Usually I agree with Portland's Thom Hartmann, Air America's progressive talk show host. But this morning he kept saying that atheism is a religion – that not believing in God is a belief system.
That's ridiculous. It shows that no matter how smart and articulate Hartmann is, he's got some blind spots. Those logic-obscurers likely stem from his Christianity.
Not being a regular listener of Hartmann, I didn't know before today that he's a Christian. But he told a caller that he prays every day. And not to some universal being, but to a personal God.
This probably explains why Hartmann has fallen prey to one of the myths about atheism: that it is a religion. Over on my Church of the Churchless blog I regularly argue with commenters who claim that not believing in God is as much a belief as believing in God.
Huh? I point out that there is a huge difference between (1) not believing, and (2) believing, in the existence of something.
To assert otherwise is to engage in a form of sophistry where words don't mean anything. Sure, you can say that for many people "golf is a religion" or "watching Lost is a religion."
But this just means that they regularly engage in those activities. Like atheists frequently thinking, "I don't believe in God."
By that token, everything that humans do is a religion, rendering the word meaningless. This is one of the points of an excellent piece, "If atheism is religion, 'albino' is a suntan."
The author does a terrific job debunking the notion that atheism is a religion.
If someone asked you about unicorns, would you say "I believe there are no unicorns", or would it be more honest to say "I do not believe in unicorns"? These are two different answers. Nobody disbelieves in unicorns purely as a matter of personal faith.
Again, apply the same reasoning to the Gods of other religions. Example : if you are a Christian, do you believe the Hindu God Ganesh does not exist? Or do you not believe in Ganesh?
If you believe that unicorns do not exist, then may I say that you are a member of the "No unicorns" religion? Is it a matter of faith that unicorns do not exist? Can I come along to your non-unicorn church with you tomorrow?
If you are a Christian, do you believe Ganesh does not exist? Why, then you must be a devout follower of the "No Ganesh" faith!
Do you see where this is going? [ Sarcasm may be the lowest form of wit, but it's excellent for getting a point across. 8-) ]
If me not believing in your God is a faith, then you not believing in other Gods is an equal faith. How many Christians do you know who would say they do not believe in other Gods as a matter of faith?
If my atheism with respect to your deity is a religion, then your atheism with respect to other deities is also a religion.
Thom Hartmann, are you listening?
In my opinion atheism can be a religion, but it by itself does not have to be. Just as belief can be a religion but does not have to be. When atheism becomes a religion is when it tells everyone else that only it is right, that they are wrong, and that atheism is the only correct way to think and live. Some atheists (the ones I have known) have a behavior code that they also promote as the only way to live. So by itself to not believe is not a religion-- unless you promote it as a system that others should live by. All belief in something supernatural as being active with humans also is not automatically a religion.
Posted by: Rain | April 03, 2008 at 09:59 AM
Beware of all "isms". Then read Chris Hedges critique of atheism as an absolute "belief system".
Posted by: Terry | April 04, 2008 at 09:55 PM
I'm in a similar camp as Rain. Some atheists treat and live it like a religion, some do not.
Posted by: Bpaul | April 06, 2008 at 07:03 AM
I am agnostic, but I believe that most christians would say that not believing in other gods is a matter of faith and, by extension, their religion. Maybe you might think of atheism as a religion of non-belief, from a christian p.o.v.
Posted by: Ryan | May 06, 2008 at 11:00 PM
Thom pist me off so bad with that, I might drop the morning radio show all together and switch to NPR.
For him to toss out a blanket insult to all atheists like that was simply a prejudiced thing to do.
If I were to write a sign to be placed in Olympia, it would be something positive and celebratory AS WELL AS rooted in reality. I would not have included a judgment of any kind for that particular forum.
But the morning show didn't seem to care that there may be other, less strident Atheists out there. And for Thom to say that the judgment on the sign was no different than something Fred Phelps would do, was beyond the pale. Phelps advocates puting gay folks to death. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
BTW- Chris Hedges is so afraid to call himself an atheist that he would rather re-define what theism is. There are reasons to criticize both Hedges AND Harris.
