Is Atheism a Religion?

I see this question a lot on forums, and see the claim made frequently. It appears (click link here, please) some would like it to be as close to a religion as possible.

This sort of thing boggles my mind. What is the purpose? Is it the notion that more people would be atheists if they just had a local Sunday support group? That it is really about the singing and the sermons and the calls for contributions and help? Perhaps they are going to offer plusher seatings than the standard pew? I am pretty sure it is not those things that bring people to church.

Let’s look at the three aims of the Sunday Assembly. And remember these aims when we get to their 10 item Sunday Assembly.

We are here for everyone who wants to:

  • Live Better. We aim to provide inspiring, thought-provoking and practical ideas that help people to live the lives they want to lead and be the people they want to be

  • Help Often. Assemblies are communities of action building lives of purpose, encouraging us all to help anyone who needs it to support each other

  • Wonder More. Hearing talks, singing as one, listening to readings and even playing games helps us to connect with each other and the awesome world we live in.

Can anyone point to a single thing here that is different from… oh, say… church?

I have one question. Why point number two? Help often? Why? This is atheism we are talking about! Except for some “you scratch my back and, if you ever need it, I’ll scratch yours” I see no point to this whatsoever. What is the ground for helping another person? Sure, I can get a great one going for helping my parents, friends, close relations. How do you get the help part for a rotter in an atheistic framework? Or are we to assimilate the morality of Christianity (and it is Christianity we are talking about, the Sunday Assembly would have exactly one meeting in any Muslim slum-hole before ending in carcasses) as well as all the bells and whistles?

Let’s go over their ten points for the Sunday Assembly

  1. Is 100% celebration of life. We are born from nothing and go to nothing. Let’s enjoy it together.

I do not know what a 100% celebration of life is supposed to be. Nor, for that matter, do I know what a 78% celebration of life is. Since the Sunday Assembly seeks to do pretty much what every other church already does, sans God, I don’t know how Sunday Assembly is 100% celebration of life. Does that mean Sunday Mass is only 48% celebration of life? The vagueness of humanism marches on.

We are not born from nothing. We are born from one sperm and one egg. Who the hell doesn’t know that? Besides that nitpicking, who the hell feels like celebrating after hearing “We are born from nothing and go to nothing”? You will die and your body will rot, whether it was for something or for nothing at all, after a 100 years it means as much as a wolf’s lonely crap in 56BC.

Hip hip woo hoo! Hip hip woo hoo!

2. Has no doctrine. We have no set texts so we can make use of wisdom from all sources.

Has no doctrine? What about not believing in God??? Shouldn’t that be a bare minimum? But to be completely fair, what possible texts could they have? On The Origin of Species? What determines what texts are to be used? What determines what is wisdom and what is not in a vacuum? By what standard(s) are we choosing right and wrong, wisdom and non wisdom, what is a proper source and what is not?

3. We don’t do supernatural but we also won’t tell you you’re wrong if you do.

Then what is the point? What is the purpose of the “Assembly”? To feel good? Hey, I can do that for you where I work. And I am pretty good at dispensing good “wisdom” I haven’t the sense to use myself.

4. Is radically inclusive. Everyone is welcome, regardless of their beliefs – this is a place of love that is open and accepting.

I thought they were trying to show some difference from a church?

5. Is free to attend, not-for-profit and volunteer run. We ask for donations to cover our costs and support our community work.

Again, where is the difference? There is no cover-charge by a bouncer at the local church. As far as I know they still pass the plate. Looking at my local Catholic church website, they have a donation button on their website.

6. Has a community mission. Through our Action Heroes (you!), we will be a force for good.

Can get this from church. Or any number of community volunteer organizations. I fail to see why being part of a group of people who share a disbelief in something adds anything to the experience. For that matter, what would be the difference if I joined a bunch of people to be a force for good, but what united us was that we didn’t believe in UFO’s?

