion has every dimension, nor are they all equally important within
an individual religion. But it gives us an excellent template to study from an expert
in the field. Let’s start with #1 on Smart’s list; narrative.
Every religion has its stories. Almost all religions have stories explaining where the
universe came from and what humanity’s part in it is.
Narrative is a particularly important aspect of western Atheism. As the prominent Atheist
Richard Dawkins said, referring to Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution: “Darwin made
it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist.”
Evolution is an explanation of where everything came from without God: the cosmos (came out
of nothing at the big bang-nothing exploded and became everything); one creature turned
into another, humans evolved from non-human creatures, hence humanity’s place in the cosmos
is being just another species of animal. Evolution is an integral part of atheism and it’s full
of stories. Next we go to the experiential component.
There are actually two aspects to the experiential dimension. The first is the events experienced
before someone founded a religion (for example the Disciples physically saw and touched the
bodily resurrected Jesus). Christianity spread after the Disciples experienced and observed
these and many other things. But it is often asserted that Charles Darwin,
after observing evidence from around the world during his voyage on HMS Beagle, developed
the theory of evolution. He experienced events which lead to his belief system.
The second aspect of the experiential dimension concerns the experiences of later adherents.
Many people feel certain emotions when they participate in certain religious ceremonies.
But some Atheists have reported feeling liberated after converting. Karl Marx said that the
removal of the illusion of happiness by the removal of religion was a step towards true
happiness. Smart also seems to include “faith” as part
of the experiential dimension. The meaning of the word “faith” is often twisted to make
it mean things it does not. In Christianity, faith is logical, being defined in Hebrews
11:1 as “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” This is not
blindly believing the impossible (which is how many Atheists define faith), but rather
trusting the promises of God, whose past promises have all been fulfilled. However, Atheism requires “faith” (using their
own definition) that the laws of chemistry, physics and biology were once violated and
life arose from non-life via chemical evolution via abiogenesis, which contradicts one of
the most well know laws in science (the law of biogenesis). So atheism seems to have an experiential component
and a great deal of faith as well… Now lets look at the social component of religion.
The social dimension of religion looks at the hierarchies and power structures present
within the religion, such the Hindu caste system. In missionary religions, it also includes
how people get converted and how missionaries go about their work.
Many scientists are high up on the social hierarchy of Atheism because their research
enhances their understanding of the world and the facts they uncover are often interpreted
as evidence for evolution, which is vital to atheism. Particularly honoured are those scientists
who write extensively about evolution. Because of this, many scientists include a little
about evolution in their research papers, even when there is little or no relevance
to the topic they are writing about. Contemporary Atheism has been fuelled largely
by authors promoting their Atheistic beliefs through evolution as science and so called
fact. In the preface in his book The God Delusion, Dawkins says; “If this book works as I intend,
religious readers who open it will be atheists when they put it down.”
Dawkins is saying he hopes that his book converts “religious” people to his worldview – exactly
what a missionary of any religion hopes to do!
Next on the list, the Doctrinal component of religion. Doctrines are the beliefs and
philosophies that develop out of a religion (not necessarily being specifically stated
in the religious narratives, etc). For example, the Christian doctrine of the Trinity, while
not directly stated in the Bible, is logically derived from it. Contemporary Atheism gained popularity in
the 18th and 19th centuries, after the “enlightenment”. In 1933, some prominent Atheist philosophers
realised the effects the lack of a belief in a god would have on the morals of society
and wrote what they believed would be a suitable set of beliefs and goals for a secular society
in the 20th century. In doing so, they formed the branch of Atheism
known as Secular Humanism. By and large, many Atheists believe and adhere to the things
written in the Humanist Manifesto, even if they don’t know the specifics of the document.
The doctrines, ethics and goals outlined in the Humanist Manifesto, while being atheistic
and accepting evolution as true, are opposite of what would be expected if they were solely
derived from the evolutionary narrative. This is because this particular branch of atheism,
Humanism, also makes the assumption that humans are basically good, which is an assumption
not an observation. Then there is the ethical component. Atheism
is a morally relativist religion. Most Atheists adhere to an ethical system but in Atheism
there is ultimately no foundation for morality, as many atheists admit. A few examples…
Let me summarize my views on what modern evolutionary biology tells us loud and clear…There are
no gods, no purposes, no goal-directed forces of any kind. There is no life after death.
When I die, I am absolutely certain that I am going to be dead. That’s the end for me.
There is no ultimate foundation for ethics, no ultimate meaning to life, and no free will
for humans, either. Professor Bill Provine from Cornell University
First, there is no moral law: the universe is a nasty, heartless place where most things
wouldn’t mind killing you if you let them. No one is compelled to be nice; you or anyone
could go on a murder spree, and all that is stopping you is your self-interest … P.Z.
Myers, University of Minnesota professor And of course Richard Dawkins himself says
that we live in a universe which has “…no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing
but blind, pitiless indifference.” Of course many systems of ethics have been
proposed by atheists and utilitarianism is probably the most popular one. Some atheists have taken a further step by
creating ethical systems based on the evolutionary narrative and the principle of “survival of
the fittest”. People who have lived by such principles include the perpetrators of the
Columbine Massacre, the Jokela School Shooting in Finland, and on a much larger scale, the
Nazis. Most people (Atheist or not) inherently know
that systems that lead to such atrocities must be ‘wrong’, but Atheists cannot give