Just my $0.02.
Posted by: Tan | December 09, 2008 at 09:43 PM
"If you believe that unicorns do not exist, then may I say that you are a member of the 'No unicorns' religion?"
If and I only if I'm Zealot in my belief of 'No Unicorns'. If I shout at the top of my lungs that there are 'No Unicorns', if I write a book called 'Unicorns are not great', host a radio show called 'Free Unicorn Radio', or start some sort of organization. If I write a blog post called 'Unicorns isn't a religion'.
If I do any of those things, then you can say I'm a member of a religion.
Posted by: 17R3W | January 07, 2010 at 04:03 PM
My name is Christopher. I come from a Christian family. Way back, after finishing my schooling and when I was doing my Intermediate (junior college), I sensed a kind of emptiness in my heart. (This emptiness, which I later-on understood, was God’s way of drawing me to Himself). In my desperate attempts to solve this problem, I found myself bunking college and attending Christian meetings and visiting Christian bookshop with the hope of finding a solution. During one such visit to a Christian bookshop, I came across a small book-let titled; Tell me plainly, how to be saved. Through this book-let (written according to the Bible), I have understood that every human-being is a sinner and is bound to go to hell after one’s time on this planet-earth is over. But God’s great love for man-kind made Him send His only son, Jesus Christ, into this world. Jesus, who lived a sin-less life, suffered an account of our sins and died on the cross in our place. He rose again from death the third day and is now in the midst of us in the form of the Holy Spirit. Whoever believes in Him will become a child of God and will skip hell to enter heaven, the presence of the Almighty God.
The book-let went-on to say that the way of believing in Jesus Christ is by repenting of our sins and asking Jesus for forgiveness for our sins as only the blood of Jesus Christ has the power to cleanse us from every kind of sin. Then we should invite Jesus into our hearts. When I did all this, the emptiness in my heart left and the love, joy & peace which I never had till then filled my heart. Since then, the Lord has been wonderfully leading me and has never left me alone, as per His promise in the Bible for all those who come to him in faith. He gave a purpose for my living. Whatever I have been going through in life, I can say with all confidence, that there was never a time that I felt or was left helpless; this is so as one of the precious promises in the Bible says: “Even lions go hungry for lack of food, but those who obey the LORD lack nothing good.”
This is how the Lord has sought me, forgave my sins, made me His child, gave me a purpose for living, has been meeting all my needs and put His peace & joy in my heart that no person or experience or circumstance or problem can take it away.
It’s a Biblical fact that every person has a heart with a God-shaped vacuum and nothing can fill that vacuum, except God Himself. This is why we need to invite Jesus to come into our hearts after repenting of our sins.
The one decision I will never regret is, giving my heart to the Lord Jesus Christ. I hope and wish that you also will make a decision to make Jesus Christ your personal Lord and Savior. If so, please say this prayer meaningfully from your heart:
Lord Jesus Christ, I believe that you are the Almighty God. Thank you for suffering on the cross for my sake. I now repent of all my sins. Forgive me of my sins. Cleanse me with your precious blood. Come into my heart, Lord Jesus and make me your child. From now on, I will read the Bible regularly and obey what it says. In Jesus’ name, I pray. Amen.
If you have made a decision to follow the Lord Jesus Christ, please let me know the good news. Thanks. May you know the truth, and the truth will set you free.
Posted by: christopher | July 08, 2011 at 11:21 AM
Christopher, I'm happy that you feel you've found the answers you're looking for. I myself have had a very different journey than yours, and have gone from being a Charismatic Christian to being a non-believing, freethinking Reform Jew.
The one thing that our two stories have in common is that we were both looking for answers. You have decided that the answers you sought are immutable and outside of your self, and I have decided that it's less about finding the right answers and more about expanding one's list of questions.
We all only have a limited time on this earth, so it's up to each of us to decide how best to use what we have. I'm happy with my choices thus far, and I hope you remain happy with yours.
Posted by: Joel | July 28, 2020 at 10:05 PM