Why I’m not an atheist, part 4: The phantom menace of "religion"

In this post, I will actually be addressing something that doesn’t exist; should make for a pretty short post!

A favorite figment of atheists’ imaginations is the vaguely defined, rather broad category of “religion.” Atheists seem to really enjoy arguing against this monster they have invented in their own minds; it is, after all, the perfect straw man. Muslim terrorists blow something up? “Religion” is violent! Hindus in the boondocks of India worship a cow with a strange genetic mutation? “Religion” is stupid! Animists somewhere in the wilds of central Africa practice female genital mutilation? Religion is misogynous! And so on and so on this fallacious argument rolls.

The problem, though, is that the horrible thing called “religion” is a fiction the atheists have invented to justify themselves. I’m not defending “religion” and I don’t know of anybody who is; the very idea is ridiculous. Muslims don’t defend Aztec human sacrifice; Mormon fundamentalists don’t defend Muslim jihad; and Orthodox Christians don’t defend Mormon fundamentalists’ polygamy.

Imagine that I told you that democrats, republicans, monarchists, greens, libertarians, fascists, communists, anarchists, liberals, autarchists, conservatives, czarists, moderates, baathists, socialists, centrists, zionists, black nationalists, and agorists were “all the same” because they all are in the category of “political ideology.” You’d at least give me a concerned look and, if you’re as blunt as I am, you’d probably call me an idiot; and you’d be right. The same is true of atheists when they try to lump all “religions” into a single category and say they’re “all the same.” The only thing that Hindus, Taoists, Wiccans, Buddhists, Baha’is, Baptists, Roman Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Orthodox Christians, Animists, Asatruars, Anglicans, Satanists, Rastafarians, Sikhs, Shintoists, Mormons, Zoroastrians, and atheists all have in common is the name “religion.”

Did you catch that? Yes, I included atheists on that list; atheists can deny it all they want, but atheism is indeed a religion. According to Dictionary.com, “religion” is defined as

“a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, esp. when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.”

Atheism is certainly “a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe” and even atheism posits that the creation of the universe is the result of “a superhuman agency or agencies.” According to the same website, “superhuman” is defined as “above or beyond what is human; having a higher nature or greater powers than humans have.” I don’t know of any atheists who think that humans can or did create the universe; they posit a “superhuman agency” in the form of the “big bang” or some other similar event (or, if you’re Richard Dawkins, aliens did it!).

Continuing with our definition of religion… Religions “usually” involve “devotional and ritual observances,” but that’s usually — not always. We’ve already seen that atheism contains no moral code beyond hedonism, but religions “often” — not always — contain one.

I can hear even now the objections of atheists: “But I don’t believe in a god though!” Neither do Buddhists. “But I don’t believe in an afterlife!” Neither did Sadducee Jews. “But, but, but…” Atheism is indeed a religion.

That’s okay though; it’s an inescapable aspect of human nature. Humans naturally wonder if there is something greater than themselves and, if so, what — or who — that might be. Humans naturally think about what happens to them after death. And so on. Every human being on the planet has religious ideas, even if those ideas are a constant “no” answer. Atheism is not the rejection of religion(s); atheism is a religion. As an Orthodox Christian, I reject every other religion than Orthodox Christianity; mine is still a religion.

If atheists want to be honest in their arguments (and if they want their arguments to be taken seriously), they’re going to have to admit that and they’re going to have to consider and argue against every other religion than atheism individually, not as some imaginary mass.

Now that we have cleared away the figment of “religion,” in the next post of this series we will get more specific and look at Christianity — and why its central truth claim is so very — and uniquely — strong.

15 thoughts on “Why I’m not an atheist, part 4: The phantom menace of "religion"”

  1. you'd probably call me an idiot; and you'd be right.

    You got THAT one right, theist! Never doubted for a second you were something else! πŸ™‚

  2. “”and even atheism posits that the creation universe” and even atheism posits that the creation of the universe is the result of “a superhuman agency or agencies.” According to the same website, “superman” is defined as “above or website, “superman” is defined as “above or beyond what is human; having a higher nature or greater powers than humans have.” I don't know of any atheists who think that humans can or did create the universe; they posit a “superman agency” in the form of the “big bang” or some other similar event (or, if you're Richard Dawkins, beyond what is human; having a higher nature or beyond what is human; having a higher nature or greater powers than humans have.” I don't know of any atheists who think that humans can or did create the universe; they posit a “superman agency” in the form of the “big bang” or some other similar event (or, if you're Richard Dawkins aliens did it)””

    >>sorry, but superhuman and supernatural are not the same thing.

  3. Excellent article. Atheist seem to never have a logical explanation or defense for the their position. All they do is throw insults as if that is suppose to somehow magically destroy your argument. πŸ™‚

  4. Anon 1 & 2 (I'm assuming you're the same person due to consistent shallowness of thinking, though I could be wrong):

    You got THAT one right, theist! Never doubted for a second you were something else!

    The amazing force and depth of your argument overwhelms me! *yawn* Thanks for being a typical example of the intellectual bankruptcy and philosophical ineptitude of atheists.

    sorry, but superhuman and supernatural are not the same thing.