a logical reason for why it is wrong. This contradiction was highlighted by Dawkins when
he said “I’m a passionate Darwinian when it comes to science, when it comes to explaining
the world, but I’m a passionate anti-Darwinian when it comes to morality and politics.” It was also graphically shown when two evolutionists
wrote a book claiming that rape is an evolutionary mechanism to spread male genes-and see how
one of them squirmed to justify why he agreed that rape is objectively wrong under his philosophy.
A world governed purely by Atheistic, evolutionary ethics has been shown by history to be a horrible
place to live. Most Atheists recognise this and choose to live by the ethical systems
of other religions instead, or at the very least, live by the laws enforced by the government.
Ritual is the only dimension which on the surface might appear to be absent from the
religion of Atheism. In some religions, rituals have meanings attached to them, such as Passover
commemorating the Israelites’ escape from Egypt. Because Atheism is a relatively recent
movement, it doesn’t have much of a history to commemorate. In other religions, rituals such as sacrifices
and dances are done to appease the gods or the spirits. Because Atheism denies the existence
of gods and spirits, it doesn’t have the second type of ritual either. However, it’s noteworthy that in recent years,
the atheists’ public commemoration of the anniversary of Darwin’s birth each February
(and even of the publication of his Origin of Species in November), along with calls
for the general public to do the same, is rapidly becoming something of an annual ritual.
One might even say that this modern Atheistic commemoration is being ‘celebrated’ with greater
fervour and passion than many longstanding religious rituals. And interestingly there has been a news story
about how atheist mega churches are starting to take root all over the world. Its opening
line said… It looked like a typical Sunday morning at
any mega-church. Several hundred people, including families with small children, packed in for
more than an hour of rousing music, an inspirational talk and some quiet reflection. The only thing
missing was God. Perhaps atheism just needs more time to fully
develop their ritual component. The material dimension of religion, says Smart,
includes all the physical things created by a religion such as art and buildings, and
also natural features and places treated as sacred by adherents.
Now mass atheism again is in its infancy, but look at what the atheist philosopher and
writer Alain de Botton is proposing to build in London England; a 46-metre (151ft) tower
to celebrate atheism! Proposed is a £1m “temple for atheists” among
the medieval church spires of the City of London to evoke more than 300m years of life
on earth. Each centimetre of the tapering tower’s interior has been designed to represent
a million years and a narrow band of gold will illustrate the relatively tiny amount
of time humans have walked the planet. The exterior would be inscribed with a binary
code denoting the human genome sequence. Whether this tower is ever built or not remains
to be seen, however, here is a monument to atheism that HAS been built. From a 2013 news
article; A group of atheists unveiled a monument to
their nonbelief in God on Saturday to sit alongside a granite slab that lists the Ten
Commandments in front of the Bradford County courthouse.
As a small group of protesters blasted Christian country music and waved ”Honk for Jesus”
signs, the atheists celebrated what they believe is the first atheist monument allowed on government
property in the United States. ”When you look at this monument, the first
thing you will notice is that it has a function. Atheists are about the real and the physical,
so we selected to place this monument in the form of a bench,” said David Silverman, president
of American Atheists. This atheist group has vowed to erect 50 more
such monuments around the country on public sites where the Ten Commandments now stand
in the future. Of course Nature itself is often treated as
sacred by some Atheists in and of itself. There are two extremes in the range of ideas
held by Atheists on the ‘material’: Natural resources are here to be exploited
because of “survival of the fittest” and humans are obviously the fittest species; or
We should respect all of nature, particularly living things because to kill them is tantamount
to murdering a cousin. This second view essentially holds that all life is ‘sacred’. Both ideas can be derived from the evolutionary
narrative, but views tending towards the second idea are more prevalent than the views tending
towards the first. An Atheist’s view of the material dimension
is strongly influenced by their view of the ethical dimension.
Conclusion Atheists often claim that their belief is not a religion. This allows them
to propagate their beliefs in settings where other religions are banned, but this should
not be allowed to happen. Contemporary Western Atheism unquestionably
has six of the seven dimensions of religion set forth by Smart, and the remaining dimension,
ritual, has also started to develop. Thus it’s fallacious to assert, “Calling Atheism
a religion is like calling bald a hair colour”. Perhaps a better analogy would be calling
a shaved head a “hairstyle”. Other than the denial of the divine, there is little difference
between Atheism and other worldviews typically labelled as religions and atheists are admitting
it when it suits them. For example here in Canada is an article from
the National Post titled; ‘Atheism a creed that needs the same religious protections
of Christianity and Islam: Ontario Human Rights Tribunal’. Atheism shouldn’t be taught or enforced in
settings where other religions are banned and shouldn’t be favoured by laws which imply
a religiously neutral government. Atheistic philosopher Michael Ruse has admitted
evolution is a religion, and it could be considered the narrative dimension of Atheism. Here’s
what he said; ‘Evolution is promoted by its practitioners
as more than mere science. Evolution is promulgated as an ideology, a secular religion-a full-fledged
alternative to Christianity, with meaning and morality. I am an ardent evolutionist
and an ex-Christian, but I must admit that in this one complaint-and Mr [sic] Gish is
but one of many to make it-the literalists are absolutely right. Evolution is a religion.
This was true of evolution in the beginning, and it is true of evolution still today.
‘… Evolution therefore came into being as a kind of secular ideology, an explicit substitute
for Christianity.’ Now evolution is taught pretty well as fact
in most Western World public schools, so no wonder the religion of atheism is on the rise.
So guess what? If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, its probably a duck. Atheism
IS a religion… For details please see the articles we link
to in this video’s description. See you next time on Genesis Unleashed.

