Categorizing Atheism As A Religion

I was going to write a post about why it’s important for Atheism to get branded a religion and for atheists to be OK with that, but I’m going to save it until after I read “The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason.”

I’ll summarize the idea briefly here. Perhaps my stance will shift upon reading the book.

Cliff’s Notes Version of Why It’s Important to Categorize Atheism as a Religion

In a nutshell it’s about seeing that religion is more than just groups of people worshiping gods and instead seeing religion as a necessary part of the human experience (for optimal levels of happiness). It’s also the glue that holds large groups of individuals together.

Creating religions is a natural tendency for humans, NOT creating institutions for belief in God(s), but institutions that make sure everyone is on the same cultural and moral page.

Here are some excerpts from the book “The Happiness Hypotheses by Jonathan Haidt” (atheists will be happy to know he identifies himself as an Jewish-Atheist 😉 ). These excerpts set the stage for why I’m seeing religion as being about more than just God(s), superstition and ceremony.

All human beings today are the products of the co-evolution of a set of genes (which is almost identical across cultures) and a set of cultural elements (which is diverse across cultures, but still constrained by the capacities and predispositions of the human mind). – p. 233

Wilson shows that religions always serve to coordinate and orient people’s behavior toward each other and toward the group as a whole, sometimes for the purpose of competing with other groups. – p. 233

Wilson says his own private hell would be to be locked forever in a room full of people discussing the hypocrisies of religion, for example, that many religions preach love, compassion, and virtue yet sometimes cause war, hatred, and terrorism. Group selection creates interlocking genetic and cultural adaptations that enhance peace, harmony, and cooperation within the group for the express purpose of increasing the group’s ability to compete with other groups. – p. 235

We were shaped by individual selection to be selfish creatures who struggle for resources, pleasure, and prestige, and we were shaped by group selection to be hive creatures who long to lose ourselves in something larger. […] Some of those conditions [for happiness] are within you, such as coherence among parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. – p. 238

Religion handles that “connection to something larger” longing that we naturally have (being human). When an atheist uses Atheism to replace the “connection to something larger” they previously had in a theistic religion, religion just happened to them again. A religion without belief in God(s). I go into more detail as to why I think Atheism is a religion in [my last post].

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6 Responses to Categorizing Atheism As A Religion

  1. Johnny Marsz says:

    I disagree with you regarding how you define religion. And besides the vocabulary debate, I don’t see it as important to label anyone anything.

    • miltownkid says:

      I know. Perhaps I’m stretching the definition of religion too far. I might end up relaxing my position at “Atheist Churches” are a good idea, instead of branding Atheism as a religion.

      What do you think about the idea of atheist churches and atheist religions?

  2. Hm, I do believe that atheists are like any other human being, they need to belong. This doesn’t mean they feel the need to belong to some spiritual power. This could simply mean that they need to belong to one another. Religion isn’t the key; it’s togetherness.

    • miltownkid says:

      What I’m talking about is more than togetherness but less than religion. I’m starting to see how entwined religion is with the belief of a higher power (but I don’t think that’s necessary).

      Religion gets everyone acting together under the same set of cultural and moral rules. These cultural and moral rules coming from the basis of belief in a higher power is what I believe bothers atheists so much (rightly so). Without religion (as the word is commonly used) cultural and moral rules must still be set on a broad basis somehow.

      I’m seeing religion as being the vehicle for setting these cultural, moral and social rules. How do we come up with the “ultimate” set of cultural, moral and social rules (I think science is actually working on this now…)

      I have questions like:
      Would I be able to walk around naked in an atheist city?
      Could I marry more than one woman?
      Could I have sex in the park?

      I’m not trying to promote anarchy or purposefully be a dick. The point I’m trying to make is that effects of religions (based on beliefs in god) have been permanently embedded into society even without a belief in god.

      How do we choose which kind of “togetherness” is the right kind of togetherness? If religious wars died tomorrow, cultural wars would be alive and well. I don’t see a big difference in cultures based on belief in a higher power and ones that aren’t.

  3. Oh ok, I think I see what you mean by “religion” now. Have you read anything by Daniel Quinn? He has this concept of Mother Culture, the cultural narrative of civilization, the way things should be according to the narrative. It’s a really broad concept that generalizes a lot, but I think that’s more of the idea of what you had in mind for “religion,” as opposed to belief in a higher power.

    This seems to be a question, as you said, that scientists are trying to work on. It’s a big philosophical question, too. What is the standard of rightness? How can you make an ultimate standard that isn’t just arbitrary and meaningless?

    I’ve only recently been delving into these kinds of questions, so I’m definitely still exploring. It seems that “war” can’t be eradicated. I don’t think you can create that kind of peace. And actually, war can be healthy as part of a natural checks and balances system – when done sustainably. Senseless, unadulterated violence is human nature – but acting and reacting is. World peace and rightness isn’t where everyone stops fighting; it’s where everyone stops fighting unsustainably.

  4. Pingback: I’m an Atheist Who Believes in Gods |

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