Is Atheism a religion?

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Do Atheists deserve religious protection? The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal says yes, declaring Atheism is a creed that deserves the same religious protections as other recognized faiths. Last year a secular church opened in Calgary. There's a push to have atheist chaplainsin the Canadian and American military. Next month is 'Super Secular September' in Manitoba. To discuss whether Atheism is becoming an organized religion of its own, Day 6 is joined by René Choinard. He brought the case to the Human Rights Tribunal. Catherine Dunphy is a former Roman Catholic Chaplin and the executive director of The Clergy Project, andMargaret Somerville is the director of the McGill Centre for Medicine, Ethics and Law.

Written By: Brent Bambury
continue to source article at cbc.ca

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    • In reply to #2 by Alan4discussion:

      Do Atheists deserve religious protection?

      Yes – protection from religion!

      Protection from religion, yes! Not sure I’d trust religious protection to be very effective…

    • In reply to #2 by Alan4discussion:

      Do Atheists deserve religious protection?

      Yes – protection from religion!

      Protection from religion, yes! Not sure I’d trust religious protection to be very effective… :D

  1. In my opinion, a religion consists of the following:-
    1. Belief in the afterlife
    2. Belief in disembodied minds, eg gods, souls, spirits.
    3. A code of behaviour
    4. A stick and carrot to enforce this code
    5. A priesthood
    6. A set of rituals

    So Atheism is not a religion

    • In reply to #3 by Eamonn Shute:

      In my opinion, a religion consists of the following:-
      1. Belief in the afterlife
      2. Belief in disembodied minds, eg gods, souls, spirits.
      3. A code of behaviour
      4. A stick and carrot to enforce this code
      5. A priesthood
      6. A set of rituals

      So Atheism is not a religion

      Don’t forget tithes, given with false promises of heaven, healing, prosperity etc.

  2. Are we retreading this question again?

    No, Atheism is a lack of theistic belief. People that don’t have theistic belief can take that in whatever direction they wish, but atheism itself is not a religion (especially since its very definition is the polar opposite). Atheist churches and chaplains are contradictory in every way. As I said people can take it any direction they wish, even when it doesn’t make sense, and even when it only confuses the issue concerning what atheism is.

    The big issue is not what atheism is or isn’t most of the time, It’s usually how the most fervent and myopic of theists choose to react to someone not thinking as they do. This strikes me as a reaction to theism rather than a internal need for community, which is something that can be achieved without religion.

    • In reply to #9 by Matthew Lehman:

      If Atheism is a religion, then I’m going to not collect stamps and call it a hobby.

      perhaps you should stop associating with people who aren’t religious, lest you appear to be forming a religion of people who are not religious

      • I see that some explaination is in order. Not collecting stamps=not something you could affirmatively call a hobby. Atheism: absence of theistic belief, ergo is not a religion. Feel better?
        In reply to #22t by Sara:

        In reply to #9 by Matthew Lehman:

        If Atheism is a religion, then I’m going to not collect stamps and call it a hobby.

        perhaps you should stop associating with people who aren’t religious, lest you appear to be forming a religion of people who are not religious

      • In reply to #22 by Sara:

        In reply to #9 by Matthew Lehman:

        If Atheism is a religion, then I’m going to not collect stamps and call it a hobby.

        perhaps you should stop associating with people who aren’t religious, lest you appear to be forming a religion of people who are not religious.

        If atheism is a religion, then OFF is a TV channel!

        perhaps you should stop associating with people who don’t watch TV, lest you appear to be forming an “OFF channel” viewers fan club – from people who are not TV viewers! – MMMMmmmmm ? !

  3. Atheism does not need protection because it’s NOT a recognized FAITH but a lack of one. First you get a bunch of idiots start an atheist “church” as if that makes any sense at all and now atheism is being treated like a religion. Well go figure!

    • In reply to #11 by tate138:

      Atheism does not need protection because it’s NOT a recognized FAITH but a lack of one. First you get a bunch of idiots start an atheist “church” as if that makes any sense at all and now atheism is being treated like a religion. Well go figure!

      The point you seem to be missing is that neither do recognised faiths. People, whether they are deluded or not, deserve protection. Ironically, it is often the effects of said delusions which we all require protection from.