Otis Rodgers

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33 COMMENTS

  1. krakendahed Posted on December 17, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    This whole video is based on a logical fallacy known as a Tu Quoque.
    Atheism (like deism and theism, for examples) is a theological position.   Attempts to redefine it as a religion is highly suspect.  For example, what narrative for the creation of the universe does the religion of polytheism have?

    Reply
  2. arizonaviking Posted on December 17, 2013 at 10:06 pm

    Is bald a hair color?

    Reply
  3. Jack Roach Posted on December 18, 2013 at 1:04 am

    Interesting Krakendahed would use the logical fallacy of Equivocation in his attempt to be logical.  I suggest watching the entire video, the supposed fallacy of Tu Quoque is addressed toward the end. 

    Reply
  4. Frank Christian Posted on December 18, 2013 at 6:33 am

    Atheism is a religion and I fear that they are becoming more extreme each day.
    Great video

    Reply
  5. Igor Zolski Posted on December 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm

    Good video a lot of interesting points. 

    Reply
  6. James T Posted on December 22, 2013 at 9:55 pm

    Who cares? Believe what you want to. Just keep it away from communal, tax paid, property. (no nativity scenes in front of court houses)

    Reply
  7. Wayne Snell Posted on January 18, 2014 at 2:45 am

    @krakendahed
    The tu quoque is also known as the appeal to hypocrisy fallacy. CMI did not state that atheism acts inconsistent or contrary to it's belief system although a very strong case can be made for that. They stated criteria for a religion, then gave many examples for that criteria that atheism and it's adherents display. This is well within the bounds of logic and reason.

    Reply
  8. John Carboni Posted on February 3, 2014 at 3:59 pm

    atheism is not a belief in no God-its a belief in i sure hope there is no creator God-so i dont have to pay for the evils i do-live life to my own desires and selfish acts.