Skipping 7

And 8

9. We won’t won’t tell you how to live, but will try to help you do it as well as you can.

But you already have. Item one asserts a positive belief of no afterlife, of being born of nothing and returning to nothing, item number three asserts that a believer in the supernatural is welcome and will not be told they are wrong. So, apparently, one is to keep their mouth shut.

The clear cut doctrine here is a tone of total non-judgement on lifestyle, belief , action and everything else. One can only surmise one rule out of all of this: Thou Shalt Judge Nothing. That is telling you how to live.

It is repeatedly stated that it is a lovable place where wisdom is shared and we are encouraged to go out and be “Heroes” i.e., helping others. That is telling you how to live. How would they get you to do this? Hey guys wouldn’t it be cool to put some warm jackets on these children for no reason that I can possibly think of? How could they make an atheist take the action of charity? By arguing that it is correct behavior, that it is right and proper to do so. That is telling you (alright, suggesting) how to live.

It’s really very sad. There is no reason these people could ever give me as atheists why I should not live out my life in the most coldly calculating serving of my self and its needs without a care in the world.


4 thoughts on “Is Atheism a Religion?

  1. Maritain explains in The Range of Reason that atheism is a quasi-religion, or a reversed religion. It is only natural that atheists want to Live Better, Help Often and Wonder More. This is just a sane reaction of the human soul to reality. A naturalist Credo if you will. Live Better in order to find happiness; Help Often in order to diminish suffering and increase conviviality; Wonder More in order to try to discover the invisible aspects of the material reality.

    Atheists are only not sure if it is possible that any of these basic Christian teachings might come true. They certainly feel it could, judging how most of them believe in some utopia through which these teachings were conveyed to them in a warped form.

    Religious belief is essential for man, a built-in feature, and it pops out regularly in atheist stances. As you very well know, serious and consistent philosophical atheists as described in your last sentence are only a few exceptions.

    There is an interesting parallel to make between the naturalist Credo and the transcendentals: the third proposition is about Beauty and Truth (Wonder More), the other two about Goodness (moral conduct: Live Better and Help Often). Truth is not outlined explicitly, however, which is very telling, and points to the inversion of values operated by most modern atheists.

    As there is no absolute truth and no fixed standard against which to judge anything or establish any requirement, who is to exclude anyone from our midst, then? The large majority of atheists are in fact practical atheists, who believe in God vaguely or explicitly, but act as if there was no God or as if he demanded nothing, Logically enough, this category is warmly invited to the atheist feel-good church advertised.

    1. As you very well know, serious and consistent philosophical atheists as described in your last sentence are only a few exceptions.

      I have been pondering on this point for quite some time. For instance, on point 2, Help Often. The closest I can come to for helping others on purely atheistic grounds is a quasi-Karma reasoning. A reasoning which, as observation will show, does not hold up to scrutiny on the level of experience, nor does it hold up as theory. One can form a loose combination with the notion of the Golden Rule. That one should help as one would expect to be helped if one became in need.

      While this is sound as far as it goes, there is no natural argument against simply disregarding it. There is no argument against simply applying to one’s own needs and disregard the rest of mankind as “not my problem”.

      No argument, that is, on atheistic grounds. Indeed on atheistic grounds there is no reason to waste a second of your ticking clock to termination. Best be as careful as possible, waste no time on others, don’t find one’s self in a foxhole, and don’t stick one’s neck out. There is also no argument for feeling guilt over such myopic self-serving – not even when one ends up at the mercy of the giving of others. There is also no reason to feel any guilt for leaving one’s wife should she become ill or otherwise no longer beneficial to one’s ends. Or for leaving one’s parents in a nursing home at the earliest convenience.

      Now, one can be motivated by unidentified guilt in such instances. But I have to wonder: what is the source of such guilt? By what unstated standard does one feel guilt over such a thing? Under a strict atheistic reasoning there is no way to get to any selfless position.