    I can think of quite a few religions that don't posit a “supernatural” means of creation, including Buddhism, Taosim, most forms of Animism, and some forms of Hinduism.
    That doesn't matter anyway, though, as the definition of the word “religion” said “superhuman,” not “supernatural.” It also said “esp.” which is short of “especially” — meaning not always but usually.

    Anon 3:

    Thanks very much! Absolutely agreed on the complete deficiency of atheists' arguments and logic — hence their constant need, which I've never seen any atheist not engage in, of devolving every conversation into a series of personal insults. Little do they realize that they are only telling the rest of us how weak their arguments really are and how fragile their position really is.

  5. Hi David.

    By using your type calculations,following the rugby or baseball could be considdered a religion.Its devotion to superhumans involved in rituals. And so a religion because religion doesnt alway need to be about creation of life or even be to do with thoughts of the after life.And those religious sportmen they all have moral code of how the game ought to be played.For that matter eating breakfast could be considdered religion ,it goes beyound power of human because without the ritual of eating, humans cant live so it becomes like a superhuman agency.Even military could be considdered as religion.

    Any interest shown in global warming becomes a religion ,folks follow rituals by being devoted to checking rain gauges every day,these religious folk are concerned about cause,nature and purpose of the universe L.o.L

    Atheist dont need to bother dening your suggestions dude but its worth a bit of a chuckle as we considder your calculation method ,and start to better understand the overbearing type of trivial intelligence behind why the U.S.A might seem to be losing the battle in places like Iraq.If U.S.A military has a majority of thiests all making the brainiac type of calculations like you do.Sure yes maybe you can make some sort of religious connection at a pinch and a stretch, but so what? ,what have you proved ?,feeling any better?.Gained much?.

    Besides most of us realize its a type of ancient theist manipulative mindcontrol tactic you try using.Trying to work on the psychology of people who happen to think the world would be better with less religious faith with belief in Gods.You hope to make atheists start to shun atheism ,by indoctrinating and implying their interest is nothing else other than being just another religion.Its a type of reverse psychology tactic you employ right?.

    You know you could make a really great pastor with some more practice ,how about throwing in a few fear threats next time as well?.Why not add that mentally disturbed crazy tyrants like Stalin, just so happened to also be atheist as well and didnt believe in any Gods.Its great theist propaganda to suggest atheism likely leads to mentally disturbed tyrancy.

    Most of us are not so worried about people merely involved in some meditation techniques.Its the religious belief in Gods that seem to cause most problems.

  6. Burt:

    By using your type calculations,following the rugby or baseball could be considdered a religion.

    I used the dictionary definition; I didn't invent my own definition. If you have a problem with the definition I used, I suggest you immediately contact the people at Merriam-Webster.

    Its devotion to superhumans involved in rituals.

    So Buddhism is not a religion? What about Taoism? How about LaVeyan Satanism? Or Unitarian-Universalism? I can think of quite a few religions that have no belief in any sort of deity.

    If U.S.A military has a majority of thiests all making the brainiac type of calculations like you do.

    Do you think that ignorant ad hominems like this help your argument or hurt it?

    Its a type of reverse psychology tactic you employ right?

    You accuse me of psychologizing even as you psychologize; do you think that is hypocritical or ironic or both?

    You know you could make a really great pastor with some more practice ,how about throwing in a few fear threats next time as well?

    Don't you think it would be a better idea to actually address me as if you were familiar with my beliefs rather than confusing me with an American evangelical fundamentalist? This is rather akin to me criticizing you for having an idol of the Buddha and, when you point, out that you are not a Buddhist, I respond “but neither of you believe in God — so you're both the same!” Do you see how ridiculous your argument is?

    Its great theist propaganda to suggest atheism likely leads to mentally disturbed tyrancy.

    It's also ridiculous to attempt to criticize me for an argument that I did not make.

    Its the religious belief in Gods that seem to cause most problems.

    And what problems exactly do Orthodox Christians cause? I'll accept no other problems made by any other faith group; again, I recognize you're not a Buddhist — recognize that I'm not an American evangelical fundamentalist.

    By the way: thank you for demonstrating the shallowness and ignorance inherent in atheism and its adherents. Way to take one for the team!

  7. It's a great theist propaganda to suggest that atheism likely leads to mentally disturbed tyrancy.

    Like, uhm, Stalin?

    Its the religious belief in Gods that seem to cause most problems.

    Well.. Stalin WAS a seminarian, so.. it IS possible.. πŸ™‚

  8. Actually, this post is a great example of what I find objectionable and wrong with religious thinking and reasoning.

    The author picked one particular dictionary definition (and not a very good one IMO), dogmatically used it as the ultimate authoritarian source as to what religion is and proceeded to deconstruct it so as to make a specific point. Reminds me a lot of the evangelical preachers I see on TV deconstructing and taking out of context bible snippets to make whatever argument they like.