    Reply
  9. rootfivehigh Posted on February 8, 2014 at 7:14 pm

    The analogies "atheism is a religion like bald is a hair color" and "atheism is a religion like abstinence is a sex position" are meant to show the errors in your thinking. You are making a category error. Religion is not atheism's opposite number. Atheism's opposite number is theism. Is theism a religion? No, theism is not a religion, but a description of one part of someone's schema. The same follows for atheism. Someone can be a theist, but not religious, and someone can be an atheist, but also religious, and vice verse. Put another way, the only thing that makes someone an atheist is no belief in god, and the only thing that makes someone a theist is a belief in god(s).

    Reply
  10. Siri Bright Posted on February 10, 2014 at 10:29 pm

    Another one of their rituals in the reason ralley.

    Reply
  11. Terry Duncan Posted on February 11, 2014 at 5:59 pm

    If Atheism is a religion (church), how would you invoke "separation of church and state" with this in mind? 

    Reply
  12. Christian Offensive Posted on February 12, 2014 at 11:00 am

    Somewhere I saw some atheists say "atheism-is-unstoppable".

    sounds like "allahu akbar" to me.

    Reply
  13. Terry Duncan Posted on February 12, 2014 at 9:43 pm

    Atheists have a holiday!  It's April 1.

    Reply
  14. João Paulo Posted on June 24, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Religion of the most fanatical today!

    Reply
  15. Jacob Brown Posted on August 8, 2014 at 7:11 pm

    here im going to state the one truth of our world in regards to our origins. it supported by every creed, color, race, gender, and every philosophical ideology or lack there of. further more its supported by empirical science and the personal beliefs of every individual on the planet when being honest. "WE DONT KNOW YET". and its as simple as that. Anyone telling you that we have the secrets of the universe figured out is either misinformed or fucking lying to you. if we knew the secret to creation through natural processes or through the work of god we would be creating universes physically right now as we speak. so I don't give a shit what anyone tells me, if I don't know for myself I will straight up tell you "I don't know" and theres nothing wrong with that, because nobody does. so why don't we all stop with the "my dick is bigger then yours" way of deciding important empirical and philosophical phenomenon and actually work together to find out. if theist find god or a way to physically talk to him we win, if atheists figure out the natural processes by which the universe was formed, we win. to be against either on the grounds of personal bias or belief is to choose the only loosing option, to assume we know everything, we are perfect as we are, and nothing needs to change. Atheist and theists are destroying our future because neither will admit we're all human and we all want to know.

    Reply
  16. Jay Dub Posted on October 28, 2014 at 12:19 am

    What a fantastic show! Thank you for taking the time to research and explain.

    Reply
  17. MarioFanaticXV Posted on November 2, 2014 at 8:55 am

    Whenever an atheist tells me that "atheism is not a religion", I respond, "You are correct; atheism and theism are not religions. They are too broad to be considered specific religions, but both are aspects of a religion.". Secular Humanism, Nazism, Darwinism, some denominations of Buddhism, and some denominations of Satanism are atheistic religions.

    Reply
  18. hal Posted on March 25, 2015 at 9:36 am

    Encyclopedia Britannica:
    "So atheism is not only a rejection of the central conceptions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam; it is, as well, a rejection of the religious beliefs of such African religions as that of the Dinka and the Nuer, of the anthropomorphic gods of classical Greece and Rome, and of the transcendental conceptions of Hinduism and Buddhism."

    Essentially Atheists do not believe in the supernatural, but a religion is defined by it's believe in the supernatural.

    Reply
  19. hal Posted on March 25, 2015 at 9:38 am

    Belief in the supernatural does not equal belief in a god.
    This is why Buddhists are not atheists.

    Reply
  20. tsimahei Posted on March 25, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    If you believe in atheism, you put faith in it. 100 million slaughtered during the 20th century by atheists means fanatical atheism. The people died, most of them men, but many women and children, in an effort to force them to become atheists. Atheism is often described by psychologists as narcissism; the religion of self-love and selfishness.
         As it is, atheism is dying out in most of the world. In fact, atheists are hated due to all the rapes and deaths its caused in its rise to power. "Where there is no god, there are no morals." Atheism as a religion is one whereby any morality that meets the atheist's current desires is his morality. If he wants to give to charity, he feels he is moral. If he decides to kill and eat people, rape the corpses, and so on, then this is right in his own mind. As America and Europe experience more atheism, the deeper they sink into things like that. Each person does as is right in his own mind.
         God commands us to reason and logic; God always gives us a choice to obey or not; God tells us to test all things. Atheism claims they do, but the proof is against them. We have 100 million witnesses against them and many more who will be.

