Public Service Announcement: I cannot find where I originally posted this article. So I edited the article, and am re-posting here. Please note, I respect people’s choices to believe as they will, provided their beliefs do not interfere with the liberty of someone else to worship as they please. The same day I originally wrote this article, the following fictional analogy came across my feed, and I include it here as a point of interest.
“In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: ‘Do you believe in life after delivery?’
The other replied, ‘Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.’
‘Nonsense,’ said the first. ‘There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?’
The second said, ‘I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.’
The first replied, ‘That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.’
The second insisted, ‘Well, I think there is something, and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.’
The first replied, ‘Nonsense. And moreover, if there is life, why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery, there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.’
‘Well, I don’t know,’ said the second, ‘but certainly we will meet Mother, and she will take care of us.’
The first replied, ‘Mother? Do you actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists, then where is She now?’
The second said, ‘She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her, this world would not and could not exist.’
Said the first: ‘Well, I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.’
To which the second replied, ‘Sometimes, when you’re in silence, and you focus, and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.’” (Pablo Molinero).
Recently, Atheist Republic posted a question on LinkedIn that was intriguing and promoting a multi-week discussion. As I seemed to have kicked over an anthill, I figured I would expound on the principles discussed to more fully detail why atheism is just another religion. Agree or disagree as you choose; however, all I ask is your consideration of the ideas discussed. Through the use of language and the accepted definitions from reputable sources, I posit that atheists and theists are closer together than they are apart. Atheists have taken for their religion the only belief that separates, a cognitive refusal to believe in god, God, or gods, as supreme authorities in the cosmos. Other items that can be considered religions include daily routines. When taken too far, consumerism becomes a religion to those thus engaged, as do sports, debt, and any other belief that creates enthusiasm in the individual. Many theists will find significant support among atheists regarding these different beliefs.
Atheists do not have a belief structure in god, God, and gods. An absolute insistence that there are no supreme beings is a belief structure and an organized belief system. Consider for a moment that a particular religion believes that a gigantic beet runs the universe; the atheist would automatically reject this for lack of evidence. Star Trek: Next Generation had “Q,” a potent being in the galaxy; again, a supreme power the atheist will reject out of hand. I met an atheist and a theist who both insisted that their belief systems allowed them to be rude, crude, disrespectful, and so forth as a method of worshiping and acting — proving, to me, that individual belief is stronger than training and the traditions of their parents, communities, and society. Two more miserable people I have never found an equal; yet, together, these two people found and lived after their manner and understanding of happiness.
As an organized belief structure, and in the most exact definition of the word, atheism is a religion. Every person spouting non-belief is a belief structure. In describing their beliefs to others, which begins with, “I believe…” More to the point, Webster, the accepted repository for words, has religion defined as “a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance.” It is of supreme importance to atheists to not believe anything; thus, we can only conclude that atheism is a religion.
I have found that atheists have a specific personal belief structure regarding god, God, or gods that then is projected onto others. While many times the atheists are not finding their expected belief structure reflected, the atheist becomes hostile to all others they come in contact with and attempt to change other people’s beliefs through legal or other force mechanisms. Individual belief, even if not shared, can be considered a religion to that person; hence, Webster’s definition is very accurate and applicable to this discussion. Regardless of the belief in god, God, or gods, there are other beliefs of supreme importance to the atheist that makes up their religion. The Cambridge Unabridged Dictionary carries a similar definition, “an activity that someone is extremely enthusiastic about and regularly does.”
Henry Chester is quoted as saying, enthusiasm is the greatest asset in the world; it beats money, power, and influence; it is nothing more than faith in action. Not believing in, or following, a god, God, or gods is of supreme importance to atheists. Other beliefs are based upon the personal theology and behavior, dogma, mantra, etc., of the person. Thus, those beliefs range from abortion through environmental activities and feelings to the power of food, science, and so much more. Without a core written tenet, the only belief that is universally accepted as distinguishing atheists from theists is the belief in god, God, or gods.
According to Webster and Cambridge, religion carries the following definitions and related words. “ideas about the relationship between science and religion.” Synonymous with: faith, belief, divinity, worship, creed, teaching, doctrine, theology, sect, cult, religious group, faith community, church, denomination, body, following, persuasion, affiliation. “A particular system of faith and worship.” Synonymous with: faith, religion, religious belief(s), religious persuasion, religious conviction, religious group, faith community, church, persuasion, affiliation, denomination, sect, following, communion order, school, fraternity, brotherhood, and sisterhood.