  4. It seems to me that there’s an awful lot of confusion with respect to atheism on the part of the Ontario Human Rights Tribunal and many other people. Religion is mainly based on the belief of magic interventionist beings living in fantasy geographies and this belief comes from faith and not from rational thinking. To say atheism is a religion is something like saying that collecting stamps (philately) is a hobby and not collecting stamps is another hobby, or smoking is a habit and non-smoking is also a habit. I don’t know what an Army atheist chaplain is. Is he/she supposed to strengthen my “faith” in atheism on the eve of a bloody battle?-”Father(?) I’m scared and perhaps the gods exist after all. Son, atheism is the right way to think and if you fall in combat, you’ll be a hero” I think there are some people who are seeing career opportunities in the field of atheism and soon we’ll hear of atheist bishops, popes and, why not, atheist imams and mullahs! New job opportunities.

  5. A priest friend of mine argues that I was religious because I had an opinion about the existence of God. I countered and said he was an astrologist because he had an opinion about the legitimacy of astrology. He took the point and stopped saying it,

  6. No.

    But from a European perspective this is an interesting question. Because a “belief system” is entitled to protection from discrimination under various EU-wide laws including the Convention on Human Rights.

    The UK High Court has held that humanism (but not atheism – that point was not argued) is a belief system meriting such protection,

    If atheism were a belief system all sorts of consequences might ensue. In Britain the 25% of state-funded schools which are faith schools would probably have to stop teaching faith, for instance.

    Whilst I would never argue that atheism is a religion (and secular “churches” are an oxymoron… just call it a bloody social club), there is arguably some mileage in arguing that as a belief system it merits all of the legal protections available to anyone else.

    By the way, nice pic of Batman at the top of the piece.

  7. I was just reading Steven Pinker’s book How the Mind Works and I think this passage is relevant to the question:

    “Fish for example do not occupy one branch in the tree of life… There is no definition that picks out all and only the fish, no branch of the tree of life that includes salmon and lungfish but excludes lizards and cows. Taxonomists fiercely debate what to do with categories like fish… some insist that there is no such thing as a fish, it is merely a layperson’s stereotype… still others wonder what the fuss is about; they see categories like families and orders as matters of convenience and taste — which similarities are important for the discussion at hand” (p. 311)

    I’m definitely a “don’t see the fuss” kind of guy. Or rather before we can have a fuss we need to define our terms and if we don’t define our terms we are wasting each other’s time. So IMO all you guys who reflexively answer NO! to questions like this are, I’m sorry to say, just wasting time. Because you haven’t clarified what specific definition you are using and until you do that answering yes or no is as pointless as arguing whether a lungfish is really a fish without defining in what sense you are using the word fish.

    I like Atran’s definition of religion:

    From the opening section 1.1 of Scott Atran’s book In Gods We Trust:
    “religion is: 1)a community’s costly and hard to fake commitment 2) to a counterfactual and counterintuitive world of supernatural agents 3) who master people’s existential anxieties such as death and deception. All known human societies past and present, bear the very substantial costs of religion’s material, emotional, and cognitive commitments to factually impossible worlds”

    By this definition atheism is clearly not a religion. However, there is another definition that I think is relevant. I won’t call it atheism because I don’t want to get into another argument about not collecting stamps but lets call it secularism a world view that can give people principles and answers to existential and moral questions but unlike religions is not based on counterfactual and counter intuitive ideas but is based on the same scientific method we use to tell us about the rest of the universe. And if we ask should people whose principles are based on secularism have the same rights as those whose principles are based on religion, I think the answer is clearly yes.

    • In reply to #17 by Red Dog:

      And if we ask should people whose principles are based on secularism have the same rights as those whose principles are based on religion, I think the answer is clearly yes.

      Yes, but those rights must still be based on secular principles. Religious principles don’t work, that is precisely why we have laws against religious discrimination. Discriminating against religion is only logical.

    • In reply to #17 by Red Dog:

      Because you haven’t clarified what specific definition you are using

      As you are a frequent poster here, I’m surprised to hear you say this. Every atheist I have ever met (including myself) defines atheism as the lack of belief in gods/divinity/supernatural. The definition has changed over time, but I personally have never met an atheist who expresses atheism as the belief that there are no gods. (In fact, we go out of our way not to say that.) This may have a degree of historical accuracy, and given the number of atheists in the world, I’m sure there are some that would express it that way (which may be your point), but as a group, today, I don’t think you’ll often hear that.

      is based on the same scientific method we use to tell us about the rest of the universe

      I would disagree with that. The only thing that unites atheists is the lack of belief in gods. The association of atheism with secularism (or humanism, for that matter) is because the majority of atheists in the world today have had a “crossing over” experience where they have consciously thought about and rejected religious beliefs. However, there is another category of atheists, and one that will become more and more common as atheism is more and more accepted: namely, people who were not born into religious families and so were never religious at all. Their world views don’t have to be based on anything rational. Their atheism doesn’t come about through thought. They were just never religious.