    Reply
  21. Greg Letter Posted on March 27, 2015 at 3:33 am

    In CMIcreationstation video that is titled Blind fish — evidence of de-volution.

    Evolution doesn't mean good or bad change, it just means: change for environmental adaptation over time.

    Whatever kind of environment the creatures are living in for long enough determines their change through many births over time.

    Reply
  22. Meanwhile In Science Posted on March 27, 2015 at 8:40 am

    If atheism is religion, then it must be the best religion!

    Reply
  23. @Roxydelice Posted on September 30, 2015 at 11:48 am

    Atheism is not a religion, it's a paradigm…

    Reply
  24. BoyKagome Posted on October 14, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Woooo, they really REALLY don't like this one. The truth tends to twist Atheist into severe contortion.

    Reply
  25. Evangelist Dude Posted on March 12, 2016 at 12:59 am

    There is a satanic Church in Seattle, they are Atheists and have said so, they use it to get religious rights, so if they don't want to be called a Religion why do they have a Church like that? As an ex-Atheist I must say I almost worshiped men behind pulpits (Professors) and Scientists. That's what they want, they want our worship because they want fame, even if it means telling school children evolution is true when its not. Its sick and demented I am glad I broke from that brainwashing and indoctrination. No wonders Atheists are full of hate, they have a religion that teaches it. Dawkins even attacked Feminism I guess he thinks women shouldn't be equals. I know Science has become a religion to them, even evolution is an ancient pagan view.

    Reply
  26. Wesley Heartland Posted on March 20, 2016 at 12:25 pm

    Since their advent, science and modernity have been eroding religion.

    They provided the mankind with the tools for understanding and managing its surroundings.. method and following the evidence has replaced doctrinal narrative.

    Atheism is literally about — no reason to believe in god(s)

    Reply
  27. Branton Gentry Posted on April 26, 2016 at 9:16 am

    the atheist God is chance the main prophet is Darwin hmmm those are 2 aspects of religion just saying

    Reply
  28. Branton Gentry Posted on April 26, 2016 at 9:17 am

    oh and one of the preachers is Dawkins

    Reply
  29. Deacon Verter Posted on June 3, 2016 at 1:13 am

    Nope. Atheism is a movement, not a religion. Some atheists say gods are unproved. Others say gods are disproved. You have to ask them which. To see how Christians derail in this matter, understand that atheists don't want to proselytize; to gather at conventions; to complain about church/state separation issues; to produce YouTube videos about atheism. And when we are no longer marginalized, we'll quit.
    Atheism is sweeping Europe and Japan. Announcing your atheism there is met with a yawn or a "meh." And, as a result, European/Japanese militant atheism is dying out, a trend I commend! Atheists look forward to never having to gather with other atheists (as atheists) again. Sound like a religion?

    Reply
  30. JohnnyRev Posted on July 17, 2016 at 5:40 pm

    Hello Everybody, Google : First Church Of Atheism

    Reply
  31. Wade Haden Posted on August 14, 2017 at 9:15 pm

    even a non-belief such as Atheism is still a "belief". As unsubstantiated as religion. And Atheism is defended like a religion…as if it were absolute truth. Both are false. If one is wise, then one must realize that truth is right down the middle, between science and religion. Definitely atheism is not a suspension. well said….both religion and science are material, the greatest failure of both science and religion. I wish they would grow up and realize the fundamentally, everything is "energetic" in nature. Only then will the able to see the truth. Obviously these 2 are spiritual retarded..but surprisingly, they make a few good points.

    Reply
  32. Matthew M Posted on October 21, 2018 at 5:44 pm

    Good one. Yes indeed atheism is a religion. And a horrible and nonsensical one at that.
    And NO WAY they should be allowed to forcibly preach it to children in schools and such.

    Reply
  33. Rodney Settle Posted on March 19, 2019 at 12:10 pm

    Atheism is not a religion.

    Reply
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