      You write:

      Help Often in order to diminish suffering and increase conviviality;

      Cast, if you can, your mind into an atheistic mindset. And ask: why? It is not your suffering, and you can enjoy conviviality with fellow non-sufferers. There is a chasm, in the atheist set-up, between the Is (the sufferer) and the Ought (your help).

      That is the reason most people (except for Chesterton’s Logician type re: Orthodoxy) are horrified at Ayn Rand’s ethics. Starting from an ironclad atheist metaphysics, she weaves a chain of reasoning where it becomes positively immoral to help others in most instances. And in those few instances I never found an answer to saying “screw ’em” in those instances too.

  2. I am entirely in agreement with you as to what would constitute a coherent atheist’s moral position. It is very rare, though, as I discovered from my own experience as a practical atheist for a few years, as well as from the analyses of Maritain and Frossard (both philosophers and converts from ‘cradle’ atheism). The reason is simple: atheism is unnatural. Belief in the One God, however vague or deformed, and some degree of right moral knowledge, however inchoate, is what is natural to man; it is built in by our Creator. It is only logical, then, that belief in God and moral consciousness find their best expression in the Christian religion, founded by God incarnate. Hence the regular popping out of Christian values in atheistic stances, and their usually incoherent systems of thought.

    1. My reading of atheist philosophers is really scant. I don’t think I have read one outside of a general philosophical survey with the lone exception of Rand. I have read Nietzsche, but I do not think he is a philosopher proper, but a poet. He can be used to support damned near anything, and, therefore, nothing.

      A coherent atheist position is not only rare but almost non-existent. I never succeeded in being one in that fully consistent way. And thank God for that! A consistent one is not as rare as you may think. Many a theist, I would venture, are perfectly consistent atheists in their actions. If by this we mean being consistent in having their own concerns, their own needs, their own wants, and, above all, their own feelings, as the center and fullness of their existence. And I do mean that because there is no reason to act differently under an atheistic outlook. No consistent, coherent, reason to act thusly.

      I reprint something I wrote elsewhere a while back about the application of an atheistic moral code from the life of one of the most coherent and consistent of its practitioners, Ayn Rand.

      It was in a book called 100 Voices A Oral History of Ayn Rand. In it there is an interview with an Eloise Huggins. Huggins started out as Rand’s cook and housekeeper. They became friends. But they became the closest friends when Huggins became her all around caretaker after her lung cancer surgery. She doesn’t come out and say it but one gets the impression it consisted of things like bedpans and such, which she called “very personal things”. She was also the one that watched out for her and took care of her during her last days as Rand was dying.

      Rand’s best friend and caretaker was also a devout Christian woman. But it is the same sort of problem as I laid out between ethics and politics. You could not get a person, a friend, to do the sort of things that Eloise Huggins did for her under Rand’s philosophy. There is no way in hell. It could be negotiated as a business deal involving a stiff pay raise maybe. Maybe they might lend – at interest – you money and send you to a rehabilitation center. More than likely simply drift out of that person’s life.

      Hence Rand was benefiting from an ethic that she scorned as “the worship of death”. The very ethic she claimed was evil was the very ethic she came to in her time of need.

      Rand could not depend on her own ethic when the chips were down. Hence, as you have said, the philosophy suits perfectly healthy, single men between the ages of 18 to 40 with no obligations or demands, no commitments or allegiances except to the satisfaction of their own chosen ends.

      Where were her legions of admirers, of disciples, students, to wipe her behind? They were too busy following her philosophy that’s where.

      And then Rand left this woman, whom she had called her sister, entirely out of her will without mention.

      That killed my admiration, and got me questioning what the hell kind of philosophy I had been following.

      The part above about the relation of ethics to politics is essentially this. The character produced by a consistent, coherent atheistic philosophy is a self-centered and fully self-concerned individual. This sort of person will not find themselves in a foxhole, will not step in front of that tank, will not put their neck on the line unless it is already their own neck on the line.

      Essentially it means that the ethic will not produce people that are able to support a society the ethic would require.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s