      • In reply to #29 by downshifter:
        :I think that category of atheist is probably already the most common,at least in my society,There are four generations of atheists in my family,the last 3 having never been religious,none of my children,s friends or their parents are religious.I think most of my peers just see religion as old fashioned and unnecessary ,theological or philosophical arguments don`t even come into it.

  8. The only way Christians can understand atheists is as a fellow religion. However, it is an inaccurate view. There are about 10,000 religions and Christians reject 9,999 of them. They are atheists relative to all those other religions. For some reason they have no problem rejecting 9,999 of them without so much as a glance, but single out one “at random” to presume is 100% accurate.

    Christians and atheists are in agreement on rejecting the claims of 99.99% of religions. So Christians are almost completely atheist too.

    I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you
    dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.

    ~ Stephen F. Roberts 1967

  9. Is atheism a religion… no.
    In the legal arena, atheism is given the same standing as religion because it is a lack of religious belief (really an application of logic), not a lack of any other beliefs. It is associated only within the construct of religion. If religion weren’t present, atheism wouldn’t be present because no one would have a need for the comparison. A thousand years ago, no one would have a conceptualization for people that don’t collect stamps, even though no one collected them and everyone would have been a non-stamp collector. Today, there is no favoritism given to stamp collectors from a legal perspective (that I’m aware), so non-collectors don’t need any consideration for equal treatment. That is where the legal protections apply, just as they would apply to any religion. If there were laws favoring people who collected only stamps from Russia, then other stamp collectors would be able to have standing for discrimination while non-collectors would not… given the logic of some of the individuals on the comment section.

  10. Us new atheists are fighting any battle we can, so I don’t mind the Calgary secular church setting themselves up and doing chuchy sort of stuff. But the better way out of the problem of the many and varied religious exemptions and tax breaks which is advantages to them and therefore “paid for” by the rest of us, is to simply remove them. Then we wouldn’t need to get in on the act as well.

  11. Is Atheism a religion?

    No!

    No! Noah! No! and for [insert name of your favourite deity's offspring]‘s sake – No!

    Do Atheists deserve religious protection?

    Atheists do not deserve religious protection. What mankind (and womankind) deserves is the removal of any religious protection.

    The Ontario Human Rights Tribunal says yes, declaring Atheism is a creed that deserves the same religious protections as other recognized faiths.

    Atheism is not a creed and should not be recognised as a faith. Faith should be recognised as faith. Lack of faith should be recognised as lack of faith. Fiction should be recognised as fiction. Fact should be recognised as fact.

    Last year a secular church opened in Calgary…There’s a push to have atheist chaplainsin the Canadian and American military.

    A secular church? WTF? Why not a church of medicine or a battle tactics chaplain?

    To discuss whether Atheism is becoming an organized religion of its own…

    Atheism is not becoming a religion because atheism cannot become a religion because atheism (and stop me if I’m getting too technical) is the absence of religion.

    Strewth!

  12. By this definition atheism is clearly not a religion. However, there is another definition that I think is relevant. I won’t call it atheism because I don’t want to get into another argument about not collecting stamps but lets call it secularism a world view that can give people principles and answers to existential and moral questions but unlike religions is not based on counterfactual and counter intuitive ideas but is based on the same scientific method we use to tell us about the rest of the universe. And if we ask should people whose principles are based on secularism have the same rights as those whose principles are based on religion, I think the answer is clearly yes.

    I understand that you’re separating the faith aspect of religion in your definition, but what you’re describing isn’t purely secularism. And having a system of morals and and existential query doesn’t make one religious.

    From Wikipedia:

    Secularism is the principle of separation of government institutions, and the persons mandated to represent the State, from religious institutions and religious dignitaries. In one sense, secularism may assert the right to be free from religious rule and teachings, and the right to freedom from governmental imposition of religion upon the people within a state that is neutral on matters of belief. (See also separation of church and state and Laïcité.) In another sense, it refers to the view that human activities and decisions, especially political ones, should be unbiased by religious influence.

    I think the definition of religion you pose in this instance is a bit too loose. Morality, ethics, existentialism and the like are cultural and societal, but not religious.

    As I said, one can be atheist and think whatever they want, but it doesn’t redefine what atheist means.

  13. FFS! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!

    I feel a reformed church of atheism coming on with a dichotomy around those who think atheism is a religion and those who don’t. This is exactly how religious nutterism becomes fragmented.