One of the most egregious issues in our world today is the plasticization of words to exclude all definitions, but the “common” definition, usually known as the first definition found in a dictionary. Common definitions do not provide the complete etiology of a word; thus, closing minds to the language’s glory. As a noun, theology defines as “religious beliefs and theory when systematically developed.” Hence, when taken together, religion being beliefs that are of supreme importance, when systematically considered and developed, can be attached to any belief one chooses to raise to the level of devotion. Even non-belief is regarded as a religion and theology. People have chosen belief structures that include thousands of different topics, including, but not limited to, people, animals, and methods of living. I have met footballers, American and European, whose devotion to their sport is a religion! I know one religion that worships making beer; thus, belief and non-belief in god, God, or gods is not so farfetched.
We could speak about lines of congruence, paradox, and assimilation brought about by religious organizations, including the fellowship reward obtained by adherence to a specific religious flavor. We could speak about how everything that exists in theism is directly observable in atheism. Atheism and those claiming to be atheists are a religious organization in every meaning and aspect of Webster’s definition. Substitute god, God, or gods, with whatever is the most substantial item clung to, e.g., science, math, football, consumerism, abortion, climate change, etc., and you have a type of religiousness recognizable by every theist in existence.
Atheists and Theists have a belief structure centered around god, God, or gods. I have met many beautiful people who were raised in homes with a belief structure that was absent a centrally recognized god, God, or gods, whom theists would term “non-believers,” atheists would term “atheists,” and both terms would not apply. To first be a theist or atheist, one must have been taught about a god, God, or gods. The people I discuss have a belief structure and system made from their fathers/mothers, tribes, and society’s traditions. Thus, they are not unbelievers or non-believers, as they have a belief structure and system. They are not atheists as they have not been taught god, God, or gods; thus, the only term I know to use is “person.” We choose the labels we call ourselves.
If atheism is not a religion, why do atheists cling to the “Freedom of Religion” clause in the US Constitution? Why do atheists cling to the Freedom of religion clauses in all countries allowing Freedom of religion and then try to warp the laws of those countries into Freedom from religion? It seems atheists cannot claim “Freedom of religion” and not be a religion.
Inherent to understanding Freedom of religion, by necessity, requires understanding “Freedom from religion.” However, a specific set of beliefs that a person is enthusiastic about forms a religious belief; thus, the phrase “Freedom from religion” itself is a misnomer and fallacy. The separation of church and state is meant to protect your right to believe and not believe in a supreme being, defending your beliefs from government oppression. Then no religion can claim authority over others, and all are equal and free to exist without fear. Atheists are covered by the Freedom of religion, as are theists. The Freedom of Religion clause in the US Constitution implies a people can rid themselves of all religion as a personal choice and ritual, without cause to fear reprisals from any government body.
Atheists cannot have it both ways, claiming Freedom of religion, then demanding Freedom from religion, all at the expense of other religions! Hence, returning to the original point, atheism is a religion. Atheism is an organized belief structure centered around the refusal, after being taught, of god, God, and gods. Atheism is a belief system where the refusal to believe in god, God, or gods, then cultivates an entire process of a belief that leads to action, enthusiasm for those stated beliefs, e.g., or non-beliefs, as a tool for governing behavior.
Dogma, “a principle or set of principles laid down by an authority as incontrovertibly true.” This definition is straight from Webster and a congruent description found in the Cambridge dictionary. By experience, every atheist I have ever crossed paths with, takes upon themselves the authority to lay down the principle of no supreme being, as incontrovertibly true, plus belligerently insists that all others must bow to this belief structure. I am not saying this makes the atheist right or wrong; I am saying that atheism has a dogma, and is very much a religion, and a religious belief, based solely upon not believing in a supreme being.
In conclusion, I consider the following three points as central to a peaceful society under the US Constitution and inclusive of all state’s laws where religion, and religious free exercise, is concerned:
- The world is not split between theists and atheists. Not believing in a supreme power can be caused by a lack of education and experience. To be an atheist, a choice is required after schooling is provided for Freedom of religion.
- Not sharing another person’s theology doesn’t make either person right or wrong. I do not have to share in the rituals of other believers to have a shared identity. Simple respect for those closely held beliefs is all that is needed.
- Provided the moral values of a religious belief do not interfere with my rights under the US Constitution, let them worship “… how, where, or what they may.”
© 2019 M. Dave Salisbury
All Rights Reserved
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