    If the author would have bothered to do some research or even just read his source more carefully, he would have realized that there are many dictionary definitions of religion and they are quite divergent. The majority of definitions contain the requirement for belief in “god” or “gods” or a “supernatural” force or agent. He proceeds in a subsequent post to defend his conclusion by saying:

    “I used the dictionary definition; I didn't invent my own definition. If you have a problem with the definition I used, I suggest you immediately contact the people at Merriam-Webster.”

    It is not THE dictionary definition. It is A dictionary definition (sounds a bit like THE bible rather than A VERSION of a bible). Furthermore, if he would have bothered to read more carefully the fine print, he would have realized that it's not Merriam-Webster's but Random House's definition. Merriam Webster's definition is:

    “the service and worship of God or the supernatural”.

    Webster proceeds to list atheism as an antonym of religion clearly refuting the author's conclusion that atheism is a religion.

    I certainly think that theists and religionists do not hold a monopoly on idiots and there are plenty of great luminaries and thinkers among the pious just as there are plenty of idiots and people that lack the ability of think critically among atheists. I also agree that ad hominem attacks and insults do not belong in civilized discourse and do not further the argument on either side.

  9. Soring:

    First, let me earnestly thank you for the intelligent, reasonable response. I appreciate you taking your time to offer your valuable thoughts in a decent and logical manner. I would very much enjoy reading your responses to the other posts in this series; you can find them here, if you are interested in responding to them.

    Now, responding to your comments here, I have just a few points:

    1. I am familiar with the fact that there are alternative definitions of the word “religion,” and many of them. I used the particular definition I did because I believe it to be the best definition; I believe it to be the best definition because nearly all of the others offered, including especially the one you provided here, are biased in favor of the Western/Abrahamic religions. They exclude many Eastern, modern, and other non-Abrahamic faiths. The most obvious exception to the definition you provided is Buddhism, the most traditional version of which (Theravada) involves neither belief in nor worship of/service to any deity. Buddhism is an atheistic religion, so not covered by the limited definition you provided, and yet I doubt that anyone would reasonably argue that Buddhism is not a religion.

    2. The overarching point of my post stands nonetheless. Arguments against “religion” as some general phenomenon fail because, as they say, “there ain't no sich animal.” As I pointed out in the post, I, as an Orthodox Christian, no more defend and support Aztec human sacrifice or Islamic jihad than you do as an atheist. Such obfuscation is fairly typical of atheist argumentation; it is even apparent in your own otherwise very reasonable response as you attempt to compare me to a certain subset of American evangelical fundamentalists. I am probably more opposed to American evangelical fundamentalism than you are, given that modern atheism and American evangelical fundamentalism are both equally children of the Enlightenment whereas my own philosophical and religious ideas are from a time and place entirely separated from the Enlightenment and its progeny.

    I thank you again for your insightful response and I look forward to hearing from you again.

  10. I believe Dawkins makes a good case for Buddhism, Taoism and others not being religions in The God Delusion.

    The issue isn't beliefs. I happen to think that it's reasonable to assume that the earth and the universe arose and continue to exist without the intervention of a deity, and that once I die, that's the end. When you take apart a Lego creation, the arrangement doesn't live on.

    The issue is the faulty thinking and prejudices that beliefs tend to (but do not always) foster. For example, Buddhist belief in reincarnation can lead someone to infer that a child born with genetic defects must have been a terrible person in a previous life, a prejudice that is almost certain to affect their interaction with them.

    That's not to say that all Buddhists believe that way, nor that all religions create the same prejudices. Most people are above prejudiced thought. But for those who aren't, religion becomes a huge backing for those beliefs, a backing that is difficult to assail. Hence the efforts of some (not all; equal opportunity non-assumption) atheists to diminish the credibility and/or spread of religions.

  11. B. Cavefish:

    I believe Dawkins makes a good case for Buddhism, Taoism and others not being religions in The God Delusion.

    I think his case rather reflects an inherently Eurocentric worldview in which only religions that look like the Abrahamic faiths can really be religions; this was a common assumption in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was thrown out of court by the rest of us long ago.

    The issue is the faulty thinking and prejudices that beliefs tend to (but do not always) foster.

    Quite true. And, as I pointed out in this series of posts, atheist beliefs have been responsible for more deaths than any previous belief system in history. Darwinism led to the eugenics movement which produced the Nazi extermination policies. Communism, an inherently and vehemently atheistic system, led to the mass starvings of entire nations, the mass imprisonments and massacres of millions, and the extermination of several entire churches. Indeed faulty thinking does lead to some pretty horrendous behavior. Events such as these are the natural result of the atheistic belief that human beings are of no more inherent value than animals — and, in fact, are animals. If you believe you are an animal, you become one.

  12. More than 80% of Churches, priests and monks were destroyed with Communist revolution. In school, children were learned there's no God. Orthodoxy was mocked. It was atheism, even though majority of Communist party rulers were Jewish. In masses it was pure atheism.

    One of great examples is monastery Optina, that was destroyed by Communists, monks deported to Siberia. There's book “Father Arseny”, containing many testimonies of Gulag survivors.

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