    What we really need is protection from fekkin idiots who are intent on defining us. As Sam Harris once put it something like – They have drawn the chalk outline on the floor and expect us to lie in it.

    Can’t these peeps find something sensible to talk about?

  14. If there were no religious believers (let’s all pray for that), then there would be no demand for atheist churches or chaplains.

    These recent trends for atheist churches and chaplains are really about making some sort of point about how privileged religious groups are. They are not really demands (I hope) for atheists to have the same paraphernalia as religious groups. They are a protest against public money and influence being directed to select groups.

    There’s no demand for non-stamp collecting clubs, or non-stamp collecting experts, but there possibly would be if stamp collectors were privileged in the same way as religious groups.

    Of course, in the military, it makes sense that all personnel should have access to qualified counsellors to help with the very stressful work they have to do. This should be a secular service available to everyone. There’s no way the military or any other publicly funded organisation should provide an “expert” or a facility for every possible superstitious or non-superstitious belief of every one of it’s staff, or for a privileged select group of them.

  15. Ask me again in two thousand years. If people are arguing then over the true meaning of The God Delusion, if there is a schism between those who maintain God is Not Great should be taken literally and those who believe parts of it are open to metaphorical interpretation, and if our descendants use these arguments to justify ray-gunning each other to bits on a daily basis, the claim that atheism is a religion might have some merit.

    Dictionary definitions of particular political movements or philosophies don’t always count for much. If they did this thread wouldn’t have accumulated nearly four hundred comments.

    The problem is that New Atheism, as opposed to regular atheism, is beginning to some to take on the appearance of a religion. Does that mean it should qualify as one? I don’t know. If it quacks like a duck…

    If members of a movement start to show evidence of group-like thinking; if, as someone says below,

    As you are a frequent poster here, I’m surprised to hear you say this. Every atheist I have ever met (including myself) defines atheism as the lack of belief in gods/divinity/supernatural.

    and uses that as an argument to justify opposition to dissent (I’m being naughty here, I know there was more going on in that comment than what I’ve just reduced it to, but I have seen members cite something Richard or Christopher once said as the last word in an argument) you’re on your way to becoming dogmatic, which can lead to zealotry.

    I think it’s about numbers. Christianity started out as a small cult, but didn’t begin slaughtering non-Christians until it grew big enough to know it could get away with it. Scientology right now is a joke, but as it grows in membership it may start to become a more formidable political force.

    Human nature hardly changes. The only thing that does change is the texts or philosophies we hide behind to justify our slaughter and subjugation of each other. As New Atheism gets bigger and its leaders change, it may become less about rationalism and more about power and influence. It may be taken over, in other words. That’s just the nature of political movements.

    Who cares if it can currently be defined as a religion? I’m too busy counting all the angels on the head of this pin and wondering why my comment about Eric Clapton has just been removed from a different thread. I didn’t think it contravened site rules, but there you go. Sometimes you’re granted an explanation and sometimes you’re not.

    C’est la vie

    • In reply to #45 by Katy Cordeth:

      Dictionary definitions of particular political movements or philosophies don’t always count for much.

      If it quacks like a duck…

      But this isn’t a philosophical question. It’s a definitional question. If someone says “blue” means, “a large block of concrete”, then you’re going to have problems having a conversation when someone else says, “the sky is blue”. You’ll have a pointless argument where one side says, “no it isn’t!” and the other side says, “yes it is!” and neither side will budge.

      With atheism, it is important to agree on a definition. At least for its core element. An important line of arguments about atheism really boil down to one side saying it’s a belief system and the other side saying it isn’t. That’s a definitional problem. Your statement is actually a perfect example, when you call it a “political movement” or “philosophy”. You will get a lot of argument about that because it is not how most people today (as far as I know) define it, so it is misrepresenting their actual beliefs (which they would say simply do not contain gods). It is a legitimate argument to have, and it’s not about dogma.

      I suspect (but I haven’t researched it, so don’t know for sure. I’m speaking anecdotally) that for a long time most atheists didn’t bother to distinguish between “I don’t believe in gods” vs. “I believe that there aren’t any gods”. It’s a pretty subtle point linguistically. In fact, sometimes it is difficult NOT to speak of it as a belief. But that is a language issue rather than a real issue.

