Evidently some people seem to have a hard time defining religion. One of these is former MTV VJ Kennedy who recently wrote an article on reason.com claiming that Atheism is in fact a religion. Personally I have never had a hard time defining religion. Off the top of my head I would say religion is the belief that the universe is the creation of an Agent or agents that exists beyond the natural world and/or the belief that the individual survives in some sense after physical death.
But I like sources so let’s consult the interwebs:
- a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creationof a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing amoral code governing the conduct of human affairs.
- a specific fundamental set of beliefs and practices generally agreed upon by a number of persons or sects: the Christian religion; the Buddhist religion.
- the body of persons adhering to a particular set of beliefs and practices: a world council of religions.
- the life or state of a monk, nun, etc.: to enter religion.
- the practice of religious beliefs; ritual observance of faith.
A quick glance at those five definitions rules out atheism but, we also need to define atheism I suppose. Most dictionaries I looked at define simply as the belief in no god. The word itself means no deity but the vast majority of self proclaimed atheists would also argue against an afterlife. If we accept that as a valid definition of atheism then once again the five options above show that atheism does not fit.
So maybe a different dictionary.
- the belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power, especially a personal God or gods:ideas about the relationship between science and religion
- a particular system of faith and worship:the world’s great religions
- a pursuit or interest to which someone ascribes supreme importance:consumerism is the new religion
Apparently in England atheism is not a religion either. Its important to note that dictionaries don’t give definitions they give usages. And atheism is almost always used to describe someone who does not belong to a religion. So to call atheism a religion when a person considers themselves atheist because they do not believe in religion is pointless.
Kennedy asks why it would be such a big deal to call atheism a religion. I don’t know why its so important to her to label atheism a religion. I’ve heard Christians say that Christianity is not a religion, its a way of life. Are they right? Who cares its just labels? If they want to call it a way of life that is their choice. We need to have some sort of consistency for communications sake but I don’t see how its that critical. So in this regard Kennedy gets an F in libertariansim for calling people what they claim not to be.
Where Kennedy nails it is where she compares the dogmatism of atheists when opposing theists. She says,
When atheists rail against theists (as many did on my Facebook page), they are using the same fervor the religious use when making their claims against a secular society.
This is a big criticism I have of the entire so called atheist community.* The lack of civility and maturity in the movement is an embarrassment. The antipathy many vocal atheists have not just for religion but for the people who follow them betrays the emotional basis for their belief. I suspect, but cannot really prove, that the majority of the members in the movement are motivated more by hatred of right wing ideology than by love of science and nature. A perusal of sites like www.freethoughtblogs.com will show that they spend more of their time ranting against Republicans than they do promoting science.
* I am personally not convinced that there is such a thing. I don’t believe that non-belief in something is enough to make a community. I also see the movement severely fragmented with no real possibility of cohesion into something resembling a distinct entity.