      But once “believe that there aren’t any” came to be used as a political and philosophical weapon, it forced atheists to think deeper about the difference and clarify their actual beliefs. (Note that my last example actually demonstrates the language problem. I consider it similar to the problem of speaking about evolution acting in an anthropological fashion. People who understand the theory understand that it’s a “short hand” way of talking about evolution, but it genuinely gives other people the wrong idea about what evolution is.)

      uses that as an argument to justify opposition to dissent

      I will accept your statement that you are being “naughty” about the quote, but your characterization of the reduced form of my statement is actually relevant here. You refer to the reduced position as “dissent” from a “movement”. I characterize it as working to agree on a single definition of a word so that people can properly understand each other, and not have long arguments about definitions instead of real issues. I don’t think it’s right to characterize it as the first step on the road towards dogma. But that last sentence itself is important, because it is (potentially) exactly what I’m talking about (even though I am the one saying it): an argument about definition. In this case, “what is the definition of ‘dogma’?” I would argue that it is an actual set of required beliefs/principles, which I would characterize as different from a definition. (E.g. the Trinity is a Christian dogma – people agree on what it means, but debate on whether it is possible or should be part of Christian beliefs.)

      I don’t know what “New Atheism” means. I am an atheist and I don’t consider myself part of anything that deserves capital letters. I listen to people who make sense, but don’t recognize any leaders. I don’t need atheism to have anything to do with rationality, and – by definition – don’t believe that it does.

      “Who cares if it can currently be defined as a religion?” Anyone who doesn’t want religion shoved down their throat. Under different circumstances, it would be irrelevant, other than to make people understand what an atheist’s beliefs actually are, by definition. I believe that, by definition, a religion must have god(s) or some sort (even of the simple sort found in animism). That definition matters, because creationists and creationists philosophers use it to make very real arguments to “teach the controversy” and things like that.

      Anyway, that’s a really long way to say, “it’s an issue of definition, not substance.”

  16. I don’t believe in God nor any gods. I never have done. I have never joined any club or organisation to share camaraderie with other non-believers.

    I can safely say that I believe there is no God, nor gods, because that is a true statement ! A “faith” statement ? Hardly ! For me to believe in something there has to be evidence for it. The theologians can, and will waffle away, but my non-belief is as strong as their belief. As Richard often puts it, belief in God is on the same level as belief in leprechauns. An absurd belief.

    As the one atheist said to the other at the Atheist Convention : “Nice to see you Suzy after all this time ! No I don’t believe in God either. Would you like a drink down the pub, where we can have a more meaningful discussion” ?

  17. I fear this is more about maintaining the status quo in religious privilege, than it is about defining atheism or extending any kind of protection to the rights of the non-religious. Religion has no part in governance of a free society, but religious types would have a leg to stand on, vis-a-vis their political influence, if they can maintain that atheists are protected like any other “religion”.

  18. Atheism is not a religion and does not need or want intellectual protection from debate, discussion, insult or ridicule. I do not want a single theist to be arrested or punished for claiming I deserve to go to hell or saying atheists are stupid or fools. I am more than capable of handling that discussion myself.

  19. It’s always good to see this topic getting air-time. I believe the concept in hand is that of protection for atheist principles and freedom to declare or act on such principles as organised religions (and other similar communities) enjoy. The question here is not really whether atheism is actually a religion, although if you look at some common day interpretations of ‘religion’ then it could be so classified (religion possibly being based on a belief system, even if that belief is counter-supernatural-faith). The ‘against’ argument is that atheism is actually based on a freedom to NOT believe in ‘faith’ based supernatural entities and all their trappings, where there are many organised religions. However, if atheism does become ‘organised’ (how that will happen and maintain the guiding principle of ‘freedom’ escapes me), then it’s in danger of becoming seen as a religion. Whether ‘organised atheism’ is a good or bad thing remains to be seen. Without doubt, the atheist voice needs to be afforded the same rights as religions. It’s frustrating that in many deeply-religious cultures an atheist is considered very poorly indeed and people are sometimes forced to declare a pseudo religion to avoid retribution. Let’s start with freedom to think however one wishes in terms of such beliefs, and protect that right. Ontario HRT is a great step forward – let’s hope other countries follow suit.

  20. I mean to say, thanks to the Canadians and Calgarians for their attention, terribly sweet of you to build churches and declare special days for us, but…

    Really, honestly, no thanks. We’re not pitching for, say, Wednesday to be our Sabbath, we’re not seeking to divide up the pie of time and resources in order to get our share of it. We’re probably not going to be grateful when you tell us what our rules are supposed to be, and we won’t find the comparison with superstitious, doctrine-centred, sociopathic cults actually that flattering.

    An atheist chaplain forsooth. He’s just a chap.

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